Guest post by Nunneh Nimley
Throughout my years as a hip hop junkie the NEVER ending debate of who was/is the BEST MC has been the topic of discussion. Wheather it was me and Lil Rob (RIP) arguing who’s better between Mobb Deep or 2Pac, the Grandmaster Caz vs. Melle Mel debates of the early 80s, the Rakim or Kane of the late 80s, or who can forget LL and Kool Moe Dee. Some of these fan rivalries resulted in verbal sparring, but more times than not the battle has been soley faught by the followers of a rapper and not the actual artist themselves.
The debate of the 90s seen everyone from Snoop Dogg to DMX be crowned as THE best at any certain time. But how do we truly grasp an artist importance to the culture? Skill set? Impact? musical output? Or is it longevity? Well the answer has never been easy, and with the influx of NEW rappers with each passing week the debate won’t be dying down anytime soon.
But in EVERY generation there is that culture transcending MC who be it creatively or popularity wise, seperates himself from the pack. In the early 80s, Run & Kurtis Blow were 2 Mcs who separated themselves, but by the time the mid 80s approached there was new class of MCs, that included the likes of Rakim, Big Daddy Kane, Slick Rick, KRS One & LL Cool J so as hip hop has always done, those from the generation before who could adapt, survived. There’s a reason why most fans under the age 25 wouldn’t know Grandmaster Caz from T La Rock. But they know LL Cool J who was signed to Def Jam shortly after T La Rock released the first OFFICIAL single (“It’s Yours”) on the label.
Hip Hop has always been competitive and most times history is written by who wins the war. Theres a reason KRS One is more recognizable than MC Shan or why you’re 10 year old cousin knows who LL is but wouldn’t know who Kool Moe Dee almost under any circumstance. Shit, most people MY age don’t know who the hell Moe Dee is. Being popular, on the scale of your targeted market is essential to surviving the forever changing tide of hip hop.
Even some of the most skilled rappers primes lasted less than 5 years. Rakim was the BEST thing hip hop had seen at the time he came out, that was undisputable. As good as KRS, Kane, LL, G Rap, Slick Rick or DOC were it was understood that Rakim was the anointed one of the generation. He dropped 3 albums between 87-90, but by the time his 4thalbum dropped in the Summer of 1992 the tide had changed, the spotlight was now more or less solely focused on the aggressive voice of ‘Gangsta Rap’. Ice Cube’s 3rdalbum (The Predator), and Dre’s debut (The Chronic) also came out in 92, and the difference in content is about a generation apart in hip hop standards.
Here is the GOD MC making an album in the year of the LA Riots and there’s no real commentary provided by the man who was suppose to be the voice of the generation. But during the time between Rakim’s 3rdand 4th album Ice Cube emerged as the most important voice in Black music (from a street level). His depiction of street life, drug and gang culture was riveting. He managed to form albums around some of the most horrific realities of early 90s South Central and that captured the attention of the youth. His aggression, unapologetically Black persona had white’s afraid of him, and gave him a hero like aura amongst blacks.
But like all good things Cube reign as being the voice of the culture, and west coast more or less met its end soon after the release of his 3rdalbum, The Predator (which is recognized as a hip hop classic by many), it’s a politically charged ride through post Rodney King LA. Its angry, aggressive and in your face but it was the melodies of his former group mate's solo debut that captured the attention of the entire hip hop community. The production style of ‘G Funk’ which Dre experimented with on the NWA album (******4Life 1991) that would revolutionize the sound of LA hip hop for the remainder of the decade. And a rookie MC from the streets of Long Beach would become the NEW face of hip hop and gang violence.
I want this to be as historically acquired as possible, Snoop Dogg was THE biggest rapper from the time The Chronic dropped up until he was on the front page for something much more serious, the gang related murder of Phillip Waldamarion. And just like that, Snoop Dogg went from making history with his cover of Rolling Stone, to the face of LA gang violence. By the time he graced the cover of Newsweek the conversation in conservative circles became, “Is Rap Too Violent”. Rev Calvin Butts and Delores Tucker were on the streets of Harlem smashing hip hop tapes and CDs they felt were poisoning the minds of inner city youth.
