It’s taken me a little longer than I wanted to get to this review, but honestly there was just so much music that dropped this week, I really wanted to be able to take it all in before I began breaking it down. I reviewed Lil B’s I’m Gay because it dropped out of nowhere midweek and it wholly surpassed my expectations so I wanted to post an instant reaction. Section.80, on the other hand, was set to release July 2nd, and my expectations were high, really high. Kendrick Lamar has blown up a great deal over the course of the past few months since being named one of XXL Magazine’s Top Freshmen of 2011, and the two singles off Section.80 he released in the weeks prior to July 2nd, “HiiiPower” and “Ronald Reagan Era,” were outstanding.
I didn’t think this album could exceed my expectations. Obviously Kendrick’s style is totally unique and fresh, but someone releasing their first album made available for purchase can’t possibly deliver in full, right? Well, what I’m about to say, I’m going to say with total confidence and certainty. This is the best hip-hop album of 2011, and I’m not sure if anything will be able to top it anytime soon. And by soon I don’t mean months, I mean I wouldn’t be surprised if by this time next year there’s not an album that touches this one. Kendrick displays incredible versatility from start to finish, and I guarantee you could select three songs at random from Section.80 and there would be more meaning in those three songs than in most entire projects released today. Section.80 is the kind of album you just need to sit down and listen to without skipping a track, and without any distractions. In all seriousness, I feel like I’m part of Kendrick’s world when I put on my Beats and fade into the music, and I’ve only listened all the way through three times.
I don’t have any kind of rating system set in stone, but it’s on a scale of 1-4, this is a 4. If it’s a scale of 1-10, this is a 10. Section.80 is simply incredible, and the fact that it’s independently produced and released by Kendrick’s label Top Dawg Entertainment makes it even better. Before you read my track by track review, PLEASE go to iTunes and purchase this album right now if you made a mistake and haven’t already. This album is an instant classic. Don’t be one of the fools that misses out.
1. Fuck Your Ethnicity – “Fire burnin inside my eyes, this the music that saved my life, ya’ll be callin it hip-hop, I be callin it hypnotize..” – Those are the first words that come out of Kendrick’s mouth on this album, and they pretty much set the stage perfectly for what’s to come. If nothing else is clear on this album, and it all begins with this song, it’s Kendrick’s hunger. Section.80 reeks of hunger from start to finish, and I mean that in the sense that Kendrick gets every one of his messages and themes across with an extraordinary sort of laid back ferocity and at no point is he…well, lazy…as I feel so many rappers are today.
2. Hol’ Up – This track released a couple days before the album dropped, and I’ve easily listened to it 20 times since. “Hol’ Up” is without a doubt one of the smoothest, catchiest songs on Section.80, with the chilled out horns playing in the background and the flowing lyrics. Even though it really makes no sense coming from me, I can’t help but sing along with the opening lines – “I wrote this record while 30 thousand feet in the air, stewardess complimentin me on my nappy hair,” every time I listen to this song. This track has an old school vibe which I love, and Kendrick lays the groundwork for what is a common theme throughout the album, his maturity and insight beyond his years.
3. A.D.H.D. – That Krayzie Bone flow! This sounds like a classic Bone Thugs track to me, and comparing someone’s flow to Krayzie Bone’s is a compliment, in case you didn’t know. Kendrick references being born during the crack epidemic in the 80s and how so many 80s babies are the products of their environment and have become “ADHD crazy” and dependent on drugs to get them through their lives. A deep track with a steady, clean flow.
4. No Make-Up (Her Vice) (ft. Colin Munroe) – This track surfaced a couple hours before Section.80 released at midnight on iTunes, so I had a bit of a head start listening to this song. It’s not one of the strongest tracks on the album, but it does have a little more commercial appeal with Colin Munroe’s catchy hook. Still, listening to this album straight through from start to finish, this is about when you begin realizing that Kendrick’s not rapping about the same thing over and over again, like many artists are guilty of. Every song has a different message, and none of the tracks seem redundant or repetitive. This one’s pretty simple, and the concept is questioning something I, and I think a lot of guys, struggle with understanding. There are so many beautiful women that are so self-conscious and feel the need to look like every other girl so they cover up what sets them apart with makeup (and that serves as a metaphor to their being as well). Kendrick speaks from the eyes of a guy standing behind his woman, watching her apply makeup in the mirror, and trying to comprehend why she is stressing so much over her appearance. Really cool song, conceptually.
5. Tammy’s Song (Her Evils) – I really like this song. It released a few days early along with an official visual, and once again Kendrick expands his boundaries with a sort of trippy, fast-paced track like this one. This extremely clever track introduces two separate and very different female characters enduring their own abusive, untrustworthy relationships, and after a while of repeating the same story so many times, they decide they’re just better off “hitting the block, turning left, and turning dyke.” Kendrick’s storytelling is on point in this track, and even with the hectic beat it’s easy to follow.
6. Chapter Six – The sixth track on the album, and the first of two interludes of sorts. Kendrick uses this one as a platform to question those same 80s babies he references throughout why it is that they’re obsessed with “living fast and dying young,” all while simply “praying they make it to 21.” There’s not much to “Chapter Six,” but it definitely works in the album.
