As far as he’s come since, Kendrick Lamar was just a kid from Compton when Section.80 dropped back in 2011. The potent mix of sociopolitical commentary and hard-earned knowledge over immaculate bars endeared most of the rap world to K.Dot and led to two more critically acclaimed efforts and a foot in the production door. It looks like DJBooth was right: this album was prophetic.
Is the album flawed? Yes. Has Kendrick changed considerably since? Yes. But other than O(verly) D(edicated), this was the Top Dawg Entertainment camp’s first real taste of the spotlight, and we the WatchLOUD staff ruminated on how its 16 tracks move us (or not) on the album’s fifth anniversary.
1. “Fuck Your Ethnicity” (Jourdan Ash)
I remember watching Kendrick Lamar perform this song live at a free show at Santos Party House. The show was shortly after Section .80 dropped. The audience was filled fans and people waiting to see what this Kendrick Lamar guy was all about. At first, he seemed to be nervous on stage, but as soon as the haunting piano on “Fuck Your Ethnicity” dropped his confidence grew.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a synchronized head nod better than that day. That show and this track reminded me how Hip-Hop brings everyone together. “With that being said: Fuck Your Ethnicity.”
2. “Hol’ Up” (Jourdan Ash)
The production on Section .80 paired with K.Dot’s flow made me a fan almost instantly. “Hol’ Up” was one of my favorites on the album. The song went from Kendrick imagining himself sleeping with a stewardess to seeing where he was at that time and seeing where he could be. It was almost as if this song predicted his fame.
” I never did nothing but break the ground on top of the asphalt/ Tire mark gave you evidence that I’m easily peddling with the speed/ Of a lightning bolt.”
What I loved about “Hol Up” the most was how Kendrick verbally painted a picture. Anytime I listen to the track, I envision him and the rest TDE traveling the world, flirting with stewardesses, and following their dreams.
3. “A.D.H.D.” (Jourdan Ash)
Have you ever been to a party and met your drunken soulmate? The two of you are trying extremely hard to focus and figure out why the two of you were drawn to each other while still trying to enjoy the party. Yeah, that’s “A.D.H.D” for me.
The line “Got a high tolerance when your age don’t exist,” embodies my entire college matriculation. We spent so much of our childhoods rushing to be grown that once we got to college we just stopped. We weren’t really adults but definitely weren’t kids anymore. Most of the time, we did stupid things just to remind ourselves that we were still young.
I listen to “A.D.H.D” whenever I need a 4 minute reminder that I’m still young and still have time.
4. “No Make-Up” (Her Vice) (Jerry Barrow)
This is still one of my favorite Kendrick songs ever. There are so many layers to his plea for this woman (who many think is the prostitute Keisha featured on the album) to not don her usual mask of make-up. It’s a beautiful sentiment filled with supportive prose: “Don’t you know your imperfections is a wonderful blessing/ From heaven, is where you got it from…” and Colin Munroe brings the song into a extraterrestrial spaces with his full-on exaltations. But like the pounding interpolation of Mountain’s crunchy “Long Red” drums, the song’s impact hits hard with the revelation that she is wearing make-up to cover a black eye.
5. “Tammy’s Song (Her Evils)” (Dylan Green aka CineMasai)
More often than not, I have a hard time listening to male MCs wax poetic about the female perspective. They tend to come across either as well-meaning but reductive or just plain problematic, and Kendrick takes his swing at it with this THC-produced cut about women in crumbling relationships. Tammy and a second unnamed woman both find out their dudes are cheating on them and immediately hit up their side pieces for some quick action before eventually falling for each other.
Kendrick’s storytelling is solid as usual, but the narrative always struck me as a finger-wagging condemnation of “hysterical females,” even within the context of Section.80’s overall theme; and don’t get me started on the blunt way he introduces Tammy’s new sapphic desires (“Cause when women get sick of men, they think of a big helping hand/To lend each other under cover emotions when lights dim/So when she telling her to come over, it’ll be alright/
The minute she hit the block and turn left, she’ll be turning dyke”). Obviously the song’s overall message is “don’t cheat,” but it could’ve been delivered in a less hammy way. Not really a song that I revisit.
