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Kendrick Matters: How His “Control” Verse Highlights The Complacency In Hip-Hop

February 1, 2014
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When Kendrick Lamar dropped his verse on Big Sean’s “Control” the whole hip-hop industry had something to say about it, not to mention the entire Internet crashing with reactions from all types of newspapers and magazines that had nothing to do with hip-hop. Here is the part of the verse below that caused all the trouble in case you were stuck under a rock or trapped in a cave when it came out:

I’m usually homeboys with the same niggas I’m rhyming with/But this is hip-hop and them niggas know what time it is/And that goes for Jermaine Cole, BIG Krit, Wale, Pusha T, Meek Millz, A$AP Rocky, Drake, Big Sean, Jay Electron, Tyler, Mac Miller/ I got love for you all but I’m tryna murder you niggas/Tryna make sure your core fans never heard of you niggas/They don’t wanna hear not one more noun or verb from you niggas.

And here were some reactions from the names mentioned in his verse:

If I can’t do no more nouns or verbs Ima start comin with the wildest adjective bars that anyone has ever heard

– Mac Miller, (@MacMiller), August 13, 2013

I hear u loud and clear my nigga…

- Pusha T, ( @Pusha_T), August 13 2013

This is Gladiator shit…gotta give the people what they want.

- Big K.R.I.T, ( @BIGKRIT), August 13, 2013

Judging from the way the verse was written, the intention of the verse was never to incite guns-blazing-clap-back-kidnap-your-baby-and-your-baby-mama kind of beef that could lead to rappers dying. This was a declaration of rap-battle-skills war and not real lets-end-up-killing-each-other war. Yet it did not garner the lyrical reaction that us hip-hop heads were thirsting for, not even from the ever responsive Pusha T. If anything, judging from their reactions, it seems like the rappers mentioned were kind of glad that they got the nod from Kendrick because he was implicitly implying that he thinks they’re on his level of skill, considering everybody else except for the rappers actually mentioned recorded a reply. The only ones who had anything to say about it didn’t say much at all. Drake was so off-handed about it saying “I don’t really have anything to say about it” and J. Cole replied months later on Justin Timberlake’s “TKO” remix , more a call to arms than a comeback.

So why did Kendrick’s verse cause such a furor of mass destruction? To put it bluntly – hip-hop has become complacent; it’s become too nice. Everyone is friends with everyone. And if there is beef, it’s the type that is hidden behind cryptic subliminal messages that even Rap Genius has difficulty trying to figure out. That type of low-blow shit-talking lyrical-battle beef that made you “oooooohhhhh” and “aaaaahhhhh” and “oh my gosh did he really say that?” that was common in the 90’s and early 2000s has become an ancient folklore tale of legend that you tell these skinny-jean-2Chainz-loving yunguns in moments of nostalgia ( see: Nas’ “Ether”, Jay-Z’s “Supa-Ugly”, Ice-Cube’s “No Vaseline”, Canibus “2nd Round K.O” and Jadakiss’ “Checkmate” – to mention a few). Rappers play it safe these days and it’s getting hippo-yawningly boring. Kendrick Lamar did something extraordinary that once used to be so ordinary and that’s why everyone gasped.

kendrick lamar 3

Besides calling out names, Kendrick also said he was the King of New York even though he’s from Compton, Los Angeles. Here are some reactions from New York rappers:

KENDRICK!!!!!! Ohhh Shiiiittttt

– Diddy, (@iamdiddy), August 13 2013

Y’all new NY rappers ready to stop rapping like y’all from down south yet? #kingofny

– Talib Kweli (@TalibKweli), August 13, 2013

Haha REAL RAP is ALMOST back and I LOVE it # don’t get scared now

– Jadakiss, (@therealkiss), August 13, 2013

Nigga u aint LIT, u aint INFAMOUS, sit yo dumb ass down @kendricklamar verse is dope.

– Prodigy, (@PRODIGYMOBBDEEP) , August 13, 2013

Now how is it that the O.G’s of New York are applauding a kid from Compton L.A who just said that he is the King of their city? These reactions highlight this comfy complacent culture that hip-hop is currently about. Fabolous tweeted “are their any studios open yet?” the day the verse dropped yet he didn’t record a response until the veiled shots on “The Get Back” on The Soul Tape 3 were released on Christmas Day. Even though Joel Ortiz, Joe Budden and Papoose were the New York rappers that responded, Kendrick Lamar actually said he thought the best response was from King Los, a rapper form Baltimore. Kendrick also said “rappers need to try harder” when asked about the responses he’s heard. Styles P said it best here when highlighting the fact that nobody wanted to ruffle feathers.