7. Ronald Reagan Era – Easily one of the most distinctive songs on the album, this one dropped a week or so ahead of time and has arguably the catchiest hook of all the songs. Kendrick points out that though he chooses not to live the gang-related and crime-ridden lifestyle so many Compton youths choose to live, he can certainly relate to it and make connections to the youth through his music. Kendrick has talked in countless interviews about how he’s doing all he can to promote positivity and give Compton something to be proud of, in a sense. In “Ronald Reagan Era,” he’s trying to prove the inanity of dedicating yourself to violence and crime life, especially when that’s what so many people expect you to do coming from where he comes from.
8. Poe Man’s Dreams (His Vice) – It’s hard picking just one, but this might be my favorite track on the album. It’s one of those types of songs you don’t fully appreciate on your first listen through, but it grows on you exponentially over time. “Stand for somethin or fall for anything,” is what Kendrick preaches on this track, and with a smooth bridge from GLC, the whole thing just works in every way. Kendrick is basically saying that through his dedication and positive influence, he wants to inspire troubled youth or people in general from continuing down a troublesome path and have reason to believe they have a future that doesn’t involve drugs, violence, or jail time. My favorite segment in this song goes, “I know some rappers using big words to make their similes curve, my simplest shit be more pivotal, I penetrate the hearts of good kids and criminals, worry some individuals that live life critical, so won’t you bear witness while I bare feet, so you can walk in my shoes and get to know me…” Just a smooth, mellow, jazz-influenced track that Kendrick spits straight truth on.
9. The Spiteful Chant (ft. SchoolBoy Q) – This song has a real majestic sound to it, and though it’s not the strongest track lyrically, it’s really cool to hear Kendrick rap introspectively about his progression from his early K Dot (original stage name) days to where he is at now, and the frustrations that come with his steady rise in fame. All the sudden he’s blowing up, and people around him are changing, acting how they think he wants them to act and “sucking his dick.” My favorite and most powerful line in the song is when he references Dr. Dre discovering him and bringing him onto the scene – “Everybody heard that I fuck with Dre and they wanna tell me I made it, nigga I ain’t shit if he gave me a handout imma take his wrist and break it…” – meaning he doesn’t want a handout and realizes he’s got a long way and a lot of personal sacrifice and hard work to go before he truly makes it.
10. Chapter Ten – This is an instrumental interlude for the most part, but Kendrick spits about 15 seconds of absolute fire with the bottom line that at the end of the day, he’s just another 80s baby who can speak to everyone, but some of what he raps about may fall on ears that can’t comprehend all he and his generation of kids turned young adults have gone through.
11. Keisha’s Song (Her Pain) (ft. Ashtro Bot) – This song gives “Poe Man’s Dreams” a run for its money for my favorite song on the album, and actually at the end of the day I think this has gotta be my favorite, if only because 2Pac is referenced. But in all seriousness, this track is about as real as it gets. Everything about it is so raw and from the heart and when Kendrick spits the lines “she play Mr Shakur, that’s her favorite rapper, bumpin Brenda’s Got a Baby while a pervert yellin at her,” you can almost feel Pac’s passion in his voice. Kendrick is talking about the vicious and inescapable life of prostitution once a young teenage girl gets involved with it. He’s pleading for girls to have self-respect and even says in closing, “My little sister eleven, I looked her tight in the face the day that I wrote this song, set her down and pressed play.” This track leaves so much to comprehend, and it’s emotionally deep in a way that no songs are anymore. This is Kendrick at his absolute best.
12. Rigamortus – I’m not in love with this song, but I still like it. Kendrick shows his versatility by spitting over a very fast-paced, hectic beat with a different style on this one, and he confidently states that what he’s putting out might simply be enough to murder the competition.
13. Kush & Corinthians (ft. BJ The Chicago Kid) – A nice complement to the uptempo track preceding it, Kendrick slows it down in “Kush & Corinthians” and talks about living your own life and living it your own way, because “you never know when a bullet might hit.” BJ The Chicago Kid closes out the song with a verse contemplating what he would do or how he would live differently if he had another chance to live with a loved one that recently passed away, but in the end his Mama always says “according to get everything, you gotta risk everything,” so maybe he wouldn’t change anything at all.
14. Blow My High (Members Only) – A sample of Pimp C’s verse in Jay-Z’s “Big Pimpin” serves as the framework for this song which Kendrick uses air a few of his previously unconveyed frustrations as well as several R.I.P. shoutouts to Aaliyah. There’s not much to this song and it’s not one that I’ll ever listen to unless I’m working my way through the whole album.
15. Ab-Souls Outro (ft. Ab-Soul) – This track doesn’t need much explaining. It’s not all that catchy or memorable, but Ab-Soul has a handful of interesting lines in his two verses, and Kendrick’s lines “Life is a traffic jam, I wrote this because I was ordered to, people say I speak for Generation Y, why lie, I do, Section 80, your son will play me if the radio won’t,” are accurately telling of where he sees himself and the purpose of his words. The closing of the song, though, is one of the best segments on the album – “I’m not the next pop star, I’m not the next socially aware rapper, I’m a human mother fucking being.”
16. HiiiPower (produced by J. Cole) – I’m not going to act like everyone and their grandma hasn’t heard this song already. I’m just gonna post the video to close my review, cause it’s crazy. “HiiiPower” dropped a couple of months ago and pretty much introduced Kendrick to the world, and the track is near perfect. I’m sorry if you haven’t heard it already and are just realizing Kendrick is “doing the moonwalk hoping I blow up in time, cause 2012 might not be a fucking legend, tryna be a fucking legend, the man of mankind…”