While I was laying back, planning my next album assassination, Big Sean released a song called Control. Normally, such news would not be cause for me to waste any of my words, but this song included not only Jay Electronica, but Kendrick Lamar in his finest controversy starting form. I would say that Sean should be thanking Kendrick for the added attention, but pretty much no one is talking about any part of the song other than Kendrick’s verse. After this embed of the song, I’ll lay out my reaction to it and to everyone else’s reactions:
The song really isn’t all that great to me. The beat’s pretty basic, its rhythm causes each rapper to stumble at least once, the running time is 7 plus minutes, and there’s no hook. Yup, no hook, just 3 long ass verses. Big Sean’s verse is a little over two minutes, Kendrick’s verse is almost 3 minutes(!), then Mr. Electronica mercifully ends his speech after a minute. There’s no topical exploration or extreme lyricism that warrants such length, it’s just overindulgence. Kendrick at least had some exciting pieces, more on those in a bit, but everyone else bored me. So, minus the exciting parts of Kendrick’s verse, this song would be completely ho-hum and not nearly as many people would be talking about it. What could Kendrick have possibly done to rescue it from such a bland fate?
Well…Kendrick channeled Big Pun and shitted on the whole industry! Well not the whole industry, but still, a lot of people got got. Peep these lyrics:
I’m Makaveli’s offspring, I’m the king of New York
King of the Coast, one hand, I juggle them both
I heard the barbershops spittin’ great debates all the time
Bout who’s the best MC? Kendrick, Jigga and Nas
Eminem, Andre 3000, the rest of y’all
New niggas just new niggas, don’t get involved
And I ain’t rockin no more designer shit
White T’s and Nike Cortez, this is red Corvettes anonymous
I’m usually homeboys with the same niggas I’m rhymin’ wit
But this is hip-hop and them niggas should know what time it is
And that goes for Jermaine Cole, Big KRIT, Wale
Pusha T, Meek Millz, A$AP Rocky, Drake
Big Sean, Jay Electron’, Tyler, Mac Miller
I got love for you all but I’m tryna murder you niggas
Tryna make sure your core fans never heard of you niggas
They dont wanna hear not one more noun or verb from you niggas
So K. Dot decided to say something that would surely piss off most of New York’s hip-hop heads, and he called out every somewhat famous good-to-meh rapper in his generation by saying that he plans to destroy them so bad that their fanbases disappear. Calling out rappers, by name, for some friendly (by hip-hop standards) competition is a very bold step that I’m extremely ok with.
Competition has always been a major part of hip-hop, but I feel like this spirit has waned lately. Rappers don’t do posse cuts as often as in the past, and features including the flash-in-the-pan new hot rapper are driven by a desire to sell records rather than see who can best demolish the beat. There have been some great counter-examples like TI’s Swagger Like Us and A$AP Rocky’s One Train, but these songs happen much less often than they used to. In that light, it’s nice just to have a song with three rappers who are each from different regions and crews. And then to have these rappers simply rock the mic on this collaboration is awesome. So I’m not that impressed with the final product but am very happy with the spirit that brought it into being.
That Kendrick decides to put his generation on notice is dope because battles and the lyricism that they come with are part of what make hip-hop so fun, but what makes it monumental is that he names names. Generally, that is NOT done in hip-hop. Battles that include names have too often become overgrown and ended up in physical altercations and sometimes deaths, so it seems that rappers leave names out in order to prevent the same fate from befalling them. Also, it’s just cooler to call a rapper out without naming them, to allow those who pay attention to put the pieces together and realize that a battle was happening, and then let them tell everyone else. Then you get to be the mastermind who years later says “yeah, that verse was about him, I murdered him back then and you dummies are just now catching on.” That mystery was a big part of the hip-hop discussion during the late 90s and early 2000s. Songs had to have subtitles like “Jay-z diss” to make sure that everyone knew that Nas’ Stillmatic freestyle was about Jay-z since his name was never uttered in that song.
While this detective work is fun, sometimes it goes too far and I long for rappers to use more direct language. The fact that Jadakiss had a song named Fuck Beanie was not only hilarious but refreshing because for once I knew exactly, with no possible doubts, immediately, who the song was about. Kendrick’s use of names is similarly refreshing. He’s not trying to beef with anyone, he even disclaims everything by saying that he loves these guys. He leaves no doubts that he’s talking about his peers, who he thinks his peers are, and that this goes no farther than seeing who has the best skills.
