The consensus greatest basketball player of all time, Michael Jeffrey Jordan, and the consensus greatest rapper alive, Shawn Jay Z Carter, are both in the legacy business. Sometimes protecting your legacy can come off extremely petty. Take the 1972 Dolphins, for instance. Nonetheless, it is Jordan’s unabashed desire to compete and win at at all costs that is credited as the reason for his success as a basketball player. The prevailing thinking is that you can’t have one MJ without the other. Jay Z, similarly, has shown a desire to succeed at anything and everything he so chooses and his record doing so unblemished. He holds the record for number one albums, has run multiple businesses, and has been victorious in every rap beef he ever engaged – well, almost every one. And he’s married to Beyonce.
Right now both MJ and Jay Z’s legacies are coming under fire, and you can trust that they are keenly aware of it, even if they won’t admit it. They know it even if you don’t. Being the best is everything to them, and any threat to their spots in their respective “games” is a threat to their very being. (It’s been reported that MJ curses at his flat screen when commentators laud Lebron as being as good as Jordan.) MJ and Jay Z also happen to be employing identical strategies to protect their thrones, by running interference. They are trying to control the conversation by acknowledging a changing of the guard, but slyly trying to pass the torches to handpicked successors.
The handpicked successors I’m talking about are Kobe Bryant and Drake. February this year, MJ said that he would take Kobe over Lebron because Kobe has the rings. Then last week MJ did not even name Lebron on his list of players he would like to play one on one, said he would beat Lebron, and went on to say that Kobe is the only player that could beat him. Jay Z, on numerous occasions has given Drake his blessing as being ‘that dude’ in the rap game right now. He refers to Drake as his stiffest competition of the new artists and, ironically, as being the Kobe Bryant of the new artists. The fact that these hyper competitors would give such willing praise should be the first clue to raise our suspicions. But why Kobe, and why Drake?
For one, neither are legitimate threats to MJ’s and Jay Z’s legacies. Kobe could win 7 championships and no one outside of hardcore Lakers fans will ever mistake Kobe for MJ. MJ knows this, despite his “rings” rationale for picking Kobe. Kobe will always be discounted for playing with Shaq (finals MVP for Kobe’s first 3 rings), he lacks the awards, and he does not match up to MJ in nearly every single significant statistical category. If that isn’t enough, just listen to the reverence with which Phil Jackson talks about Michael compared to how he discusses Kobe. Lastly, his game is as identical to MJ’s game as you can possibly get from one generation to the next. Drake, similar to Kobe, no matter how many albums he sells, will never be mistaken for Jay Z. His background, as a Canadian born child actor, will never give him the street cred that is so valued in hip-hop. He can never be as significant to the culture of hip-hop as the legends that have preceded him. Additionally, skill wise, even if you don’t subtract points for being a quasi R&B artist, and grade him strictly as an MC, Drake does little to deviate from the “blueprint” Jay Z created.
The second reason MJ and Jay Z would prop up Kobe and Drake is to run interference against perceived real threats: Lebron James and Kendrick Lamar. If MJ can convince us that Kobe is his real competition (that only rings matter), then we shouldn’t even bother talking about Lebron. Similarly, if Drake is the heir to Jay Z’s throne, then Kendrick is left on the outside looking in. You cannot be the best of all time if you are not even the best of your day.
This is not an argument that Lebron is greater than MJ, or that Kendrick is greater than Jay Z. They just happen to have the potential to be as great or greater in ways that Kobe and Drake cannot. Their skill sets represent evolutions and sea changes in their respective crafts. Lebron combines size, speed, strength, skill, and unselfishness in a way we have never seen before. His unselfishness is what truly sets him apart from Jordan’s legacy. Not because Jordan was selfish, but because the wave of Jordan imitators have been selfish in search of Jordan-like glory. Kendrick has the lyrical dexterity of Eminem, the authenticity of Tupac, and an ability to tell stories and weave narratives into his rhymes that is second to none. What Jordan did for scoring from the guard position, Jay Z did for wordplay in hiphop. Jay Z imitators and their emphasis on their abilities to turn phrases using metaphors, double entendres, and witty banter in general, did so at the expense of storytelling and thought provoking lyrics. Like MJ, this is not Jay Z’s fault, but an unintended consequence of his legacy.
Change is in the air, and the old guard is clinging to their guns. Personally, I can’t imagine Lebron surpassing Jordan’s legacy. It would take a level of consistency and play that we have never seen before. Not to mention impossible shoe sales! But just because the task seems insurmountable doesn’t mean MJ isn’t hedging his bets, with the added bonus of throwing some added pressure on those big shoulders of Lebron. After all, the best defense is a good offense.
Kendrick on the other hand. Well, he’s coming. He’s a shark, and there is blood in the water. A publicity stunt is only a publicity stunt if the publicity is unwarranted. Otherwise, it’s a power move, and Kendrick’s Control verse was just that. Like Lebron, Kendrick’s best bet is probably just being mentioned in the conversation with Jay 20 years from now. But what Jay may believe is Kendrick’s biggest hurdle, may end up being his biggest stepping stone. To be continued . . .
Be on the lookout for my article breaking down the shots thrown in the brewing Kendrick Lamar – Drake beef, next week before the BET Hip Hop Awards in anticipation of Kendrick’s 4 minute/100 bar TDE Cypher verse.