Review Summary: On his first album, Kendrick Lamar mixes thought-provoking rhymes with excellent production and displays an enormous degree of potential.
Outside the brutal continuum of decadence, street violence, and gentrification stands the self-deprecating Kendrick Lamar. He's slowly watched his generation trudge through endless hardships, merely tantalized by the chance to shatter the status quo. Though it will not be easy to alter this pattern of decline, Kendrick believes there is hope, a desire buried within each and every one of us to bring about justice and unity. On his first album, Section.80
, Kendrick Lamar brings socially cognizant messages into his music through lurid imagery, deft wordplay, and a willingness to reveal himself to his audience.
A Compton native, Kendrick portrays himself not as a preacher or a prophet at a blood-soaked pulpit, but as an authentic human being with flaws of his own. He places himself among his brothers and sisters of Generation Y using bold conceptual themes like murder, race, drugs, prostitution, poverty, and even the question of what constitutes beauty in our society. Furthermore, his lyricism proves to be considerably sophisticated, attesting to his prowess as both a poet and a commentator. However, what truly puts Section.80
in a league of its own is its perspective. Kendrick's tenacious rapping allows his personality to unravel, and, unlike some of his hip-hop contemporaries, he is not interested in clasping the desensitized lifestyle of a muscle on the streets or the tough as nails semblance of a gangster. He raps about these topics to reshape the way his audience thinks about the culture currently afflicted by a myriad of substantial problems.
is teeming with intriguing lyrics that help to bring color to the messages Kendrick buries beneath them. Manipulating the English language so creatively, he comes across as an incredibly precocious young man with some riveting things to say. On the opening track, "F*** Your Ethnicity", he sets an unfamiliar tone for the album when he utters, "Ain't nobody gonna win that war." to suggest the fruitlessness of battling across racial lines. Also, on the wonderfully subtle but impactful "Poe Mans Dreams (His Vice)", he says, "I used to want to see the penitentiary way after elementary. Thought it was cool to look the judge in the face when he sentenced me." Thus, he revisits the street hustler mindset inculcated upon him at an early age with a more experienced and mature viewpoint. On songs like "Ronald Reagan Era (His Evils)", "Rigamortis", and "Kush & Corinthians (His Pain)" he keeps his lyrical approach complex but decipherable as he addresses relevant issues from the point of view of a spokesman tired of being a cog in this violent machine.
Moreover, the LP's production endows the songs with an engaging set of beats and instrumental arrangements. At times the sound is grandiose, but when necessary, the intensity is deflated to give Kendrick's literary exploits the proper space to flourish. Tracks like "Blow My High (Members Only)" shoot for a clunkier but unfaltering vibe, while a few numbers like "Ab-Soul's Outro" incorporate elements of jazz into the mix to comprise the sonically enriching and galvanizing quality of the record. To assist the flow of the album as it encircles the backstories of two women who fall prey their wicked external environment, Kendrick throws in interludes like "Chapter 10" and, although their inclusion does not exactly tie the album together into a perfectly cohesive whole, they serve to establish the contemplation that takes place as their troubled paths unfold.
At the heart of Section.80
is a group of people at the very bottom who don't know any better. Easily one of the album's most somber but equally powerful tracks is "Keisha's Song (Her Pain)", which tells the heart-wrenching story of a prostitute numbed by the hopeless burden of everyday life as well as her tragic fate. Ashtro Bot's recurring hook on the song brings the idea into a cyclical sort of fashion to symbolize the circle of life on these belligerent streets. Kendrick potently raps, "In her heart she hate it there, but in her mind she made it where nothing really matters, so she hit the back seat. Rosa Parks never a factor when she making ends meet." and conveys a sense of wisdom on the track without ever abandoning the empathy that shines through his thoughtful words.
Of course, Section.80
is not a flawless album. While Kendrick's lyrics, for the most part, are momentous and amusing, some of his verses and hooks are occasionally underwhelming, like on the relatively bland "Tammy's Song (Her Evils)", where he lazily delivers obscenities from the viewpoint of a young woman in a manner that is lackadaisical. While Kendrick displays room for development, it becomes clear throughout the album that he is gradually honing his craft and showing a colossal amount of potential. His nasally vocals also lend an eccentric edge to his image and further distance him from the more forceful and threatening entities he seeks to overturn. The album reaches a stellar climax with Kendrick's call to action, "HiiiPoWeR" where he advocates a movement to write our own destiny. Sharp lines emerge, such as "My issue isn't televised and you ain't gotta tell the wise.", "This is physical and mental, I won't sugarcoat it. You'd die from diabetes if these other n*****s wrote it", and "Get up off that slave ship. Build your own pyramids, write your own hieroglyphs." Strengthened by a booming chorus, the song ends the LP with an explosion of passion and drive.
converts Kendrick Lamar's musical visions into an artistic display cultural awareness. Whether he's attributing the rise of narcotics and crime to the austerity of the Reagan era or simply questioning the rudimentary definitions of morality, his rhymes are on point and his music speaks for itself. Thus, his style lays the groundwork for a fresh new approach to hip-hop. His beats and samples are crisp and well-placed, and each of the guest appearances add a different shade to the album. However, the crux of this album is who Kendrick is as a person and how that leads to grounded outlooks on the world at large. You are a product of your environment, but according to Kendrick, there is an opportunity to break free, together.
Keisha's Song (Her Pain)
Poe Mans Dreams (His Vice)
Ronald Reagan Era (His Evils)
F*** Your Ethnicity