6. Chapter Six (Jerry Barrow)
This interlude took on more significance when I subsequently heard We Are King’s debut and peeped the extended mix to “Hey” that Kendrick lifted for this. But when I was spinning Section. 80 and Kendrick sang “Riding with the boys and girls and we’re high/ all we want to do is have a good/ young wild and wreck’s is how we live high/ pray that we make it to 21…” I thought about the line from Outkast’s “Art of Storytellin”: We on our back staring at the stars above talking bout what we gonna be when we grow up/I said what you wanna be, she said, “Alive.” And his father’s words around the campfire made me think of Furious Styles in Boyz In The Hood giving his sermon on gentrification, except this wasn’t about selling real estate this was about selling your soul.
7. “Ronald Reagan Era” (Jerry Barrow)
The only thing harder than living through the decade that Ronald Reagan was President of the United States was being a child born out of those times where crack ran rampant and AIDS
8. “Poe Mans Dreams (His Vice)” feat. Willie B of (Digi+Phonics) (Jourdan Ash):
“Poe Mans Dreams (His Vices)” is a reminder to never let your vices control you.
On the track, Kendrick touches on overcoming desires of wanting to be institutionalized, and becoming a product of his environment. He overcame holding himself back from his dreams by realizing the simple things are more important in life.
“Apply yourself to supply your wealth, only limitations you’ll ever have are those that you place upon yourself.” -GLC
Upon first look at the title, “Poe Mans Dreams (His Vice)” could seem depressing. But once you give it a a listen, “Poe Mans Dreams” is another inspirational track of Section .80. Smoke good, eat good, live good.
9. “The Spiteful Chant” feat. ScHoolboy Q (Jourdan Ash):
Let me be extremely real for a second, “The Spiteful Chant” used to be the soundtrack to every petty scenario I think about. When someone takes the seat on the train I was clearly making a move on, the horns from “The Spiteful Chant” would automatically play in my head as I plotted on about 50 different ways to get back at that person.
As I’m learning to put my pettiness to the side, I’ve learned that “The Spiteful Chant” is a motivational song. As upcoming rappers, ScHoolboy Q and Kendrick noticed that there were many people who didn’t want them to succeed. Groupies and friends disguised as haters were trying to prevent them from becoming the people they are now. And that’s what “The Spiteful Chant” is about. It’s a mantra to overcome adversity and setbacks so you can become the person you need to be.
10: Chapter Ten (Interlude) (Jerry Barrow)
I almost always skip this and only listened to it all the way through for the first time for this exercise. Besides being a buffer between The Spiteful chant and Keisha’s Song I still don’t find it to be terribly necessary. But the notion of 80s babies being treated like immigrants is a notion worth exploring.
11. “Keisha’s Song (Her Pain)” (Dylan Green/CineMasai)
The complicated world of prostitution is under Kendrick’s microscope on this song that he penned for his younger sister (“My little sister eleven, I looked her right in the face/The day that I wrote this song, set her down and pressed play”). The subtitle “Her Pain” proves apt as Kendrick delves into the profession from all angles, showing the desperation (“In her heart she hate it there, but in her mind she made it where/Nothing really matters, so she hit the back seat/Rosa Parks never a factor when she making ends meet”) and genuine danger (“And in her heart she hate it there but in her mind, she made it where/Nothing really matters, still she hit the back seat/And caught a knife inside the bladder, left for dead, raped in the street”) of that life.
Definitely a singular step up in nuance from “Tammy’s Song,” and Tae Beast’s production is sure to make your neck sore all these years later.
