[Solution]Reading Reflection

Part 1 READ the text1 in the attachment and answer both of the following questions. 1. In Chapter 5: “The Spiteful Chant,” Miles Marshall Lewis…

Part 1
READ the text1 in the attachment and answer both of the following questions.
1. In Chapter 5: “The Spiteful Chant,” Miles Marshall Lewis traces the history of the relationship between Kendrick Lamar and Drake. How did the interaction between the two artists influence Kendrick’s work? In other words, why does Lewis think the relationship is important? What is the larger point he’s trying to make about rap as an artistic practice?
2. How does Lewis draw on his personal life and knowledge of hip hop history to inform his writing about Kendrick Lamar in this particular chapter and/or throughout the book? (please give at least two specific examples)
Your answer should be a minimum of two paragraphs AND include at least a 2-3 direct quotations with page numbers from the texts as evidence for whatever claims you make. NO LESS THAN 500 words.
 
Part 2
Watch the short video(10 mints): “the 2016 Grammy performance” and then write your thoughts.
The Link: https://vimeo.com/312624323?embedded=true&source=video_title&owner=94126854
One paragraph, NO LESS THAN 400 words.
 
 
 

Chapter 5
 

 
 
The Spiteful Chant
1. The Beatles masterminded the most famous album cover of all time with Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, an album I was already tired of hearing about when I was in high school, despite never even listening to the so-called Greatest Album of All Time. Explaining the record sleeve feels like bothering to describe Egyptian pyramids or the Sphinx—like, surely you’ve seen it. The Fab Four sport colorful military uniforms as they stand in front of a flower arrangement honoring the burial of themselves. Roses on their grave spell out a huge BEATLES. They’re surrounded by photos of over seventy famous figures pasted to huge cardboard cut-outs: Einstein, Gandhi, Laurel and Hardy, even Ab-Soul’s guru Aleister Crowley. When I broke down and bought the compact disc in college, one of the things I loved most about the cover was a ragdoll placed nonchalantly next to Marilyn Monroe’s high heels. The doll’s shirt reads WELCOME THE ROLLING STONES in full caps.
The Beatles and the Rolling Stones—one of the most classic Apollonian-Dionysian rivalries in music history. John, Paul, George, and Ringo couldn’t have known their 1967 classic would go down the way it did. But something about that Shirley Temple doll wearing a Rolling Stones sweatshirt always seemed like a poke in the ribs to me, a way for one group to tease the other about making the superior music somehow. As if the Beatles knew they were so much more incredibly important that free publicity for rivals couldn’t possibly affect their status as the more untouchable force. Under the same idea, a writer frenemy released his first book when I released mine in 2004 and I almost bought his promo T-shirt
 

 
to sport around Brooklyn. (I didn’t think anyone would get the joke though … ah, youth.)
“Look at his competition, like the top tier guys. Everybody loves J. Cole, I get it. But for those of us who grew up with MCs who are also producers and also look at the guys on the underground —like Black Milk, Oddisee, or Roc Marciano—we could name about fifteen guys who we like way better and make way better material. J. Cole has the backing and the name. He came up in the mixtape thing, and he has the corporate backing so that he’s the guy out there. But we don’t listen to J. Cole like that. I’ve heard better shit from Oddisee. But that’s neither here nor there. The point I’m making is that Kendrick is head and shoulders above all the top-tier guys.” —DART ADAMS
Mona Lisa painter Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, the younger artist responsible for the Sistine Chapel ceiling, had an intense dislike for each other around the turn of the sixteenth century. Exactly why has been lost to time. Jump forward three thousand years: traditional conservative Brahms and the more radically progressive Wagner belonged to a war of the Romantics in classical music, the two composers really not feeling each other either. Cubism—considered the most influential art movement of modern times—came into vogue when master painters Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque forged their own frenemy relationship to create the style. They painted side by side in southern France in the summer of 1911 and bystanders could hardly tell their works apart, though Picasso ended up with the far more famous reputation. Intense artistic rivalries go back even earlier than the 1500s of Michelangelo; competition and jealousy are hardwired into the arts, into human nature period.
 

