“I spent 23 years on this Earth, searching for answers, ‘til one day I realized I had to come up with my own,” Kendrick Lamar says on his new album, Section.80. The Compton, California native delivers one of the year’s sharpest, smoothest albums - a testament to a well-crafted rhyme style, solid production and inspired lyrical swords. His journey for answers seemingly led him to find much more.
From the introductory track “Fuck Your Ethnicity,” Lamar showcases an intriguing perspective. On the piano laden intro, he shows an awareness of division lines that must be blurred for unity in the world. This awareness also includes an understanding of domestic abuse as heard on the somber “No Make-Up (Her Vice).” Another side of this is shown with Lamar’s potent pen on the powerful “Keisha’s Song (Her Pain),” where he describes a piercing journey a young woman travels after being sexually abused as a child. “Sure enough, don’t see a dime of dirty dollars/ Just give it all to her ‘daddy,’ but she don’t know her father,” he rhymes over the haunting track. It’s this type of narration that sets Lamar apart with depth that matches the deftness of his delivery.
While he shows a knack for observing those around him, he proves he can rhyme into a mirror as well. To show this, the RZA-assisted, hard-hitting “Ronald Regan Era” speaks about the environment that little Lamar saw while growing up. “Poe Man’s Dream (His Vice)” also demonstrates this. “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/ Since my uncles was institutionalized/ My intuition had said I was suited for family ties…Heaven or hell, base it all on my instincts/ My hands dirty, you worry about mud in your sink.” Later, “Ab-Souls Outro” finds him speaking about this generation and his goals over stellar jazzy instrumentation after Ab-Soul rhymes. “I’m not on the outside looking in. I’m not on the inside looking out,” he says. “I’m in the dead fucking center, looking around.” In doing this, he also shows he can look within.
There are minor bumps on the journey through Section.80. “Spiteful Chant,” “Rigamortus” and “Blow My High” all seem out of place on the album. The tracks aren’t necessarily terrible, but placed alongside the rest of the outstanding cuts on this album; these stand out for the wrong reasons. Still, the positives outweigh the negatives here. Listen to the horns on “Hol’ Up” or the piano keys on “No Make-Up (Her Vice)” and complaints are muffled or muted.
“Y’all be calling it Hip Hop,” he flows. “I be calling it Hypnotize.” Perhaps then, it’s appropriate that he drops an album that will help define the Hip Hop narrative for 2011. This 23-year-old may have been searching for answers, but that journey allowed him to find one of this year’s most outstanding albums with Section.80.