Did he say it?
What'd he say?
Did you hear it?
Was that a diss?
I strongly dislike watching award shows. I do the Oscars every year, because my movie-nut friend's birthday falls near their air-date, and she always has a party that she insists everyone come to. But that's about all I can manage. I just end up drinking too much and cursing at the TV about how stupid and fake everything is. And, you know, I got enough problems in my life, right?
But I will be watching the BET Hip-Hop Awards October 15. (You can "BET" on it! Sorry.) At least for a part of it, at least for what I understand will be one very long extended verse, in one of the evening's scheduled "cypher" performances, recorded in Atlanta on Saturday night, when the members of pre-arranged rap crews take their turns on the mic. I will be watching to see Kendrick Lamar rap during the Top Dawg Entertainment Cypher. I want to see what he said about, if he said something about, Drake.
Reports were sketchy the other night. Live-audience attendees at the tapings of award shows that will be broadcast later are generally asked not to record or report on the night's events. But it seems clear that Kendrick stole the show with a rap that kept going and going and, according to at least one eyewitness tweet (what a weird time we're all having to get used to living in), mentioned the brewing rivalry between himself and one of the only other young rappers who currently enjoy both critical acclaim for their lyrics, and album sales in the millions.
"The Kendrick vs. Drake saga continues with his hip hop awards cypher verse," wrote Sony Music marketing rep Spencer Clements (@spencerclements), who was there watching the show. "'Nothing was the Same since I dropped that control verse.'"
And it's no little thing, what Kendrick did. It was a real risk. Coming off his hugely successful good kid m.A.A.d city album, he could take have taken an easier path forward.
Other people on the scene, though, didn't mention it. And some said they didn't hear those words. Maybe Clements was mistaken?
Whatever Kendrick said referencing Drake, whether or not he said anything referencing Drake at all, this rivalry—touched off by Kendrick's saying he wanted to murder Drake, along with a host of other top rappers, and make it seem like his fans had never heard of them on Big Sean's "Control" this past summer—is good for rap.
It's good for BET, who will have at least one more viewer for their award show than they would have had otherwise.
And it's no little thing, what Kendrick did. It was a real risk. Coming off his hugely successful good kid m.A.A.d city album, he could take have taken an easier path forward. He could have just started work on another album, secure in his position as the Savior of West Coast Rap. A million-selling, critically acclaimed rap artist out to try and better himself—no small task, that! But he took another step. He "reached for the belt" as my colleague David Drake put it, extending his goal into realms of commercial dominance (Drake's turf) and the title of undisputed rap champion of the world.
Can he do it? The consensus seems to be that he has the "lyricist" crown locked up. (Drake, for his part, has been saying that he is less interested in rapping these days than he is in making hit pop songs. But he responded, by most accounts, to Kendrick's thrown gauntlet with a verse on "The Language" from his new album. It will be interesting to see what the competition will bring out Drake rhymeswise if it continues, which it seems likely to.) But can really he tackle Drake on a commercial level?
If he doesn't, if his next album was to flop saleswise, Drake will surely let him know—very publically, one would imagine. And Kendrick could well end up with egg on his face. Egg that could have been so easily avoidable if he had taken a safer route.
We should thank him, in this regard. He's risking rap martyrdom for us, for the fans, for our entertainment. Are we not entertained?!
Sure we are. We'll all be watching.
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