Until today, I have never listened to a Big Sean verse in its entirety. Just thought I’d say that.
Anyway, the whole world went crazy today over the Detroit rapper’s latest song, featuring two of the most highly-acclaimed MCs to come out in the last 5 years. A few weeks ago I decided to disengage with Facebook and Twitter (more coming about that in future posts), but today I happened to log in just to check for important messages and make sure my account wasn’t sending out spam for fake Jordans and dick enlargement pills. Immediately I was bombarded with links to “Control” and everyone’s opinions on it.
For the most part, people had raging hard-ons over the song. Well, not over the song itself but over Kendrick’s verse. Let’s talk about that. Keep it real, it was a pretty good fucking verse. Lyrically, rhythmically, and content-wise: dope. It’s so dope that it pretty much ruins the rest of the song. Like it makes no sense that this verse would be featured on a track by weak ass Big Sean, bruh’s thunder really got stolen on this one. And adding Jay Electronica on at the end is like cooking two turkeys for the Thanksgiving Dinner. Despite the dopeness of Kendrick’s verse, this song and the people’s reaction to it has left me disappointed.
I’m disappointed that so many people all of a sudden raised their hand and praised this verse like it was the greatest written in hip-hop history. Let me explain that a little bit. Before you even try to play me out, this is not the bitter rambling of an underground aspiring MC whose mad jealous and thirsty for attention- trust me I’m writing this strictly as a fan and a participant in the culture. Nor is this an equally-bitter attempt to dis Kendrick or take away anything from that brother. In fact he is one of my favorite “new” rappers, and has been since I first heard him back in 2009 and 9/10 of you motherfuckers were sleeping on him. That’s because I actually dig for music I haven’t heard and give a fuck about listening to artists than no one else gives a fuck about. Which brings me to my next point.
In my opinion, if you jumped out of your seat and shit your drawers after hearing Kendrick’s verse today, you probably haven’t been paying very close attention to hip-hop. Maybe you’ve been following the watered-down, corporate-influenced imitation that passes for hip-hop on many blogs, radio stations, and TV shows. But if you have kept your ear to the street- and by “street” I actually mean “the street,” you know that place full of poverty and crime where hip-hop was born 40 years ago; I don’t mean the cover of XXL- you’ll probably have heard plenty of verses like the one Kendrick dropped today. As Nas said, “No idea’s original” and I hate to break it to some of y’all but what Kendrick expressed on that verse has been done before. I’ve heard a few people draw comparisons of Kendrick’s delivery to stuff by Freestyle Fellowship and other Project Blowed heads. Again, I AM NOT TRYING TO TAKE ANYTHING AWAY FROM KENDRICK! I love his music. But he’s not the only cat out there spitting what he spits in the way that he spits it, and if you like what he does you should want to take an interest in discovering those other folks as well.
In the information age, social networks are the main venue for hip-hop, when it used to be the streets. The reason I keep bringing up the streets so much is because if you actually go outside and listen, you’ll learn something. You’ll hear what people are blasting in their speakers. You’ll see how relevant a rapper’s subject matter is to the reality people are facing out there. And most importantly, you’ll be able to tell who is really having an influence on the people. It’s ironic that most of the fans who wear I Heart Hip-Hop” shirts and break bread on tickets for concerts like Rock The Bells would probably never think of setting foot inside the type of housing project where DJ Kool Herc first coined the term “hip-hop.” Same goes for most businessmen, bloggers, and journalists involved in hip-hop these days. Theses projects, these hoods, these streets, these cities are not all about the pimpin’ and thuggin’ that corporate America has been able to convince people of, they are simply a place where life happens. And in these places where historically-oppressed people continue their day-to-day struggle, hip-hop at its best is the soundtrack for that struggle.
However, times are different now and going “viral” is the new going “all-city,” I guess. It’s like people are doing mental and cultural retweets. It’s some serious monkey see, monkey do type shit going down. I feel like the more followers you have the more you can mold public perception. For example, I could probably tell you that a certain artist is good and you should listen. You may agree, you may not- BUT IF THE SOURCE OR 2DOPEBOYZ OR COMPLEX MAG SAYS IT, OH MY GOD LET ME DROP WHAT I’M DOING AND LISTEN! And it is in that way that media and information is regurgitated. That being said, as soon as I hear one person say “HOLY SHIT KENDRICK LAMAR IS THE GREATEST!” I hear five more repeat the same sentiment. I feel the same way when I talk to people about Action Bronson (another one of my new-school favorites) and immediately they tell me “He’s cool, but he sounds like Ghostface.” What! The man does not sound like Ghostface! Maybe there’s a slight tonal resemblance to two rappers (they both have strong NY accents) but creatively and lyrically the two are on totally different levels. But enough people (and enough of the RIGHT people) have made that comparison to the point where almost every time I bring up Bronson, some douchebag brings up Ghostface. “Action Bronson is biting Ghostface.” “Drake is soft and only for the ladies.” “This new Kendrick Lamar verse is the greatest ever.” You see where I’m going with this? It’s like motherfuckers feel included because they share that same, popular opinion as everyone else.
Another reason why I’m disappointed in the response to this song is because much of it seems to be based on shock over the content. It’s a damn shame that something like this happens so rarely that it’s treat as world-shattering news among the hip-hop community. Back in the day you would hear rappers calling each other out constantly. And it wasn’t just some “Ima rap better than you” type of shit. It was “Ima rap better than you and slap the shit out you next time I see you.” Listen to Kurupt’s (one of my favorite OGs) “Calling Out Names” for a good example. But I applaud Kendrick for standing up and being honest with his competitive intentions to be the best out. That type of competitive drive is part of the roots of MCing and hip-hop period. I also like how he attacked the use of Molly and the flamboyant, party-focused lifestyle that most rappers seem to be living nowadays. How did we even get this far to where artists are popular regardless of lyrical skill and it’s cool to do drugs and pop bottles all day? How?
BECAUSE YOU SUPPORTED THAT SHIT!
YOU made the conscious decision to spend your energy, time and money on wack ass motherfuckers who ain’t sayin shit and ain’t about shit. What’s funny to me is that the average fan who spazzed out over the “Control” verse will probably go right back to bumping some Trinidad James or some other bullshit. Meanwhile there are many artists who actually stand for something and have skills to back it up and yet they’re confined to obscurity. Kendrick Lamar could have easily become one of those artists back in ‘09 when TDE was a fledgling brand and the only spotlight K.Dot was getting was a couple blog posts. There are probably several other Kendrick Lamar-quality artists out there whose talents are wasting away as we type. If that’s cool with you, then keep tweeting and blogging. If not, then do something.
As participants of this culture, whether you’re a platinum artist or a graff writer or a b-girl or just a fan, we all have to push artists to bring the best lyrical content they have to offer. We can no longer accept watered-down bullshit from these artists or the magazines, blogs, and DJs that support them. And we must be open and supportive towards new cats coming up. As a kid, I was taught to dig through the crates and study the album covers and the names in the credits. I discovered most of my favorite artists and I never gave a shit how popular they were with anyone else. In fact I liked finding out about rappers that no one else knew about. I encourage you to do the same. Don’t just sit in front of the computer and let these websites and social networks do all the discovering for you.
Support hip-hop culture. Otherwise Kendrick Lamar really WILL be the only voice speaking out and that brother’s gonna get tired of that shit eventually.
PS for the record there is only one GOD MC and that’s motherfuckin’ Rakim. :)