Review Summary: Get up off that slave ship, build your own pyramid, write your own hieroglyphs.
Quick. Go to Youtube, type in your favorite early 90's rapper, click on a video, and look at the top comments. You're probably going to see a bunch of people lamenting the state of modern day rap and wishing things were still the way they were "back in the day". The thing is, they're kinda right - in a way. The modern rap market is oversaturated and overplayed in the media the way it never was back then. The advent of social media has completely transformed the rap game, and as a result we have countless no-name rappers strutting their stuff on Datpiff and flooding the market with gangsta rap mixtapes of questionable to low quality. On the other hand, we have a constant influx of socially conscious rappers, always present to critique the state of modern hip hop.
Standing in the crossroads we have Compton's young Kendrick Lamar. He delivers his first full album in Section.80, having released an EP in 2009, and by all measures it is a tour de force. Kendrick's flow is to be marvelled at - he spits adroitly over the luscious beats, with a skill rivalling the aforementioned greats of the 90's. Choice cut "Rigamortis" finds his rapping at its best, as he absolutely demolishes and raps all around a jazzy beat that wouldn't sound out of place on a Gang Starr cut.
Kendrick's true claim to glory, however, lies not in his flow - there are countless young rappers who can spit, and even Soulja Boy has his tracks with double-timed rap. No, Kendrick's skill lies in his seemingly effortless ability to blend two worlds of formerly warring schools of hip hop, the so-called "conscious rap" and "gangsta rap". The stories he tells on Section.80 are rivalled by few, whether past or present. "No Make-Up" is particularly of note, finding him taking a look at the sociology of, well, make-up - how girls try to perfect themselves and ignore their natural beauty, all through the wondrous method of song. But where his contemporaries would sound trite and played-out, Kendrick manages to sound fresh and new. He achieves the rare task of making intelligent lyrics sound interesting, a feat his predecessors Nas and Common would do well to take lessons from. And HiiiPower is a revolutionary masterwork, namechecking historical black rebels Huey Newton and Bobby Seale in its platitudes. Kendrick sums up his attitude thus: "This is physical and mental, I won't sugarcoat it / You'd die from diabetes if these other niggas wrote it". The incredibly smooth beat from J. Cole doesn't hurt either. In truth, the production on this album is another huge strength. It brings to mind Kanye's opus My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy in its sprawling soundscapes, maintaining its beauties while managing to avoid its epic excesses. Sans the aforementioned J Cole and a cut from the RZA, there are no big name producers here, which helps bring Kendrick's raps to the forefront. The dearth of guest rappers is another big strength. Kendrick is a very strong lyricist, and needs no help to make great raps.
Section.80 is not without its faults. Kendrick is a young rapper, and is prone to his own lyrical failures - it's hard not to cringe when you hear him rap "Grown men never should bite their tongue / Unless you eatin' pussy that smell like it's a stale plum" (really, Kendrick? is that the best rhyme you could think of?), and there are certainly several other duds. Like most rap albums of the modern era, it could stand to lose playing time; although there is no track that stands out as filler, tracks like "The Spiteful Chant" drag on past their welcome.
The best summary comes from Kendrick himself in the so-called outro "Ab-Souls Outro": "I'm not the next pop star. I'm not the next socially aware rapper. I am a mother***ing human being, over dope ass instrumentation."