Ninjas with no bars is hoping shit blow over quick and shit get back to saying nothing

– Styles P, (@therealstylesp), August 13, 2013

And Big Daddy Kane’s tweet just sums everything up in 140 characters:

Attention MC’s: Complaining about @kendricklamar’s verse on twitter is gossip. Getting in the studio trying to write a better one is Hip Hop

- Big Daddy Kane, (@bigdaddykane) , August 13, 2013

Rappers have turned into big complacent babies over the past decade and it’s because the culture has devolved into something that’s less about the music and more about everything else. These days, rappers care more about creating and leveraging relationships with other rappers and protecting corporate endorsements and partnerships. And this is because it’s the only way for a rapper to become famous and get rich. Just take a look at Action Bronson’s attitude towards a rapper from the other side of the coast saying he’s the King of his city:

HAHAHAHA all of a sudden I should leave my bed and go to the studio HAHAHAHA MOTHAFUCKA GO GET ALL MY PROJECTS THAT ARE OUT.

– Action Bronson (@ActionBronson), August 13, 2013

and Tyga’s tweet just hammers the fact that money has become more important than the music:

That Kendrick verse crazy! I gotta get back on my own **** aint gon lie I made so much $ I lost sum inspiration for music #inspired rite now

– Tyga, (@Tyga) August 13, 2013

kendrick-lamar 2

Since the rise of the Internet and virtually any artist being able to drop music and find a fan base, pure hip-hop’s audience has divided and its influence on mainstream culture is slowly waning. For instance the rising trend of the horrible mishmash between EDM and hip-hop is diluting the genre. It’s more about the money and less about the music. It’s more about the fashion and less about the bars. If grovelling at rappers ensures that you make more money than if you didn’t, then so be it. If rappers do have beef these days, they spit bars that feel like they’re rapping around each other and not directly at each other. They are so safe and dripped in subliminal that one has to spend hours on Google trying to figure out who they’re referring to and even then it might not be that rapper specifically. Most times they don’t even spit bars, they just let their fingers do the talking and tweet their feelings, subliminally of course.

Not every beef has to end in tragedy or death. To be an advocate for hip-hop battles doesn’t mean that you’re an advocate for violence and rappers shooting at each other. The only shots that should be fired are the ones shot in rhymes, over a mic, in a recording booth. No one wants talented rappers to die because of their rhymes. But the truth is hip-hop battles produce a strong culture of competition. That competition forces every participant in the hip-hop game to be their very best lyrically. This ensures that quality music is made that is appreciated by the fans.

To be quite honest Lupe was right when he said Kendrick’s “Control” verse wasn’t that impressive:

Dear Y’all, Ya’ll know ya’ll are easily impressed. Bar so low you need a shovel to get at it. Sincerely, Private Twitter

– Lupe Fiasco, (@LupeFiasco), August 13, 2013

Lupe responded to the verse with a track called “SLR 2” which was pretty confusing if you aren’t on Lupe’s esoteric wavelength. If you look at the whole verse holistically yes there are some very clever metaphors and references that could make any Rap Genius addict go nuts but the only thing Kendrick did that made everyone go crazy was make a grandiose statement and drop names. First of all some of the names he mentioned shouldn’t even breathe the same air as him in terms of competition (Meek Mill? Really?) and almost all of them were his contemporaries and his friends. This verse seemed more like a clever strategic benevolent move, more to entertain and stir controversy than to incite real lyrical beef. Perhaps it can even be said that the rappers mentioned in the song might have been in on it or at least notified beforehand about the contents of the verse. How else can their silence be explained? What Kendrick did was start a conversation and wake a sleeping industry up. Kendrick breathed life into Hip-hop, which has become comfortable and complacent. Missy Elliot and Ice-T say as much:

@kendricklamar has Forced rap artist to have 2 be Lyrical and have substance again! This was so needed!

– Missy Elliot, (@MissyElliot), August 13, 2013

I love how ONE verse woke Hip Hop the F—K up… It’s been a LONG time since people talked about ANYTHING someone said in their rhyme…

– Ice T, (@FINALLEVEL), August 13, 2013

So even though Kendrick might have caused a stir he still maintained the status quo of complacency in hip-hop because if he really wanted to shake the hip-hop game up, what he should’ve done was swap those eleven names of his rapper friends with Jay-Z, Nas, Andre 3000 and Eminem instead of paying homage to them as if they’re untouchables. It’s a new age, a new era, a new time in hip-hop and with that a new King must be found that has the guts to throw shots at the rap gods as well as throw shots at his contemporaries and contemporaries that actually can match him bar for bar. Kendrick really is in the best position to do this right now but if he wants the crown he needs to take it properly.


Written by Nomusa Mthethwa (@NomusaMT)


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