12. “Rigamortis” (Dylan Green aka CineMasai)
This was the first Kendrick Lamar song I ever heard. good kid m.A.A.d. city had just dropped and I was stubbornly avoiding K.Dot simply because he was the “new thing;” I was young, stupid, and unconvinced of his actual talent – until I stumbled across “Rigamortis.” On this song, Kendrick’s got flow for the purists and bars that speak on religion (“We all are sinners, won’t you send us to bible study faster/Your hypocrite-esque reaction a blasphemy, I assassin my casualty”), competition biting his style (“And don’t be forging all my signatures, my listeners reply/And tell me that you biting style, you got a hell of an appetite”), and dropping bars from the toilet. “Rigamortis” is still one of Kendrick’s headiest, most lyrically vicious songs to date and I’m glad that he’s continued to build on the formula. My heart still contracts when I hear this.
14. “Blow My High (Members Only)” (Dylan Green aka CineMasai)
Any rapper bringing Jay Z, UGK, and Alliyah together through samples and sheer willpower is special by itself, but Kendrick managed to turn all three into a slow groove worthy of the flexing he does across the tracks 3.5 minutes (“Taking off when you landin’/Bitch niggas gonna throw tantrums”). Like “Rigamortis” before it, Kendrick takes time to call out people attempting to leech off his success (While I’m here and every day I hear/Your bullshit, self-pity/Reason why you never dealt with me”) while giving literal and musical props to the fallen Alliyah. Try and tell me you don’t have “R.I.P. Alliyah, R.I.P.” stuck in your head after all this time.
14. “Kush and Corinthians” (His Pain)
This song was my introduction to Kendrick. Back in 2011 I was prepping to interview Philly producer Wyldfyer about the work he’d done for Nas and Jay Z and he pulled my coat to this track he’d done for Kendrick off of this project called Section.80. After previewing the track, with that dreamy piano braided into the guitar licks, I was hooked and downloaded the whole project in iTunes. Then he started rapping. The focused, double-time cadence was like the inebriated, cynical child to Kanye’s “Jesus Walks.” Look at me, look at me, I’m a loser, I’m a winner/I’m good, I’m bad, I’m a Christian, I’m a sinner/I’m humble, I’m loud, I’m righteous, I’m a killer/What I’m doing, I’m saying that I’m human, now people just…”
Instead where Ye’ posited the hustlers, killers and drug dealers as a chorus of others that Jesus walked with, Kendrick raised his hand from the crowd claiming allegiance with the conflicted and hopeful sinners. And then BJ the Chicago Kid—another first impression for me—brings us to our knees with his third verse and the hook, foreshadowing the duality of good and evil that Kendrick would continue to explore on subsequent work.
15. “Ab-Soul’s Outro” (Dylan Green aka CineMasai)
Kendrick decides to go full-on Negro Spiritual on these last two cuts. Terrace Martin’s trademark jazzy production gives K.Dot and fellow TDE soldier Ab-Soul (who demolishes the first verse here) plenty of room to breathe and soapbox their way through arguably the most politically and socially charged song on the entire album. Quips on flouride toothpaste, rebellion, and the Section 80 Black Experience are all well and good, but it’s Kendrick’s verse that cuts through the hazy production.
He recognizes that even the concept of truth itself can be subjective and that we’re all “looking for answers” before dropping a heavy qualifier for his thoughts: “I’m not on the outside looking in, I’m not on the inside looking out/I’m in the dead fucking center, looking around.” The depth and perspective of his subsequent albums (GKMC, To Pimp A Butterfly) all but confirm that not just this song, but this verse is the thesis statement for Kendrick’s entire career up to this point, and it sounds like a sultry dream to boot.
16. “HiiPower” (Dylan Green aka CineMasai)
The song that was ground zero for Kendrick and J. Cole’s tag-team alliance (Cole produced the song) was also the second punch in the combo started by “Ab-Soul’s Outro.” I hate the term “conscious” rap and I’m glad that it’s seemed to fall out of favor in 2016, but this song had every writer worth their salt foaming at the mouth for consciousness. K.Dot further elaborates on HiiiPower, the concept he first introduced on (O)verly (D)edicated, through musings on the Black Panthers, police brutality, and the idolizing of celebrities. This is the song that woke The Woke Ones. This is the song that make rap fans of a certain age feel like superheroes. This is the song that would set the stage for everything Kendrick put his hands on after.