How many rappers today are renown first and foremost for their ability to rap? Not for the company they keep, hit record they may have had or who they may sound like, but strictly for their adeptness as a lyrical orator? Not many. Which is why Kendrick Lamar is such an intriguing commodity in the rap's current climate. He's been likened to the legendary Dr. Dre and it is unclear who is co-signing who at this point. His ascension to prominence hasn't been filled with side antics nor terse fanfare.
Which brings us to his most recent album, Section.80. An independent release with major buzz amongst the Hip-Hop residents. Is it good? Great? Classic even? Well, TSS Crew has been meticulously listening and we've drummed up our conclusion.
01. "Fuck Your Ethnicity" (Prod. By THC) -- The similarities between the legendary Phife Dawg and Kendrick Lamar range from both the physical attribution to mic competency. But whereas the former ATCQ sergeant welcomes all creeds and colors ("brown, yellow, Puerto Rican or Haitian"), Compton's prodigal son could give a polyurethane drink holder about your pigmentation as disclosed on the thundering opener that sets a definitive tone for the album's course of action. In this case, it's middle fingers for everybody alongside a desolate piano melody and feverish snare drum onslaught. 4/5 -- TC
02. "Hol’ Up" (Prod. By Sounwave) -- "Hol' Up" didn't seem that important when it first leaked a few weeks before the album's release. But in the context of the whole, the track is a perfectly placed track to serve as Section.80's invocation ("Big shit poppin, everybody watchin', when you do it like this, nigga, losing ain't an option"). Kendrick's split-tongue flow and layered rhymes are present as always but it's Sounwave's production which makes "Hol' Up" work. With the feel of '70s Blaxploitation soundtrack music, the production leaves more than enough room for K. Dot to deliver lines like "why you complain/When you niggas is past poor?/You’ll never hop in my lane/When you pushin’ a RAV4..." 4/5 -- Gotty™
03. "A.D.H.D." (Prod. By Sounwave) -- Explaining the Section.80 philosophy through an allegory laying bare the manic despair of his crew, Kendrick uses this track to showcase his strengths--vivid storytelling, song structure, and his ability to deftly switch flows, taking the listener on a sharp turn into a new idea or melody at a moment's notice. Over spacey synths and filtered drums, he and his female counterpart help the listener understand the nihilistic worldview of a generation with limited resources and an even more limited attention span, using a house party as the perfectly appropriate setting for this ode to escapism. A homely track but an effective one all the same. 3.5/5 -- Trackstar The DJ
04. "No Make-Up (Her Vice)" (Feat. Colin Munroe) (Prod. By Sounwave) -- On one end, the concept of the song was highly commendable. Kendrick appreciates natural beauty like most of us should, mainly because of the innocence and honesty it conveys. Narrated by K. Dot and Munroe, the story paints a picture of a young woman masking the pitfalls in her life with eyeliner, make-up and other false securities seen as the standard in the public eye. Maybe this was a subconscious attempt at creating his own "Black Girl Lost." However, for all its positive characteristics, the song lacks the instant replay value usually associated with songs of this magnitude. Not that it's completely horrible because the record is worthy of a few spins, but when compared to the undisputed highlights from Section.80, it likely will not be mentioned. 3.5/5 -- J. Tinsley
05. "Tammy’s Song (Her Evils)" (Prod. By THC) -- A tale of sexual revenge, frustration and mistrust does its part in maintaining the urban struggle theme for Section.80 a quarter into the album. Unfortunately the wacky sonic vertigo doesn't offer the third-person narrative a proper support system and builds a barrier between the lines of enjoyability and a mere recorded track. The C-Murder rhyme jack doesn't exactly vouch for the song's creativity either. 3/5 -- TC
07. "Ronald Reagan Era (His Evils)" (Prod. By Tae Beast) -- Do y’all remember stray bullets? While they still careen throughout the inner city fairly frequently, they were downright reliable in the 80s. Back then, it seemed like every other week you would hear about someone, innocent or otherwise, getting taken down by a bullet with no name. A child. A mother. A brother. A friend. “Ronald Reagan Era” is a stray bullet set to music. Whoever you are, if you grew up in the chaotic, drug-addled, violent 80s, chances are some of the masterfully crafted and performed lyrics pierced your bubble of comfort. Over drums that bring to mind the heartbeat of a unfortunate new addict feeling the rush from his first hit of the pipe, this child of Compton evokes the anxiety that was an era where the good died, the evil prospered and sometimes you couldn’t tell which was which. 4.5/5 -- Greg Whitt
08. "Poe Man’s Dream (His Vice)" (Feat. GLC) (Prod. By Willie B) -- It's no coincidence that the Windy City's GLC appears on this track: the soulful beat and Lamar's socio-conscious rhyming reminds listeners of the Like Water For Chocolate Common. However, pigeon-holing Kendrick to mere mimicry would be false. The Compton rhymer matches his soothing flow and insightful rhyming ("I'm 23 with morals and plans of living cordial/not rich but wealthy/there's nothing you can tell me") to GLC's laidback demeanor. The two calmly condemn false routes of escape from their neighborhoods--an extension of Section.80's overall ethos. It's not as blisteringly empowering as "HiiiPoWeR," but it keeps the project's theme rolling, nonetheless. 4/5 -- Ryan J.