 
Growing up on hiphop, I loved discovering that dis records existed even before rap music. After the breakup of the Beatles, John Lennon asked Paul McCartney “How Do You Sleep?” in 1971 (“The sound you make is Muzak to my ears/You must have learned something in all those years”). Back in 1960, R&B singer Joe Tex called out James Brown on “You Keep Her,” based on a lover the men had in common (“James, I got your letter, it came to me today/You said I could have my baby back, but I don’t want her that way”). This music came out way before what I was weaned on, the stuff of Roxanne Shanté vs. UTFO, MC Lyte vs. Antoinette, KRS-One vs. MC Shan.
God once said—sorry, wait. So, spiritualist author Neale Donald Walsch penned a series of New York Times bestsellers in the 1990s called Conversations with God, with dialogues of what the Most High supposedly told him. Somewhere in book three, God and Walsch converse about competition and what a culture created by highly evolved beings might look like. God says, “They do not compete. They realize that when one loses, everyone loses. They therefore do not create sports and games, which teach children (and perpetuate in adults) the extraordinary thought that someone ‘winning’ while another is ‘losing’ is entertainment.” Sports never appealed to me at all, I was never good at any of them, and this idea always stuck with me because it seemed to explain why. Measuring the skills of Stephen Curry against LeBron James is not a conversation I’m interested in or capable of having. However. Debating over who won the battle between LL Cool J and Kool Moe Dee, Ice Cube and N.W.A, or Jay- Z and Nas feels completely different. 50 Cent winning while Ja Rule was losing? Totally entertaining to me. Hiphop is my sports.
Kendrick Lamar couldn’t level up to the top of hiphop without other MCs coming for his crown, firing lyrical potshots, and challenging his place. As a culture, hiphop has always been a space where proving your worth is necessary to defend your position. I’d seen it firsthand in St. Mary’s Park in the South Bronx in the late 1970s, B-boy crews dancing against one another on folded-out slabs of cardboard boxes. And later in the ’80s, teenage rappers at Truman High School banging out beats on cafeteria tables and rhyming against one another for nothing more than
 

 
egos and reputation. Competition is in the lifeblood of hiphop, and Kendrick couldn’t become the king without a handful of microphone challengers.
 

 
 
2. “Logged into my Twitter today and got a quick reminder that time is in full flight,” Drake shared from his @champagnepapi Instagram account in April 2019. “A lot of blessings to be aware and appreciative of for so many of us … take a quick moment to digest the progression in your life no matter how small or large. Then get back to it.” Nostalgia courses through most of Drake’s material, his reflections on past relationships (mostly romances) making up the bulk of albums like Views and Take Care. He’d reposted Twitter direct messages going all the way back to 2009, from model Paris Morton, basketball players Kevin Durant and Tristan Thompson, R&B singer Trey Songz, and—from June 9, 2011—a pre–Section.80 Kendrick Lamar.
 

 
The Beatles had the Stones, Michael Jackson had Prince, Beyoncé has Rihanna, and Kendrick Lamar, for better or worse, has Drake. With a longer career, bigger streaming numbers, more Grammy nominations and a fan base arguably larger than Kendrick’s, the Canadian rapper can’t be left out of any serious conversation about the most popular MC in 2010s hiphop. The Coca-Cola Company resurrected its Obey Your Thirst campaign in 2015, printing lyrics from Rakim, Nas, Biggie Smalls, and Drake on Sprite soda cans—meaning the billion-dollar business picked Drake as the only representative rapper from the modern era. Rap fans sitting by Sprite’s bus-stop posters in their hoods laughed to themselves; lyrically, Drake isn’t considered to be anywhere near the class of those other MCs from the standpoint of the culture. Ironically though, from the
 

 
perspective of mainstream popularity, none of those godlike rap artists compare to him.
Born Aubrey Drake Graham one year earlier than Kendrick up in Toronto, Ontario, classmates bullied the young Canadian over his biracial parentage (his mother was a Jewish schoolteacher, his dad an expat African-American drummer). With an affinity for the arts, Graham dropped out of high school and launched an acting career at fifteen, as the wheelchair-bound former basketball star Jimmy Brooks on the teen soap opera Degrassi: The Next Generation. After leaving the show, mixtapes came next—Room for Improvement (2006) and Comeback Season (2007). “Man of the Year” opened the door for his relationship with rapper Lil Wayne (Drake’s song samples a Flo Rida track featuring Wayne), who invited Drake to join his North American tour and soon his Young Money Entertainment record label.
Next to the dictionary definition of guilty pleasure (something, such as a piece of music, that one enjoys despite feeling that it is not generally held in high regard), a guy wearing AirPods listens to a Drake mix. It’s not that I’ve never moved to “Started From the Bottom” on the dance floor of some hiphop-friendly gala. But because of his penchant for narrating fragile masculinity to elicit compassion from female listeners, most of Drake’s music doesn’t sound made for male eavesdroppers, like the feminist hymns of Beyoncé. The first season of HBO’s Insecure, which follows the lives of two African-American twentysomething women in L.A., features Easter eggs of Drake lyrics hidden in all its episodes. (“He just really gets us!” says lead character Issa Dee in the premiere.) Women adore him, and through all his anecdotes of unrequited love, he’s pandered for their attention from the beginning of his career.
“To find an analogy to explain Kendrick’s crushing dominance of 2010S hiphop, you’d have to look to game-changers like Serena Williams in tennis, LeBron James in basketball, or Steve Jobs in consumer technology. But the question of whether he would have ruled the 2010s if the playing field for MCs was as competitive as it was in the 1990s assumes that super-skilled rap icons of the 2010s like Nicki Minaj, Tierra Whack, J. Cole, Vincent Staples, Chance the Rapper, Danny Brown, and Young Thug don’t matter or exist. It’s way more productive to consider him as the latest and greatest in a long continuum of MCs—each of whom has raised the bar in hiphop with regard to aesthetic criteria like flow, cadence, articulation/enunciation, versatility, and timbre, not to mention issues of political and moral courage.”
 