Snoop spent the winter of 1993/94 celebrating his new found super-stardom, while preparing to face the biggest fight of his young life, in a Los Angeles Country Court room. His label at the time, Death Row wasted no time exploiting the image, releasing the straight to video movie titled ‘Murder Was The Case’, with an accompanying soundtrack that featured the entire Death Row family, and like everything else Snoop & Dre touched in that time, it was a hit.
While the West Coast was ruling hip hop creatively and sales wise the East Coast was sent back to the drawing board. A changing of the guard was much needed. By this time Big Daddy Kane, Rakim and Slick Rick were no longer the voice or face of NYC. The violence of the crack trade in the streets of Brooklyn & Queens was voiceless on a larger scale of hip hop. Enter Nasir Jones and Christopher Wallace, 2 MCs that had been earning their stripes in the 2 or 3 years prior. NaS was signed to Columbia Records for a few years, and while his talent was undeniable the likelihood of him havin commercial success was still unsubstantiated. At one point he was maybe a meeting or 2 away from getting dropped from Columbia. Biggie’s story is similar in some respects, as he was originally introduced to the game by Puff Daddy who was an A&R at Uptown, but upon being fired it left BIG’s career and chances of escaping the streets of 90s Bed Stuy unlikely. He opted to return to selling crack.
The catalyst for the reemergence of hip hop from NYC is probably best marked around the time the Wu Tang Clan debut album hit shelves, (2 weeks before Doggy Style) but commercially the album made little to no waves. Where as Doggystle sold 800K its 1stweek on shelves (a record held up until 50 Cent’s 2003 debut). 36 Chambers failed to crack the Top 40. But the critical acclaim and respect within the culture showed hope for the east. And within 6 months of 36 Chambers release, NaS' debut album Illmatic had become the Holy Grail of the culture. Heres a 19 year old kid with the lyrical abilities of Rakim, wit of Big Daddy Kane and griminess of Kool G Rap. NaS gave a legitimacy to the new generation of NY rappers. He forced his name into ‘Best MC convos’, the OLD fashioned way, via ‘talent and NOT marketing and promotion.’
But like 36 Chambers, Illmatic failed to match the sales success of The Chronic or Doggystyle, there would be an album on the east coast that changed the entire hip hop tide. Notorious BIG released “Ready To Die” on September 13thof 94, and while it debuted outside of the top 10, the infectious melodies of the album made it mainstay with hip hop fans throughout the country. BIG gave New York something they hadn’t had since the 80s, a skilled MC that was marketable enuff to be played on MTV but still street enuff to have the respect of the hardest edged fans.
At this time the MC convo included everyone from the greats of the late 80s, to the newer class of MCs of the early 90s. Rakim’s level of respect as an MC remained for another generation of MCs, if not simply because of the legacy of the 80s. Most of the 80s generation never enjoyed the sales success their 90s counterparts did. They predated most hip hop publications, and video programming so the upcoming generation, while they knew who these guys were, weren’t exactly inclined to consider them better than the more popular and multi dimensional hip hop chcracters they had been introduced to in the 3 years prior.
Contrary to popular belief, 2Pac wasn’t a legit canidate in this convo until 96 for the most part, His popularity from roles in cult classics like Juice & Poetic Justice gave him a connection with the female fans of hip hop, but his aggressive nature earned him just as much respect with the hard rocks. He balanced it quite perfectly. And that fueled his popularity, outside of constantly being in trouble with the law and being shot 5 times before being sentenced to 1-4 1/2years in a New York Prison. Upon his release and signing to the Death Row, the hip hop world desperately awaited the release of his first post prison album, ‘All Eyez On Me‘. The album was an immediate hit, and with that 2Pac now joined the conversation of the ‘BEST’ rapper, (and he already had built a pretty SOLID resume through aggressive, socially aware themes and lyrics on his first 3 albums, but ’Me Against The World’ was the album that creatively and popularity wise made him a bonafied star, and icon. But before he could settle in his throne he was murdered in Las Vegas in September of 96.
