Kendrick Lamar has managed to bring back what hip-hop truists have long said was missing from the music: a respect for the fundamentals.
If you haven’t yet heard the Big Sean song “Control,” mainly because I’m assuming that you just might not be into hip-hop like that, here is a part of the verse, which has everyone talking:
I heard the barbershops be in great debates all the time
Bout who’s the best MC? Kendrick, Jigga and Nas
Eminem, Andre 3000, the rest of y’all
New n-ggas just new n-ggas, don’t get involved
I’m usually homeboys with the same n-ggas I’m rhymin wit
But this is hip hop and them n-ggas should know what time it is
And that goes for Jermaine Cole, Big K.R.I.T., Wale, Pusha T, Meek Mill, A$AP Rocky, Drake, Big Sean, Jay Electron‘, Tyler, Mac Miller
I got love for you all but I’m tryna murder you n-ggas
Tryna make sure your core fans never heard of you n-ggas…”
I think we get the gist.
As noted by Lamar himself, this was not a diss but rather a challenge. A challenge for rappers to get creative and step their games up lyrically. It’s a poignant challenge, as explained in this must see video of 9th Wonder and Young Guru giving their reaction to his lyrical call out/challenge. Said 9th Wonder:
“This is why it is so chess perfect, number one: I’m not going at your coast. I’m telling you that I’m the king of Hip Hop. It don’t matter where you’re from. I got both of them n*ggas in my one hand juggling. I’m the king of the west and east; I’m the king of Hip Hop Period. Number 2: I came at y’all n*ggas on the s**t y’all complaining hasn’t been in the game. This is lyrical; this ain’t about who got the best beat; this ain’t about who got Future on the hook; What he shot at you, is lyrics. What people is missing here is that when we do our arguments about so & so is hot – so & so is nice – to regular people, in a barbershop or something, they always hit you with, ‘he ain’t sold no records.’ Now you got somebody who sold records and is relevant in the culture, to change the Zeitgeist of the feel of what’s going on right now.”
Who knew hip hop was that deep?
Oh and it gets even deeper. The challenge has become so culturally significant that Kendrick Lamar responses have popped up all over the Internet. The hip hop magazine XXL has a nice detailed timeline of all the responses from some of our favorite rappers, and many we have yet to hear from. Likewise, social media sites exploded with hashtags related to the Lamar challenge, claiming four of the top 10 on Tuesday’s Twitter trending topics alone. Bloggers and ordinary fans alike offered up their own rankings and critiques of the responses. And there was plenty of debate too: Did Cassidy comes from the shadows of obscurity and basically massacre this challenge with his nearly six-minute freestyle response? Why was Lupe’s SLR 2 (Kendrick Lamar Diss) so masterfully shady? Who is this dude Los and why isn’t he signed yet? It’s really a beautiful thing when you stop to think about it. And yet through all the creative energy and lyrical competitiveness, what’s missing from this Battle Royale of true emcees, wishing to stake their claims among the lyrical legends, are the ladies.
It’s probably one the most glaringly obvious yet less spoken about omissions to this challenge. Lamar didn’t utter a single female rapper’s name in his call out of all the tops in the game. Doesn’t matter if Nicki Minaj is your personal taste or not, she is still one of the top rappers – male or female – in hip-hop. And she writes her own lyrics. Therefore, omitting her from the challenge does follow the thinking, sometimes subconscious, that women emcees are not valid, or equally yoked, to be seen as competitors.
But even without the personal invitation, there has been a lack of participation from emcees, hailing from the more fairer sex. No Angel Haze, no Sharaya J, or Lola Monroe? I can understand why the more established vets like Jean Grae, Rah Digga and Lauryn Hill might opt to sit this one out. But what about Lil’ Mama? She likes jumping on stages. Or even Azealia Banks? We know how much she loves to beef. Heck, I’ll even take some bars from Lil’ Kim and Foxy Brown too – just for the nostalgia. However, the only response I’ve seen from the only woman to speak on the challenge, thus far, has been Iggy Azalea, who only chimed in to say how “awesome” she thought the whole thing was. Honestly, it’s kind of depressing.
Traditionally, hip-hop has always been thought of as solely a boys’ club. And it is – if we only go largely on television and what we hear on the radio. However, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t plenty of ladies taking their places in front of the mic. YouTube is full of this unsigned hype. One such channel called Queen Of The Ring has amassed over 67,000 subscribers and features some of the most vicious female battle rappers this side of a breast cancer ribbon. Despite some folks’ belief that women just don’t have the verbal stamina, word play and sheer grit to hang with the fellas, these women prove video after video that they are fully capable of holding their own with their own brand of feminine machismo. But as noted by UK rapper Lady Leshurr in this recent interview from the Guardian UK, “The only way to promote female rappers is to pit them against each other.” And yet most of these ladies won’t rise above what amounts to a female version of the chitlin’ circuit because this forced segregation paints female rappers as something contrary, or even subpar, to what a more “traditional” rapper looks (i.e. male).
I have heard among many lady rappers, including Jean Grae in this interview on Huffington Post Live, that they don’t like to be labelled as a femcees. I tend to agree with that sentiment. There are no female rappers, there are only rappers. But how else do women re-write or evolve the legacy of what a rapper is, if when in a challenge put out for the “best,” the fellas are the only ones to respond? Any hip-hop historian worth his black and white composition notebook will tell you that the battle is one of the most fundamental parts of hip hop culture. There is nothing more status elevating than the ability to verbally beat your opponent into submission with metaphors, similes, punchlines and good timing. And I don’t care how flashy your gimmick is as an entertainer, if you can’t prove how fit you are lyrically as a rapper, no one is going to take your stuff seriously outside of a few drunken nights at the club. That is why women shouldn’t be on the sideline cheerleading the fellas on in “their” pissing match. We need to see and hear from them. They should jump right in the mix, calling out all these wack dudes, and ending careers too. I mean, who says that the kings of hip hop all have to be men?