Yesterday, we brought you the news that Kendrick Lamar would be the first musical guest on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, and that reminded us of his incredible live performance that closed out The Colbert Report. And then, of course, that made us realize just how much material the TDE superstar has released around To Pimp a Butterfly that isn't actually on the album.
As Kendrick has mentioned himself, there are a host of songs and verses that didn't make the finished project, most of which we sadly might never hear, but many which have emerged in the form of alternate versions and new songs that will seemingly never be officially released. It's almost as if the album itself is a work in progress, constantly being added to despite the fact that it is already out.
In fact, there's been enough supplementary material released around TPAB that you could put together a complete B-Sides EP of sorts, a director's cut if you will. And in the immortal words of J-Kwon*, if not us, then who? If not now, then when?
"i" (Single Version)
Any guide to material that differs from the final tracklist of TPAB must start with the album's very first single, "i." Positive, uplifting and full of energy, the single was the first look into Kendrick's third studio effort and the sound and message he hoped to incorporate in the LP. As we all know, he eventually dropped the single version for the official album version that emulates a live performance with far more crowd interaction and other voices included. This was the version, though, that won GRAMMYs for both Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song, as well as the one used for the official music video directed by Alexandre Moors and the Little Homies. It isn't just the production/mixing that's different between the two versions, either. The studio version lacks the hype man's intro, not to mention basically the entire second half of the album version. Whole verses have their order switched, while the lyrics themselves contain a multitude of small differences. Whatever the reason, the studio version of the single never made it to the album; we have to assume it was always the plan to release a less-conceptual version of "i" for the radio and the video.
"i" (SNL Performance Version)
Last November, Kendrick took the stage for his second time as a musical guest on Saturday Night Live. One glimpse of him decked out in all-black contacts and already covered in sweat made it obvious the performance was going to be special. He launched into "i," and while we had yet to hear the album version of the single, it was obvious that we were being treated to something different than the radio hit we had already been listening to for weeks. This was the point where we were first treated to the revised hook from the album version (not to mention the live instrumentation), but beyond that, the SNL performance is as much its own entity as the two versions we've discussed. Throw in a new intro, some interludes, an added fourth verse that later made its way onto "Momma" and some truly funky dance moves and you now have three distinctly different forms of "i" for your collection.
"Untitled" (The Colbert Report Performance)
The catalyst for this post. A month after shutting down SNL with "i," Kendrick pulled another surprise out of his hat for the series finale of Stephen Colbert's long-running talk show. Joined onstage by such esteemed names as Thundercat, Bilal, Terrace Martin and Anna Wise, Kendrick launched into a live performance of an untitled song, one that we had not heard before and will, unfortunately, not be hearing ever again if Terrace Martin is to be believed. The veteran producer told Complex that no master recording of the song exists and that rather than being treated to an advance preview of an eventual album track, we were witnessing "just a moment" that was created specifically for Colbert's show. As he flatly remarked, "It don't even exist nowhere in the world, except on The Colbert Report." Even crazier, the song, including Kendrick's impressive lyrics, were created only the day prior to the show, but in sound and concept, it could have easily been featured on TPAB.
"Alright" (BET Awards Version)
Fast forward a few months, past the top of the new year and the March release of To Pimp A Butterfly. Kendrick performed what is maybe the most popular track from the album, "Alright," while atop a vandalized police car and backed by a giant American flag—echoing the album's themes of police brutality and racial inequality in the U.S. Once again, his performance is less of a live rendition than its own moment; the imagery from the stage, energy from the dancers and the addition of a whole new verse breathing life into the end of the track. Now that we've heard Dr. Dre's Compton, we can confirm that this "new" verse did receive a rightful home, as it formed the beginning of Kendrick's standout contribution to "Deep Water."
"Alright" (Music Video Version / "Front Seat Freestyle")
Just days after unveiling his live performance of "Alright" at the BET Awards, Kendrick released the official music video for the song. Now, the video itself called for a massively detailed breakdown, which we've provided you, but beyond its striking imagery and messaging, it proved once more that Kendrick was creating a moment rather than simply syncing visuals to his finished song. Not only was there a powerful, extended spoken word introduction that pulls from another TPAB track, "Mortal Man," but also an entirely different song placed in between that intro and the normal start to the record that fans have dubbed the "Front Seat Freestyle." As the video's director, Colin Tilley has stated, much like "Untitled," the seemingly new song was created just for the video. Once again, while the snippet holds so much promise, and despite how badly the fans might want a full version, it's unclear if we'll ever see a commercial release for the song.
If Kendrick's artistry doesn't immediately register upon listening to To Pimp A Butterfly, perhaps the realization will sink in when recognizing that he's essentially been releasing an alternate version of the album through live performances and one-off song creations. Kendrick is showing that it's possible to continue to adjust your work outside of that one particular, packaged piece. By reworking songs and giving us different (or entirely new) forms of his material we're constantly experiencing that special feeling of hearing something new each time. These particular moments may never find a home on an album, but without them, the experience of TPAB would be drastically different than it is today.
*It was either J-Kwon or John E. Lewis. One of them.