Kendrick Lamar’s got beef. And not the traditional, predictable beef we’ve become so accustomed to seeing develop in the hip hop world. Kendrick Lamar’s got beef with the very notion of complacency that has taken over the art of hip hop we love so much. Kendrick Lamar’s got beef with the lack of lyrical content, the lowered and accepted status quo that has diminished the role hip hop has come to play in the world. Kendrick Lamar’s got beef with the lazy, designer clothes-based definition of what’s deemed successful in a world built on a foundation of the exact opposite.
Kendrick Lamar is killing all that noise, and he’s challenging everyone, everyone, to challenge themselves.
On his verse for Big Sean’s “Control”, he came off about as respectful as one can when verbally assaulting some of the biggest names in the game. He paid homage to Nas, Jay-Z, Eminem, and Andre 3000, but no obligatory mention of Pac or Biggie. He had no problem calling out his own collaborators on the very song he was guest-starring on. And you know what? You shouldn’t have a problem with it either. The competitive spirit is what fuels the music we love so much. The art of competition is what makes everyone in the game better. It’s music as sport, and it’s what separates hip hop from any other genre of music.
Those of us who have been engulfed in hip hop culture for the last three decades couldn’t be happier to see someone calling for an all-out, across the board lyrical improvement. We have allowed the mainstream idea of what hip hop means overtake what it actually does. We have allowed rap and hip hop to become two separate entities. We have allowed ourselves to let fools get rich off of what they think is ok. We have allowed ourselves to reach this tipping point, but Kendrick Lamar is tipping the scales in our favor. He’s currently crowning himself, and anyone who thinks they can beat him, be our guest.
But tread lightly, because one false move and you leave yourself open for execution from the industry. You leave yourself vulnerable to the very delicate relevance that can be fleeting if you’re not doing it right.
So, hip hop heads: what’s the most important element when discussing the best of all-time? Who, if any, of this next generation of rappers even matters? Who, dead or alive, remains relevant in a world of fleeting relevance?
The verse is brilliant in that it forces anyone who jumps on a mic to think twice about what they choose to say. Joell Ortiz (Brooklynite, clearly upset about the “King of New York” lyric coming from a Californian) has already responded with a remix of “Control”, and in doing so, he has fed into the well-placed, articulated setup. He has practically proven Kendrick’s point about lyrical content and the art of competition. If you listen closely, Kendrick’s not just claiming New York. He’s claiming supremacy over both coasts, over the industry, “juggling them in one hand.”
He is selling records. He’s clearly got thought-provoking lyrics. He’s not spouting bullshit. He doesn’t care about the material shit flooding the scene, because it’s back to “white Ts and Nike Cortez.” So in essence, he’s covered all the aspects of someone saying what it is he’s saying.
Similar to Rolling Stone putting the Boston bomber on the cover of their popular magazine last month to start a conversation (not to mention sell some units), the verses from Kendrick Lamar and Big Sean are the jump off for something bigger, something productive for the world of hip hop. This shouldn’t ignite actual beefs. The responses from everyone on blast should be to put out some meaningful shit, because right now there are only a handful of rappers that matter. And that just shouldn’t be.
Just make sure whatever you do that the bar is always being raised or it’s your career that’s being dropped, because your core fans will recognize real.
This is your ongoing mission should you choose to accept…