It’s a happy day when we join the masses of an artist’s existing fan base. Whether through a collaborative project, the release of a hit single, or if we’re lucky, an entire album, new music is a blessing that brightens even the darkest of days. As we learn to love a new artist, we often find ourselves exploring their earlier works and expanding the bounds of our interests and our music libraries even further. Unfortunately, this is where we, the audience, have an egotistical and irrational problem. In an effort to seem more knowledgeable and a part of the deep-seeded, long-time fan base, we place an overweight amount of importance and grant an undeserved amount of credit to an artist’s early projects that have been rightfully overshadowed by superior releases since. We feel that it makes us seem deep, well versed, and unique in discussions about music, when in reality, it’s a transparent attempt to flex with no muscle to back it up.
The hip-hop community loves to look back on Kendrick Lamar’s Section.80 as if we’re flipping through a dusty, old family photo album. Sitting there with a smile on our face, we listen to it with an image in our mind of Kendrick Lamar as he is today – budding dreadlocks peaking out beneath a crown while perched upon a throne made of gold, platinum, and spare Cadillac Cutlass parts. Listening to the album and knowing what we know today, it’s hard not to be fooled.
“Kendrick Lamar was bound for greatness.”
“Real fans know that Section.80 is his best album.”
“Have you ever heard Rigamortus?”
I’ve heard it a thousand times and I’m here to call bullshit. I am willing to accept that O.G. Kendrick fans were stoked when he released Section.80 – certainly his best work at the time. I am willing to accept that there are hints of genius on the album. His flow on Rigamortus definitely foreshadowed his unique styling on good kid, m.A.A.d. city, his slower directive and more heartfelt messages in songs like A.D.H.D. and Poe Man’s Dreams provide a glimpse of the emotional reach that has become so consistent with Kendrick Lamar’s later albums, and songs like The Spiteful Chant and Blow My High exhibited Kendrick’s ability to drop a banger that’ll keep shots pouring and dance floors packed until last call. What I am unwilling to accept is that when Section.80 dropped, everyone knew that Kendrick Lamar was about to become the king.
I would be willing to bet that out of all the millions of Kendrick Lamar fans today, just a miniscule fraction listened to Section.80 before the drop of good kid, m.A.A.d. city. Myself included. Kendrick Lamar was ready to blow up when Section.80 dropped, but the album wasn’t enough to make it happen. Sure, his name started to be more recognizable, his tracks started to be played more frequently, and he certainly became a hotter topic of discussion in hip-hop circles, but every time the drinks start flowing, the blunts start passing, and the conversation turns toward Kendrick, there’s always someone who starts talking about “the good ol’ days when Kdot dropped Section.80.”
Everyone covets an artist like Kendrick Lamar. He is so powerful and has such reach that in order to feel important and superior to our peers, us fans will claim fandom reaching back to 2011 when in fact, most of us weren’t there until 2012. In hindsight, maybe we all should have been there and maybe we should have seen the signs that Kendrick Lamar would soon take over as hip-hop’s unprecedented overseer. But Section.80 simply wasn’t the project that good kid, m.A.A.d. city was, and because it wasn’t, it didn’t launch him into the stardom that he reached one year later. None of us were wrong for sleeping on Kendrick, but what is wrong is pretending like we didn’t.
To the Kanye fans: Sure, Jesus Walks was the jam and College Dropout was an amazing album, but you can’t honestly tell me that it was better than Late Registration or Graduation without having some seriously original opinions on the matter.
To the Wayne fans: I’ll grant you that Hustler Musik is a top-ten Weezy song, but it’s Tha Carter lll, not Tha Carter ll that cemented Wayne’s claim as “the greatest rapper alive.” If you reply to my inquiry as to why with, “but what about fireman,” then you’re full of shit.
To the Future fans: Don’t even go there.
It is always good fun to look back at an artist’s pre-fame work. It provides us a glimpse into how they got to where they are today and gives us more music to listen to and converse about. Like Anderson .Paak’s Venice or J. Cole’s The Warm Up, Kendrick Lamar’s Section.80 was the precursor to an illustrious career but is not even comparable to his four albums since. Section.80 wasn’t the match that lit the flame. It was the hand that stole the matchbox from the dive-bar bar bathroom.
We owe it to our favorite artists, our fellow fans, and ourselves to be honest in our opinions. There’s no need to be embarrassed about what release first peaked our interests and there’s no shame in being part of a wave of new fans. In fact, with the amount of phonies out there, you’ll probably be on the more unique side of an argument if you claim that an artist’s most popular work is their best.
At the end of the day, we are all welcome to our own opinions, but we should all stick to our truthful opinions and know how to back them up unless we want to be made a fool of.