We’ve reached a point over the last few years where new rap music — its release and consumption, as well as the discussions about and reactions to it — lives largely online.
And let’s face it: The majority of content that gets dropped is glanced at or listened to once, and then it’s on to the next one.
Which is what makes what happened on August 12, 2013, all the more remarkable.
He Said What?!
It was that evening that Kendrick Lamar simultaneously unified and splintered hip-hop. Anyone with an Internet connection was talking and tweeting about his fiery verse on Big Sean’s “Control,” admiring the sheer boldness and technical precision in his bars.
It was chatter that started in seconds and lasted for months.
Every rapper is supposed to feel like Kendrick feels as far as wanting to murder niggas on the mic. That's why I wrote my "Murder" verse.
— Bun B (@BunBTrillOG) August 13, 2013
There were certain widely accepted notions — every rapper should be talking like Kendrick, thinking he’s the best and expressing that — and others that were more disputed — whether or not K. Dot had a right to call himself the “King of New York.”
Then there were the theories — not rare, either — about how this could potentially change the direction that rap music was headed. Lyrics were back and others would be inspired to strive for greater heights, the thinking went.
Any studios open yet?
— Fabolous (@myfabolouslife) August 13, 2013
And Here We Are…
Those theories were valid at the time, with some rappers tweeting immediately that they were hungry to get in the studio, and many dropping impassioned and notable (to varying degrees) responses in the days after.
And now here we are, a year later, wondering, has that shift happened? Did the verse create a pivot in the way rappers, fans and labels approach the art and craft?
Haha REAL RAP is ALMOST back and I LOVE it!!! # don't get scared now
— JADAKISS (@Therealkiss) August 13, 2013
From where I’m sitting, it certainly doesn’t feel that way. At least on any large scale. At least not in the past year. Sure, the verse may have inspired, say, hordes of kids in middle school whose raps we’ll start to hear in the next five to 10 years. But for now, we remain much pretty much in the same place we were a year ago. Radio sounds mostly the same. The charts look much the same and the overall approach… well.
There are remnants of its impact to varying degrees. It looks to have ignited or, more likely, fanned the flames of a rivalry between the TDE rapper and Drake. It seems to have played some role in Big K.R.I.T.’s writing “Mt. Olympus,” a track where he sounds more engaged and enraged than he has since 2010’s K.R.I.T. Wuz Here.
But a larger shift is lacking.
Of the artists mentioned by name — the cream of the crop of rap’s “new school,” by many accounts — only Drake, Pusha T, and Big Sean have released albums in the time since and none referenced K.Dot’s bars. Each of those were generally met with positive responses. So we’ll have to wait and see what J. Cole, Big K.R.I.T., Wale, Meek Mill, A$AP Rocky, Mac Miller, Jay Electronica (yeah, right) and Tyler, the Creator — and everyone else — bring when it’s their time.
But maybe it was too much to expect of one 2:53 second spectacle.
Certainly, this is no slight at Kendrick or his “Control” performance. And it remains the best verse of 2013, as MTV and many others concluded at the end of the year. It remains a shining example of what can happen when the music’s brightest talents feel they have something to prove and earn the eyes and ears of fans. And it remains a reminder of why we’re so excited for the good kid, m.A.A.d city follow-up.
“It’s funny how one verse can f–k up the game,” Jay-Z rapped on “Imaginary Player” back in 1997. Kendrick’s on “Control” seems about as close as we can get right now. It f–ked up the game, no doubt. But it still hasn’t quite changed it.
At least not yet.