Major music collaborations between two superstars almost never live up to the hype. An industry fueled by egos and creative oddballs have no patience for embracing ideas and placing quality above all else — but if anyone can stand to buck that trend, it is a mashup of Dreamville and Top Dawg Entertainment’s biggest stars.
Melodic tunes of drugs and sex have become common in modern rap, which leaves something like the more conscious work of beacons like Cole and Kendrick to shine even brighter. Both artists have strayed away from making straight ahead club-banging hits to focus more on grander themes and messages. Cole’s 2014 Forest Hills Drive was able to go platinum without a single guest feature or radio single. Almost exactly one year later, Lamar’s latest uncompromising magnus opus To Pimp a Butterfly is nominated for 11 Grammy awards.
Both artists can succeed in this realm, but neither are cut from the same cloth. Cole has sold well, but much of his success is derived from a Jay Z cosign that launched his career. He has yet to deliver a project of the same caliber of any of Kendrick’s three albums or shake the game like K.Dot did on “Control” in 2013.
Kendrick will reinvent sound and provide a different perspective on morality, life, death, and temptation. Cole raps more inward about how awkward his first time was.
Both are food for thought, but comparatively, one is a lavish, full-course meal and the other is a Subway $5 footlong.
Nonetheless, while both rappers are on different playing fields, a collaboration between the two would benefit both, artistically and commercially. Bar for bar, Kendrick may be the superior rapper to Cole, but he can serve to borrow some of Cole’s style that has made him so immensely popular.
The most underrated aspect of Cole’s artistry is his ability to produce behind the boards. Having originally come up as a producer in his college dorm room, he created the killer beat for “HiiiPoWeR” off Kendrick’s debut album, Section.80. In an era consumed by bass and recycled melodies, Cole has an uncanny ability to recreate the classic, tight, New York-style beats that serve these two “lyrical” rappers well.
On his “Black Friday” remix, Kendrick sounded much more accessible over Cole’s “Tale of 2 Citiez” instrumental, while taking his core fans back to his good kid, m.A.A.d. City days. If Kendrick wants to be recognized as one of the greatest, he needs to throw the more casual rap fan a bone once in a while.
For all the success Kendrick enjoyed from the innovative sounds on To Pimp a Butterfly, his taste for jazz and funk left the mainstream audience in the dust. An injection of Cole’s style will nudge Kendrick into the mainstream light, whether he cares to be there or not. A more accessible sound will undoubtedly attract more ears, which can only propel Kendrick’s stature.
It’s no secret that Kendrick is waging a cold war of sorts with Drake. He recently took a blatant shot at Drake on Dr. Dre’s “Deep Water” (“motherf*cker, no I started from the bottom!”). Cole, who has done an admirable job steering clear of rap drama to this point, finally pushed himself into the fray on his “Black Friday” remix, taking clear shots at both Drake and Future in his opening bars, despite a fairly good friendship with the 6 God. The line in the sand has been drawn.
Drake had his chance to flex his versatility on his collaboration with Future on What a Time to Be Alive in September — a rushed project that Future is already pretending didn’t happen. Kendrick and Cole have sat back and let the wave pass; this is their chance to strike at Drake’s throne while he is vulnerable.
A (relatively low) bar has been set — even a passable effort from Kendrick and Cole should be enough to make an absolute mockery of Drake’s latest release. With Cole now on the anti-Drake team, the disses can fly freely, opening up a lyrical war that Drake certainly wants no part of after dealing with Meek Mill for most of the summer.
Still, the looming question surrounding this potential collaboration is whether or not Cole can hang with Kendrick’s bars, where it counts. We got an updated side-by-side comparison on Black Friday, and while Cole put together a strong remix of “Alright,” Kendrick’s effortless flow on his Black Friday track is a reminder of how dominant the Compton native is in this era.
If just barely hanging on with Kendrick is Cole’s ceiling, hopping on an entire album with him is a dangerous proposition, even for an ally of K.Dot’s. This is, after all, the same guy who publicly called out all of his friends and proclaimed he was trying to “murder” their careers… and got away with it.
While this collaboration is a big risk for J. Cole, this is a layup victory for all fans of hip-hop. Cole and Kendrick’s potential collaboration is the biggest anticipated collaboration since Kanye West and Jay Z’s Watch the Throne. After dropping the pair of blazing hot tracks on Black Friday, the odds that these two accomplished artists drop anything short of stellar (especially the uber-consistent Lamar) is slim to none.