 
—JASON KING
The twin poles of Drake’s oeuvre involve romance and nostalgia. Hiphop isn’t alien to desire at all. Drake built on the maudlin heartache of Kanye West’s groundbreaking 808s & Heartbreak to cement his style, but LL Cool J, Q-Tip, André 3000, Method Man, and others all once did their part to inject sensitivity into rap music. Drake sings nearly as much as he emcees, but even that approach harks back to the Kurtis Blow single “Daydreaming” from the ancient days of 1982. As a heartthrob MC, he upholds that lovelorn rapper tradition like no one else. The second season of the Emmy-winning surrealist comedy Atlanta devotes an entire episode (entitled “Champagne Papi”) to on-again-off-again girlfriend Van Keefer crashing a Drake house party. He’s not there; he’s on tour in Europe. But she spends the episode in search of him: going through his closets, spraying his cologne, humming his songs. From Insecure to Atlanta, Drake rules the zeitgeist right now when it comes to female millennial thirst, right alongside actor Michael B. Jordan and the Queen Sugar heartthrob Kofi Siriboe. Rihanna may have recorded “LOYALTY.” with Kendrick, complete with flirtatious video, but she actually slept with Drake.
There’s no doubt babies have been conceived to mood-music Drake playlists, his sound lending itself amenably to the bedroom. He also makes occasional overtures to male-dominant rap audiences—casting the sexiest women’s basketball team ever in the video for “Best I Ever Had” for example, with more bouncing breasts than a Russ Meyer movie. His hiphop brings a neo-blues longing to the genre, his rhymes constantly looking back on those who doubted his rise and the unlimited ladies left in his wake. His laments have laments. To quote from the source, he’s for- ever “running through the 6 with my woes,” an extremely woe-is-me MC. Drake is also a master of the meme, with omnipresent social media gifs to prove it. He debuted his More Life mixtape on his own OVO Sound Radio show via Apple’s Beats 1 radio station, gluing everyone to the appointment broadcast like the happy days of American Graffiti.
“Kendrick’s signature is really difficult to copy. That’s because his signature is his penchant for complex multiplicity, his refusal to be reduced to any one single thing. Even some of the most gifted MCs conform to one unique flow, or they’ve got one timbral or rhythmic gimmick. But
 

 
Kendrick effortlessly and experimentally gear-shifts between rhythms, flows, cadences, speeds, and vocal registers—sometimes all within the same song. He oscillates between punchy rapping and melodious singing, placing accents and stresses on weirdly unexpected syllables, like a hiphop version of Thelonious Monk or Cecil Taylor. He refuses to be pigeonholed into any singular sound or sonic concept, and he runs the emotional gamut, from ferocious rage to contemplative introspection. That’s why his multiplicity is also a racial refusal—it’s how he resists industry and cultural pressure to wind up a predictable, cliché, basic, one-dimensional stereotype.” —JASON KING
The most significant rap rivalry of the 2010s (Nicki Minaj and Cardi B aside) belongs to Kendrick Lamar and Drake. Outside of Kanye West, who lost major cultural capital by aligning himself with Donald Trump, they’re the two biggest rappers on the pop landscape. As childhood witnesses to the deadly beef between Tupac Shakur and the Notorious B.I.G., both MCs tread lightly when it comes to ramping things out of control. But their relationship progressed from friendly text messages to appearing on each other’s albums to a string of subliminal disses in the wake of Kendrick’s infamous 2013 verse on Big Sean’s “Control.” Both rappers are fully aware that a cold war trumps a war with actual casualties, which largely explains the subdued comments from each of them about the other.
“Kendrick is an MC that would’ve fit in perfectly during the ’90s. But had Kendrick been around during the ’90s, he would’ve been competing directly with the best. I feel that Kendrick is great, without a doubt. But Kendrick is head and shoulders above his contemporaries. Largely because the mainstream rap industry is not what it used to be.” —DART ADAMS
 

