It’s OK to be a fan of both Kendrick Lamar and Drake. It’s OK, guys. It’s OK. I know that’s a hard concept to grasp. I don’t fuck with Drake like that, but his last two releases are pretty fucking good. Nothing Was the Same is the closest thing he has to a classic. (Take Care isn’t as cohesive as NWTS.) good kid, m.A.A.d city, though? Classic. But, alas, that is another conversation for another day.
As a matter of fact, when I first heard “HiiiPoWeR,” I really considered Kendrick to be the savior of all things “real hip-hop,” and relegated Drake to the back of the class, considering him to be an R&B rapper. “Man, Kenny and Elect are going to save the game,” I would say to myself.
Instead of trying to keep up with Drake, Lamar went completely left and dropped what turned out to be To Pimp a Butterfly's lead single with "i."
But then Drake kept making bangers. Actually, he really hasn’t stopped making bangers since like 2011 if we're keeping score. Since the release of NWTS in 2013, he's released loosies and a mixtape. Whereas Lamar has steadily made consistently good rap music with his Black Hippy counterparts and popped up on a feature here and there instead. And, you know what? Both of their music-making methods are great for the culture. I’ve come to that realization. Maybe because I’m older and more mature now. Or because I save my petty for more important things. I like the fact that Kendrick would rather put all of his energy into making quality albums that have the ability to take you into his brain (this is what I tell myself about Jay Elect, too). I also like how Drake gives us free music to mob to.
I was one of those guys a couple years ago who lifted my fist up and yelled, “Damn you, Drake! You soft motherfucker, always singing and shit." The music is too good to hate on now, though. I’ve also come to grips with the fact that Kendrick and Drake aren't competing with each other. As much as we would like it to be Jay Z and Nas battling over rap's top spot, it’s not. These are two artists in the prime of their careers giving us the best they have.
When Drake coasted through 2014 with a gang of loosies while building his OVO imprint, Kendrick didn't bat an eye. As his label mates ScHoolboy Q and Ab-Soul dropped their respective projects, Kendrick fell back and let them cook. Then, the unfathomable happened. Instead of trying to go toe-to-toe with Drake, Lamar went completely left and dropped what turned out to be To Pimp a Butterfly's lead single with "i."
That song was the writing on the wall. Not only did that track tell you to love yourself, it also said Kenny didn’t care about keeping up with—or staying in the same lane—as Drake.
As much as we would like it to be Jay Z and Nas battling over rap's top spot, it’s not. These are two artists in the prime of their careers giving us the best they have.
Seldom in the history of rap have we had the two biggest artists be so different from each other. One is a kid from Compton who raps about ghetto life and being black in America from the perspective of a church-going gangbanger conflicted with the way he, his friends, and family live their lives. The other is a former child actor from Canada who raps about money and the women in his life. Both do what they do very well.
To Pimp a Butterfly is so heavy, I'm still trying to digest it. The conflicted messages of keeping it ghetto and respectability politics are something I struggle with every day. The funky, jazzy, West Coast bounce is entrancing. Kendrick has a message. This is what he chooses to do with this platform. TPAB is his Yeezus, totally unexpected and experimental. This offering will either leave fans impressed or disappointed. If You're Reading This It's Too Late is a NWTS b-side stocked with anthems that throw parties into a frenzy. Drake went gold in a week on a mixtape. Kendrick's sophomore release dropped a week early, and I hit that "Buy" button on iTunes without thinking twice. I was listening to "Wesley's Theory" before I walked out the door.
IYRTITL is full of singles whereas TPAB has maybe two or three. Like Lamar's previous effort, this release plays like a film. All of the jazz reminds me of a score to a Spike Lee Joint. He's having a conversation with 2Pac on the last track, man, and he ends tracks with this bridge:
"I remember you was conflicted. Misusing your influence. Sometimes I did the same. Abusing my power full of resentment. Resentment that turned into a deep depression. Found myself screaming in a hotel room. I didn't want to self-destruct."
To Pimp a Butterfly is so different from Drake's catalog. Both artists carved completely different lanes for themselves, though both are related in different ways. K. Dot and Drizzy are both introverts with honest raps of their past and their day-to-day. And they both have the ability to not only spit but construct a song. Their sound is different, though. Drake owns the party scene while Kendrick owns the staying low and build scene—and this is a good thing. Different music for different moods.
Rap fans are stubborn. We like what we like and if you don't like what we like then its, "Fuck you!” That shit is draining, man. What kind of life is that? Their subject matter is different. This makes comparing them difficult. They are at different ends of the rap spectrum, and that's OK.
I'll leave you with that tweet from Brooklyn rapper Ka. He's also very different from Kendrick and Drake in terms of subject matter. He's also correct in his assessment of hip-hop. Let's enjoy what has already been an incredible year in rap. Shit, we might even get a Jay Electronica album, but you ain't hear that from me.
Angel Diaz is a staff writer for Complex Media. Follow him @ADiaz456.