Kendrick Lamar: Surveying the Damage
Kendrick Lamar lit a fire under some of New York’s finest (and slightly dormant) MCs with his verse on “Control.” We break down the quality of responses. Who was dope, who was wack, and who should have stayed silent?
If you’re a fan of New York MCs, you know, the ones that flooded the mixtapes back when mixtapes mattered, then you’ve gotta thank Kendrick Lamar right now. Dude didn’t just put a battery in their backs, he rewired their circuitry, even if it is only temporary. Listening to a lot of the music that’s come from the Big Apple, it’s sounded like New Yorkers were trying to do anything but sound like they were from New York. Nas is still killing it, but Jay-Z’s new art rap just ain’t cutting it. Whoever keeps taking Jigga to art galleries needs to replay Reasonable Doubt, The Blueprint, or even The Black Album and see if dude remembers what it was like to really spit.
And then after Jay, there’s a huge drop-off. Looking at my other favorites, Papoose finally dropped The Nacirema Dream and while it may not have been the blockbuster album he once envisioned it being, it was a solid project well worth my ten bucks. Based on some of Saigon’s tweets, he seems like he’s fed up with the game. I don’t know what’s going on with Grafh. Joell consistently kills it. Immortal Technique’s got The Middle Passage coming, soon, maybe, hopefully. I’m wearing out my old Stimuli mp3s. J-Zone’s proving he gets better with age. I’ve watched my homie junclassic rise from being a dope MC no one knew to getting props around the world. And there’s been a bunch of other great things happening in New York, from Meyhem Lauren’s rise to some dude named Action Bronson to a great class of up-and-coming MCs like Joey Bada$$, the Brown Bag All-Stars, Dyme-a-Duzin, and the sharktastic duo The Doppelgangaz.
But there hasn’t been a focused energy from so many MCs for one purpose. I thought the George Zimmerman verdict mighta done it, but nah, I guess that wasn’t a big enough ticket.
But Kendrick Lamar saying he was the king of a city he doesn’t live in sure sparked some controversy to where even if your favorite rapper wasn’t going to drop a verse, he was going to drop an opinion. New York rappers have been treating New York like it’s always gonna be their’s, like it’s not going anywhere, like that crown is always going to be there for the taking, and Kendrick, at the very least, inspired a temporary sense of urgency I thought had all but disappeared.
And now, let’s look at who released a response worth mentioning.
Papoose – I had to rewind the mp3 a few times just to see if this was the same Pap. How many dudes would say, “Good lookin’ on that Summer Jam move,” before telling him to get his whole team off the PCP and attribute his success for contributing to “the feminization of the Black man”? Then he disses Kendrick’s mom and talks about how he’s “sitting on another man’s lap” for his GKMC cover. That’s a bit of a reach, but Pap also makes sure he gets a few laughs with lines like “You gettin’ cornea like an e-y-e” and “Always making gun sounds like doo-doo-doo/Sounds like a gun off Star Wars, R2D2.” Also talks about Nia Long brushing him off. Trigger-Happy Pappy did his research, maybe too much, but at least he took a stance and stands by it, even throwing Big Sean in the mix before dedicating an entire song to him. The Streetsweeper product is hungry and while he may not end any careers with these diss records, he’s also letting Kendrick and Big Sean know he’s gonna rep. Love the energy here, which makes up for some of his desperate reaches. Toss up between this and Joell’s response for my favorite.
Joell Ortiz – What I loved about this was not only how quick Joell got it done, but also how self-aware he was. He got in, said what he had to, and left it. Not a wasted word here. Talked about how Kendrick gave him props, then got real and said, “When we met, you said it was an honor The Yaowa can spit/Maybe that’s why you left me out of that shit/Maybe that’s why the Slaughterhouse ain’t get dissed/Or maybe you feel you ain’t gotta acknowledge my clique.” I’d been missing a Joell freestyle that made me want to keep it on repeat, and he did it here. Joell probably doesn’t want to hear it, but dude’s at his best when he’s just spitting. There’s a super-short list of rappers where I’d want to hear a hundred bar verse, but Joell’s one of them.
Grafh – Um, where’s this Grafh been? He’s another MC that can stay as far away from the club songs, the lady songs, and just drop an album of darkness like his first Oracle mixtape. Homie, please capture the energy you spit with here and use it over those grimy beats you sound best on.
And just for old time’s sake…
Cassidy – Nice job, Cass. He didn’t really have a horse in this race, but he basically hopped the gate and entered the race anyway. I don’t even know how much offense Cassidy even took to “Control,” but he killed it here. Not only does he rep for Philly, a city Kendrick hasn’t dissed, but he also gives props to Gilly, someone I don’t think Meek wants to hop in the ring with. Maybe it’s just me being nostalgic, but hearing Grafh and Cassidy kill it gave me some hope that they’re still capable of dropping more flames.
Joe Budden – I thought this was one of the more well-thouhgt responses. Joe says he’s not offended at it (probably helps that he’s from Jersey), says he “knows the game,” drops a Stacy Augmon reference, and then drops a few bars to Kendrick and company. “Outrhyming A$ap ain’t showing me where your weight at.” I didn’t know hip-hop fans listened to A$ap like that. Joe didn’t break a sweat with K. Dot but he did just enough to please his fans and throw himself into the conversation. Mission accomplished.
Joey Bada$$ – Homie killed it here. Even more props because he’s an up-and-coming cat that’s not trying to be all politically-correct and play the game. Joey hasn’t “made it” yet or established himself yet with the longevity the way Cassidy and Grafh have. Younger cats won’t disagree with that, but they were also in Pampers when those cats were killing mixtapes when you had to get ‘em off Audiogalaxy or when MixUnit actually sold mixtapes. Not only was Joey on point lyrically here, he scores major points for not staying silent. There’s plenty of New York cats who won’t do anything because of “Control,” and some for good reason. Maybe they don’t want to be thrown in the mix of everyone else. But for a lot, there’s a real fear that people won’t care what they have to say and their record will get overlooked. For others, it’s that responding to Kendrick may burn some bridges, and if that’s your attitude, you’re in the wrong game. I’ve burned bridges, turned down money, and repped the real not because it was trendy but because authenticity is the only way you can rep hip-hop, and I give Joey props for doing that here.
Meek Mill – Ehhh (*Larry David voice*). Jacking Left Coast beats and saying you’re bombing on rappers when you’re not really bombing on rappers in the song’s not working. The response came almost a month after “Control,” so the best move here would have been to not respond and just make sure you ooh kill ‘em on Dreamchasers 3.
Lupe Fiasco – The intro shows us Lupe knows how to cuss, but this isn’t one of Lupe’s stronger tracks. I’ve always been one of Lupe’s supporters, but this just isn’t doing it for me.
King Los – Killed the verse. Dropped it quick too, which gets him way more points than someone like Meek Mill, who took almost a month for his response. Dude’s the real deal and he was good ‘til he started handing out props like closeout coupons on the streets of New York. That’s when he lost me.
Mac Miller’s response might be my favorite though. He’s like that kid at the lunch table that just got ripped and has no comeback, so instead of getting mad about it, he just tries to make a joke about it and hope everyone laughs along with him.
If I can't do no more nouns or verbs ima start comin with the wildest adjective bars that anyone has ever heard.
— Mac. (@MacMiller) August 13, 2013
Truth is, Kendrick lit a fire I wasn’t sure even existed. Now let’s hope that flicker makes it back to the torch.