Producer: No I.D.
Originally known simply as the “No ID Freestyle,” the record that later became known as “Control” revitalized hip-hop’s competitive spirit in 2013 like no other record in recent memory. Although it never made Big Sean’s album (for obvious reasons) the song inspired more discussion, debate, and response records than any other record this year. (Check our archives if you missed anything.) If you need any additional proof that no good deed in rap goes unpunished, look no further than this track.
Where else to start but second, with Kendrick Lamar’s scene-stealing second verse, a.k.a. the “shot heard round the world.” More than a consummate vocal performance—showcasing Lamar’s utter mastery of rhymes and flows—it was a master chess move, solidifying K Dot’s spot at the top of hip-hop’s most-wanted list as he called out his putative competition with no hesitation or remorse, informing them all—including the very artist who was kind enough to invite him to spit this very verse—“I’m tryna murder you.” Gee, thanks!
In any other context Big Sean’s opening stanzas would be hailed as some of his best efforts, replete with intricate wordplay, vivid imagery, reflections on his tortured hometown, and just a touch of post–good kid m.A.A.d. city nostalgia. Sean’s lines read like they may have been revised after hearing what Kendrick turned in for his guest spot—because after all, who wouldn’t go back and punch up their rhymes in an attempt to avoid getting murdered on one’s own shit? The telltale section is the part where Sean says: "I'm one of the hottest because I flame drop/Drop fire, and not because I'm name dropping, Hall of Fame dropping/And I ain't takin' shit from nobody unless they're OG’s.”
Jay Elec’s closing verse has tended to fade into the background, although discerning ears like Rick Rubin’s have highlighted its lyrical richness. “I’m spittin’ this shit for closure,” the elusive MC reveals early out, adding poetic lines like “The eyelashes like umbrellas when it rains from the heart/And the tissue is like an angel kissing you in the dark.” Seeming utterly uninterested in stoking the flames of battle, Jay Electricity continues with his PBS mysteries, “tangling with Satan over history,” and dropping an “Alhamdulillah” to all fellow MCs. As one Complex commenter remarked, Jay Elec’s “an aesthetic in itself with lines of cognitive value.”
No matter which verse you prefer it’s hard to deny that “Control” will go down in history as a milestone in hip-hop, and easily ranks as one of 2013’s most important records. —Rob Kenner