 
Back in 2011, a week after Kendrick Lamar and Drake exchanged the texts above, Kendrick arrived in Toronto for the first time to play the Sound Academy. He’d turn twenty-four the next day. Drake was in his hometown laying down tracks at Sterling Road Studios for his second album, Take Care, and reached out to Kendrick.
“We met up, chilled out, got to vibe, see where each other was at,” Kendrick later told XXL. “Sometimes you like a person’s music but you de-finitely don’t like the actual artist when you sit down and you talk to them. That’s a real good dude; he got a real genuine soul. We clicked immediately. We had spoken probably one time before that.” Essentially, they celebrated Kendrick’s birthday together. The younger MC shared a preview of his first full album, Section.80 (released a month later), with Drake that night via email. The next month Drake invited him to appear on Take Care, and Kendrick’s bars say a lot.
“Buried Alive (Interlude)” details the particulars of the two rap giants’ first meeting in Ontario. Sandwiched between “Marvin’s Room” and “Under Ground Kings,” Kendrick uses his two-minute verse to speak on fame, vanity, and ego. He opens by confessing that he’s embarrassed over what he sees in the mirror post–Section.80; he’s become a “suicidal terrorist” willing to kill the old version of himself for a mainstream reincarnation as a super-popular new Kendrick. He introduces “an alien that said last year that she slept with a Canadian,” a sexy personification of the music business who’s apparently already seduced Drake. Soon he’s in the Palms Casino Resort of Las Vegas, choosing blowjobs over reading Bible verses, losing himself in the perks of celebrity. He ghosts his one- night stand, blaming Drake for showing him how to handle hookups as a rap star.
“Drake is both the most commercially successful hiphop artist of the entire 2010s and the most culturally impactful male hiphop star of the Obama-era too, at least prior to To Pimp a Butterfly. As the first biracial, half-Jewish rapper in history to achieve mainstream success, Drake grabbed the baton from MCs like Lauryn Hill, Pharrell Williams, and Kanye West by taking ‘emo hiphop’ to the next level. Hiphop after Drake sounded much more melody-driven, with raw, exposed lyrics full of questioning, self-doubt, and navel-gazing introspection. His appeal is that he upended ideas about masculinity, poking fun at himself instead until he morphed into the subject of endless viral memes. Drake wasn’t just one of the biggest figures in hiphop of the decade—he was easily popular music’s most influential supernova altogether, next to Adele and Beyoncé.”
 

 
—JASON KING
Then Kendrick takes it back to June 2011, cruising through Toronto in Drake’s Mercedes-Maybach. “Felt like the initiation,” he says, bonding with an artist who’s already further along on his own meteoric rise, someone who also made noise through mixtapes and reached superstar status with help from a cosigner (Lil Wayne instead of Dr. Dre in Drake’s case). They speak casually about the record industry, about female fans as the tastemakers of rap music. Kendrick turns twenty-four at the stroke of midnight. Drake won’t turn twenty-five until October, so for a few months, they’re the same age. Drake shares this with Kendrick—“and it didn’t help ’cause it made me even more rude and impatient,” he says. The atmospheric sounds and cohesive themes (past romances, the pursuit of fame, ego, and braggadocio) of Drake’s acclaimed third mixtape, So Far Gone, eclipsed the success of any of Kendrick’s projects up till then. We can sense his envy and insecurity learning that Drake’s career has shot higher, further, and faster in his twenty-four years. Kendrick ends “Buried Alive” explaining that we should all fault Drake for his newfound vanity and a rededicated laser focus that makes him consider leaving his best friend (Whitney Alford?) behind. “So dig a shovel full of money, full of power, full of pussy/Full of fame and bury yourself alive,” he resolves. Then he dies. Take Care debuts at number one, selling over four million copies. Section.80 sells five hundred thousand. As a young gun MC to watch, Kendrick does his duty with A$AP Rocky as the opening act on Drake’s Club Paradise Tour—the highest grossing hiphop tour that year.
All this good will between the two led to “Poetic Justice,” the fourth single off Kendrick’s first mega-successful full-length album, good kid, m.A.A.d city. “He had asked me to get on ‘Poetic Justice,’” Drake later told XXL. “It’s a great song, but it’s the typical, you know, I’m going to be on the soft girls’ song on the album. So it was like, ‘Let me give you some shit.’” Drake counteroffered with “Fuckin’ Problems,” a track that became a top ten song for A$AP Rocky (his biggest), higher on the pop chart than “Poetic Justice.” Kendrick declined the song because it didn’t fit his concept album’s narrative. The Grammy Awards eventually pit Kendrick’s magnum opus against Drake’s Nothing Was the Same for Best Rap Album.
 

 
(Both lost out to Macklemore, the least culturally impactful of the three.) But Drake and Kendrick enjoyed equal commercial success for the first time.
Then came “Control.”
 

