In Kendrick Lamar's verse on Big Sean's "Control," which came out in August, the rising Californian rap star directly called out a string of his peers that he planned to make irrelevant. Or more specifically, the rappers he said he was trying to "murder," to ensure that their core fanbases had never heard their names. A few of the names are making waves, but aren't really on Kendrick's level (say, Mac Miller). A couple others were, roughly, in his league (J. Cole). But only one is an indisputably ambitious target for the newcomer: Drake.
Tomorrow, Drake's Nothing Was The Same drops. On it is a track entitled "The Language," which includes lines that most people are interpreting as a subliminal response to Kendrick.
The portion of the verse in question:
I don't know why they been lying but your shit is not that inspiring
Bank account statements just look like I'm ready for early retirement
Fuck any nigga that's talkin' that shit just to get a reaction
Fuck going platinum, I looked at my wrist and it's already platinum
I am the kid with the motor mouth I am the one that you should worry about
I don't know who you're referring to, who is this nigga you heard about?
Someone just talking that bullshit, man someone just gave you the run-around
Niggas downplaying the money but that's what you do when the money down
Since no names are really named, it would be misleading to suggest that entire chunk of text is definitely directed at Lamar. (Pusha T could be another target.) But a few lines definitely seem oriented in his direction. That said, it still has the feeling of a cold war—we aren't even in the round-one stages of real battle rap yet. But still, around the Complex offices, there are differing opinions at to which rap star, at this point, has the upper hand?
Kendrick Lamar Is Still the Best Rapper Alive
Written by Insanul Ahmed (@Incilin)
There’s a distinct difference between "Control" and "The Language."
"Control" was an atomic cluster bomb that exploded all over your timeline, one that's had an echoing impact—after all, we're still talking about it right now. "Control" was Kendrick throwing down the gauntlet in the form of "keeping it real" and "true to the craft," a competition that’s already rigged in his favor. He won by default even before an endless slew of struggle responses trickled in. "Control" was the moment Kendrick seized the Best Rapper Alive crown. "The Language" is...just an album cut from Drake which features some bars probably about Kendrick, but which could just as easily be taken for regular old Drake braggadocio raps.
Bar for bar, Kendrick is a better rapper than Drake. Even Drake’s most ardent supporters (like me!) would admit that. Drake does have several distinct advantages over the Compton rapper. Namely, he’s more commercially successful (especially when it comes to singles), and is still more famous (which counts for more than anyone wants to admit). Oh, also: He gave Kendrick two of his early big looks by letting him tour with him on Club Paradise, then letting him rap on "Buried Alive," which, in retrospect, play like sonnings. Meanwhile, Kendrick is a traditionalist, raised in the shadow of West Coast legends like Dr. Dre and 2Pac, so the rap establishment has a certain inclination to want him to win. He's the golden child. Drake, meanwhile, has reached the level of superstardom where people are just waiting to see him fail.
So in this year's battle for rap supremacy, who comes out on top? It's still Kendrick. "The Language" is pretty good, but it’s not like its "Stay Schemin'" or even "Lord Knows" in terms of great Drake songs. When you think of the traditional "lyrical" rapper, Kendrick will always have the upper hand. The whole point of Drake is that he’s pushing the boundaries and redefining the scope (thus making him a better artist, overall.) But when it comes to battling, an album cut with a few subliminals is like a knife at a gunfight. Smarten up, Drake.
Drake Has the Upper Hand
Written by David Drake (@somanyshrimp)
Kendrick Lamar's good Kid, m.A.A.d. City is an incredible album—one of the few in recent time to receive "instant classic" accolades—and the wildfire reaction to "Control" suggested hip-hop fans are ready for some more heated hip-hop competition. But in terms of punches landed so far of this fight, Drake still has the upper hand.
To be fair, in keeping with Kendrick’s affable demeanor, all the rapper has done so far is initiate a broader conversation, one that had begun among hip-hop heads already. So far, other than naming Drake in song, he hasn’t sent any specific shots in Drake’s direction. But while Kendrick’s verse was a major event, only one artist has been dominant this year.
Drake said it himself, at last night's CRWN interview with Elliott Wilson. "That verse," Drake said, "He’s just giving people moments. That verse was a moment to talk about. Are you listening to it now? At this point?" Meanwhile, Drake’s knocked two songs into the pop-chart top-ten this year alone. His latest single, "Hold On, We’re Coming Home," remains in heavy rotation, and that’s without a video. (The video is due later this week.)
In keeping with his dismissiveness towards "Control" (which, in reality, is more of an event than a song, no matter how banging its No ID beat) Drake’s response, "The Language," easily parries Lamar’s opening shots. Over a low-key, ominous beat, the verse features some of Drake’s most confident rapping on the album. (As well as a classic Birdman outro, although that’s neither here nor there.)
Of course, some might argue that it isn’t entirely clear who he’s rapping about, but lines like "Fuck any nigga that’s talkin’ that shit just to get a reaction/Fuck going platinum, I looked at my wrist and it’s already platinum," are about as 'subliminal' as this Simpsons gag. Good Kid is a platinum album, and the only other rapper to make a public commotion about Drake—Gucci Mane—did so after Drake had already turned Nothing Was The Same in to his label.
The fact that Drake didn’t even name his opponant shows that Kendrick is still at a level where he needs to prove his longevity. He’s been anointed the critical golden child, but to be on top, a rapper still needs to prove he can craft songs that resonate over time. Drake is just coming into his prime as a writer. Nothing Was The Same features some of his tightest writing. An economical, direct rapper, he may not go off on narrative flights of fancy about using condoms as parachutes, but he’s reaching his peak as a performer on a much larger stage.
Kendrick’s off to a promising start. He’s not at the bottom, but he’s not “here” either. See? We’re all speaking Drake’s language.