The overpriced Louis Vuitton suitcase leans up against the front door, an expensive homage to the Kanye West that taught you about soul samples and gold diggers. A plane ticket to paradise as the destination sits on top of a passport. Everything is prepared for this long-awaited vacation. What you don’t foresee is the plane’s engine failing, dropping from the sky like an expelled angel from Heaven University. You’ll survive, miraculously, making it to the sands of paradise, but never be in touch with modern society again. You’ll live with the natives, food and shelter will be supplied, but internet and WiFi will be sacrificed. Thankfully, before you left your home, you spent an hour sitting in front of a computer, struggling to transfer all the essential music on an iPhone that needs more memory. 16 gigs are never enough. You reach the TDE folder, room for only one more album, and there’s somehow no Kendrick Lamar on your phone.
Do you choose Section.80 or good kid, m.A.A.d city?
Personally, I'm taking Section.80.
This question reminds me of A3C in 2013. Before the music festival kicked off, Heineken threw an art event. Beer in almost every hand and paintings graced each wall. Curtis Williams from Two-9 was in attendance. Usually, when we speak, it’s brief, but somehow GKMC and Section.80 was brought up. What started as a casual conversation turned into a passionate discussion on which album is better. Things escalated once he tried to convince me "Swimming Pools" was a better record than "A.D.H.D," like saying E&J is better than Hennessy.
The conversation quickly became bigger than us. The woman with him with the summer sunset hair got called over. I responded by shouting Malcolm over; he was busy collecting free T-shirts. Soon the faces became unfamiliar. We were asking anyone in arm's reach, literally. Though we never reached a general consensus, the mind roams when the beer is free. Our duel ended in a stalemate, agreeing to disagree. Two years later my mind hasn’t changed.
The year is 2012. I’m 21 years old and hopelessly discouraged. Unemployment was high, liquor was cheap and the world was ending. Days were spent writing blog posts that no one read and attending job fairs featuring companies that refused to hire. Nothing was moving forward, I was trapped running in a hamster wheel. Stressed induced insomnia kept me up until sunrise, greeting the glowing orb with a good morning middle finger.
Music was—as it always has been—a necessity. Headphones were the cheap gummies from Wal-Mart; I was spending $10 every month, that’s how long they lasted before an earbud would blowout. Any extra money went into the gas tank of my aunt’s car, my transportation to concerts in the city. Shaking hands, kissing babies, searching for my entrance. But I hated networking. The promises were always grandiose, they fed me enough dreams there was extra to take home in a doggy bag, but nothing ever came to fruition. I had a few albums in constant rotation, but the most memorable soundtrack to this time of misery was Kendrick Lamar’s Section.80.
The album is a reflection of my generation. Kendrick's perspectives are three-dimensional, the concept captures a timeframe that reflected our lives. I can’t play "A.D.H.D" or "Chapter Six" without reminiscing about house parties that had enough liquor to intoxicate a whale and kickbacks where there are more blunts than bodies. Chasing a good time, praying for tomorrow, living for today. I know Tammy, we sat in the same classrooms, attended the same events, made out in backseats. I know Keisha, beautiful women who mask insecurities and deeper issues with makeup; damaged beauties who exchange their bodies for monetary wealth. They aren’t standing on corners, it’s not tricking if you got it, they love to say.
"You know, when you part of Section.80, you feel like no one can relate / Cause you are, you are, a loner, loner." —Kendrick Lamar, "A.D.H.D."
There's "Hiiipower" and "Kush & Corinthians" for introspection ("Them demons got me, I ain't prayed in some weeks") and "Poe Man Dream" for inspiration ("So the next time he roll up and drop grams in it, He'll probably be out of work, laid back, while he smoke good, eat good, live good").
I used "Rigamortis" to introduce Kendrick to anyone that would listen, any car with an aux chord heard the one million dollar horns. Kendrick wrote an album that makes the young look in the mirror, the old look in their past while sounding like hip-hop’s future. The lost generation, discovering drugs, drank and searching for God wherever there's free WiFi. If my kids ever wanted to know my surroundings during my early twenties, this album is a portrait. It also showcases the beginning of one of the most exceptional rappers of my era.
good kid, m.A.A.d city is Kendrick’s Mona Lisa. The kind of masterpiece that should be hung in record shops and art galleries. It only takes one listen, but by the end, you’ll acknowledge it's the greatest achievement of his career. After the first few plays, I couldn’t deny that the music was cloaked in magic. The imagery is incredibly vivid; I’m convinced he wrote this album with a screenwriter’s quill. Kendrick puts you in the backseat of his momma’s van, you become one of the homies succumbing to peer pressure, you’ll hate Sherane more than Skyler White, and your heart will sink when his friend is killed. It’s like listening to juxtaposed audio from Boyz In The Hood, Menace II Society and Do The Right Thing.
Kendrick created a narrative with the cohesion of a feature film and accomplished his intentions flawlessly. The incredible music left my ears rejoicing, praising the hip-hop gods for delivering, but it didn’t sink into my soul like its predecessor. I’ve witnessed the effects of someone hitting the shenanigans, freestyling in backseats, diving in swimming pools full of Absolut and whispering "Poetic Justice" lyrics in the ears of goddesses with Janet Jackson braids, but it never left the impact of Section.80.
What I like most about Section.80 is that it sounds like the perfect balance of Overly Dedicated and GKMC. A concept album, one that puts an entire generation under the microscope. Instead of being autobiographical, Kendrick writes from the perspective of us all. If GKMC is a blockbuster film, Section.80 is a book full of short stories. The loose connection allows the album to have fillers without ruining the narrative.
Looking at both albums, GKMC feels like a tour through the jungle that is Compton as an observer on the outside looking in. Section.80 feels like being in the jungle, a part of the land, the inside looking out.
Kendrick didn’t have a concept for OD, the mixtape that served as a collection of records that exhibited his prowess as a rapper. "The Heart Pt. 2" is what a starving lion sounds like, while "R.O.T.C" and "Average Joe" are the embodiment of a good, hopeless kid in a peninsula of poverty and madness. Just a small glimpse at what he was preparing for the future. Section.80 is the introduction of the bigger vision, illustrating that he can construct concepts and still out-rap his contemporaries. GKMC is the grand unveiling, what he was striving to create since the Kendrick Lamar EP. All his albums are connected by that central theme, trying to overcome the tragedy of his environment. Kendrick's growth is natural maturity, each album representing a stepping stone in his career. His constant evolution makes it impossible to re-create the previous.
Section.80 over GKMC is a preference. I'm proclaiming it better because it's been more embedded in my soul. Both are incredible pieces of art, two leaves that fell from the same family tree, one just happens to connect with my dirty life and times. I’m still living in Section.80, for better or worse. If I had to choose one, to be my companion for eternity, it wouldn’t be a hard decision.
So strip away the album sales, the acclaim, the status, and the hype, and ask yourself, which one can you live without?
By Yoh, aka YohO(verly)D(edicated), aka @Yoh31