 
 
3. On August 14, 2013—while Kendrick relaxed between music festival performances in Sweden and Belgium—Kanye West protégé Big Sean released “Control,” the lead salvo from his second studio album, Hall of Fame. (In the end, “Control” didn’t appear on Hall of Fame; Sean was too severely upstaged in his own song.) Kendrick called out eleven rappers by name, earning him more enemies and engendering more ill will than anything else in his entire career before or since then: “I’m usually homeboys with the same niggas I’m rhymin’ with/But this is hiphop, and them niggas should know what time it is/And that goes for Jermaine Cole, Big K.R.I.T., Wale/Pusha-T, Meek Millz, A$AP Rocky, Drake/Big Sean, Jay Electron’, Tyler, Mac Miller/I got love for you all, but I’m tryna murder you niggas/Tryna make sure your core fans never heard of you niggas/They don’t wanna hear not one more noun or verb from you niggas.” Kendrick signed off, crowning himself the king of New York.
“Control” resurrected the competitive nature of hiphop in the space of those eight lines. The spirit of Kool Moe Dee murdering Busy Bee with a fusillade of rhymes onstage at Harlem World comes alive in those lines. The essence of the Cold Crush Brothers battling the Fantastic Romantic Five on that same storied stage floats through those lines. Hiphop hadn’t seen any real contention between rappers since Jay-Z and Nas went through a war of the words in 2001. General unfriendliness existed between Azealia Banks and Iggy Azalea, between Nicki Minaj and Lil’ Kim as well. But the audacity of Kendrick Lamar insulting Big Sean and rapper Jay Electronica, who’d also added instantly overlooked verses to “Control,” on their own posse track became the talk of hiphop for weeks.
Some of the song’s targeted MCs sounded off on Twitter.
 

 
At least twenty-four different rappers took to the internet with freestyle response records of their own, including J. Cole, Meek Mill, A$AP Ferg, and Lupe Fiasco. Most responders inserted themselves into the narrative just for the attention; they weren’t even mentioned, well- known, or genuinely offended by “Control.” By the time I interviewed Kendrick Lamar for an Ebony cover story in the spring of 2015, TDE forbid media to ask him about the verse anymore. But two weeks after “Control” detonated, Power 106 questioned him about the seriousness of the song reigniting the type of East Coast vs. West Coast feud blamed for the deaths of Tupac Shakur and Christopher Wallace (aka Biggie Smalls). He answered:
 

 
It’ll never be like that again where two coasts [fight]. Not on my behalf. Not while I’m doing this. And I think the OGs of the game
would want that anyway. They’d want that competitive nature back and no bloodshed over it, you feel me? I’m way too wise and I’m way too polished to not get caught up in the hype of the media. But what
I’m scared of is cats that’s not polished, and they getting caught up in what they Twitter responses is saying and what they’re homies around them saying, and people gassing them up. And they try to take it to the
next level. Nah, that’s not G. That’s not gangsta…
I respect the legends in the game. I respect people who done it before me, people that lost they lives over this. So because of what they laid down, I’m gon’ try and go ten times harder and breathe it and live it.
And that’s the whole point of the whole verse.
Kendrick never seemed shook by the Pandora’s box he’d opened, but he’d never been the target of so many slings and arrows from other rappers either. Lupe Fiasco called him insane and childish, dissing Kendrick for putting himself in the same league as Nas and Jay-Z. Sixteen-year-old Stro faulted the five-and-a-half-foot MC for having a Napoleon complex. Papoose attacked his manhood, accusing Kendrick, Kanye, and Drake of supposedly acting feminine and wearing womanly clothes. Kendrick didn’t hit back at any of them.
“I didn’t really have anything to say about it. It just sounded like an ambitious thought to me,” Drake finally said in response to “Control,” two weeks after its release. “That’s all it was. I know good and well that Kendrick’s not murdering me, at all, in any platform. So when that day presents itself, I guess we can revisit the topic,” he told Billboard. “That verse, he’s giving people moments,” he said weeks afterward in a public interview at New York University. “That verse was a moment to talk about. Are you listening to it now? At this point? I can’t wait to see what he does, because now it’s time to show and prove. Consistency. It’s been like one album. Consistency is, make more than one album. I look forward to seeing what he does. He’s super fucking talented.”
 

 
But between those statements, Drake released “The Language,” a preview single from his September 2013 album, Nothing Was the Same. Listeners took the song’s very first lines—“I don’t know why they been lyin’/But your shit is not that inspirin’”—as a stab at Kendrick, similar to Jay-Z baiting Nas (“what you tryin’ to kick, knowledge?”) on “Takeover.” Drake never mentions Kendrick in any of his songs, before or after “Control.” When it comes to the art of the subliminal dis though, “The Language” launched a cold war between hiphop’s greatest postmillennial MCs that’s lasted for years.
That October, the BET Hip Hop Awards gave a live platform to ScHoolboy Q, Jay Rock, Ab-Soul, Isaiah Rashad, and Kendrick Lamar to run roughshod over the beat to Mobb Deep’s “Shook Ones (Part II).” Other performances come to mind first when considering Kendrick and his impressive award show routines, but the raw energy of the TDE cypher reflects street-corner emceeing more than any Grammy or talk-show set he’s ever done. With many a hard act to follow, Kendrick still manages to devour all the space in the room by the time Isaiah Rashad passes him the microphone. “Nothing’s been the same since they dropped ‘Control,’ and tucked a sensitive rapper back in his pajama clothes,” he spat midway through, making for subliminal dis number two.
I was an intern fresh out of college when Vibe put together its first issue in 1993, a black-and-white, Richard Avedon–like headshot of Snoop Dogg gracing the cover. A Time Warner venture with Quincy Jones, Vibe took a more polished approach to the hiphop music, culture, and politics that The Source had already been documenting in magazine form since 1990. The gangster rap that first inspired Kendrick Lamar to become an MC reached a fever pitch with Snoop’s debut album, Doggystyle, making him perfect for the magazine’s inaugural issue. Another print media casualty of the internet by the twenty-first century, Vibe’s final physical issue came twenty years later: from opening with Snoop Doggy Dogg in its premiere issue to closing with Drake on the cover of its last. Questioned about the Kendrick beef in the magazine’s final December 2013 cover story interview, Drake inevitably mentioned “Control”:
 

