As Kendrick Lamar's untitled unmastered stays in steady rotation in my headphones and brain I'm finally accumulating enough spins to move past some of the broad reactions and get down to the details. And as I listen, one question's been driving me pistachios; what the hell is Kendrick whispering on "Untitled 04"? It's driving me crazy trying to figure it out, which means it must be driving some of you crazy, which means I went looking for answers.
According to Genius, which is pretty good at transcribing lyrics but pretty terrible at explaining them, the whispered lines are below, and after spending the last 20 minutes with the track on repeat listening, I think they're pretty damn close if not exactly 100 percent accurate. Kendrick's whispers are in parentheses and bold:
"They say the government mislead the youth, youth, youth, youth
(Tell 'em when you went to the park and everybody came back and went...)
And welfare don't mean well for you, you, you, you
(What about when you tried to do a side for that but you...)
They tell me that my bill's past due, due, due, due
(Talk about the charge you got...)
And preacher man don't always tell the truth, truth, truth / Do you believe in God? If you don't, it's cool
(But) head is the answer, head is the future
Don't second guess yourself
(Don't tell them when you second guess yourself I need you [chance you never got?])"
What does any of that mean? Frankly, I'm not ure. As I mentioned, Genius has its own explanation, but I don't buy it. Their theory is that SZA's lines are the voice of the people and Kendrick's whispers are the voice of the government, but that makes no fucking sense. The government doesn't want people to admit that they're sometimes insecure and second guess themselves?
I think it's far more likely that those whispers are Kendrick's own interior monologue, that proverbial small voice in his head whispering doubts. Like we heard on "u," much of what was recorded around the TPAB sessions were about Kendrick's struggle to balance his external success with his internal demons. He may have a platinum album, but he still wasn't able to save some of his friends and family from the hells of a maad city. He may be a superstar, but all the sold out shows in the world won't make him forget what happened at the park that night, about the charge he got, about all the times he second guesses himself.
I'm not sure if that's "right," but it feels close. As for the whole "head is the answer" thing, which comes up again on "untitled 07" and was clearly a running theme through TPAB for at least a while but got completely cut out of the final version, I'm completely lost there. I'm open to theories, it's not-not about sex but seems to be about much more than sex, maybe together we can find our way out of the labyrinth that is often Kendrick's lyrics.
Or maybe the point is to stay lost, maybe there isn't an answer. Maybe this album is untitled, unmastered and unanswered. It won't stop me from trying though.