For those of you who are unaware, there is a heated battle brewing for rap supremacy. In hip-hop, as in most art, being the best matters. Even more so in hip-hop, because ranking and comparing artists is as much a part of the culture as statistics are to baseball. Also, in hip-hop, unlike other forms of art, the competitors, from time to time, engage in direct combat. This matters, because how rappers conduct themselves in battle can be as integral to their overall success as their rap skills. See 50 Cent v. Ja Rule and LL Cool J v. Cannibus. It is the difference between an impressive martial arts exhibition and actually fighting in the octagon.
This is why Kendrick Lamar’s verse on Big Sean’s Control sent shockwaves through the entire hip-hop industry the week following its August 13 release via twitter by Big Sean. The relevant lyrics are:
I heard the barbershops be in great debates all the time
Bout who’s the best MC? Kendrick, Jigga and Nas
Eminem, Andre 3000, the rest of y’all
New n****s just new n****s, don’t get involved . . .
I’m usually homeboys with the same n****s I’m rhymin’ with
But this is hip-hop and them n****s 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 n****s
Trying to 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
Most rappers did not take offense to Kendrick’s rhymes. A few NY rappers had a conniption over a “King of New York” line that I omitted, because that lyric was largely misinterpreted, and no one who actually could make the claim of being King of NY took offense. Most of those named were just happy to be named, and agreed being named was better than not being named.
At the time, I believed the most significant diss of Control was the omission of Lil Wayne from the “who’s the best MC” portion of Kendrick’s verse. I am hardly a champion of Weezy, but of those omitted, he has the best overall case for inclusion on that list. Nonetheless, I am not holding my breath for a Wayne/Kendrick beef, as Wayne has largely steered away from beefs most of his career. You could argue that Lil Wayne presided over the recent buddy buddy era of hip-hop that made Kendrick’s Control verse seem much more scathing than it really was.
I did not anticipate Drake stepping up to the plate and challenging Kendrick over Control. Given his and Wayne’s personas, there is some irony that Drake would be the Young Money artist to take Kendrick to task. Drake does, however, have as strong a case against Kendrick as anyone. In terms of album sales, radio play, and and guest features, Drake is the pre-eminent rap artist on the scene right now. Furthermore, the fact that Control was not a direct dis, and Drake had to manufacture some disrespect earns Drake respect as far as I’m concerned. Almost all of the greatest competitors, whether in sports or hip-hop, have manufactured disrespect. Drake’s salty response to Control tells me that he wants the title and he’s not going to acquiesce the throne to Kendrick so easily.
After being asked about Kendrick’s Control verse, it was clear Drake was not going to go the “just happy to be named” route. In an interview for the August 30th edition of Billboard magazine, Drake stated, “It just sounded like an ambitious thought to me. That’s all it was. I know good and well that Kendrick’s not murdering me, at all, in any platform. So when that day presents itself, I guess we can revisit the topic.”
In a subsequent interview, Drake upped the ante, by challenging the relevancy of Kendrick’s Control verse, stating, “Kendrick’s verse was a moment. It was really cool for a couple weeks. But are you listening to it now? How does that verse start?”
Then, while promoting his album on the Angie Martinez radio show, Drake made his most stinging comments yet, veiled in an attempt to downplay the beef. He talked about running into Kendrick at the August 25th MTV Video Music Awards and said, “it was all love,” on Kendrick’s part. Then when the conversation turned back toward the Control verse and why he doesn’t believe Kendrick really wants to beef, Drake says, “Then let it be real, then. ‘Cause those were harsh words, right? You can’t just say that and then see me and be like nothing ever happened. That’s not like the nature of battling. There’s passion behind it. There’s anger behind it.”
Reading between the lines: Drake is calling Kendrick’s manhood into question, insinuating that Kendrick won’t say it to his face. When I heard first heard this, I thought it was a pretty damning allegation. It definitely put Kendrick in a less favorable light. However, it would be wrong to pull Kendrick’s mancard over this. For one, Control was not an overt “Drake dis,” that would require any follow up bravado. Kendrick called out all of his contemporaries, and merely said out loud what every rapper strives to do. Kendrick’s Control verse was not so much a dis moment, as it was a, “Yea, I said it” moment. It was left up to the listener whether to feel dissed, and I applaud Drake for feeling that way. He earned that right.
Finally, on Drake’s Never Was The Same, Drake appears to be taking his anguish out of the media and into the proper format, a song, titled The Language. The relevant lyrics are:
I don’t know why they been lying but your shit is not that inspiring
Bank account statements just look like I’m ready for early retirement
Fuck any n**** that’s talkin’ that shit just to get a reaction
Fuck going platinum, I looked at my wrist and it’s already platinum
I am the kid with the motor mouth
I am the one you should worry about
I don’t know who you’re referring to, who is this n**** you heard about?
Someone just talking that bullshit, man someone just gave you the run-around
N****s downplaying the money but that’s what you do when the money down
I don’t waste time putting money down
The lyrics have shades of Jay Z v. Nas, when Jay Z tried to downplay the significance of Nas’s intellectual lyrics by rapping “[Just be]cause you don’t understand him, it don’t mean that he nice.” Overall, it is a strong response, and Drake does not seem to be at all uncomfortable engaging in this type of rap battle. However, it’s going to take a lot more than vague subliminals to get this party started.
Tonight, at the BET Hip-Hop Awards, Kendrick is rumored to have shot back at Drake during a 100 bar, 4 minute freestyle verse during the TDE Cypher session. This 15 second clip leaked about a week ago:
While the “Nothing’s been the same since they dropped Control” line appears to be a play on Drake’s album title, and “sensitive rapper” immediately brings Drake to mind, there is strong evidence that Kendrick is actually responding to NY rapper Papoose. This is a disappointment. I hope that hearing the full verse tonight will shed some light on this. My expectations have been lowered even further since hearing that fellow TDE member School Boy Q, said that if Kendrick was going at Drake in the cypher, he was unaware of it. Hopefully this is a clever attempt to put that cat back in the bag. Plus, just because School Boy wasn’t aware of a dis, doesn’t mean it’s not there. I guess we will just have to tune in and find out.