 
Where it became an issue is that I was rolling out an album while that verse was still bubbling, so my album rollout became about this thing. What am I supposed to say? Nah, we’ll be buddy-
 

 
buddy? Mind you, I never once said he’s a bad guy [or] I don’t like him. I think he’s a fucking genius in his own right, but I also stood my ground as I should. And with that came another step, which then I have to realize I’m being baited and I’m not gonna fall. [Michael] Jordan doesn’t have to play pickup to prove that he could ball, no offense. But I’m not gonna give you the chance to shake me necessarily, ’cause I feel great. There’s no real issue.
He’s going to do what he has to do, like the BET [cypher]. But again, it’s not enough for me to go. We haven’t seen each other, but I’m sure we’ll see each other and it’ll be cool. And if it’s not, then I guess that’s how our story unfolds.
The third MC of the new millennium to mature from an acclaimed mixtape moment to multimillions of downloaded albums is J. Cole. After dropping The Come Up, The Warm Up, and Friday Night Lights in the early days of DatPiff file sharing, North Carolina’s Jermaine Cole sparked a friendship with K-Dot early in their careers. Their long-rumored joint project has as much of a Loch Ness monster aspect to it in hiphop folklore as Dr. Dre’s Detox album. As the first name mentioned on “Control,” J. Cole didn’t respond until guesting on a Justin Timberlake remix (“TKO”) that November. Setting the stage about a lover playing the infamous verse on her smartphone at Cole’s house, he eventually concludes: “In case this is war, then I load up on all ammunition/If a nigga want problems, my trigger’s on auto/I’ll make sure that nobody miss him.”
 

 
“Kendrick’s continuing the legacy and the work that the greats have in a space where it’s not valued anymore. The reason why we look at Kendrick and we marvel at the shit he’s doing—his lyricism, his output, his consistency—is because he doesn’t have anyone who’s out there pushing him. The game is about influence, competition, and impetus. That’s what it’s always been based on, even when it’s friendly. And the fact of the matter is, who’s pushing Kendrick? Have you ever heard stories of athletes that create lies in their head to create a competition with somebody who doesn’t even have beef with them, just so they can motivate themselves to push ahead? That’s kind of the space that Kendrick is in. ’Cause who’s pushing him? Is Drake really pushing Kendrick? No.” —DART ADAMS
A full year after “Control,” performing at Drake’s fifth annual OVO Fest in Toronto, J. Cole brought out the festival host during his set. “Shout-out my nigga Kendrick Lamar,” Drake said before sixteen thousand fans at the Molson Canadian Amphitheatre. “Kendrick was on my album, we went on tour … That’s one of the hardest niggas alive. He should be standing right [here]. There’s a lot of kings in this shit, so shout- out to Kendrick and shout-out my brother J. Cole!”
Drake’s public burying of their passive-aggressive conflict should’ve quashed everything. For some reason, that’s not what happened.
 

 
On March 9, 1997, Christopher George Latore Wallace—the beloved bad boy Biggie Smalls, a.k.a. the Notorious B.I.G.—was pronounced dead at 1:15 a.m. at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, of gunshots from a drive-by shooting following a Vibe party. Early that Sunday morning, I rolled out of bed in the Jersey City apartment of my girlfriend to walk her terrier. (She was in L.A., at the party.) I phoned my answering machine to check the messages back at my own place in Brooklyn, two blocks down from 226 St. James Place where Big grew up. My heart dropped.
Dad called. My closest homeboy called. My girlfriend called, distraught with the details, from right outside the Peterson Automotive Museum where Biggie had been killed. I was twenty-six and had been chipping away at music journalism for three years. Big was twenty-four and the king of New York. His instantly classic Life After Death dropped two weeks later; I’d already reviewed it for the now-defunct Rap Pages magazine, in an issue sporting photographer Barron Claiborne’s legendary portrait of Biggie: crimson-tinged, golden crown
 

 
cocked to the side. The memory of Tupac Shakur’s senseless murder less than seven months prior was still fresh on everyone’s spirit.
 