In 96 NaS had the #1 album in the country for a month, his follow up to Illmatic would go double platinum, and while it angered many hip hop purists, it was a hit with most fans. Notorious BIG spent the majority of 96 prepping Lil Kim’s solo debut, along with still pushing the Junior Mafia album and working on his follow up to Ready To Die. Even at this point, the best MC list would probably feature more artists that debuted in the 80s, than it would the new crop of Mcs.
But by March of 97 Notorious BIG was also murdered, some 2 weeks before the release of his sophomore double LP 'Life After Death'. Had he lived, I probably wouldn’t be writing this now. Make no mistake, Notorious BIG is still the most talented MC this genre has ever seen. There was nothing he couldn’t do lyrically, it was just effortless to him, but his untimely death left a HUGE void in hip hop. And depending on who you talk to, it may have opened the lane for Jay-Z’s cultural relevance.
Jay Z had his start with Big Daddy Kane in the 80s, Kane was at the top of his game, and Jay Z was nothing more than another hustler turned rapper, but there was something Kane saw in Jay. Something it would take hip hop almost a decade to notice. Its no coincidence that the 2 most skilled MCs from the 80s (Rakim & Kane) had more or less taken in 2 artists that would in a decade be the leaders of the genre. My theory is, ‘Greatness recognizes Greatness‘.
No one man can rule forever, don’t believe me ask DMX, he was the BIGGEST rapper from 98-00, he had the streets and the charts, a rarity for most and was still making thought provoking, multi-layered quality street music. His passion was something that hadn’t been seen since 2Pac, but like greats before them, his Prime lasted about 3 years with the release of 3 straight critically acclaimed #1 albums ( he would go on to release 2 more #1 albums). By this time, the void left by the deaths of hip hops 2 most promising stars was more obvious then ever. Hip hop was at a crossraods of sorts.
With no one really sitting in the throne Jay used that opportunity to become the face of East Coast hip hop, and for the most part the face of the culture (this side of Eminem). Like Biggie, Jay possessed the ability to flip street themes, and pop hits with ease. He had lyrics to support your barbershop argument, but also had the Billboard credentials to compete with your average pop star. He became the closest thing to the TOTAL package as a ‘rap star’.
The early 2000s though, would see the competitive nature of hip hop once again rear its head, as NaS & Jay would engage in a war of words. For years there had been the convo (atleast on the east coast) about who was the BEST between ‘Biggie, Jay Z & NaS’, as Jay referenced in his 1997 track “Where I’m From”, with the untimely death of BIG, it only left two. And after the success of Hard Knock Life, Jay was making a real life push to be the one. But not without creative resistance from NaS, who took 3 years between his sophomore and 3rdalbum. Commercially ‘I Am..’ still stands as NaS biggest 1st week. The album shot to #1 with over 470K units in its first week in sales (he received 4 ½ mics in The Source as well), while some outlets gave mixed to bad reviews on the album, from a quality standpoint, there’s still records on that album that are as culturally relevant now as they were 16 years ago (He describes officers choking a black man to death ’New York State Of Mind 2,’ also speaks about police killing an unarmed woman in San Francisco ‘Can I Talk To You’) if not musically, socially the album has aged pretty decently considering the time it was released.
But the animosity is said to have started with the NaS line in “We Will Survive” where he clearly states his distaste for those claiming to be the ‘King of New York’ in the wake of BIG’s death (See: Jay Z - “City Is Mine”), from there it was subliminals thrown here and there, but mostly in the spirit of competition. The same way there are Kane lines that some say were directed towards Rakim, or EPMD rhymes directed at the R. Its totally hip hop, the subliminal diss can sometimes serve as more effective than the blatant calling out of names, because it keeps it confidential, where not everyone is attached to the fact that 2 Mcs are sparring, sometimes its just the spirit of competition, and not the actual spectator sport of actively battling. But after Memph Bleek’s diss to NaS, ('My Mind Right' remix) the war of words was no longer topic of barbershops and park benches, it was not on display for the entire hip hop world.
