The Kids Just Ain't Alright
What defines a classic? A classic isn’t deemed a classic overnight. A classic isn’t a piece of art that is immediately viewed as “very good” upon its release and forgotten about when the next album scores 5 stars in Rolling Stone. A classic is an artifact that withstands the test of time, maintains its beauty, and is as relevant and impactful despite how many views or listens, or what era it is consumed in.
That is my case for why Section.80, Kendrick Lamar’s most misunderstood album, is quite likely his best.
As To Pimp A Butterfly recently cracked Apple Music's Top 100 5 years after its release, it cannot be underestimated the staying power of Kendrick’s music. The institutionalized discrimination of black people in the United States and its impact on their lives and communities was important in 2015, just as it is in 2020 and just as it was in 1968. On Butterfly, Kendrick acts as the mouthpiece for his community’s struggles, using his own story as a representation for that that every young black American could resonate with. He was the voice of the people, tapping into so many and uniting their voices through his. It is as close to a flawless album as an artist could put out, directly from the lips of a higher being – a messiah – for so many.
But what sets Section.80 apart is that it is an album from a flawed man. A boy really, well aware of his imperfection, trying to find his morals and navigate through the vices and the disadvantages present at every moment in his life. Kendrick accepts that for every step forward he takes two back, one because of society, and one because of his own doings. Instead of looking past it or even analyzing it, Kendrick Lamar accepts it, delivering his most raw and inward facing album of this career.
Kendrick is an observer of the good (“Poe Man’s Dreams”), the bad (“Ronald Reagan Era”) and the ugly (“Keisha’s Song”) in the Compton streets. He raps out of enjoyment (“Hol’ Up”), anger (“Spiteful Chant”), guilt (“Kush & Corinthians”), and just to flex (“Rigamortus”). He bounces between so many subjects that young boys and girls in the hood have to face, but with a wise beyond his years perspective that allow him to understand the duality behind pleasure and pain.
His lack of commitment to his morals perplexed critics – one song praying, the next taking a stand against the system that has put so many down, the next smoking weed and chasing sex (see the album cover), who failed to understand Kendrick. But are all of us not the same? Can we all claim that we are perfect in our attempts to be perfect? Are we so satisfied with the person we are now that we overlook the flaws in our actions, failing to fix them? Here is Kendrick’s take:
See a lot of ya'll don't understand Kendrick Lamar Because you wonder how I could talk about money Hoes, clothes, god and history all in the same sentence You know what all the things have in common Only half of the truth, if you tell it See I've spent twenty three years on the earth searching for answers Til' one day I realized I had to come up with my own 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 quote above is from “Ab-Soul’s Outro”, the false ending to the album and an impeccable spoken word piece to tie up the album’s themes. It is a message that we need to hear now more than ever. Just like Kendrick, we’re all flawed. And if we can’t put our ego aside to admit it, we will never grow.
By taking a look inward and embracing what he found, Kendrick allowed himself to grow and blossom into the power that we ultimately see on Butterfly. His fragmented and naïve take on life allowed him to observe and absorb, just as detailed in the midway point (the cocoon) of his third album, which was necessary to turn into the most important musician and beacon of hope for so many in the 21st century.
So how can we force ourselves to grow? By accepting who we are, and our flaws, and knowing that we often live in a world that breeds them. We can change, but first we need to know ourselves enough to do it.
I did not touch on “HiiiPower”, the defining song of Kendrick Lamar’s career, as it could take an entire write up of its own. But if you need any proof that the issues that are tearing apart the United States today are part of an insidious illness in the heart of the nation and have been for centuries, watch the song’s music video from 2011 in its entirety and compare it to the anger and protests of today. Things aren’t just bad now – they’ve been bad for a long, long time. And they need to change. Black Lives Matter.
Chicken gets a reputation for being boring, and I don’t blame people for thinking that. So many chicken recipes, typically traditional French cuisine, take a minimalist approach to chicken. While this works for many finer meats where the flavour of the cut does all the talking, chicken is too weak to fend for itself as the centerpiece of a meal.
Szechuan chicken, however, leaves nothing understated, announcing itself the moment the chicken hits the sizzling oil and staying long after the last bite has been licked off your plate.
It is bold, it is audacious, it is demonstrative. It is how chicken is supposed to be used in a meal – as the blank canvas to let the spices do the talking.
And while Szechuan chicken is (fairly) cooked in this recipe is assumedly a purebred Chinese recipe, the ingredients are much more diverse than that. Take the chili pepper as an example. Now a staple in Americanized Chinese food, chili peppers originally only grew in Mexico before explorers took them from Central America to China and India on their travels. Weird, right? But it allows this dish to flourish from a unique combination of flavours and influences into a certified classic chicken dish.
And in honour of “Ronald Reagan Era” and the admittedly flawed person Kendrick is, a forty-ounce of liquor and a blunt complete the meal. An
Similar to the Szechuan chicken, Kendrick has a flair and an energy that cannot be contained or even summarized in words. Each bar sizzles off his tongue with such poise and emphasis that it can often daze listeners.
But deeper than that, Kendrick decided to speak the truth in a generation of emcees weaving tales as real as their chains. He was bold when nobody else was, especially out of the wavy, party anthem West Coast scene. Think of it like this: when Section.80 was released, Snoop had just come off a Summer where his biggest feature was on Katie Perry’s number 1 hit “California Gurls”.
Section.80 rose above that with a confident albeit internally confused Kendrick Lamar. Szechuan chicken captures this unique and unexpected flare coming from a base dish that typically leaves little lasting impression. After this experience, listeners need to sit down, have a glass of water, and reflect on what just happened.
And right now, so many of us have ambitions of changing the world while are facing our own vices. This is not something to hide, but something to open up about. Acceptance is the first step towards change.
Mix a pound of chicken in a bag with a quarter cup of cornstarch, salt and pepper while heating a generous amount of canola or vegetable oil on the stove.
Toss the chicken on the grill until crispy, around 10 minutes. Place fried chicken on paper towel-lined plate as you would bacon.
For the sauce, mix together soy sauce, chilli sauce (big fan of Sambal Oelek for a potent chilli taste), sesame oil, hoisin and rice wine vinegar. Let heat in a saucepan over medium heat, and once bubbling add in enough cornstarch to let the sauce thicken.
Combine the two in the saucepan and plate. Sprinkle sesame seeds on top for crunch.