“I know some rappers using big words to make they similes curve / My simplest shit be more pivotal.”-Kendrick Lamar
*Editor’s Note: This originally appeared on Alex’s old review Tumblr last fall.*
Editor’s Notes from iTunes: “Created for, by, and about ’80s babys…’
Released: July 2, 2011
Producer: Top Dawg Entertainment
Notable Songs: “F*ck Your Ethnicity,” “No Make-Up (Her Vice),” “Ronald Regan Era (His Evils),” “Chapter Ten,” “Keisha’s Song (Her Pain),” “Kush & Corinthians (His Pain),” “Ab- Soul’s Outro (feat. Ab-Soul)”
When you initially listen to Section.80, Lamar’s first studio album–he released an EP and a Mix-Tape prior to this–the notes strike you in the same vain as most California rappers. It’s got the laid-back, no care attitude of Snoop-Dog or Tu-Pac, but just like most West coast rap, that “laid-back” vibe is deceptively simple. Lamar even goes so far as to state in one of his songs, “I know some rappers using big words to make they similes curve / My simplest shit be more pivotal,” and he’s absolutely right. His “simplest shit” runs circles around more verbosely complex rappers simply for the fact that Kendrick Lamar has mastered the art of storytelling in a way that most rappers, most musicians, often fail to do.
The stories, all about those good ol’ ‘80s babies, are deep and highly complex, and most often, moving. But the lyrics are not only what drives the stories forward, it’s the way the songs, themselves, are arranged. There’s an almost techno feel to all of the songs because Lamar employs some type of voice modulation, which gives his songs a distinctively ‘80s feel to them, but not in the same way those of you who are familiar with Taylor Swift’s 1989 (2014) album would know. There’s an almost robotic vibe to some of the songs, which rather than taking away from the stories, adds to them.
It’s not only the techno-feel of the songs that makes them stand out, but also the way Lamar mixes Hip-Hop/Rap with R&B and Blues, and then throws some Ragtime echoes in there as well.
The Ragtime is felt in “Ab-Soul’s Outro,” a deeply complex song, which, in my opinion, really gets at the heart of what Lamar is trying to do with his first album. He raps:
See a lot of y’all don’t understand Kendrick Lamar / because you wonder how I can talk about money, hoes, clothes, God and history / all in the same sentence / You know what all them things have in common? / Only half of the truth in you tell it / See I spent twenty-three years on this earth searching for answers / ‘til one day I realized I had to come up with my own…So the next time I talk about money, hoes, clothes, God and history / in the same sentence / just know I meant it, and you felt it / ‘cause you too are searching for answers…
He’s not seeking a capital “T” truth, he’s not even looking to advertise that he has found a capital “T” truth to explain the intricacies of human existence. What he is looking to do is explain his experience, his struggle, his relation to the universe, and he’s saying ‘I felt this, and you feel it too.’
In a way, his entire album is about this. It’s the incredibly human stories he tells, from “F*ck Your Ethnicity,” where he explains what Hip-Hop has done for him, what he hopes to do with Hip-Hop, all the while simultaneously making a sort of political statement, to “No Make-Up (Her Vice),” where you think the song is gonna take on a Drake “Best I Ever Had” vibe. However, “No Make-Up (Her Vice)” then hits you with these lyrics in the first verse, “It’s the beauty in her, but when the makeup occur / I don’t see it, all I see is blur,” which then change to the following in the second verse: “(It’s the beauty in me, but what he don’t see / is that I had a black eye).” The same hit- you-in-the-face storytelling thread continues into “Keisha’s Song (Her Pain)”, with the following lyrics, “Then caught a knife her bladder, left her dead, raped in the street / Keisha’s song / Mm, my little sister eleven, I looked her right in the face / the day that I wrote this song, sat her down and pressed play.” The song is both a remembrance and a warning, like most of the songs on the album.
Kendrick Lamar mixes beats with a unique storytelling style and that makes the listener, when the impact of the story finally being told hits him/her go, “Holy fucking shit, man.”