There was a manuscript I wrote to a friend about four months ago that documented Kendrick Lamar and how Section.80 is his superior record. Much to the chagrin of those good kid, m.A.A.d. city reps–and let’s be honest, it’s a near flawless record–I wanted to compare the two records on two characteristics: concept and writing. While gkmc weaves unmistakable perfection with regards to storytelling, fueled intensely by production that’s just as poetic as the lyrics K-Dot so effortless swings, Section.80 is the arc where we as outsiders can see where gkmc got all of its swag. This isn’t to say that gkmc isn’t original, but it’s very clear that the record is an evolved form of its counterpart. Where do you think Kobe Bryant learned his patented fadeaway? Why Michael Jordan of course. Basketball analogies aside, looking at Kendrick’s two powerful albums–although let’s not forget Overly Dedicated stands the test of time as well–good kid, m.A.A.d. city sits on the conceptual throne of storytelling, but there’s no denying that Kendrick took that from Section.80, a record that offers the best writing in his repertoire.
On “Ronald Reagan Era,” a track that paints the setting of Compton after the 80s crack epidemic, we can see Kendrick lather his lines with free expression that lacked in spots on gkmc. Because conceptual themes can sometimes limit what comes out on a page, the writing of gkmc doesn’t see ALL of Kendrick Lamar. On the flipside, what Section.80 lacks in a clear-cut thematic skeleton, it more than makes up for it in the writing. In the first verse we see K-Dot curve his metaphors to a T, without sacrificing detail and imagery:
“You ain’t heard nothin’ harder since Daddy Kane/ Take it in vain Vicodins couldn’t ease the pain/ Lightning bolts hit your body, you thought it rained/ Not a cloud in sight, just the shit that I write/ Strong enough to stand in front of a travellin’ freight train, are you trained?”
Towards the lower torso of the song, Kendrick continues with this delivery, more so now reflecting the song’s overall theme with the same interwoven writing style he presents in the first verse:
“I’m driving on E with no license or registration/ Heart racin’, racin’ past Johnny because he’s racist/ 1987, the children of Ronald Reagan/ Raked the leaves off your front porch with a machine blowtorch/ He blowin’ on stress, hopin’ to ease the stress/ He copping some blow, hopin’ that it can stretch.”
Over a calming beat that lays out to feature the lyricism, “Keisha’s Song (Her Pain),” is a difficult narrative that comments on prostitution, the women behind the industry, and the damage it does to these women. More than anything, “Keisha’s Song (Her Pain)” helps show why people have to do such things: “And Lord knows she’s beautiful/ Lord knows the usuals, leaving her body sore/ She take little change she make to fix her nail cuticles/ Lipstick is suitable to make you fiend for more/ She play Mr. Shakur, that’s her favorite rapper/ Bumping “Brenda’s Got a Baby” while a pervert yelling at her/ And she capture features of a woman, but only 17/ The 7 cars start honking, she start running like Flo-Jo/ Don’t care if they Joe Blow/ If they got money to blow a blow job is a sure go/ And sure enough don’t see a dime of dirty dollars/ She give all to her daddy but she don’t know her father, that’s ironic.”
While Section.80 follows the story of Keisha and Tammy and the children of the 80s, its overarching themes of urban decay, the War on Drugs, death, the new-age Civil Rights Movement, and innocence lost dominate the record. Compared to gkmc, Section.80’s conceptual timeline isn’t quite as solid, but the writing is more commandeering, something that is important in the long run. Take Section.80 for a wider view of where Kendrick Lamar is coming from, and if you can see that, then you can appreciate everything that Section.80 has to offer and more.
Over the past five years, Kendrick Lamar has been a front-runner in hip-hop. While the latest trends seemingly dominate the “mainstream,” the Compton native has created his own lane while still enjoying commercial success. The beats he rhymes over are banging, and he’s a superb storyteller. Amongst his contemporaries, few can match Kenrick’s mastery of the concept album. This is true of good kid, m.A.A.d city, his 2012 effort that truly put him on the map. We’re hearing this again on his two recent cuts, “i” and “The Blacker The Berry,” that seem to be leading up to a new record in 2015. With all of this in mind, revisiting his studio album debut, Section.80, reminds us where Kendrick was when he first came onto the scene and that his success is not a fluke.
Using the story of two girls, Keisha and Tammy, Section.80 is a vivid narrative that follows the life-arc of those born in the late 80’s, before the internet was readily available. Now those babies are twenty-somethings, engrossed in a technological world. Kendrick’s debut is not a celebration. Instead, Section.80 is a dark reflection on race, death, rape, drug abuse and being young. “A.D.H.D.” is about instant gratification and the use of prescription narcotics to get high. “Ronald Reagan Era” is about the lingering effects of the crack epidemic during the 80’s. “Kush & Corinthians” blurs the lines between morality and justice. The gut-wrenching “Keisha’s Song (Her Pain),” takes us into Keisha’s life as a prostitute, the sexual abuse she suffered as a young child and her untimely death. To close out the album is the undeniably powerful “HiiiPower,” that is fueled by the lasting influence of the Civil Rights Movement, and how millennials are making sense of it.
With production and guest appearances from Willie B, J. Cole, Terrace Martin, Wyldfyer, BJ The Chicago Kid, Ab-Soul and Schoolboy Q, Section.80 delivers musically as well as thematically. When an artist is topping the charts, it usually involves that artist giving up a certain amount of creative control. From the outside looking in, it seems as though Kendrick Lamar has yet to do that. This is definitely true of Section.80, an album with a powerful story and a lot to say. When you listen to a record such as Section.80, it’s very hard to be surprised at any of the success Kendrick Lamar has enjoyed over his career thus far.