(Editors' note: And you might have expected, Kendrick Lamar took over this week's PJ.)
Big Sean ft. Kendrick Lamar & Jay Electronica - “Control”
JAMES: This song may or may not appear on Big Sean’s Hall of Fame, but Kendrick’s verse on this song legitimately earns that honor. It actually might be Sean’s best verse to date, except that he dedicated it to high school girls who let him get to first base, plus the fact that Kendrick name-drops Big Sean as someone he’s going to kill on Big Sean’s track while killing Big Sean’s track. There’s too much heat on Kendrick’s second verse to really appreciate Sean’s opener, and for that matter, recover in time to appreciate Jay Electronica’s finale the first couple times through.
The whole concept begs the question, why did Big Sean go first on the track he was called out on? At least give yourself a chance to respond...or don’t even put the track out at all. (Vince note: Check LL’s “4, 3, 2, 1” when he does that to Canibus.) Give it back to Kendrick and have him drop it on his own. With this and him spending 12 hours in the studio with Eminem and not leaving with a collab have me askin’ questions about Big Sean, with all due respect to this verse (though virtually none for “Fire” with Miley Cyrus [who Kendrick also mocks on the verse] which was taken almost entirely from his freestyle on Hot 97 last year. I thought radio freestyles were mostly throw-away lines?).
Anyway, I’ve said enough here, and we both know I have nothing but good things to say about Kendrick, but I’m more curious to learn your opinion of how this will affect hip-hop moving forward. It seems like the league of friends might dissipate a bit, which is a good thing because I don’t think J. Cole has a chance to become Nas without a push (he’s basically been given the honor by default, which is kinda weak). In a way, it reminds me a bit of what AAU basketball has done to the NBA these days, but if LeBron James came out and said he wasn’t messin’ with Carmelo Anthony anymore.
VINCE: This Kendrick verse sparked a lot of conversation throughout the music world. I’ve had generational battles with you and our interns Paul and Jeff about it. My crew and I have dissected the merits of K’s verse and his post GKMC steez. My boy Trav took it back to a skit from De La Soul’s Stakes Is High and harped on how some of the hip-hop these days is basically just, ahem, dudes talking (De La’s skit was a little more pointed). And then my boy Jimmy hit us with probably the illest critique when he emailed this thought below...
Vee, you know what would be an ill column? Journalistic porn in hip-hop. I'm not mad at Kendrick's verse, but I'll be damned if I wash the lil dudes feet over it. It's TMZ out on these Internet streets, yo. Matter of fact, you know what the Kendrick verse as well as MCHG reminds me of? Pootie Tang. Y’all remember that movie? Remember Pootie dropped an album full of silence? Remember Chris Rock went ape sh*t over the record? It was his popularity that moved units, not the content. That verse and MCHG are $10 bottles of Aquafina.
James, you cracked me up earlier this week when you hit me with what was a basically a warning along the lines of, “get prepared for Big Sean to be in Please Jam, this week.” This was early Tuesday morning, right around the time when most folks were listening to “Control” for the first time. The buzz and hysteria was quick and conspicuous. By the time I managed to listen to the song I was expecting some landmark performance from Kendrick that was going to change hip-hop. What I listened to was a verse that didn’t really move me at all. K called out New York rap. And? That doesn’t take cajones anymore. Then he told a bunch of his cronies that he loved them, but wants to be the best and will try to murder them on tracks. Um, yeah? Didn’t we know this? I also noticed that he didn’t call out anyone -- by name -- that could body him if they chose to respond. No grease for Joey Bada$$ or Earl or Killer Mike or Wiki. What was I really listening to? Had the rap game gotten so soft that Kendrick could growl some threats to his friends and the collective marketplace go banana-nuts like we just heard “Second Round Knockout”???
And then there’s this fact: Jay Electronica had the dopest verse. After Kendrick finishes growling and jabbing his friends, Jay Elec steps in like a grown man and turns that track into sawdust. It was a profoundly more substantial verse, just without the histrionics.
Now, excuse us while we let Lupe get a few things off of his chest...
Lupe Fiasco - “SLR2” (A response to Kendrick Lamar)
JAMES: I feel like Lupe was talking straight to you, Vince, with his opening monologue. It’s easy to dismiss Lupe as insane at this point, but this response to Kendrick Lamar’s verse on “Control” proves that he hasn’t lost his rapping ability at all, he’s just on some other ish these days. Honestly, that fact is pretty disappointing because this Lupe is what hip-hop needs.
Anyway, this might be one of the best “diss” tracks of all time. He has 11 different flows (and two languages) in one track, and masters all of them. The easiest for me to decipher were 2 Chainz, Drake, Wayne and B.o.B., but he also got Rick Ross, Meek, T.I. and, obviously, Kendrick. Is it the only diss track not to name anyone? Or to mock everyone in the game? There isn’t anyone else who can do anything remotely close to this track in the game right now (except for Aries Spears). Has there ever been?
On a final note, shoutout to Joell Ortiz for his response to Kendrick as well, and uhh, where is anyone elses? Is everyone really gonna let themselves get shown up like that? Come on hip-hop, I’m impatient.
VINCE: This Lupe response is important because Lupe has had under-appreciated impact on these new dudes. Everyone from J. Cole to Kendrick have taken cues from Lupe since we first heard him on “Touch the Sky.” I remember when I first heard J. Cole on “A Star Is Born” off The Blueprint 3. Cole wasn’t just biting Lupe’s style, he was devouring it, like, with no shame. But then when these young cats start talking about their influences, they leave out Lupe like they weren't listening to The Cool or Food & Liquor and taking notes.
