In an age where journalists are champing at the bit to taste-make and classify artists and genres, it feels inappropriate to categorize Kendrick Lamar -- and even more dismissive to call his music hip-hop -- but referring to Kendrick Lamar as a hip-hop artist may be the face-lift the genre has long needed. Lamar has always been one to embrace the non-traditional, and with each output he's further distinguished himself within the hip-hop community as an outlying -- yet essential -- entity. On his latest release Section.80, Lamar isolates himself from the confines of rap stigmas. In my opinion, before Section.80 no rapper had ever managed to set the benchmark in rap music while challenging musicians outside of the genre quite this well (Mos Def's slept on The New Danger, Tupac's Me Against The World, and Madlib and MF DOOM's Madvillainy being the only notable competitors). Simply put, Section.80 is an undeniably great record no matter what lens you use to view it.
The most striking and important aspect of Section.80 is how Lamar annexes awareness and thoughtfulness. Last April at The Shrine in Chicago, Lamar took out a wooden stool in the middle of his set, sat and reminisced with the audience about growing up with parents who hailed from Chicago and their influence on his music. He continued for a few minutes, visibly moved by nostalgia, before requesting his DJ to throw on one of his parents favorite soul tracks. For almost the entire song he danced and conducted the horns and hook with his microphone before returning to his set. This was somewhat of a watershed moment; here was a man who'd removed himself entirely from the egotism of performing to applaud both his origins as well as the significance of the city in which he performed, embracing the moment in a way I'd never seen any musician do before.
Section.80 is presented with the same thoughtfulness Lamar displayed last April. Throughout, both sonic and lyrical aberration allows the album to appropriately alter its appeal without straying from the narrative. Section.80's evocative and inventive production complements Lamar's rhymes, alternately adding an atmospheric sound or providing social commentary -- sometimes both. Lamar raps with passion and his lyrics parallel many of rap underground's most politically outspoken. However, where artists like Immortal Technique are met with dismissal for cramming their ideals and sentiments towards society down our throats, Lamar wisely distances his most thought-provoking and important lyrics from one another, making his points all the more poignant. “Keisha's Song (Her Pain)” is his “Brenda's Got A Baby” and he knows it. Before you can articulate Tupac comparisons he's already acknowledged them himself in a clever fashion that incorporates the late idolized emcee into the framework of his tale. “Keisha's Song (Her Pain)” refreshingly expands on the tired melodrama of prostitution by chronicling not only “Keisha’s” endeavors as a prostitute but also the origin of her condition: "My little sister eleven, I looked her right in the face the day I wrote this song/ Sat her down and pressed play."
Whether Lamar is transfixed on the effects of the Reagan era, Generation Y's political apathy or paying rhyme homage to the Bone Thugs (“A.D.H.D”) he's consistently effective and comfortable. Interjection tracks like “Hol' Up”, “A.D.H.D” and “Rigamortus” balance tracks like “Keisha's Song (Her Pain)”, “Tammy's Song (Her Evils)”, and the Colin Munroe-sabotaged “No Make-Up (Her Vice)”. On these tracks, Lamar embraces many of the vices he deems social detractors -- not as contradictions but more as offerings of appreciation for other lifestyles. He uses them as catalysts to add levity, soulful vibes and mainstream accessibility to his work. Excluding “The Spiteful Chant”, each track manages at minimum one knowledgeable insight coupled with cohesive and complimentary productions from the ardent Digi+Phonics team and the electronic West Coast stylings of THC.
Section.80 is the rare, precise gem of musical artwork that's equally apt for beach cruises and isolation. No concept seems contrived, songs bleed in and out of each other sublimely, and featured artists are effectively used. On the second to last track, Top Dog Entertainment partner Ab-Soul takes the helm over an avant-garde jazz backdrop reminiscent of John Coltrane. He corrals any loose ends and summarizes Lamar's stances before Lamar himself closes the track with his definitive statement: "So the next time I talk about money, hoes, clothes, god and history all in the same sentence/ Just know I meant it and you felt it, 'cause you too are searching for answers/ I'm not the next pop-star/ I'm not the next socially aware rapper/ I am a human motherfuckin' being over dope ass instrumentation."
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