It would see Jay drawing 1stblood on “Takeover”, taking shots at the quality of the music NaS had put out in the years since Illmatic. If you ask me, it comes from Jay’s frustration with people still considering NaS the better MC, even with a resume Jay saw as suspect. Not sure if this was a surprise to Jay or not, but NaS more than rose to the occasional as far as the battle is concerned with the release of “Ether”, he not only had one of the most scathing diss records in the history of hip hop, he also introduced a new slang to the culture in the process. And it wasn’t just the battle, NaS return to elite form is seen throughout the classic Stillmatic album.
By this time Jay Z was entering the BEST MC (of all time) argument, if for no other reason, because he threw his own hat in there, not waiting for fans to decide his fate or legacy. He spit a line on ‘Hola Hovito’ that would make any hip hop purist cringe, “If I aint better than BIG yet.. I’m the closest one”. This angered NaS more than anyone, and he made sure to include that in “Ether”, and more or less hit Jay where it hurts. Not only questioning his ability, but also his loyalty to his dead friend, in his own quest to carving out his lane and being recognized as a great.
The Jay/NaS debate is never ending, its been goin on for about 18 years, and from the looks of it, won’t be stopping anytime soon. They’ve since squashed their issue in 06, and have worked together on a few songs, but even in those songs you can see their competitive nature. The line in the sand is pretty much drawn, there are Jay Z people and there are NaS people. And while there are MANY fans who rock with both of them, ultimately one has to be better than the other, if not in reality, in ones opinion.
With the exception of Eminem, theres hasn’t really been a genuine candidate to enter the BEST MC category in the better part of 15 years. While Eminem is as talented as ANY MC we’ve seen, but theres that KRS One/Ice Cube factor that he will NEVER have. Despite coming from the streets of Detroit, he has never really talked in depth about hip hop from the perspective as a poor inner city kid, cause for the most part he grew up on the outskirts, and his struggle was a lil different from the average black kid coming up in the D. And in my opinion, that will always hold him back from being the LEGIT best MC in hip hop. And he’s made his fare share of absolutely AWFUL music as well. He pretty much did nothing remarkable from 'Eminem Show', up until 'Recovery' in 2010. That’s 8 years of not really making a quality hip hop product, and these are in his active years of hip hop.
From a talent perspective, Em is as good as anyone, but as far as being the BEST MC, voice of the culture, I personally don’t see it. There’s Andre 3000 from Outkast who creatively pushed the envelope with rhyme scheme and patterns that was about 20 years ahead of its time. He never really got his respect until the Blaze 50 Greatest MCs article (same with Ras Kass & Cee Lo), for those that remember, the list was compiled in 99, and at the time they ranked Rakim as the greatest MC. Almost a decade after his cultural relevance (he did make a comeback in the late 90s). KRS One who was still on a major label at the time was also in the top 5. The highest ranked MC from the mid 90s generation was BIG @ #3 behind KRS One.
To put things in proper perspectoive, a MAJOR hip hop magazine (BLAZE) in 1999 ranked Grand Master Caz, Melle Mel, Chuck D, & Run higher than NaS (amongst others). 2Pac was #7, Jay Z #9. Busy Bee, Kurtis Blow, DMC and Kool Moe Dee were ranked higher than Andre 3000. Fuckin Eazy E is on the list for Christ Sake. And I point those out because a lot of times we have these convos about the greatest and people feel obligated to include people from their generation, because rightfully so their music had a bigger impact on their lives, but that’s doesn’t make them better MCs. Blaze magazine didn’t know that, but they went out of business about 2 years later, rightfully so. That was an article written by someone born in the 60s.
I may have forgotten some greats in my breif backstory. I just wanted to put this conversation in perspective before presenting my argument for who I believe is the GREATEST MC we have seen in the 40 or so years since hip hop has been here. And a lot of this is history as I witnessed it, the only thing I have researched was specific #s, the rest of this is the truth as I remember it. As a hip hop junkie since the late 80s. From reading The Source, VIBE, remembering the FIRST issue of XXL, I’ve seen hip hop publications come and go. I’m from that era where you could go to the record store on Tuesday with 12 dollars and the tie breaker would be who got more mics in The Source. There’s very few that can vividly remember these times or seeing someone rise from ‘Unsigned Hype’ to rap superstars.
