They say it all comes down to hype. There’s some truth to that – as much as fans of the latest up-and-comer may object, there’s no denying the hundreds of could-have-beens who simply never catch wind. Does this give us a reason to detract from the latest hot shot’s moment? Certainly not – one way or another, Kendrick Lamar has gotten himself this far. To be sure, buzz has been kind to the young Compton MC, but in the age old tale, as his star brightens, the envy only grows.
There’s quite a lot to envy. The antithesis of the only young hip hop artist to lay claim to the sort of significance he’s seeking – that’d be Drake – Lamar didn’t have soap opera fame or big name artists leaping out of the woodwork to create his career for him. Alright, so Dr. Dre’s given the kid props, but Lamar’s hardly relying on the good doctor. Instead, with ever-increasing vigor, K.Dot has been uprooting the sleepily comfortable scene.
Like any young artist, he was playing by the numbers on tapes such as Training Day, but Kendrick Lamar began to be something far greater than the norm on his audaciously lengthy self-titled EP. Then he dropped O.D., and folks really began to take notice. Lamar found himself in that awkward position: on the precipice of buzz, nearing genuine fame. Rather than hobble towards an awkward debut a la the Thank Me Laters and Finally Famouses, Lamar made the bolder choice: remaining independent to gather a larger following – on his own terms. No less, he hooked up with J. Cole, dropping “Hiii Power.” It paid off, and the bandwagon began sagging under the weight. In a matter of days, Section 80 grew from a release exciting to some, to the very top of many 2011 anticipation lists. That sort of hype can cripple an artist, but here it sits, Kendrick Lamar’s victory. While the likes of Jay Electronica (and Cole himself) continue to struggle to match the impression created by their earliest material with a debut, Lamar just keeps going. If there’s anything that will allow for the MC’s success it’s his understanding of buzz: it’s all about the moment, and Section.80 is about as relevant as it gets.
Lamar himself is quite the character. As any artist grows, an inevitable juncture is reached, a change, and the longtime fans begin to mildly gripe that they are altering their presentation to reach a wider audience. 80 marks that point for some, as Lamar expands his considerations to focus on the political, both in regards to the government and its people. It’s an unfair criticism. As one begins to reach more and more listeners, should they not strive to make some sort of impact? While the majority of his contemporaries produce countless tracks about, well, not much of anything, Lamar insists on substance, and he’s selling out? There’s certainly something wrong with that concept.
To the contrary, this is precisely what makes Lamar so invaluable. His music lives and breathes both in the past and present, forever striving forward while constantly recalling what brought us here. Kendrick Lamar is a Compton MC aware of his art’s history, what could be more appropriate than an opinionated upstart? The days of ‘crazy mother fuckers named Ice Cube’ have come and gone, that level of abrasiveness is out the window. While recent self-obsessed records have done their best to conceal it, all that tension needed somewhere to go. By taking a stand on this record, Lamar fashions himself a one man N.W.A for the information age, grasping the hell created by our society as it stands for all people without a stuffed wallet.
In fact 80 nearly plays as a narrative, a journey through this “Section 80”; the marginalized, forgotten, and ignored. He doesn’t shy away from much, toying with the threat of a rich, young African American on “Hol’ Up,” somewhat reminiscent of Mos Def’s “Mr. Nigga.” Generally, however, as intro “Fuck Your Ethnicity” makes painfully clear, Lamar is far more interested in his entire generation. This record is a playlist of the 80s babies, most explicitly explored on “A.D.H.D.,” on which he declares himself, the girl he’s pursuing, and – by extension – all of us hailing from his age bracket, “crack babies”. Even on ladies’ anthem “No Makeup”, he still appears genuine, attacking the standards of beauty we’ve emplaced on our women. He doesn’t shy away from much of anything, calling out many of the gangsta absurdities present in the industry, dryly sniping with quips such as, “Ya like to mistake a street nigga for a real nigga / the same nigga that kill witcha ya will squeal witcha.” It’s also here that he’s hit his greatest storytelling game, “Keisha’s Song (Her Pain)” is perhaps the quickest a song will bring a tear to your eye since Andre 3000 began hiding from the mic.
It’s on “The Spiteful Chant” Lamar finally addresses his own life, snarling at the changing faces beginning to surround him as he gains notoriety. Considering K.Dot’s typical perspective, lines like, “I’m goin’ big, suck my dick,” are best read as satire, annoyance with an industry he hopes to transcend. Even ScHoolBoy Q drops in for a memorable verse – yet another of Lamar’s laudable actions on this release is his willingness, at this early juncture, to stand on his own. On “Chant,” he declares that he while he’s building a bond with Dr. Dre, he would never accept a handout. It’s easy to believe him. When most would collect as many recognizable names as possible for a release so important to their fledgling career; K.Dot stands essentially alone, without a big name guest to speak of. Why would he want them? Kendrick Lamar is not the sort to shy from collaboration, but this, this is his record, dare we say, his life, all on the record.
Section.80 nearly seems to live and breathe. It’s a political record and a personal record, a movement record – with good reason: Lamar is gaining power, and he’s getting on his Peter Parker. All in all, Section.80 is perhaps best described simply as a mission statement. Lamar made a bold and brilliant choice by placing the ever-hyped “Hiii Power” last. Even after its months of availability, the track still thunders, and all one can do is wait for what he does next. A buzz builder doesn’t come much better constructed. It’s said that Lamar’s goal here was to prove himself capable of standing alone. Well, in certainly one of the greatest critical understatements written, he’s done it. Amidst the decay of this new generation of MC’s, a bit healing goes a long, long way. Has a generation found its voice? Who the hell knows, but they’ve certainly found something.