Kendrick Lamar- #Section80

Posted July 6, 2011

Hip-hop has declared many young emcees the savior, although it’s unclear exactly what hip-hop...

#Section80 Album Review

Hip-hop has declared many young emcees the savior, although it’s unclear exactly what hip-hop needed to be saved from. Materialism, shallowness, commercialization, the truth is that hip-hop has always contained the sins we so often say are a symptom of an exclusively modern disease. But still we wait for an emcee to emerge that would deliver us from mediocrity and elevate us to the higher ground that made us fall in love in the first place. Some looked to Drake, but for all his appeal it’s become clear that he’s only interested in saving himself, not anyone else, and certainly not hip-hop. Others follow J. Cole’s every breath, but for now the heir apparent is still very much mortal. And yes, there is a mystic cult convinced that a sacred text will emerge Jay Electronica, but he’s far too shrouded in shadows and fog to walk among the people. No, if anyone in the next generation is going to finally uplift us like Nas’ Illmatic uplifted the generation before us, my prayers are with Kendrick Lamar.

I won’t front and say I saw this coming. When I first heard K-Dot speak about Hater Love I thought he was another young west coast rapper with a fresh style but nothing particularly remarkable to say, and I wasn’t far off. But in that time he’s not only markedly improved his flow (and received the golden touch from the almighty Dr. Dre) but revealed himself as rap visionary. With every project he releases, first on his breakthrough O(verly) D(edicated) and now his new album #Section80, Kendrick’s proven that he not only wants to change his place in the world, but the world itself.

I know this all seems like lofty praise, and of course I’m taking some poetic license with all the savior talk in the name of writing an interesting review, but the truth is I haven’t been as inspired to replay an album, to unravel its complexities, in a minute. (Apparently Cudi inspires similar feelings, but not in me.) I’m not quite sure yet what #Section80 means, but I know it means something, and I’m committed to figuring it out. Just take lead single HiiPoWeR, an obvious reference to Kanye’s Power, although where Kanye used Power to rail against a system that had degraded him, Kendrick fires shots at a system that degrades us all; and does it, may I point out, in a way that would never dream of using a phrase as clichéd as “the system”. It’s not just a rant it’s a manifesto, a philosophy that runs throughout the album, even when the material turns far more personal. Quasi-trilogy Tammy’s Song, Keisha’s Song and No Makeup, all detail the fight for women to remain human in a world dedicated to stripping away their humanity. And yes, this is usually the point where I would apologize for being so serious but I’m not going to apologize this time. You don’t have to delve this far into #Section80 to enjoy it, but it’s deep enough to dive way the f**k in if you feel so inclined, and that’s exactly what’s so remarkable about it.

But what I really admire most about #Section80 is that it would have been easy to play the lyrical rapper role and deliver social commentary of a reworked Pete Rock beat but instead the album incorporates, and perhaps endorses, and perhaps satirizes, and perhaps all of the above, elements that are both deeply street and deeply left field. Take Ronald Reagan Era, which underpins its crack baby commentary with a Randy Newman-esque intro and mini-skits. There are no easy songs here, not even the Michael Jordan banger of OD. The album’s most easily accessible song, Hol’ Up, sounds like a breezy horn-driven cut on its surface but it isn’t long until Kendrick is swinging the focus onto religious hypocrisy, and it’s hard to tell if the Pimp C sample on Blow My High is meant as a serious homage to UGK or a commentary on the faults of excess, but either way it’s hard to remember a time when a song paused to shout out Aaliyah. But if we’re really going to talk about blurring the boundaries we have to talk about Ab-Soul’s Outro, an almost purely organic jazz piece that hovers on the line between spoken word and hip-hop (if there is really a line).

Kendrick Lamar’s voice has a consistency that borders on monotone. True. Kendrick Lamar has a long way to go before he can stand next to the legendary artists that inspired him. True. It’s also true that in the midst of a hip-hop renaissance Kendrick’s emerging as our best chance at salvation. #Section80 may not be a sacred text but I’ve got the feeling that in five years it may just prove to be prophetic.

DJBooth Rating - 4.5 Spins

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Posted July 6, 2011
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