The new generation of MCs from 05 to present, has produced GREAT artists, and GREAT music, but there hasn’t really been a transcending MC creatively, and culturally. Jay Z has remained one of the faces of this genre, NaS as well on a more hip hop oriented level. Eminem, and there was a breif time in the late 2000s where Lil Wayne more or less brainwashed hip hop into thinking he was one of the GREATS, see how that worked out? You’d think that would be enough for me to hesitate when making my next statement. I’ve seen Snoop be the BEST, and burn out. DMX be the best and burn out, Em, 50, Lil Wayne, MCs primes don’t really last too long. In the words of Kwame (you know who that is right?), ‘Hip hop is like high school, you get 4 years, then you gotta move on’, and that’s pretty much supported by history. Theres hasn’t been many MCs that have bucked that trend, and those who have are still around now.
This portion of the story begins circa 09, high, sitting in my brothers apartment searching for Jay Rock videos online, I find a internet radio interview and freestyle, on this particular occasion, Rock happened to bring a tag along with him, some guy named K. Dot. OK, so Rock spits, and lets his lil homie rap, from the moment he spit the first 2 or 3 bars I was absolutely AMAZED. This kid had something special. I called my brother in the room to check it out, while he thought it was coo, he’ll never budge when it comes to the greatest. It will always be 2Pac, BIG & NaS in no particular order.
He has essentially done what about 90% of hip hop ( and music fans do), he has become his father. NOTHING will ever top the greatness he witnessed in ‘his day’. He’s the guy that will always say how some time long ago is better than the present.
I’ll be honest, I wasn’t checking for the Kendrick Lamar EP, he was VERY raw when I first heard him, but the potential was there, I knew it would be a few years before he was ready to rule. 'Overly Dedicated' came, I gave it a listen or 2, the potential was there and in some cases he showed a few signs of greateness on that project (“Ignorance Is Bliss” & “Cut You Off”), he showed an ability to personify the ills of the black community and speak truth to it while not sounding preachy at all. Hip Hop culture as a whole, while it has deep roots in all forms of black music, has in a way distanced itself from the “church”, and for the most part the church has done the same (See Rev. Calvin Butts).
A Chuck D may be what hip hop needs today, but he simply would not work in todays climate. KRS One wouldn’t work in todays climate either, Ice Cube became the most important voice in Black America because of his ability to bridge the gap between the streets and politcs while never compromising his message or who he was an an MC and a man. 2Pac took that template and built on it, he personified the street aspects of the culture, and he was already from a revolutionary background, so it just meshed together well. Where he could be teaching you about forgotten black leaders on one song, and ‘riding on his enimies’ on the next. He channeled the young black man in America way of thinking like no one we had seen before, and that alone will always keep him culturally relevant.
Kendrick Lamar has built on that template even more, with something as simple as the title to his major llabel debut (Good Kid, Maad City). But his rise to GREATness came, in my opinion, with the release of “Hii Power”(1st single from 2011's 'Section.80), theres always gonna be a dope song weather its, daily, weekly, or monthly, theres always gonna be good music coming out somewhere from somebody. ‘Hii Power” was MUCH more than that, as he said
"This is physical and mental, I won’t sugarcoat it
You’ll die from diabetes if these other niggas wrote it"
He’s doin what Kurtis Blow did some 30 years prior, he was lyrically and creatively separating himself from the new crop of MCs. The song itself questions the theory of rappers being in the illuminati, which had been HUGE topic of discussion for the 3 years prior to “Hii Power’s” release. Theres even books about this nonsense, Kendrick deaded that with the line
“Who said a BLACK man in the illuminati?
