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Classic or Not? : Examining Section.80


Classics are nearly impossible to make these days. This can be credited to the birth of the digital age along with the music industry itself. Classics stand the test of time, which is why I had to ask myself whether or not Section.80 is classic (I listen to it nearly every day).

After many months, I think that yes, Section.80 is a classic. My disdain with for word was already expressed here, but I think that this label is ready to be applied once again.

There are many reasons why I love this album. First, it’s not hip-hop. Yes, rapping is the medium used here but calling “yall calling it hip-hop” (see: “Fuck Your Ethnicity”) would be unfair. Secondly, it’s not even an album. I know that may very well be the most confusing statement ever about a single collection of music but it’s true.

I don’t mean that it’s not an album in the sense that it’s a FreEP or a mixtape, but in the sense that this “album” transcends all boundaries of music and is truly a work of art.

For example, when I am asked what’s the best hip-hop album of all time I say “Reasonable Dount, even though it’s Illmatic”… Yes, I know. I’ll elaborate. Reasonable Doubt is undoubtedly the best hip hop album of all time due to witty wordplay and lyrical dexterity that was far too advanced for a debut album. Illmatic on the other hand was only 10 tracks long, rugged in many ways, and you could surely tell that Nas was in still in his teenage years. But that’s the beauty of it.

Illmatic is bigger than the album itself.  It drastically contrasts the albums before it and serves as a social commentary for Urban America. As stated before, Nas is extremely young when making this album, so it serves as a recantation of his life’s event that many the same age could relate to. In my opinion, Illmatic is really not on the disk but inside the album insert. Those images of the park bench, police patrolling, etc. come to life when listening to the album. This is why Illmatic is etched into history.

No, I’m not calling Section.80 Illmatic, but I do think there are similarities. Kendrick is older than Nas was when he made Illmatic but he does accomplish the same mission. Section.80 has a very loose theme but still hits the target by the album’s conclusion.

I’m not going to review the entire album but let’s hit the high points.

The albums begins with “Fuck Your Ethicity”, which is important. Hip-Hop is a genre where blacks are the majority, so he takes the first song to break this chain. Section.80 is an “album” about the entire generation, not just blacks in this generation. The intro to this song also introduces Keisha and Tammy, two of the album’s characters. This sets up “ADHD”, a song about drug/alcohol abuse amongst the adolescence.

“Reaganomics in Section.80”

This album is filled with tales of drug abuse, crime, and the search for identity. Instead of painting these characters as careless criminals, Kendrick sparks up the classic nature vs. nurture debate by crediting behavior to the Ronald Reagan era. “Ronald Reagan Era” is a braggadocios, maybe even exaggerated, account of gang life. The following song, “Poe Man’s Dream” takes the same character (presumably) and explains that behavior. The song starts with the line: “I used to want to see the penitentiary before elementary, used to think it was cool to look the judge in the face when he sentence me; since my uncles was institutionalized my intuition told me I was suited for family ties”. With this line, he explains that criminal behavior is almost hereditary and passed on through generations. The “dysfunction” of the Reagan era served as a catalyst in behavior due to the outbreak of the drug trade and violence that followed. Young, impressionable youth born into conditions such as these stated will follow the same patterns of activity.

“Kush & Corinthians” furthers this point. He is searching for spirituality battling vices. Here there’s the will to do better but the realities of survival.

Keisha & Tammy

While I’m sure promiscuity and self-esteem issues existed far before 1987-88, Kendrick puts a face to these issues. “No Make-Up” deals with self-esteem issues. In this song make-up is applied heavily although not needed. The end of the song leads the listener to believe that the female here is Keisha . Tammy’s character deals with overall view of men. She is dealing with her view of men beginning from her own father and now being cheated on from her boyfriend.

Influences of the Generation

The brilliant part of this album is how it sound familiar. In Tammy’s song, “fuck them other niggas” is repeated as the hook. Likewise with “Spiteful Chant” with the repetition of the phrase “too many niggas, not enough hoes…”. These are all quotes drawn from songs of this generation. And because these phrases are familiar and often used as chants, it draws the listener. Another case where this is used “Blow My High”. The song starts with Pimp C’s famous line from “Big Pimpin'”: “smokin out, pourin up, keep that lean up in my cup, all my cars got leather and wood, in the hood we call it buck…”

Also he breaks into “Four Page Letter” by Aaliyah. Now if you’re not a part of this 80’s baby generation, all of these references may mean nothing to you while listening, but they are intentionally used to tie everyone in. There’s something here that everyone could surely identify.

By the end of this album, you can’t help but feel that you’ve had an experience. This is more than an album but rather an answer to the question “why?”. Section.80 sums up the reasons why our generation is like it is currently and more importantly this album will never go away. Section.80 is indeed a timeless (and I hate using this word) piece of art that provides socio-economic commentary. Once again, it’s not Illmatic by any means but it draws similarites there.

The lasting message of Section.80 is “no matter what, find yourself”. If you haven’t listened already, please do. Take time with this album and try to digest the whole message. It’ll take some time to actually “get it”. So examining the message here expressed through these concepts, Kendrick Lamar successfully crafted a classic.

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