09. "The Spiteful Chant" (Feat. ScHoolBoy Q) (Prod. By Sounwave) -- Dreams without a means to live them out or a fairy godmother will simply remain just dreams. So it’s understandable that K. Dot feels some kind of way towards those who show up ten yards before the finish line and act like they were there for the whole race. Calmly keeping his voice a few degrees under boiling point, Kendrick spews out lines like “Everybody heard that I fuck with Dre/and they wanna tell me I made it/nigga I ain’t made shit/nigga if he gave me a handout, I’ma take his wrist and BREAK it…” ScHoolBoy Q brings the songs to its emotional apex with his verse before passing the baton back to Kendrick, who finally allows his vocals to match the tone of his words. Unfortunately, the production doesn’t follow suit and remains flat throughout the song by pairing a lifeless drum pattern with the WOODKID sample. While it doesn’t derail the track, it does hold it back ever so slightly. 3.5/5 -- MZ
11. "Keisha’s Song (Her Pain)" (Feat. Astro Bot) (Prod. By Astro Bot) -- This is one of those records that is painful to hear too often, regardless of how good it is. Kendrick Lamar, cold-eyed, breaks down the story of Keisha, a seventeen year-old girl who sells herself on the street, working for a pimp, unable to escape that life. The subject matter is sad, and sadder still is the bleak hopelessness of the tale. Serving as the continuation for "No Make-Up (Her Vice)," it's an awful, yet powerful, end to that story. Far from the caring, intimate image of Kendrick watching a girl apply her blush, wondering at her motives, this track demonstrates a cruel truth. Sometimes, there's no redemption, no love, no storybook ending. Far from it. 4/5 -- Ben Lampin
12. "Rigamortis" (Prod. By Willie B.) -- Despite being one of the worst produced songs on Section.80, Kendrick still manages to impress, by flaunting complex, multi-syllable rhymes and dazzling audiences with a wide variety of flows in just under three minutes. His delivery of bars such “And I'm charged up, and the catastrophe/Is charged up, and the audacity/And y'all fucks never could hassle me/And y'all luck/just ran out you'll see--he dead!” easily run away with the record, leaving the beat into a heap of monotonous and repetitive dust. 3/5 -- Raj
13. "Kush & Corinithians (His Pain)" (Feat. BJ The Chicago Kid) (Prod. By Wyldfire) -- Standing as one of the more relaxed, replay-friendly tones (replete with its origins from Brian Bennett's "Solstice"), Kendrick narrates the path of the conflicted as he reads Corinthians while recounting a myriad of ill-advised maneuvers. The book and his transgressions serves as the point of conflict since its chapters guide readers on the road map, per Paul, towards knowing God. At the same time this dichotomy between paths of righteousness and corruption finally hits its stride by the third verse and stalls afterwards. More intrepid listeners, going by the song title, will likely dig out the Good Book to find the parallels but its general trajectory gives it excessive leeway. Deft wordplay as evidenced by Lamar's words "Have you ever had known a saint that was taking sinner's advice?/Well it's probably you, am I right? If I'm wrong, you a fucking liar/When I lie on back and look at the ceiling it's so appealing to pray/I wonder if I'm just a villan, dealing my morals away" builds great anticipation only for the theme to end up relatively undercooked. 4/5 -- S. Cadet
14. "Blow My High (Members Only)" (Prod. By Tommy Black) -- Didn't we already get an extended, four-minute hook with "The Spiteful Chant?" This felt more like a bonus track that belonged on the cutting room floor. A Pimp C hook. A string of curse words. And an Aaliyah sample. It's almost easy to forget exactly what K. Dot contributed to the song. Is it catchy? You bet. But songs like this are not what a classic album make. 3.5/5 -- David D.
15. "Ab-Soul's Outro" (Feat. Ab-Soul) (Prod. By Terrace Martin) -- Bless Ab-Soul’s heart for weaving the main themes of the album and turning in an uplifting verse. Kendrick as well, for letting his guard down (so to speak) and providing a stream of consciousness explanation of the method behind the madness. The coffee house jam session playing in the background doesn’t allow it to fully gel with the lyrical sermons, sort of leaving it on its own little island sonically. It would be one thing if this song provided some vital information listeners couldn’t gather elsewhere on the album, but it sounds more like an excuse to let Ab-Soul get some shine. On top of that, it’s a hard pill to swallow knowing that a record like “Sex With Society” was left off the album. 3/5 -- MZ
16. "HiiiPoWeR" (Prod. By J. Cole) -- For most of the album, Kendrick Lamar has maintained his usual impeccable lyrical and conceptual ability throughout, but the in-house beats just aren't enough to keep up with him on several occasions. "HiiiPoWer," on the other hand, is Section.80’s pinnacle. J. Cole’s production was destined for K. Dot’s lyrics. It's an elegant backdrop that sets the song's somber, yet purposeful tone without dominating over his voice. And Kendrick absolutely shines. Every single line seems to be intentionally placed and his passion gushes from each distinctly delivered word. “HiiiPoWer” fluidly closes the book as it depicts the overcoming of the crippling vices illustrated in the earlier songs. There’s no possible way to doubt his conviction. 5/5 -- Raj
Label: Top Dawg Entertainment | Producer: J. Cole, Terrace Martin, THC, Willie B., Sounwave, Tommy Black, Tae Beast, Dave Free, Iman Omari, Wyldfyer