Kendrick Lamar hasn't released any new music of his own in 2013, but he's still managed to take over hip-hop as he rides the wave of his highly-successful album, good kid, m.A.A.d. city.
GKMC established Kendrick as one of hip-hop's best, and the assumption is that the best is actually yet to come. The music he contributed to this year didn't sound a lot like GKMC-Kendrick, and was much further away from Section.80-Kendrick, the self-released album that had hip-hop heads buzzing around the country.
But in 2013, the artist formerly known as K. Dot took on a different tone. He's aggressive, bordering on angry, exemplified by his verses on Tech N9ne's "Fragile" and, of course, on Big Sean's "Control." That's the verse that had everyone talking, laying down a challenge for anyone to step to him. It's the one where he called out just about everyone relevant in hip-pop, plenty of underground rappers didn't make the cut, and Kendrick told everyone that he's the King.
And so far, no one has really, efficiently, taken the bait. Kendrick went at Drake to ruffle feathers during the BET Hip-Hop Awards. But that hasn't come off. Drake brushed it aside in subsequent interviews, saying Kendrick dapped him up a couple days later. But Drake is Kendrick's main competition. Not in the sense that Drake is a better rapper, because that title is up for discussion (and extremely subjective), but in terms of the voice of this generation.
It's fitting that both artists are on the road. Kendrick joined Kanye West on his Yeezus tour, which began on Saturday. Much more than the music that will be playing during their seven-week run, is the music that will be created as a result. "I'm just looking forward to the opportunity to speak to this brother as much as possible," Kanye told BBC's Zane Lowe "Those conversations is gonna be more than everything even said right here. Because he's one of our future messengers, and I'ma give him the jewels."
After that seven-week internship, which will also include extensive time spent with Flying Lotus, Kendrick will have the holiday season off before his next lesson in February: A four-stop tour with Eminem, Action Bronson, Chance The Rapper, and J. Cole. The short stint in Australia and New Zealand brings another strong squad for Kendrick to engage, among a few others.
While Kendrick Lamar spends the next several weeks and beyond learning from some of the greatest, Drake is settling financial issues with his opening act, Future. Meanwhile, Drizzy Drake has Birdman and Weezy in his ear every day, undoubtedly talking about cash. Drake's next move is a transition back into TV and film. As talented as he is (even Kanye hits him up for choruses), Drake will surely spin it into another best-selling album whenever he feels, particularly since his fame is only likely to rise with more appearances on television.
But Drake is leaving this generation's throne wide open for Kendrick to take and move it to a location where it can't be found.
The end of February will mark 16 months since GKMC debuted, a long time for an artist in this era to go without any music of his own. It's hard to see the absence lasting much beyond that, though, as J. Cole and Kendrick have a collaboration project in the works that has supposedly been close to finished for about a year. J. Cole described it as a "mad competitive" album, saying the next time they end up in the studio, they'll wrap it up. Surely having plenty of time to get together before, after, or during their mini-tour with Eminem; if the project sees the light of day, the first half of 2014 looks likely.
Whether it surfaces or not, Kendrick Lamar will have 16 months worth of his own tour, interviews, guest verses, knowledge from Kanye and Eminem, and possibly a collaboration album in which he and J. Cole compete song for song. That's a hell of a lot of experience to put into a sophomore album, especially for a rapper intent on angrily dominating his competition and establishing his vision as a way of life. What more could he ask for?