Two years ago, Kendrick Lamar sent the rap world into a tailspin. Appearing on the Big Sean track Control alongside everyone’s favourite HURRY UP AND PUT AND ALBUM OUT (and stop cancelling Aussie tours) artist Jay Electronica, Kendrick delivered a scathing verse that took rap fans incredibly by surprise.
“I’m usually homeboys with the n*ggas I’m rhyming with, but this is hip-hop and them n*ggas should know what time it is, and that goes for Jermaine Cole, Big K.R.I.T, Wale, Pusha T, Meek Mill, A$AP Rocky, Drake, Big Sean, Jay Electon’, Tyler, Mac Miller, I got love for you all but I’m tryna’ murder you n*ggas”.
This was a verse that was direct; no hinting, no beating around the bush. There were names mentioned, there was a clear intention behind the track, and it worked. As rap fans we had not seen anything like this since the early 2000’s, when rap beef was still a relevant topic.
At this point in time Kendrick was just beginning his all out assault on hip-hop, and establishing himself as the top dog. What riled most fans however, was Kendrick’s proclamation and crowning of himself; “I’m Makaveli’s offspring, I’m the King of New York, King of the Coast, one hand, I juggle ’em both”. The West Coast and the NY rap scenes are the two biggest vessels for rappers, each with their own unique sound and characteristics, and to declare himself king of both lanes was always going to get some people offside.
While we can go back and forth about the content of Kendrick’s verse, it is the aftermath that is perhaps the most valuable part of Control. It got people excited. It got people fired up. Competition and being the top dog was always more a hidden agenda in recent years; rappers were simply too afraid to get on someones bad side. This verse knocked down the door, competition was back, and it was finally okay to tell the fans and your fellow rappers that you were coming for the crown.
Responses were bound to follow. J. Cole took to a Justin Timberlake remix alongside Pusha T and A$AP Rocky, declaring that even his own other asked him what he was going to do in response to Kendrick.
We have started to see more rappers talk smack about each other, from Jay-Z naming Drake on a remix of We Made It, to Childish Gambino freestyling about Drake and Kendrick to a crowd in Australia. Heck, even Drake has demonstrated that he is not going to bow down to people, (namely just Meek Mill,but hey), and this was a rapper who was generally considered soft, emotional and incapable of holding his own in a rap beef.
It is so refreshing to have a sense of competition in hip-hop again, and it’s paying dividends in mainstream attention. The Drake and Meek Mill saga has definitely been played out, but Drake is reaping the benefits sales wise, becoming the first artist of 2015 to have a platinum album with If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late. J. Cole is also approaching the milestone with his own project 2014 Forest Hills Drive.
As hip-hop fans we can be fortunate that we are seeing a renaissance of rap pride and bravado. We get to see one of the most talented generations of rappers giving it their all in the hopes of establishing themselves as an all time great, and for once, they are not worried about who gets in their way.