James, you said Lu was talking to cats like me with his intro and I’ll eat that, except I know exactly, as Lu mentioned, who did what and when. You could sense the frustration in his voice; but, if we’re being honest, some of that is self-inflicted. No one told Lu to go make Lasers. Well...yes, some record label suits told him to go make Lasers, but you get what I’m saying.
There were so many jaw-drop moments in this song -- I literally listened to this in the office with my mouth agape because I wasn’t expecting this much virtuosity from a day-of response -- the most important moment for Lupe is after he calls Kendrick a little baby, tells Kendrick that he’s not Nas or Jay-Z and then demands the he’s respected AND tells Kendrick that, whether he likes it or not, he “reflects” Lupe. Heck yeah he does. That was Lupe telling these young dudes to recognize that he’s really the prototype for a lot of these Millennial rappers. All these emo dudes that fashion themselves a neo-intelligent hoodlum borrow more from Lupe than they do Nas. Believe that.
Kendrick is a great young artist. Bright future. I’m glad he’s around. But he couldn’t produce an “SLR2.” He’s not that good. And I don’t think he ever will be. Makes me wistful for the days of Young Lu, though.
Black Milk - “Perfected on Puritan Ave.”
JAMES: I wasn’t familiar with Black Milk until recently when he began promoting his next album, No Poison No Paradise, due out October 15. I’m a huge fan of this track. Laid back, simple, on point...and the intense jazz flip after two minutes is wild. It’s like his way of saying “F**kwithmeyouknowIgotit” because his range is ridiculous. Dope verse? Check. Dope beat? Check. Dope samples? Check.
The opening verse is an interesting statement about the state of hip-hop as well. Back Milk’s day, rap was a side hustle, something to do for kicks. These days rappers come out of the gate trying to make a career and money. I don’t think the results are as good when the money-making mentality becomes a priority. Call it the 2 Chainz syndrome.
VINCE: Black Milk has been my favorite post-Dilla producer. Dilla passed in 2006. By that time I was already somewhat familiar with Black, since he was getting a lot of production credit on Slum Village projects. But I was really introduced to him the following year when I heard Popular Demand. At the time he was somewhat of a Dilla-clone. Well, Dilla-disciple. It was still downright dope, no matter if Black had yet to develop a sound unique to him. That’s what happened the following year with Tronic where Black channeled Ruff Draft-era Dilla into a new approach and he really blew that out for Album of the Year. Now what you have is probably the most vigorously creative hip-hop producer in the game not named Kanye. The jazz coda on this “Perfected on Puritan Ave.” track is becoming a hallmark of Black’s sound and I envision he’s going to continue to stretch out on this upcoming album. He’s also quietly morphed into a legitimately dope emcee. It’s been three years since Black’s last solo album. I’m sure he’s aiming for fences.
Meek Mill - “Lil N*gga Snupe”
JAMES: Meek Mill always goes 100 on his verses. It kinda makes him a circumstantial rapper to me, because I’m not always ready to rage and that seems to be what he’s trying to inspire. (BTW: I feel like I have to acknowledge “Burn” since both Meek and Sean are present.)
In this track, dedicated to the young fallen member of his new label, Meek not only goes full force, as usual, but really says something on this one. He’s perfected (for him, at least) the approach of sounding intense and/or angry and now that he actually is feeling both of those things close to his heart, it’s like a totally different sensation. He’s edging on Danny Brown territory.
There’s a subtle difference between bobbing your head because you’re merely into the song and when a song has you bobbing you’re head because you’re really feeling it. This is the first time I’ve experienced the latter with Meek Mill, and I hope it doesn’t take more deaths for him to bring it out.
VINCE: Yeah, Meek deserves a round of applause for this one. Sometimes (maybe even often) his energy level and shrieking lyrics can come off as shrill. But I understand volatility on this one. It’s an ode to a loved one, but also a lamentation for street violence. This was inspired work from him. You won’t catch me bumping it often, but he’s got props over here.
Rapsody - “Kingship” (Prod by Primo)
JAMES: There’s a lot of hype surrounding Rapsody’s upcoming mixtape She Got Game, due next week. Obviously if you’ve got a track produced by DJ Premier, it’s worth listening to, and she also has features from Ab-Soul, Chance The Rapper and Raekwon (three of my favorites, right now). So I was very intrigued and had high expectations for this one, and I wasn’t disappointed at all.
Rapsody can straight up spit. I haven’t heard a female rapper with this kind of lyrical ability. Angel Haze is close, but her ability is emphasized a bit more in shock-value. I’m sure I’m overlooking someone and for that I apologize. With that said, and, perhaps it’s over-reactionary to make this kind of judgement after one song, but Raposdy is now my favorite female rapper. Looking forward to the mixtape.
VINCE: Well, when Nicki Minaj really decides to go in she is still the most talented female rapper. I was pretty much bored with this track. She’s getting a lot of co-signs on this track (the great Primo) and her upcoming mixtape because she’s basically 9th Wonder’s artist and 9th has mad connections. Her 2012 album, The Idea of Beautiful, was full of co-signs -- Buckshot, Ab-Soul, Raheem DeVaughn...she knows the right people. Is she gonna be a player in the hip-hop game, though? Currently I’m unconvinced.