In general, discussion of the Kendrick Lamar canon is limited to the holy trinity of good kid, m.A.Ad city, To Pimp a Butterfly, and DAMN., with the occasional nod to untitled unmastered. Rarely is there mention of Section.80, Kendrick’s 2011 debut. It’s true that some of the tracks haven’t aged well (“No Makeup”, “Tammy’s Song”), but in my opinion there are many more hits than misses on K. Dot’s first studio album. It isn’t as focused as GKMC, as ambitious as TPAB, or as eclectic as DAMN., but Section.80 has a story to tell all its own.
That story centers around Tammy and Keisha, two characters who struggle to make sense of the world around them. Kendrick paints a picture of this world in great detail throughout the album’s runtime. On “A.D.H.D”, he reflects on the drug abuse that is so prevalent in his generation by saying “You know why we crack babies?/Because we born in the 80s, that A.D.H.D crazy.” “Ronald Reagan Era” describes Kendrick’s hometown of Compton, California in a way that only a true emcee could. In one bar, he says “1987, the children of Ronald Reagan/Rake the leaves of your front porch with a machine blowtorch”, which speaks to the generation of children who have been negatively affected by president Reagan’s policies. The narrative continues on “Keisha’s Song”, in which the titular character becomes a sex worker in order support herself. Like Tupac’s classic “Brenda’s Got a Baby”, Kendrick shows how this vicious cycle of neglect ends in tragedy. On “Ab-Soul’s Outro,”, the penultimate track on Section.80, Kendrick meditates on the themes presented throughout the album. In a particularly candid moment, he says “I’m not on the outside looking in/I’m not on the inside looking out/I’m in the dead f—— center, looking around.”
Even in 2011, Kendrick – who had not yet reached his prime – was no stranger to the Odyssean task of creating a concept album. He would continue to develop this skill with each project following Section.80, cementing him as one of the most gifted storytellers in hip-hop. While the narrative on this project isn’t as compelling as those found on his later albums, it is definitely worth a listen. To see the world through Kendrick Lamar’s eyes is a one-of-a-kind experience.
Favorite tracks: A.D.H.D., Ronald Reagan Era, Rigamortus, Kush & Corinthians, HiiiPoWeR
– DJ Mango