King: Kendrick Lamar
Crowning Achievement: The Release of good kid, m.A.A.d. City to national acclaim.
Royal Court: Schoolboy Q, Tyler, The Creator, Problem, Open Mike Eagle
For Kendrick to claim the crown once worn by Biggie, his own mad city must have been bowing to him for years. Neither Hollywood nor Compton is shy of theatrics, so they made K. Dot’s West Coast rap coronation official. You can even mark the exact date: August 19, 2011.
Flanked by Kurupt and Snoop, The Game grabbed the mic at Hollywood’s Music Box Theatre to inform the crowd that the torch had been passed. The audience’s chanting could be heard all the way to the CPT: “Kendrick!!! Kendrick!!!” Dr. Dre was rumored to be watching the ceremony from the VIP rafters. The emperor emeritus didn’t need to appear. He’d already signed and sealed the new Aftermath heir. And unlike previous hopes, Hittman and Bishop Lamont, the doctor actually planned to deliver.
With last October’s good kid, m.A.A.d city, Kendrick achieved a unanimous municipal appeal unseen since 2Pac. A punk friend told me that he was all she listened to in her car—same with her hardcore friends. At the grocery store, a black woman in a head wrap and floral print dress overheard me talking about Kendrick’s verse on “Control.”
“I just love Kendrick,” she interrupted with the enthusiasm of someone who hadn’t liked a young rapper in a long time. “He’s so talented, but he’s so humble.”
Humble is the last word I’d use to describe someone who issued one of the most brazen West Coast proclamations since Snoop came through and crushed the buildings. But this contradiction illustrates the depth of Kendrick’s appeal. You rarely sense that you know him personally, but you feel like you understand and relate. His opinions are open to interpretation, but the characters and themes are clear and three-dimensional. Like 2Pac, Kendrick is a vessel for many to project their dreams, politics, and personality quirks.
Over the last two years, LA has witnessed a rap renaissance unseen since The Good Life and Death Row fired freestyles and shots only a few miles apart. Others are in line for the throne. Schoolboy Q could very well end up playing the Snoop to Kendrick’s Kurupt. In the last 12 months, Problem passed YG for most turned-up function rapper. Tyler, the Creator is the Fairfax favorite, so influential that he even made tie-dye cool. Meanwhile, Open Mike Eagle operates as the art-rap regent of the post-Project Blowed world, collaborating with everyone from Danny Brown and Aesop Rock to Marc Maron and Paul F. Tompkins.
But ask anyone in LA, who’s the king, you’ll only get one answer: the good kid is the man. —Jeff Weiss