The week in review
This week the rap game experienced tremors when Big Sean released the song “Control” online. It featured a verse from the still-young, still gunning Kendrick Lamar on which he not only claimed for himself as many indices of hip hop royalty as he could — ‘Makavelli’s offspring’, the ‘Black Beatle’ or ‘Marley’ and, evidently most galling of all ‘King of New York’, he also named names, placing himself in the august company of the current paragons (Jay-Z, Nas, Eminem, Andre 3000) and calling out a selection of his contemporaries, warning them that whether they are homies or not, he is trying to make their careers history (or ‘murder’ them, to be exact) in the true, competitive spirit of hip hop. This touched of a frenzy of responses from all over the rap world, with dis tracks coming at Kendrick left and right (and mostly from New York emcees, as one would expect). Several prominent artists reacted positively, stating that Kendrick has made hip hop exciting again by rekindling the focus on lyrics.
This is the kind of verse that’s an immediate jaw-dropper, and not even mainly because of the presumption of naming of names. It’s in the performance. Kendrick here sounds as hungry as he ever has, pouring more aggression into this one verse than his entire, already impressive body of work can muster. We’re hearing a new side of him here. It’s not really about the lyrics, despite what everyone has been saying. Kendrick pushes some easy buttons and simultaneously makes sure not to piss off the establishment too much (why not include Jigga, Nas, et. al. on his hit list while he’s at it? It would be in the spirit). (incidentally, I like that Kanye is nowhere mentioned!). And frankly the rest of the verse is kind of incoherent, lacking in evocative simile and too busy with the name checks. No, what makes this verse of a different order than just about all the responses and most of what one hears in rap at the moment is the conviction he brings to it. It is truly exciting to hear a rapper spit with such passion. The words matter, of course, but only because they are delivered with such fire, such promise. In one verse, Kendrick has done much to dispel the very reasonable fear that he might experience sophomore jinx after his masterful major label debut good kid m.A.A.d city of last year.