My social media feed over the past few days has been dominated by Kendrick Lamar and his “untitled unmastered” EP, which was also unannounced.
Releasing unfinished demos is nothing new, but what made this collection stand out was the manner in which it provided a glimpse into the creative process of Kendrick Lamar. The New Yorker went as far as saying it “reads as evidence of a Post-Impressionist sort of self-awareness”.
Perhaps untitled unmastered goes some way to help redefine what makes great art in the modern world. It draws his audience closer to the creative process and becomes a part of the conversation with his audience and amongst his audience and that conversation is an art form itself.
This is something the post-YouTube generation have recognised intuitively. They are not about three or four promo videos uploaded in sync with an album cycle every eighteen months or so. They are about a constant steam of moments and experiences some polished, some not but all part of an ongoing dialogue with their audience.
This is in stark contrast to the way in which commercial music has become over the past twenty years or so. Through the 1990s and early 2000s it was about co-writing, remixing, polishing, positioning, scheduling and media training. Even as social media has achieved unstoppable momentum, many artists found it hard to grasp the concept of spontaneous imperfection. So too have managers and label executives, as everyone tries to balance existing conventions with new possibilities.
For too long they have lived in a world where their art is defined by sporadic releases and performances rather than an ongoing conversation with their audience. Conversations are imperfect, there are umms and ahhhs, but through that dialogue comes a closer connection between those conversing.
Ironically, it was an artist from a previous generation, David Bowie, who best exemplified this notion of art through conversation. Bowie always had a truly holistic way of expressing himself, even his own death formed part of his art.
Not only that but the manner in which his widow, Iman, picked up that conversation through social media was especially poignant. She continued the dialogue with such honesty and integrity. It was real. It was heartfelt. It resonated so very profoundly.
Perhaps not all artists are comfortable with exposing their feelings to that extent. Perhaps this was a singularly unique occurrence where an artist’s grieving widow is also a public figure in her own right. Nevertheless, it beautifully illustrates the concept of conversation as art.
Some may say both were contrived to some degree. Kendrick Lamar certainly curated which unfinished tracks he wanted to release. Iman was certainly controlled and dignified in how she expressed herself and there were limits. There was privacy, especially surrounding Bowie’s funeral.
Artists can still set their own boundaries even if their creative expression becomes more fluid and exposed to scrutiny. Cynics may fear a constant stream of noise, but for the true artist it is a chance to redefine themselves through honesty, integrity, consistency and the art of conversation.