Column: Kendrick Lamar Shakes The Hornet’s Nest
Dang, Kendrick. You really had to take it there, didn’t you? Gotta give you props, though, because while everyone’s trying to figure out what just happened, you’re already three moves ahead. Most of the rappers you named in Big Sean’s “Control” are still trying to figure out if it’s a diss or not, which shows you how far hip-hop has fallen.
Saying one’s name in the same sentence as trying to steal their fans qualifies as a diss. It’s not a friendly game of basketball when you claim to be the king of a city you only visit as well as telling your contemporaries that you’re trying not only to take their fanbase but to make sure they don’t even remember them. I would ask for someone to get Jermaine Cole and company a band-aid, but that’s not enough.
Is Kendrick dope? Yeah, he’s dope. Is he the best of the new generation? Can’t say he is, honestly, but the cats I like all seem to be burning out and/or selling out, so he may be the best of what’s out right now. Although with the current class, and forgive me for sounding like an old head, arguing about who’s the best out now is like who’s arguing about who has the best Lunchable. Lunchables are nasty. No one wins!
However, as lyrical as the good kid from the maad city can get, I’m still not buying that he’s as dope as everyone says. One writer even jumped out the window to compare his GKMC debut album to Nas’s Illmatic, a move the hip-hop gods didn’t take seriously enough to strike down with lightning. Sure, there’s similarities between the two albums, but Illmatic is one of the greatest pieces of music ever created. It’s immortal. There will never be a more New York song than “New York State of Mind.” There will never be another “Halftime” or “Represent.” It took Nas less than 40 minutes to change the landscape of New York hip-hop.
Besides, anyone who’s taken an English course or ridden a New York subway after 10 knows you can construct an argument out of thin air, but that doesn’t make it a good argument.
But I digress.
I don’t blame Kendrick for calling himself the King of New York. As long as Nas is rapping, there will always be a king, hands down. Then there’s Jay-Z, who claims king status on the regular. I even like how he was like, ‘Yo, Kanye, drop those scraps from Watch the Throne and then I’m gonna really get ‘em with this Magna Carta joint.’ While there are some real gems on Magna Carta, the overall vibe on the album is a distracted Jigga trying to put together enough songs to please the folks at Samsung. Magna Carta is looking up at Kingdom Come and Volume 2 and asking, ‘Yo, how’d you get so dope?’
But I still digress.
The common complaint about artists from New York is that they’re not holding it down. And it’s true. Most of them aren’t. Whether they’re feeling burned by the game or they just don’t know what move to make next, the artists with the spotlight are not doing what they need to be doing, and no, I’m not suggesting they rhyme on a bunch of dusty breaks and nothing else, but they could, if it’s not too much to ask, collectively define the New York sound.
Artists have always been a little shook when it comes to competition. It’s far too easy to drop a subliminal here or there, then when you’re asked about it, say it’s nothing and complain to the fan or writer that they’re looking for trouble. I respect what Kendrick’s doing here, though. It’s an all or nothing move. He’s basically telling Pusha T, Wale, Meek Mill, and the rest of ‘em that he’s coming for them whether they like it or not. They have a very small window to respond, and how they respond is going to affect Kendrick’s position.
If any of the MCs mentioned by K. Dot in “Control” can save face, and remember, time is a factor, so the longer they take, the better they’ll have to be. It’s like a middle school talent show. The first kid gets a huge round of applause for at least getting out there and trying. If he sucks, oh well, there’s no one to compare him against. However, if that same kid does an off-key Kurt Cobain at the end of the show, he’s probably getting booed for the next three weeks.
At this point, even if those cats don’t have something great, at least drop something. No one expects you to kill it like this, but you can do something maybe a third as good. And people can say, ‘Hey, Kendrick’s a good kid, he didn’t mean nothing by that, it’s just a little friendly competition.’ Friendly competition is like, ‘Yo, you’re cool but I’m cooler, but don’t get mad at me, we’re still friends, right?’ Saying you’re going to take all of a dude’s fans and basically end their career. Well, I’m not sure how well I’d take to that.
It’s cool that Kendrick appears to be trying to raise the bar and “be hip-hop” as so many non-hip-hop fans would say. But it’s not like that. This is Kendrick’s time to take the undisputed crown, especially with Drake about to drop and all the shine he’s been getting for his Drakely decent songs. Even Jay-Z mentioned his love for Drake in a very Jay-Z kind of way.
The only way out for Pusha T and company is to destroy Kendrick on a song and hope that Jay Rock and team don’t take too much offense. Kendrick will then respond. He’s probably got bars ready for each dude. He’s in control of the entire situation.
Let’s say any one of those dudes don’t respond. We’ll use Mac Miller, although I’d be very interested to hear that response. Everyone’s gonna think homeboy was too shook to respond. He might not lose much but respect, but the cats buying his album will still cop his next one. But everyone will know he was shook, and that’s not okay for a true MC. And Mac, don’t get mad, you were just an example.
What I better not hear, though, is that Kendrick’s list is thinking it’s all fun and games and brushing it off as such. Sean Don, homie, you got dissed on your own song. Kendrick did a verse for you and basically pointed out the elephant in the room, which is that every time an MC does a verse with another MC, he’s trying to outshine anyone else within a 16 bar radius. But it’s like a high school reunion. You don’t go to your high school reunion and tell everyone, “I’m trying to look more successful than you.” People know you’re trying to when you show up in a rented beamer and your pop’s hand-me-down tuxedo. Props to Kendrick for stating the obvious and being the jackass at the reunion, and for doing it in such a way that his status is going to be elevated even more, regardless of the caliber or quantity of responses he receives. Kendrick wins, they lose.
A lot of rappers know how good they got it right now. That’s why there’s very few creative risks being taken right now and everyone sounds like they’re using the same Casio keyboard and drums. They gotta be thinking, ‘Don’t mess up what I got. Just maintain. Just maintain.’ Real show money doesn’t last forever and if you look at some of the artists that were popping in 2008, all of a sudden they’re old school to the blogosphere. And if you’re not Sean Price or Roc Marciano and you’re a New York vet, forget it. Everyone sees how cold the game really is, and most artists that made it halfway up the mountain are content to stay there because they know it’s better than being at the bottom. Getting on the really bad side of Kendrick is something no one wants, even if they’re technically a better MC.
What I love about all of this is I’ve written an entire column about the dopeness of Kendrick Lamar when he’s been the posterchild for overrated MCs, not counting Future, of course. I’m not saying he’s bad. I like him, always have. HHG was one of the first, if not the first, site to post K. Dot music when Top Dawg was sending it through back in Jay Rock’s Warner Days. I just never thought Kendrick was the second coming and the voice of his generation the way so many fans wanted him to be.
And please, New York MCs, don’t all of a sudden start taking a stand for New York hip-hop like you actually care about it. I don’t want my inbox flooded with a bunch of Kendrick Lamar disses, because if y’all were really holding it down for New York, K. Dot could never have said what he did without everyone just laughing at him like the drunk uncle at a barbecue.
This was a fight that was over before it even began, ya bish.