What Does Kendrick Lamar’s “Control” Verse Mean for Hip Hop?

August 13th, 2013

(Photo: Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images for Bud Light)

By Jake Rohn

Today (August 13) Kendrick Lamar has declared war on hip hop’s best and brightest new artists on the new Big Sean song “Control.” In addition to proclaiming himself to be “The king of New York,” and “Makavelli’s offspring,” the Compton MC took aim at everyone (including friends like Drake, A$AP Rocky and J. Cole) letting it be known that he’s gunning for that No. 1 spot and won’t let anything or anyone stand in his way.

“I’m usually homeboys with the same n—-s I’m rhyming’ with/But this is hip hop and them n—-s should know what time it is/And that goes for Jermaine Cole, Big K.R.I.T., Wale, Pusha T, Meek Mill, A$AP Rocky, Drake, Big Sean, Jay Electron, Tyler, Mac Miller/I got love for you all, but I’m tryna murder you n—-s/Tryna make sure your core fans never heard of you n—-s/They don’t wanna hear not one more noun or verb from you n—-s,” rapped Kendrick, sparing not even his fellow collaborators Big Sean and Jay Electronica. One name he didn’t mention was Joey Bada$$, who many believe is on pace to do for Brooklyn what K. Dot is doing for Compton. Was leaving Joey’s name out akin to saying he’s not on the level of those he named? Could this spark a feud with the prince of Brooklyn igniting one of the hottest beefs in hip hop. Who knows, but we do know a lot of rappers woke up this morning seeing hip hop in a whole new light.

Beef is always good as long as it’s kept on wax. Competition drives success and Kendrick’s verse could undoubtedly bring out the best in many of today’s top tier MCs, especially in New York. But when you’re talking about pitting the East Coast versus the West Coast, one can’t help but think of the war of words that turned violent and ultimately led to the untimely deaths of Tupac and the Notorious B.I.G. The media played a significant part in escalating a feud between two rappers into a hip hop civil war. Could the same thing happen again with Kendrick and Joey or whoever else steps up to K. Dot’s challenge?

Though Kendrick may not be as impulsive and relentless as Tupac, hip hop battles often lead to one MC going to great lengths to one-up the other, which can sometimes lead to things getting personal. But hip hop has changed over the years. Rival crews still get into it with each other from time to time, but look at the epic battle between Jay Z and Nas. Both men took it to a personal level, where it did not need to go, and yet they were able to put aside their differences and have since become friends.

In his short time in the game, Kendrick has proven himself to be a fairly peaceful and introspective guy. Through his work and his interviews he has made it clear that he holds hip hop, and more specifically Compton’s legacy, in high regard. For their part, the NYers looking to defend their turf are now forced to harken back to the classic ’90s era when all rhymeslingers had to stay sharp in order to be mentioned among the rising kings — Biggie, Jay Z or Nas.

The genre is in a good place right now with more talented new artists (most of whom were name checked by Kendrick) than at any time in recent history. Any one of the rappers he named would make a worthy opponent. When Biggie and Pac went head on, most of these rappers were children (Joey wasn’t even in pre-school yet). But one thing they all seem to have in common is a realistic sense of their own legacy and the legacy of hip hop as a whole. Kendrick Lamar versus [insert name checked rapper here] would be a fight for the ages. Hopefully this time the media will think twice before pitting whole coasts against one another. But they probably won’t because, while hip hop may have changed, the one thing that remains true in the media is “if it bleeds it leads.”

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