 
Come March 16, hundreds of mourners stood outside the Frank E. Campbell
Funeral Chapel near East 81st Street on Madison Avenue. It was the Sunday following Biggie’s murder. Police officers held back throngs of fans outside. Many hopped the train to Brooklyn once the funeral procession started rolling.
The self-righteous personality streak of my twenties in full effect, I didn’t join the thousands of boom-box-carrying, placard-waving rap lovers —both young and old, overwhelmingly black and brown—clogging the streets of St. James Place that afternoon. In a basement garden apartment two streets away on Grand Avenue, I stayed in bed. I’d seen Big perform at a Howard University homecoming (“May see me in D.C. at Howard Homecoming,” he once rhymed on “Kick in the Door”), again at a Vibe anniversary party, and once walking down 23rd Street near the Tunnel nightclub with Faith Evans—an after-party for the Source Awards. But we’d never met. Standing out in the freezing cold waiting for his hearse to roll down the street seemed like ambulance chasing to me. I was wrong. Turns out it wasn’t morbid or opportunistic at all; it was a celebration.
My gut made me venture outdoors, my stomach specifically. Around lunchtime I hit the Key Food supermarket on Fulton Street, around the corner from St. James Place. (Even before his death, the store hung a framed photo of our local hero on the wall, right past the cash registers.) Moving through the sidewalks wasn’t easy; I took to the street. The
 

 
multitude of folks made up a living, breathing memorial shrine: candles, flowers, cardboard signs, B.I.G. T-shirts for sale. I spotted other music writers who’d loved, met, and written of Biggie the past three years. There were TV camera trucks too. Everyone watching, waiting, anticipating. I ducked back inside, firing up my oven and Tricky’s Nearly God.
And then, at 2:10, the motorcade arrived: eight stretch limousines and about thirty flowered cars. Turning onto St. James Place toward Fulton Ave, a JFK-worthy cavalcade of mourners—his mother, Voletta Wallace; Sean Combs, Faith Evans, Junior M.A.F.I.A.’s Lil’ Cease, Lil’ Kim, and more—accompanied the Notorious B.I.G. in his final touchdown to Planet Brooklyn. “Hypnotize” galvanized the crowd into dancing, shouting, and other fitful bursts of exaltation. But then the New York Police Department got antsy. The hearse took its leave of the neighborhood only five minutes earlier, but cops wanted near-immediate dispersal. A few heated words led to pepper spray from the police and the separation of everyone assembled.
Hungry for spectacle, the next day’s New York Times led with “On Rap Star’s Final Ride, Homage Is Marred by a Scuffle.” Times reporter Julia Campbell was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct, along with nine others. As long and strong as the memorial lasted, the streets of Clinton Hill were completely cleared fifteen minutes after Biggie’s pass- through.
My own suffering in silence sprung from the shock of it all more than anything else. Big and Tupac were two of the most talented, personally magnetic MCs of the time; were Snoop Dogg, Sean Combs, or any other rappers any safer? Blaring Tricky and Alison Moyet’s “Make a Change” from my small, Purple Rain–ish basement apartment, I mourned Biggie in private with some Chocolate Thai cannabis and chocolate chip cookies. That day, he belonged to Brooklyn, belonged to us all.
 

 
 
5. By Halloween 2014, the “Control” verse wasn’t on hiphop’s collective radar much anymore. Drake had come out publicly at his own OVO Fest to praise Kendrick’s king status and retire the drama. But then the latest Jay Rock single, “Pay for It,” came out of nowhere with a Kendrick verse referencing Drake all over again: “I tell ’em all to hail King Kendrick, resurrectin’ my vengeance/Been dissectin’ your motormouth ’til I break down the engine.” Why? Perhaps the verse was recorded before Drake’s August proclamation at OVO. Or something else private between the two, outside the purview of anything fans or media were privy to. But the jab, still somewhat subliminal, was clear enough: Drake had called himself “the kid with the motormouth” on “The Language.” Now Kendrick threatened to break down the engine of that motor. “Endin’ our friendship, baby,” he continued, “I’d rather die alone.”
Death actually isn’t an option anyone in hiphop has any interest in exploring. In 2018 the Prison Policy Initiative, a criminal justice–oriented public policy think tank, reported that the murder rate for black men is consistently higher than the murder rate for men of all other racial and ethnic groups has ever been. African-American males are already killed disproportionately. Some of them emcee. An atmosphere of ambiguity when it comes to the motives behind these murders—made ambiguous because of conflicts with other rappers—can only hurt the chances of the homicides being solved. Neither Biggie’s nor Tupac’s ever was.
Rapper Nipsey Hussle died from multiple gunshot wounds in March 2019, killed in L.A. by someone he’d had an altercation with earlier in the day. Barely nine months prior, XXXTentacion, a rising rapper from Florida, was fatally shot numerous times in a robbery outside a Deerfield Beach motorbike dealership. Subliminal jabs have largely replaced the kind of direct hits that songs like Nas’s “Ether” or Remy Ma’s “Shether”
 

