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Monday, March 5, 2012

New Jersey White Boy's Rap of the Week: Section.80 by Kendrick Lamar

Kendrick Lamar is going to be the greatest rapper of all time. Jay-Z; fuck that. Tupac; fuck that. Biggie; fuck that. Nas; fuck that. Kanye; fuck that. And double fuck Lil Wayne in the ear. There, I said it. And you know what? I’m right.

Kendrick Lamar is the biggest rapper right now, amongst anyone who truly cares about hip-hop. He came onto the scene in 2003 at the age of 16 (he’s currently 24), and has garnered a larger and larger following since then. His first major break came late in 2010, when Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg (yes, that Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg) heard the song “Ignorance is Bliss” and decided to work with him. This led those two to crown Mr. Lamar as the “New King of the West Coast”, but I think he’s going to be considered the king of the rap game pretty soon.

Last year he released his first official album Section.80 to much critical acclaim, and it made many best of lists, even on websites that have a review a variety of genres, and his next album will not only be just as good, but hopefully reach everyone who even casually listens to hip-hop.

Most rappers excel at one aspect of rap – they have an amazing flow, they have deep and complex lyrics, or they have a certain intangible “realness” to them. Kendrick has all three. He has a ridiculous flow, as exampled by the track “Rigamortus” where he doesn’t breath once during either of his verses. The lyrical content is prevalent throughout all of his songs, with a sharp critique of both society and the excess bread by the Ronald Regan era (which is where he gets the title Section.80). He also has an amazing rhyming and wordplay ability that rivals the best of them, and relies heavily on literary devices usually only reserved for poetry. The most amazing example in any genre of music are the lines off of “Hol’ Up” - “Wicked as 80 reverends/In a pool of fire with devils holding hands/from a distance, don’t know which one is a Christian, damn”. Damn indeed, Mr. Lamar. Damn indeed. And then the “realness”. While people will define realness a variety of ways, Kendrick Lamar fits most of them. As an A student of the historically rough city of Compton, he’s able to mix a positive message of getting out of gang life and bettering yourself with true-life examples. These examples are given with a critical and realistic eye towards the activities he depicts, specifically the depressing “Keisha’s Song”.

Of course, he wouldn’t be anywhere without his beats. Mostly produced by his longtime producer Sounwave, his songs have this fantastic vinyl-y feel that makes you think back to the heyday of rap in the mid-to-late 90’s. His samples create this wonderful feeling of nostalgia that you just don’t get with the house and electronic influenced beats of today. And they all have this gravity to them. They are these deep, soulful beats that hang out in the mid-to-low range, and add to the seriousness of Kendrick’s lyrics.

And speaking of his lyrics, I don’t know of anyone who’s doing it better. Common used to be the king of socially conscious raps once Tupac died (pour out a little liquor for my homie), but now that title has gone to Kendrick (even though, in “Ab Souls Outro”, he says that he doesn’t want to be called a “socially aware rapper”). With his Hiiipower Movement inspiring people on how they should “carry [themselves] in the streets, and just in the world” by following each of the three i’s – hear, honor, and respect. And those sentiments come through with every track. He admits that he was inspired by Tupac, but it’s pretty clear that he’s taking what Tupac did 15 years ago and brings it to another level, far above anyone could ever dream it could go.

One thing I want in an album is cohesion. I love it when each track can be enjoyed on their own, but have tracks that are ordered in a particular manner. It gives a sense that there was a thought process behind the recording of the LP, which shows true artistic talent. Albums like Kid Cudi’s Man on the Moon: The End of Day is one of my favorite hip-hop because it’s sectioned off (the depressing “My World” and “Solo Dolo” were in one section, the happier “Hyyerr” and “Up Up & Away” in another). Other albums, like The Mountain Goats’s All Hail West Texas, have this flow between each track where you’re not necessarily sure when one ends and another begins, and find out that you’ve heard four songs in a row and not even realized it. You rarely get either of these in rap/hip-hop, but Section.80 falls under this latter category. Each beat has a similar feel (even though they were produced by a variety of people), and they flow nicely into each other, with the occasional narrative interlude. And because K. Dot always has a message about bettering yourself and not falling into hood life, all of his songs have this amazing interplay.

And the best part of his album? It only gains with every listen. Like Elliott, I’ll take a new (or new to me) album and listen to it nonstop for days on end. I mean, if I don’t like it, I’ll stop quickly, but a fantastic album like Kanye’s Late Registration or Bloc Party’s Silent Alarm will stay on repeat, and even when I think I can’t listen to it anymore, I find myself going back to it whenever I want to listen to music (I prefer albums over singles; listening to just a single is like reading only 1 chapter of a book or 1 level in a video game). But eventually, I'll move on to something else, and the plays slow down. And you know what? 3 months after I picked up this album and have played it dozens of times, I still can’t get enough of it. Every listen brings up a new sample, or I decipher a lyric I couldn’t understand before, or a new thought and way of interpreting a song comes to mind, keeping this album fresh, interesting, and amazing every time I hear it.

I decided to let you guys listen to “Rigamortus” because it shows off Lamar’s amazing technical ability. As I mentioned earlier, he doesn’t breath once during any of the verses, and displays one of the best flows in the game, along with an amazing rhyming ability. However, every song off of Section.80 is fire, and should be heard. If you’re looking for the best of the best off the album, listen to “Keisha’s Song (Her Pain)”, “A.D.H.D”, “Poe Mans Dreams”, and “Ronald Reagan Era”. “Cartoon and Cereal” is below and shows off his complexity and willingness to experiment. It’s a leaked track off of his next album.

Listen to him, share his music, and jump on the bandwagon of one of the fastest rising stars in hip-hop.

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