Have you heard? Kendrick Lamar is the King of New York. Yeah, he crowned himself on a track with Big Sean and Jay Electronica. Did I mention that he dissed them but not really dissed them on the same track? Yes, it’s true! You should aspire to be Kendrick because he’s one of the best. So go back to the studio, lames. Perfect your writing because K. Dot will not be stopped.
In all seriousness, just when you thought the loudest thing you heard all summer was Yeezus, Kendrick releases a guest verse on a Big Sean cut that was left in the editing room. It’s just another example that Kendrick is one of the best and can body people on their own songs, AND THOSE PEOPLE WON’T CARE. But the biggest issue I have with this verse is his backhanded way of inspiring people who don’t really need inspiration, in the same way that older rappers complain that non-lyrical emcees need to be more lyrical and the people it does affect are not who you want to hear.
In a post-Flockaveli world, lyrics have become almost an after thought. Style, delivery and energy are the new priorities. This has led to Hip-Hop being in a place where weirdos and nonsensical rappers have been able to flourish. Kendrick has the traits of a modern day oddball but also incredible wordplay. He is the first up-and-comer to be heavily conscious and lyrical in the current rap machinery and make it mainstream. But his aim towards his contemporaries about raising their standards sounds like Chuck D screaming about what ails Hip-Hop in an auditorium that is half-full.
Kendrick addresses people like Drake, Tyler. the Creator and A$AP Rocky as those that need to up their shit. The problem is that these individuals are not in the business of creating biting lyricism. Their personas are in the business of reliving sexual conquests, schizophrenia and high fashion. They have all carved out spots for themselves within their respective niches (or, as in the case of Tyler, created an entirely new niche). They aren’t looking to crown themselves as kings of anything. Rocky is more concerned with being invited back to the Margiela show next year. Drake just wants to stare up at the stars with a young lady and Tyler is considering retirement already.
The other rappers who were called by name, who aspire to exceed Kendrick’s abilities, have a ceiling, and they have yet to prove they can break through it even though critics have been yelling at them over the course of their discographies to do so. Big K.R.I.T, J. Cole, Pusha T, Wale and Mac Miller all fit into this camp. While many have had somewhat successful outings as wordsmiths, they have all, more or less, grown inconsistent and tiring. J. Cole is too worried about letting Nas down, Big K.R.I.T is too indebted to his Southern idols and Wale has regressed over the course of his major label career. All of them are tethered to styles that they have worn too extremely thin to be able to box with Kendrick. But these people seem inspired rather than pissed off, which could be a great thing for them. It will just take a little bit longer for me to believe that their new inspiration is not just another project with mixed results.
Of the people who are filled with piss and vinegar are those not mentioned by name. The ones who have been put on notice through the aforementioned “King of New York” self proclamation. You know – Fabolous, JR Writer and Joe Budden, as well as a flurry of other Empire State emcees who haven’t been in command of anything since the early aughts. They are all going to the studio, not because they are inspired to be better in general, but because they want to take out the TDE rapper by way of a coup that will rival the Bay of Pigs fiasco. These are all the same guys who have put too much attention into New York classicism rather than actually being, you know, good. Their fatal flaw during Southern rap’s takeover was the false security that being from NYC automatically made them a quality act. Now, someone from LA has laid claim to the city and, to be honest, it isn’t a competition because all of the people who are culturally relevant agree. The formerly mentioned will only trip over themselves (again) with verses that will only embarrass more than bolster.
In a way, it’s great that Kendrick cares about inspiring his fellow artists to be as good as he is. But no one can be at the moment and that’s okay. This isn’t the 50 Cent days of winner take all. The pie is large enough to share and fill with individual styles. In a way, Kendrick’s issues with Hip-Hop are similar to that of the elder generations who don’t seem to respect him in return. His statement is more of an affirmation that he is more of a disgruntled old man in a young man’s wardrobe. So please – quit playing in Mr. Lamar’s yard before he steals your baseball and keeps it in his musty garage.
EDIT: Oh, look at that. The elders respect Kendrick AFTER “Control.”