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Kendrick Lamar Turbocharges Hip-Hop With One Verse (Editorial)

In case you hadn’t heard, Kendrick Lamar has proclaimed himself rap music’s monarch while providing a hit list of peers he seeks to either subjugate or eliminate.

It all happened when the TDE/Aftermath/Interscope rapper let his thoughts loose over a Big Sean track called “Control” released earlier this week. Needless to say, Kendrick simply obliterated Big Sean and Jay Electronica, who had the unfortunate distinction of also appearing on the song (it is likely to appear on Big Sean’s upcoming sophomore LP Hall of Fame.)

Twitter and Facebook lit up with feedback almost as soon as Funkmaster Flex dropped “Control” on HOT 97 – tags and all. Kendrick’s claims, among other things, are that he is “King of NY” and seeks to lyrically “murder” other rappers. As of this writing, Joell Ortiz, Fred the Godson and B.o.B have responded via song. Others – including Tyga, Fabolous and his brother Paul Cain – let their feelings be known via Twitter. With urban websites and blogs far and wide playing up the controversy, the hysteria has spread like wildfire. Lamar’s bold verse appears to be a moment in the vein of Nas’ controversial album announcements (Hip-Hop Is Dead and N****r, which became Untitled), Tupac Shakur’s diss tracks, and even the “New York, New York” music video in which the Dogg Pound and Snoop Dogg stomp around Manhattan skyscrapers.

There are several possible explanations as to motive. Lamar, a diminutive rapper with a huge voice, clearly wants to take on the world. If that’s the case, Lamar is recklessly uncouth and “feeling himself,” buying into what many hip-hop aficionados already believe to be true – that Kendrick Lamar is the best rapper alive, bar none. In Lamar’s mind, it’s “never mind that I’m on songs with my homeboys.” He’s not trying to play nice. He feels he’s better than everybody. While this is subjective to the rest of us, considering MTV did name him the hottest rapper this year, he has a point.

The second interpretation is that Lamar’s attempt at rhetorical “flexin” was severely misinterpreted. Initially, this is what I thought. Again, this is similar to Nas’ declaring hip-hop dead yet turning out and releasing a rap album titled Hip-Hop Is Dead. Making audacious statements creates controversy and, although it’s unlikely Nas or Lamar spent too much time pondering the effects of their claims, they are savvy enough to know that their words are heavily scrutinized.

Another angle to this controversy is that with TMZ’s increasing coverage of hip-hop’s personalities, urban websites and their readers have become addicted to gossip and sensationalism. It has reached the point that they expect doses of controversy – and this happens to be a large dose. These days, it doesn’t take much for something to trend on social media, resulting in headlines and enterprise coverage in urban media outlets. The Twitter exchanges between rappers feeding that cycle dismay legend Big Daddy Kane, who tweeted that there was a distinction between gossip and hip-hop in the sense that aggrieved rappers should hit the studio and prove Kendrick Lamar wrong, not attack each other via social media.

As far as rappers taking Lamar’s assertions personally? That’s where it gets interesting. The rappers not named yet offering responses – Joell Ortiz, B.o.B. and Fred the Godson – are simply opportunists looking to ride the publicity wave. Mac Miller, one of the rappers who was name-checked, brushed off Lamar with a humorous suggestion that instead of nouns and verbs, he would use adjectives. Drake hasn’t uttered a word as of this writing, and neither has Wale or J. Cole.

Ultimately, no one loses. Even the artists Lamar throws under the bus are winners by default. By being included on his hit list, they are on his radar as formidable opponents. Hip-hop overall is generating a significant social media footprint thanks to this verse and its massive feedback. As long as it stays about music and doesn’t get overly personal, it’s the creative energy bred from negativity that formed hip-hop culture in the first place.

From the outside looking in, it seems Kendrick Lamar isn’t as reckless as his hero Tupac Shakur. No one assumes he is literally aiming to kill anyone. In channeling Pac’s uncouth aggression, however, King Kendrick ensures that after solid albums from vets Kanye West and Jay Z this summer, he and his peers are part of the conversation. For this, he deserves credit. Turbocharging the entire hip-hop community at once is a feat that only a select few can accomplish.


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About the Author

on MUSIC IS MY OXYGEN WEEKLY.

Slav Kandyba has worked as a journalist for more than a decade for a number of general interest newspapers, a wire service, trade publications and music and culture magazines and websites. Slav is currently a tech reporter for iTechPost.com, and has previously written for The Source and contributed to HipHopDX.com from 2007 until 2011. He began writing about hip-hop in 2006 when a friend challenged him to write about L.A.'s hip-hop scene, and he was one of the first journalists to spotlight Pac Div and U-N-I. Slav is a respected writer covering hip-hop culture and rap and has assisted in organizing events including the One Nation Hip-Hop Summit in Santa Monica, California, which featured a concert with Pete Rock and CL Smooth, and the first annual Academic Hip-Hop Conference at Cal State Northridge.

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