Last time I checked, that was the biggest racist party”
Any thinking individual of color can look at that line and see how it perfectly puts everything in perspective, we’re sitting here goin back and forth about imagery, claiming so and so is down with this, when in reality, you think their really initiating rappers to be a part of the MOST elite on this earth? I mean its almost laughable looking back at it. (and Jay and Kanye played the shit out of that perfectly, and kept themselves relevant via people being ‘Chatty Patties’)
Section.80 was a VERY special moment in hip hop, while it wasn’t as popular as Meek Mill's Dream Chaseres was that summer, A$AP’s debut mixtape, Drake’s Take Care or even Wale’s sophmore album in the Fall/Winter, it was one of the most authentic products we’ve seen in years, It was multi layered, it was innovative, it was fun, it was sad, it was thought provoking, it was relaxing, it was informative, and most importantly it was lyrically in the upper echelon of what has become the norm in hip hop in the post 2Pac & BIG era. It was FINALLY closing one chapter of hip hop and opening another. He did creatively and lyrically what Atlantic Records thought Lupe Fiasco would do on a larger scale. And mind you this is an indie release that many didn’t know existed until after his major label debut hit stores.
From the first track, “Fuck Your Ethnicity”, Kendrick introduces himself as the voice of the Avg. Joe, he’s their pipeline to speaking to the masses. A lot of rappers like to fancy themselves as someone much bigger than the average Joe, to feed into their larger than life persona, Kendrick took that way of thinking and totally reversed it. He tackeled subjects in a way we hadn’t seen since 2Pac on that particular scale. Of course Kweli, Mos and many others have spoke about the ills of society, the lure of street life, but these are dudes in their 40s, Kendrick was one of the first from the crop of MCs born in the 80s to really shine the light in that type of way, and at such a lyrical level superior to even the greats at the time.
“Keisha’s Song” is as amazing as it is heartbreaking, the perspecttive in which he speaks from is mature beyond his years. This album was recorded at the age of 23 mind you. This already puts him in the class of a NaS, 2Pac, Ice Cube, BIG, Rakim, Kane, if not for no other reason, the age he was when he was making such an important statement. All of these guys rose to levels of stardom in their late teens to early 20s, and if history is any indication, this puts him on par with them.
His major label debut dropped after his 25thbirthday. To put that in proper perspective, Rakim, Kane, & Slick Rick were irrelevant at age 25 on a larger scale. They no longer mattered to the everyday fan, their time had came and went. Jay Z’s debut album wasn’t even out when he was 25. 2Pac was dead, BIG never lived to see 25. So history once again is on Kendrick’s side as far as that is concerned. Only NaS, who at age 23 released 'It Was Written' can really be compared to Kendrick in this category, 2Pac as well, who recorded Me Against The World, All Eyez On Me & Makaveli between ages 23-25. Biggie’s career was from age 22-24. That’s a smaller sample size than the case I’m making for Kendrick now.
'Good Kid Maad City', is, and will be remembered as one of THE BEST debuts in hip hop, creatively, lyrically, and to an extent socially. He once again exhibit’s a level of maturity almost unheard of in hip hop. Check the subject matter of Rakim & Kane at age 25, in compairosn to what Kendrick was doing. He’s separated himself from his generation of Mcs, he’s in a class of the ELITE. His work looks good against ANYone hip hop has ever seen. The themes, the story line, its just innovative and quite before its time, if I had to say myself. “Sing About Me/Dying Of Thirst”, is as thought provoking as anything Pac, KRS, NaS or Cube has ever recorded, and dare I say in ways lyrically superior.
But lemme make my case.
Lyrically speaking Kendrick has proven himself to be ELITE, his rhymes can stand against ANY MC from any era. His rhymes schemes and patterns are intricate, creative and fun. He describes things in a Canibus like manner without all the weirdness and science fiction themes that bores fans. Kendrick's lyrics are potent enough to hold the attention of your girl, and still enough to blow away your hip hop junkie homeboy. That in itself puts him in a VERY small class of maybe 15 Mcs. 7 or 8 of them having Elite careers
I see traces of Eminem in Kendrick’s flow, the way he incorporates internal rhyme, and plays with his voice keep you entertained, and takes you through many highs and lows. He doesn’t waste a single sylable, he connects everything through rhyme, and manages to still be entertaining without coming off corny and gimmicky as many have accused Em of. (See: “Reagan Era).
