God love Detroit. God just love it, shine His good Grace upon it, and let it be good. The Lord be with you and also with Detroit and all its people and all the things that make me, and longstanding fans of Detroit Hip-Hop, and Big Sean say “Detroit V. Everybody” everyday.
But if Kendrick Lamar is the L.A.-based King of New York, let it be known I am now a pauper without a kingdom. I am a simple serf who no longer feels needy to represent a city, but rather to bend the knee to the world of Hip-Hop.
Over the past 20 years I have evolved from tape-rattling rap fan, to hands-in-the-air-just-don’t-care Hip-Hop head, to Outkast cover-art aficionado, to rap-game writer with prolific pen, to bitter bitty, to “fuck this rap shit I listen to classical.” By the end I silently resigned to a TSS sabbatical, in part because my personal and professional life pushed forward, but mostly because I was uninspired by the genre and had no care to dig hard to find the Next Big Thing anymore. I felt old at 27, Andre 3K was somewhere sipping tea in Atlanta, and Dilla’s death was settling in as an unsettling reality.
So with kind words and nothing more, Gotty™ dropped me off the email chain and I rode off into the sunset whistling a tune called “Rap is a Young (Wo)Man’s Game.”
Then I get this email from David D. Something about a new Kendrick Lamar verse.
Now, I love Kendrick Lamar like I love my niece and nephew — the greatest, coolest young things in the schoolyard. Likewise, what I expected from the young man going forward was a comfortable progression of maturity into overall dominance. What I didn’t expect was a verse that would make the bones in my legs shiver off slivers of ice-cubed marrow. A verse yuckier than catfish po’boy food poisoning. A verse that actually feels like it means something. A verse that feels like it matters.
Kendrick Lamar bodied a cool 11 rappers. That’s an undecimum for those of you keeping track at home in Latin. But what’s more significant is all the rappers who failed to make the list. In the words of King Henry VIII of England of House Tudor, “Is it better to be kilt by Kendrick Lamar, or to be ignored by him?” Not sure I could answer that. Not sure if I were a rapper I’d be happy to be on either side of that fence.
But I know for dang sure I’d be driving post haste to the nearest recording facilities with the quilliest pen I could find and as many throat lozenges as my pockets could afford. Because anyone who doesn’t work harder after that verse is missing the point.
Hello, Jay Electronica.
Big Sean deserves all the credit in the world for keeping Kendrick on the track. That the track was released with Kendrick in the middle position shows Sean is a fan of Hip-Hop first and foremost, and not on some petty find-a-reason-not-to-include-it stuff. But Jay Electronica may have rapped his way into the through-line of his career on that one. He was as a Sumo wrestler in the ring with a MMA champion. Bloated. Sluggish. Bloodied.
And perhaps the true MacBethian moment of it all was this crown Kendrick now wears was the one Jay Elec was supposed to take five years ago. It was there for him to take with a gift-wrapped bow. And instead of wanting it as much as Kendrick clearly does, Jay Elec seemingly rapped his way professionally and audibly into the shadow of Kendrick Lamar.
I wonder now… had rap gotten lazy or had it been me? It’s a question I’ll probably struggle with until I hear more of the same for many years to come from Kendrick. I have faith it will happen. But it’s a tough battle this King of New York fights. He has legions of half-baked rappers and tired tracks marching in the opposite direction.
I hope, above all, that this verse reinvigorates more fans like me to demand a better product. To seek out and highlight the great unknowns. Because I don’t want to hear you rap on my radio about the AK-47 on your bedside table unless I actually think you’re dangerous.
And Kendrick Lamar, folks, is murderous.
I want more like this!
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