Hip Hop Culture for Grown-Ups
Words by Tony Grands
For lack of a better way to put it; Kendrick Lamar has awakened the sleeping giant that rap music once was. By that, I mean the competitive, machismo-laden, aggressive nature of yesteryear’s rap music had lazily taken a back seat to the monetarily-driven, in-your-face brag-a-thon that currently powers the Hip Hop music industry.With one verse (on someone else’s song), K. Dot rattled the mediocre landscape that we – the culture – became so comfortable loafing on.
Rap music hasn’t seen a shake up like this since Snoop Dogg, Kurupt The Kingpin, & Daz Dillinger slid through New York & kicked over their buildings. & even then, in 1995 (during the apex of the east coast/west coast rap “rivalry”), the only group to really address their perceived disrespect of an entire community of rap was Capone-N-Noriega (& Tragedy Khadafi).
But Kurupt wasn’t calling out names (until he dropped “Callin’ Out Names“). He merely flexed at a segregated region of rappers just to see who would jump. Kendrick Lamar, though his M.O. is similar both sonically & regionally, took what Kurupt started in 1995 & put a centralized, Internet-influenced spin on it. Not only did K. Dot name names, but he named rappers whom he: A) is considered to be friends with & B) told the aforementioned “friends” that they didn’t deserve their fanbases (I’m paraphrasing). That’s a move that requires cojones the size of 2 small vehicles.
Some listeners & rap game Siskel & Ebert’s don’t think he dissed his colleagues, saying that the garnered responses from numerous rappers are unwarranted. To that, I say “Bullshit.” Not only did he diss his contemporaries but he also basically told every wanna-be, up & coming lyricist – from Compton to Queensbridge & all spots in between – that he runs their town. If I still rapped, there’s no doubt I would’ve been all over the ‘net, whoopin’ & hollerin’ in Lamar’s general direction, just so he knew it wasn’t any punk shit going down on my watch. As someone who’s been a part of the Hip Hop collective community for well over 30 years, I was pleased to see so many eager voices thrust into the arena.
But what happens now?
After a few more forecasted days of uproar, the smoke will have cleared from K. Dot’s confidence-covered darts, the dust from all the Internetic brouhaha will have settled, & more than likely, rap music will stubbornly stroll back to the block to continue occupying random ratchet strip clubs & dilapidated trap houses from coast to coast. It doesn’t have to be that way, but it probably will. What Lamar did was take it back to the days before the Internet, when all a rapper had was his words on a record. No Youtube disses, no airing of one’s dirty laundry, just a microphone & an attitude of “I’m so much better than you.” That’s the reason why rappers who weren’t even mentioned decided to respond, because they undoubtedly knew what time it was.
Before rap music become a hustle, it was a competition. Rappers didn’t treat it as a business, they treated it as a sport. They didn’t get million dollars record deals & stunt for show; they got shafted on shady contracts yet still fought for supremacy. People criticize “old heads” for yearning to return to those days, but really though, it was just more fun to watch broke MC’s going at one another’s necks for nothing more than respect. Kendrick’s “Control” verse became a makeshift time portal, but just like in every time traveler sci-fi movie I’ve ever seen, that portal will inevitably close, as it always does.
For a brief moment, K. Dot was Hulk Hogan, standing alone in the proverbial squared circle, without a friend in the world, egging on all competitors – friend or foe – to step up or stay seated. As powerful as this is, however, in today’s world of hustle & flow, the “get money” paradigm won’t be easily stifled by one man’s boulder-toss. Meek Mill perhaps put it best when he gave Lamar his propers in a recent interview, yet still proclaimed that it didn’t matter to him because he gets his money from the streets. (Again, I’m paraphrasing.)
For every rapper that came out to respond to Kendrick Lamar, 2 Chainz & Rick Ross & Migos will have dropped 2 singles apiece which the radio will churn into butter. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, it’s just the nature of the domesticated beast. Rap dudes who get paid to be rap dudes won’t stray from their formula for the sake of “the good ol’ days” & it would be foolish to think so.
Nonetheless, the Kendrick Lamar effect was good for the rap industry. It was great for the Hip Hop culture. I’m just curious to see if he’ll continue this tear with his next album.
Words by Tony Grands