He also posses the ability to speed up his flow to a double time flow effortlessly. (See: “Swimming Pools”, “Alright”)
While Good Kid isn’t the first concept album hip hop has seen, how many Mcs have built an entire project around detailing events from 7 years prior, THAT vividly? The man has his mom and pops on the album. While most rappers would opt to appear to have come from a broken family even when its not the case, he embraces the lessons of his parents, and it makes him a BETTER MC, because he can pass on the messages of the generations before him.
The majority of black history in this country is passed down via the spoken word, and Kendrick serves as the link to those that grew up in the 70s and 80s to those growing up now, and he doesn’t shy away from it. He takes on his imaginary friend, the voice in his head, and even GOD himself disguised as a homeless man in song. (see; “Sing About Me”. “Country Building Blues” & "How Much A Dollar Cost")
Kendrick is a superior talent, not only to this generation of MCs, but in comparison to EVERY MC the culture has ever seen. His ability to ride different styles, on different beats while still remaining lyrically proficient puts him in a VERY elite class, along with Jay Z & Biggie (I’ve heard NaS stumble on a few styles). Guys like Kane, Rakim, G Rap, and even Pac never really strayed too far away from the rhyme scheme and patterns they came in the game with. They never really expanded. Kendrick has done that already, and he’s not even 28 yet. (See: “Rigamortis”)
Social Impact -
While he doesn’t want to be known as the “next socially aware rapper” as he says on “Ab Soul’s Outro”, he has become that. And he’s comfortable with that position, if 'To Pimp A Butterfly' is any indication, he may very well serve as the ONLY voice from this generation at his level that speaks to the ills, and really holds that mirror up not only for society, but to the black community where we can really take a second look at how we treat one another, and the lack of respect for human life in our envirnments.
Kendrick is doing what ANY great black leader (or leader of ANYthing) has done, he’s challenging people to become better. While others from this generation challenge others to get money, get fly or hustle, he’s trying to make people be BETTER via his music. Once again, this puts him in a 2Pac, NaS, KRS, Ice Cube, Mos Def class of MCs. And dare I say, he’s doin it better and on a larger scale then any of them without much time dedicated to other shit.
2Pac had a side of him that was detrimental to the people, he was a KNOWN troublemaker, and more times than not, it wasn’t for the betterment of black people that was getting him in trouble, it was nonsense. NaS had a drug lord alter ego at the same time he was making records like “If I Ruled The World” & “Black Girl Lost”
Live Performance -
If an MC, can’t rock a crowd, he’s simply a rapper at a show. For those that have yet to be present at a Kendrick performance or have not watched YouTube videos, he absolutely CONTROLS the crowd. Its passionate, its honest, its organic. The love from the audience reaches the stage and it's reciprocated. He is the dfenition of the Master of Ceremony, in the same veins of a KRS One, LL, Black Thought, or Busta.
His performances have been described as a spiritual experience by some. How often have you heard that about a rappers stage show? If ever.
He’s captured the minds and hearts of people across racial lines. Class, sex, age and anything else used to separate people. He has unified people via his music, and exposed one side of the track to the other, and vice versa, once again putting him in a class that very few Mcs have reached and once again, he’s doin it on a larger scale than those before him.
Cultural Impact -
As good as Drake and his music are, he doesn’t speak for the culture. He speaks from a perspective, Kendrick has found his niche somewhere inbetween, as he described on “Ab Soul’s Outro”,
I’m not on the outside looking in.
I’m not on the inside looking out.
I’m in the dead fuckin center.
This perspective allows him to reach people in a way Drake never will. In a away we havent seen an MC do since the guys in the 90s, and once again, today is more important than yesterday, so his impact is ONLY going to grow as long as he’s making quality thought provoking product. He’s making other rappers step their game up, where as Drake made guys wanna make bigger hits, Kendrick is making guys step EVERY aspect of their craft up, from rhyme format to subject matter.
