Kendrick Lamar moves differently than most rappers. He’s soft-spoken with a humble confidence that’s refreshing. He’s from Compton, but is hell-bent on giving that Los Angeles neighborhood a reputation far broader than the gang-centric one it’s earned since N.W.A. put gangsta rap on the map in the late 1980s. He dropped Section.80 over a holiday weekend (this past Saturday, July 2), for goodness sake.
Or, if you let him tell it, as he does on the gripping opener “Fuck Your Ethnicity,” “Don’t mistake me for no fuckin’ rapper/They sit backstage and hide behind them fuckin’ cameras/I mosh pit/Had a microphone and I tossed it/Had a brain, then I lost it.” One of Kendrick’s strengths is his honesty as it relates to his specific upbringing and surroundings, but here, he’s certainly lying. One thing Section.80 proves is that its author’s brain is neither lost nor useless, as he weaves together carefully constructed thoughts before spewing raps on each of the project’s 16 tracks, ensuring nothing is disposable or without purpose.
“Fuck Your Ethnicity” is an ideal intro for this body of work, an acceptance of all colors and creeds that sets the energy and content for the cohesive project. The other side of the album’s bookend is the J. Cole produced lead single “HiiiPower,” one of the finest tracks of the year. The atmospheric cut combines historical references with individual boasts and indictments on the rest of the game as Lamar looks to separate himself (“I won’t sugar coat it/You’ll die from diabetes if these other niggas wrote it”).
In between the two comes “Keisha’s Song (Her Pain),” a 2011 version of “Brenda’s Got a Baby.” A frighteningly vivid, goose bump-inducing tale of a teenage girl’s fight against the streets for her own survival, the tragic track comes to a head in the final 30 seconds, as Keisha is murdered and Kendrick admits, “My little sister 11, I looked her right in the face the day that I wrote this song/Sat her down and pressed play.” And it’s no coincidence that the TDE rhymer name drops the ‘Pac track in the first verse, either. “The Spiteful Chant” is a melodic sling shot launched at all detractors, featuring a fiery verse from ScHoolboy Q and Lamar vehemently rapping, “Everybody heard that I fuck with Dre and they wanna tell me I made it/Nigga, I ain’t make shit/If he gave me a handout I’ma take his wrist and break it!”
The stripped down, jazzy production of the 2011 XXL Freshman’s in-house team compliments the duality of Kendrick’s honest raps, but it’s hard not to imagine how the Dr. Dre protégé will benefit when his sound expands in the not so distant future. It will surely be a bit grander and more accessible to the masses—though that doesn’t seem something the wordsmith is losing sleep over in the meantime.
On “Ab-Soul’s Outro,” K. Dot encapsulates a slice of his essence: “You wonder how I could talk about money, hoes, clothes, God and history all in the same sentence.”
As Section.80 establishes, he’s able to do so with passion, focus, and sincerity. —Adam Fleischer