In some respects, rap is built on divides. 2 Pac vs. Biggie. East Vs. West. Jay Z Vs. Nas. A Tribe Called Quest Vs. De La Soul. Old School Vs. New School. Kendrick Vs. Drake. It’s these differences in opinion that fuel barber shop debates and online screaming matches that help shape the culture of the genre and create the air of competitiveness that seems to hover over every single song, interview, album, concert and video. Rap is competitive, and these divides are what make it so.
In the new era, there are very few disagreements that are as hotly debated as the opinions of two of the new school’s brightest stars: J. Cole and Big Sean. At some point, these mixtape legends turned mainstream, major label stars became the butts of jokes despite collecting gold and platinum plaques than anybody in this era not named Aubrey. Yes, including Kendrick Lamar.
The criticisms are a constant topic of conversation on the echo chamber that is Twitter. J. Cole is “boring” and Big Sean is “terrible” and both have little to no merit. Despite that, you can rest assured that whenever Cole or Sean do just about anything, the arguments will ensue and the hyperbole will be at an all-time high.
So when Sean came through with two new tracks this week, the reflective “No More Interviews” and the banger “Bounce Back” — featuring some production help from Metro Boomin’ — both tracks drew their share of groans from Sean’s detractors, which is odd since both tracks fully display what makes him such a talent.
On “No More Interviews,” Sean ran through three minutes of flows and introspective material that’s supposed to be the type of stuff that excites rap fans. Sean spends his time hopping between multiple flows, touching on relatable subject matter like his relationship woes and his falling out with a friend, probably Kid Cudi.
Detractors online have yelled about Sean rapping “off-beat” but that just makes you wonder if they know what on beat truly is, because he’s right there in the pocket, constantly ending rhyme patterns on the hard four-count in the middle of bars. There were a few instances where he stretched his lines — but that’s a stylistic choice — and eventually he ended up right back in rhythm. Beyond that technical dispute, Sean also took some not-so-thinly veiled shots at Kendrick, something that’s supposed to excite people, but that’s overlooked because people have their agendas and they have to push them no matter what. It’s like it’s a crime to have a change of heart or admit online that an artist has improved.
And for Sean, the improvements aren’t just a one off deal either. His last album Dark Sky Paradise was one of the best albums of last year, for much of the same reasons that “No More Interviews” is impressive. The production was top notch and Sean’s willingness to divulge the skeletons in his closet are intriguing. His inner-battle with his psyche makes for some of his most impassioned work, and simply put, Big Sean is good at rapping. He mixes clever and sometimes downright funny metaphors and similes with one of the most diverse sets of flows, all on top of some of the best production he can hide from Kanye West. On top of all that, he’s able to buckle down and mix it up for the ladies on one of the best projects of this entire year, TWENTY88 with Jhene Aiko.
The critique of Cole is even more puzzling. While none of his tracks will ever be confused with pulse-pounding, club music, he’s far from boring. His fanbase is rabid, and dedicated like no other, and his music is the reason why. There’s power in normalcy, and maybe more than anybody else Cole has embraced that and created a connection with his fans that is unrivaled. He might show up at your house and play you his new album, or he might throw a show for a dollar. His decision to keep things intimate gives the fans a sense of familiarity with him, they feel like they know Jermaine himself, not even J. Cole.
It’s a weird phenomenon, fans tearing down artists when they reach a certain level of success. It happens across all genres, where fans enjoy their favorite acts when they’re the little artist that could, but once they’re the big artist that will, it takes the luster away so they jump ship. Maybe that’s what’s happening here. But Sean and Cole are huge successes by any metric. Maybe their haters are people who have their minds made up and decided they can’t be swayed. Well, here’s a shot at swaying them anyway: J. Cole is not boring, and Big Sean is actually pretty great at his job. It’s time to end this foolishness.