Now the risk with such a move is that once the verse is released, it can’t be taken back and there could be negative reactions. In fact, of course there will be negative reactions. To their credit, Kendrick’s actual peers, meaning the people he called out and those who barely missed the list, didn’t take the verse personal. Pusha T accepts the challenge and Big KRIT appreciates the recognition and respect implied by being named. Killer Mike and El-P love the return to lyricism, and lots of other unrelated hip-hop figures have had similar positive remarks for Kendrick.
Meanwhile, expectedly, some took offense. Older New York heads are pissed at the youngster Kendrick for stepping on their lawn and claiming the crown to their city, because of course New York is the one hip-hop location that must be revered at all times. That’s actually a little too flippant of me, but c’mon New Yorkers! You’re old as hell, Kendrick was clearly trolling for shock, and that line came from a Kurupt verse anyway. If any New Yorkers are going to respond, they need to be of Kendrick’s generation and skilled enough to matter like A$AP Rocky or Joey Badass, or, like my brother-in-law said when discussing this song, they can be older but need to be really skilled like Nas or Jadakiss or Fabolous. Instead we have the New York’s second and third-stringers versus a Compton freshman starting on varsity. Joell Ortiz‘ response was decent but he really is nowhere near Kendrick’s level of fame. Papoose can’t keep his mouth in check and says a lot of disrespectful things in his defense of New York, including questioning people’s gender identities. Also his verse sucks, as expected.
Other East Cost heads responded as well, because…reasons. Cassidy showed why he needs to hang up the microphone, he used to be a great emcee but now he’s not on Kendrick’s level at all. Joe Budden released a response very recently but I didn’t have the energy for another song-length verse. It’s here for those with more willpower than me. Apparently he also disses Joey Badass for no reason.
Most of these counter-disses look like opportunism to me. The bigger names likely have better things to do and everyone else should quickly find something better. Joe Budden seems to live for beef and the publicity it brings, and Cassidy and Papoose have to be looking for any chance available to restart their failed careers. Joell had good reason to defend New York but since he’s not on Kendrick’s celebrity level it comes off as an angry peasant throwing rocks at tanks.
Lastly, I came across Spin’s take on the verse, written by Brandon Soderburg, with the headline “Kendrick Lamar’s ‘Control’ Verse: Not as Impressive as It Seems.” Subtitled “K.Dot’s guest verse on the Big Sean bonus track promotes a conservative vision of rap lyricism.” I agree with the Soderburg that the verse is too long and repetitive in topic, and I like that he called out the ending as the only real display of lyricism on a verse that talks a great deal about how great his lyricism is.
But what’s this “conservative vision of rap lyricism” that Soderburg is complaining about? It has two thrusts: New York is the capital of hip-hop, and its style of lyricism is the only one worth talking about. I agree that just by saying he’s the king of New York, Kendrick makes the statement that NYC is the pinnacle of hip-hop, and that that concept is probably outdated. For evidence of this point, just look to the list of rappers that Kendrick calls out. Only one is from New York. You could try to argue that all these guys have a New York style, but you’d be wrong. The vast majority of them don’t make New York music, nor do they sound like New York rappers. In my book, Meek Millz and Wale aren’t even lyricists! Kendrick has a very region-inclusive idea of who his peers are, one that I think is too generous but that most hip-hop fans would probably agree with him.
For this reason, I can’t agree with the second point, that Kendrick thinks New York lyricism is the only kind worthy of entering his competition. Most of these guys aren’t New York rappers in sound or origin, so saying the list furthers a New York-centric view of good lyricism doesn’t make sense. Big KRIT is the only rapper from the deep South who is named, but I won’t blame Kendrick for KRIT being the only notable lyricist to come from there in a while. Had Soderburg named a counter-example here, it would have gone a long way to making this point stick. But without him saying who should have been the list, I can’t follow his logic. While we’re at it, let’s place the blame for hip-hop’s sexism on Kendrick’s shoulders and complain that no women made his list, while listing no examples, forgetting that there are none of his generation who are worthy. New York chauvinism is definitely a problem, but overall, Kendrick’s verse subverts it rather the reinforcing it.
So there are my thoughts on Kendrick Lamar on Big Sean’s (remember him? I sure don’t!) Control. It’s a merely decent verse but a good call to competition and the right people are taking it as such. Meanwhile, the inevitable fools are using it for publicity, the mainstream is taking notice and somewhat misinterpreting it, and my writer’s block appears broken. Overall, it’s a good time for hip-hop. Thanks Kendrick.