How Kendrick Lamar’s Section.80 Was a Warning of What’s to Come

As one of the biggest rappers from The Big 3 generation to impact hip-hop, Kendrick Lamar’s debut album, Section.80, served as a warning for what was to come. K-Dot’s breakout project established him as not only an insanely talented rapper, but the future voice of a generation.

In 2010, the Overly Dedicated mixtape introduced a young Kendrick Lamar to the world as a conflicted starving artist “tryna to go beyond the margins.” Instead of continuing to rely on his rambunctious bars to establish rap dominance like most hip-hop newcomers would, Section.80, released in 2011, elevated the conversation surrounding Kendrick’s talent. He used his Section.80 album as a megaphone to communicate the struggles of Black, impoverished millennials.

Section.80 explores institutionalized racism, nihilism and even toxic beauty standards for women, but the key to its success was that it did all this while maintaining a good amount of swagger. The production, handled by a then-unknown THC and Sounwave, pulls from the dusty jazz backdrops of Souls of Mischief or Digable Planets despite Kendrick’s California upbringing and a looming Dr. Dre cosign.

On “Poe Man Dreams (His Vice),” a young Kendrick struggles to balance his addictions and deradicalize himself from worshiping gang culture all his life. However, the song’s grainy and ethereal backdrop made it perfect for hotboxing the whip. The best part is that the uplifting arrangements on Section.80 encouraged mass replay value, and, in turn, made Kendrick’s reflective bars hit harder.

“You know why we crack babies/Because we born in the ’80s,” Kendrick raps on “A.D.H.D,” connecting rampant drug addictions within millennials to the impact of the crack epidemic on their parents. “A.D.H.D.” became the album’s lead single, and is still a calling card for his day one fans also because of how catchy it is. These lyrics are a nod to the album’s title, which is a play on section 8 low-income housing as well as a reference to those born in the 1980s. Kendrick, now 37 years old, was born in 1987.

With all these themes at play, K-Dot also knew when to have a good time. “Rigamortous” finds Kendrick just blowing off steam over some horns, showcasing his tongue-twisting braggadocios nature and reminding listeners he’s still vying for hip-hop supremacy. Let’s also not forget that “Hol’ Up” is just a young, horned-up Kendrick daydreaming about having sex with a stewardess while on a long flight.

These moments of brevity along with Kendrick’s transparency as an MC also keep his bars from sounding preachy. On the album closer “HiiiPower,” Kendrick clarifies that he raps about sociopolitical issues not because he wants to but because the civil rights movement showed him what he can no longer unsee. “Visions of Martin Luther staring at me/Malcom X put a hex on my future, someone catch me/I’m falling victim to a revolutionary song,” he raps.

So it came as no surprise that every subsequent release following Section.80 propelled Kendrick further into the role he already laid out for himself within the themes of that album. From good kid, m.A.A.d city to Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers, each project has since found Kendrick getting better and better at communicating the Black experience in refreshing ways. He was so good at it so early on that he shot into hip-hop’s upper echelon by the time his sophomore album, To Pimp a Butterfly, rolled around. Everything he’s done since (including his most recent The Pop Out show in June) seems to now be entirely in service to his community as a result.

Kendrick’s rhymes have since connected with millions of people, and, in turn, the 2011 project that started it all has emerged as a nostalgic, honing beacon for his closest supporters. It’s by no means a perfect album—that wouldn’t come for Kendrick until Damn. in 2017—but as he became the world’s favorite rapper, Section.80 showcases growth and experimentation. It harkens back to a time when it felt like his bars were created especially for the people that came from the same experiences he did. Thirteen years after its release, listening back on Section.80 feels like grabbing a beer with an old friend and reminiscing on how nice it was when it was just you and them.

Listen to Kendrick Lamar’s Section.80 Album

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