Hip Hop Culture for Grown-Ups
Words by Phlip
One week ago today, the verse heard around the internets was released on a leaked non-album track from Big Sean featuring Kendrick Lamar and
Erykah Badu’s Babydaddy Jay Electronica, titled “Control.” In his verse, young Kendrick Duckworth said some controversial things in comparing himself to some widely-accepted greats in the industry – specifically Tupac and Biggie.
Specifically, what he said was:
I should interject into this conversation that I am not a fan of the guy in the least – I don’t like his voice and his flow has never quite appealed to me – but this verse was one of those moments where we all KNOW we will find ourselves drawn into the conversation. He would go on to again compare himself by name to other greats who have NOT escaped on to glory, and THEN did the VERY “hip hop” thing of name-dropping his contemporaries in a challenge in total to ALL step their bars up.
THAT move would serve to be the lightning rod, or at least it was his obvious intention before the internet shit its collective pants. Those connected to me on FB and Twitter can attest to my calling it out front that there would be a ton of responses to this verse in the form of D-list rappers dropping F-list bars over the beat ad infinitum. What I didn’t expect was the misplaced overreaction to the “King of New York” line. To be totally honest, I am conflicted when it comes down to it though. This verse is what hip hop needed and has also fed a beast that will not soon die down.
Why it is what we needed…
Up to and through the 90s, perhaps to the early 00s, the marketplace for music – especially hip hop music – was a competitive one. The onus was on those releasing music on Tuesday morning to make something that made the customer want to spend $13.95 (or more!) on THEIR album and not some other cat’s. Because of that, cats rapped with the purpose of legitimately making a better album than another guy. With this verse, we saw one of these young cats speak out DIRECTLY at his contemporaries to say “look, let’s take this shit back where it came from.” At least that is what I heard in that verse.
I saw it as an acknowledgment by a generation that had largely paid little to no respect to those that grinded and sometimes got murdered in the face for them to dress in funny pants and big shoes.
Yes, we were FINALLY going to see a shift back to a focus on lyrics and not “swag,” we were going to go back to a time where these cats – yes, even the ones that make it to the radio – were going to give us a product as if they actually COMPETED for that $9.99 or less for single-disc albums at FYE (yes, the price of CDs is lower now than 15 years ago). The names he called on to change the guard with him are the members of his generation of hip-hoppers and while I laughed at the fact that two of the names he called were being actively bodied on a non-album track, I was impressed that the kid took it there in that particular manner.
Why it is not working…
Remember that thing I said up there about D-list rappers and F-list bars? Fortunately, THAT has yet to materialize. Oh, it WILL, but it hasn’t yet. Look, I can’t rap but I cannot understand the mind of a dude who DOES rap and chooses to ignore a metaphor being used. Did we ALL forget that Biggie often referred to himself as the “Black Frank White,” who was the title character played by Christopher Walken in the movie “King of New York?” What Kendrick did in that line was refer to himself as a continuation or throwback to a time wherein lyricism was respected. He did so using aliases of two legends of that time. That line was to say “I am better than other people doing this right now,” nothing more and nothing less. I NEVER thought of the line as a shot fired at New York rappers.
Don’t tell that to rappers in the Tri-State though… Philly cats, Jersey dudes and a few New Yorkers ran to the booth to record responses. All of them, literally 100%, focused on a line that was being taken FAR out of context, and that loss of context caused the responses to be more hostile than they ever needed to be. Again, the value of it is that we as hip hop were talking about it and treating the medium as competition as it once was and I LOVED that about it. But the problem was that we were responding to the wrong thing and there was STILL not a word spoken from any of the six people he named in his verse, not one.
Congratulations, hip hop, you have managed to become excited by something that was designed to do so and TOTALLY missed the point at the same time. I would offer kudos for coming close but as they say, close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades….
I am not going totally negative on this. I live in sincere hopes that this DOES serve as the wakeup call to the whole of the genre and dudes actually DO begin to actually try harder at the mastery of their craft than they have been.
Words by Phlip