Kendrick Lamar‘s acclaimed mixtape, Section.80, opens with a song that sets him apart from other young MCs:

Matter of fact, don’t mistake me for no fuckin’ rapper

They sit backstage and hide behind the fuckin’ cameras

I mosh pit, had a microphone, I tossed it

The song, “Fuck Your Ethnicity“, is a mission statement of sorts: Lamar is aiming to benefit his era, to alter an age in the way his hero Tupac did. The songs on Section.80 are images of a kind of life from a person who both wants to ease the pain of it and who is unmistakeably caught up in it. Even in the moments where Lamar preaches too heavily (“You ain’t gotta get drunk to have fun” on “No Make-Up (Her Vice)“) he does it genuinely and from a place of understanding.

That outlook stems from Lamar’s Compton childhood, growing up with a former Gangster Disciple father–but with the good luck to have his father around, pushing him away from street life. The result is a rapper tuned in but disengaged enough to take in the whole picture. His mother explains it well in a Fader story on Lamar and his Black Hippy crew: “Coming up, when he was a baby, we partied a lot. He’d always go in his room and eat his little cereal, make a cup of noodles and stay out of our way. He never was in the party scene.” Simply put, Lamar can speak better to the era of Canadian-teen-soap-opera-rap-superstars better than those stars have. OnA.D.H.D.“:

I’m in a house party trippin’

My generation sippin’ cough syrup like it’s water

Never no pancakes in the kitchen

The mixtape’s title refers to the generation born in the 80s, explicitly shining a light on Lamar’s focus–a focus he explains bluntly:

How are old are you?

She say 22, I say 23

Well then, okay, we are crack babies

Section.80 may be inspired by Tupac, but it sounds more like Lupe–and Lupe at his best, too. “A.D.H.D.” and others are beyond ambitious–the mixtape is one of those notoriously dangerous concept albums–but Lamar is talented enough and honest enough–aiming for a simple accounting of his opinions and experiences, rather than an explanation of how to solve modernity’s social problems–that it works.

Lamar’s motto, “Hiiipower”, marks his purpose, especially in light of other mottos either utterly shallow (YOLO) or utterly without insight (3Hunna). Section.80 closes on a track of the same name–working off Kanye‘s “Power“–and points the way toward Lamar’s future output:

My issue isn’t televised and you ain’t gotta tell the wise

how to stay on beat, because our life’s an instrumental

This is physical and mental, I won’t sugar coat it

You’d die from diabetes if these other niggas wrote it

That future, at the moment, is his upcoming album Good Kid in a Mad City, due sometime this year. So far he’s releasedThe Recipe“–a homage to weed and California sun with Compton hero Dr. Dre. Once again, Lamar is out to paint a picture of life in LA, of what it is to be a good kid in a mad city.

And no one sums that idea up better than Lamar himself. In an impassioned spoken verse on “Ab-Souls Outro” over unaltered jazz grooves:

I’m not the next pop star

I’m not the next socially aware rapper

I am a human motherfucking being over dope ass instrumentation