He’s brought people from all walks of life into his fan club. Where you have hosts on MSNBC to Taylor Swift praising his work.
With 'To Pimp A Butterfly', he has taken a pro-black theme and made it into an album enjoyable enough for your mom to listen to it. Its so infectious you wont even know you’re listening to “Black Empowerment”, it just sounds like what it is, GREAT music that ANYone can and should appreciate.
The Art Of Storytelling -
In the history of hip hop very few Mcs have been able to hold your attention through a story, while being entertaining, lyrically inclined, overall informative and descriptive of their subject matter. Its what made Slick Rick great, its what made Ghostface entertaining, it what seperates a Biggie & NaS from a Jay Z and 2Pac. Their ability to make you become a part of the story, to the point where you can SEE what they're saying. Their perspective becomes your pesrspective. Kendrick has displayed that on many occasions, as early as “Keisha’s Song”, its seen several times on 'Good Kid Maad City', on tracks like “Sharane”, “The Art Of Peer Pressure”, to “Sing About Me” he proves that he is just as good as the GREATEST to ever do so.
On 'To Pimp A Butterfly' he expands on that even more with the genuis, “How Much A Dollar Cost”, there should never be a question as to his storytelling ability.
How many categories can a man be in the league of the GREATS without receiving the same consideration himself? What more does he have to do for people to realize that he is every bit as good as any MC we’ve seen?
But what makes Kendrick Lamar THE Greatest?
He has the respect of his peers, that’s a start, but it’s the respect shown to him from the fore fathers that further cement my case for Kendrick, with everyone from NaS to Sean Price recognizing the man's talents. Ice Cube talked about him in a Source interview from last summer, he’s collaborated with both Eminem & Jay Z, and for the most part they don’t just jump on ANYones record. The same way Kane knew Jay had something a good 8 years before the rest of the world knew, Rakims crew knew NaS had something 5 years or so before the rest of the world knew, as I said before, ‘Greatness recognizes Greatness’.
The guys we all respect KNOW, what is it gonna take for the larger scale of hip hop fans to know that we are in the presence of the GREATEST, is it that hard to grasp? Would you rather someone who’s career is OVER be known as the greatest rather than someone with the skill level and resume to support the claim?
If ‘Longevity’ is your question, ask yourself who on a lyrical level has outdone Kendrick since the release of Section 80? This was 4 years ago. He’s been the BEST MC in the game since the summer of 2011. Since then he has dropped a CLASSIC debut, and in my opinion, the MOST important album in the history of black music with To Pimp A Butterfly. Kendrick’s prime has ALREADY surpassed those of Biggie, 2Pac, Rakim, G Rap, Slick Rick, LL and Ice Cube. If he was to stop rapping RIGHT now, his catalog could go song for song with ANYone from a QUALITY stand point.
Don’t believe me, listen to his Unreleased Mixtape on YouTube, you see everything you need to see from an up coming MC. The passion of 2Pac & DMX. The intelligence of Chuck D & Wise Inteligent. The intricate flow of Andre 3000 & Eminem. The lyrical ability of NaS & Rakim. And the popularity of a Jay Z or Kanye West. He is the MOST complete MC this side of Biggie.
What other MC could simultaneously sound like a lost member of NWA and Wu Tang Clan? Make music as unapologetically black as early Ice Cube or Dead Prez. Average man persona of a Mos Def. And still have a the bravado of an LL Cool J? Kendrick is a culmination of ALL things good when it comes to MCing. He’s only getting better.
So how and why are some so angry at this notion of him being the GREATEST? Past accomplishments get surpassed, Records are made to be broken. Grandmaster Caz couldn’t be the best forever, neither could Rakim, and neither should 2Pac, Biggie, Jay & NaS. The torch is being passed as we speak, but as usual it may take sometime for the larger scale of hip hop to see. Look how long it took for people to give Jay Z his credit as one of the greatest. He pretty much had to convince people by saying he was the “Best rapper alive”, before people would even entertain the thought.
As hip hop fans we cant become our father. Don’t become KRS One. Stop looking behind you for greatness and look in front of you.
This is the #KingKendrick era