Forget East and West Coast, its the South that has ruled hip hop in recent years. Meanwhile, over in Cali Dre has been working on his latest album for what seems a lifetime while Snoop is verging on being a nostalgia act with his live performances of Doggystyle for the masses. How refreshing it is then to discover a fresh new talent coming out of the US's most famous state.
Kendrick Lamar is a 24 year old Compton resident and like the Pharcyde or Tribe Called Quest before him he is happy to turn to jazz for his samples. However, rather than creating some 'golden age' hippy vibes his subject matter can be fairly harsh.
This is actually his third album. I'll put my hands up and say that I haven't heard the first two, however I might well be seeking them out having listened to Section .80. Its a very good record with intelligent rapping and interesting subject matter while being light touch so that things don't get ground down in some post millennial angst (see Tyler the Creator or Roc Marciano for just two who have fallen into this trap recently).
Its a shame that one of the weakest moments comes so early in the record ' I call a bitch a bitch, a ho a ho' Lamar claims in the tasteless Hol Up - a tale of sexually assaulting an air stewardess on a plane. Its a poor reflection on a man that clearly knows better. No Make Up is much more female friendly and showcases his skills as a rapper much better - it has a slight RandB feel with its sped up vocal and layering techniques. This lightness of touch is also captured in the skit-ish Chapter 6 which immediately brings to mind the palm trees of Venice Beach.
Kendrick isn't afraid to get political. Ronald Reagan Era is just one example of acute political sensitivity while Keisha's Song is the emotional heart of the record with its lyrics about a sexual abuse. Lamar highlights the crack riddled streets that exist in modern America without feeling the need to boast about his own masculinity. Throughout the rapping is superb and Lamar is an MC with real personality in his voice (think the first time you heard Quasimoto or Q-Tip - it was just 'different') Rigamortis is a brilliant showcase for his freestyle rapping over the jazzy melody and is most impressive.
Admittedly at 16 tracks the album is a little too long but this is quality West Coast hip hop without the Ghetto posturing. Its gritty and urban but in the way The Wire was - with an underlying feel of reality and intelligence. This is not a perfect record but it highlights a major talent, which if channelled properly could create more great work.