 
represented because black life is precarious enough without MCs giving overzealous fans or former gang affiliates inspiration to travel down deadly paths. Why Kendrick came for Drake again after his OVO olive branch isn’t known. But the reason why he continued not to name Drake explicitly is fairly obvious.
“No 2010s hip-hop artist—Kendrick included—has so far been able to take on Drake when it comes to commercial sales during one of his album-release years. And Drake has released more albums and mixtapes this decade than Kendrick, to the tune of greater chart and sales success. Because he hasn’t yet been able to win commercially, Kendrick has had to go about his beefs with Drake in more subtle and indirect ways. Kendrick has far more artistic gravitas than Drake; I can’t imagine the Canadian superstar netting a Pulitzer Prize, it’s so wildly out of his orbit. Also, Drake has competition from other pretenders to the throne, so Kendrick doesn’t even have to go after him directly. I think both Drake and Kendrick have been focused on Jay-Z too, given that he still occupies cultural space as the preeminent hiphop icon of the twenty-first century.” —JASON KING
The tit-for-tat starts to read like a bullet-point Wikipedia list. In February 2015 Drake released If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, a so- called commercial mixtape, with a few lines on “Used To” that listeners construed as a Kendrick dis: “They gon’ say your name on them airwaves/They gon’ hit you up right after like it’s only rap.” Translation: Drake encountered Kendrick at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn for the MTV Video Music Awards the week after “Control” dropped in 2013. He told his September ’13 NYU audience:
I know that verse had no malice behind it, because I saw him five days later at the VMAs and it was all love. He didn’t
 

 
come on there on some wild “I’m in New York, fuck everybody, don’t look at me.” It was one of those things, I almost wished he had come in there on that shit, because I kind of lost a little respect for the sentiment of the verse. If
it’s really “fuck everybody,” then it needs to be “fuck everybody.” It can’t be halfway for the sake of the people.
Kendrick’s next oblique mention of his rival came on To Pimp a Butterfly’s “King Kunta” in March 2015, wherein he takes rappers to task for employing ghostwriters: “I can dig rappin’,” he says, invoking the 1973 James Brown line, “but a rapper with a ghostwriter? What the fuck happened?” While Kendrick and Drake spent years soft-footing around each other, Philadelphia battle rapper Meek Mill went for Drake’s jugular later that summer claiming on Twitter that an aspiring MC named Quentin Miller wrote some of his rhymes. Miller is indeed credited on several songs from If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, and his reference track rapping on an earlier version of Drake’s “10 Bands” soon surfaced on hiphop radio. The conflama stood Kendrick’s verse in even starker relief. Beyoncé singing lyrics written by, say, Frank Ocean doesn’t faze the public the way that Jay-Z performing someone else’s material would. An underlying assumption exists that rappers are poets, and if your poetry isn’t actually your own, then what value do you have? Though a handful of MCs, from Eazy-E to Kanye West, have used ghostwriters at different points, being accused of the practice is a major insult.
Embroiled in controversy, Drake never responded to “King Kunta,” subliminally or otherwise, and dropped his cold war completely. Around then, Kendrick mentor Dr. Dre emerged from retirement with his first album in sixteen years, summer 2015’s Compton. “Still I got enemies giving me energy, I don’t wanna fight now/Subliminally sent to me all of this hate, I thought I was holding the mic down,” Kendrick complains on the album’s “Darkside/Gone.” Any further thinly veiled disses from Drake went unreleased. In that sense, he folded like the Soviet Union—no peace treaty, no détente. Instead he reserved his lyrical ICBMs for Meek Mill,
 

 
launching two straight-forward, back-to-back dis records that earned him a pretty uncontested win.
As a postscript, Dr. Michael Eric Dyson—minister, cultural critic, professor—taught an undergrad class at Georgetown University in the fall of 2019 entitled Sociology and Culture: Drake. As much as I believe there is to unpack about Kendrick Lamar, professor Dyson found at least as much to explore about Kendrick’s one-time nemesis. And just as MCs have come for the head of King Kendrick, rappers who believe Drake wears the crown and doesn’t deserve to have stormed his castle too. In 2018 rapper Pusha-T attacked Drake in the hard-core way certain bloodthirsty rap fans hoped Kendrick would. He indicted Drake by name for using ghostwriters; he exposed a questionable photo of him wearing blackface to all the internet; he even broke an unwritten rule by outing Drake as a dad, dragging a baby into the battle. By going super ugly, Pusha-T “won.” All things considered, both Kendrick and Drake seem more honorable for keeping their beef far above that level.
 

 
 
6. Once upon a time at a recent Bronx block party, vendors behind a metal folding table sold CDs of 1970s mixes by DJ Grandmaster Flash right next to stacked T-shirts with the printed slogan FUCK YOU, I RHYME BETTER. The motto comes from an obscure rap song from the turn of the millennium, but it sums up the spirit of hip-hop in a nutshell. No hopeful wannabe MC starts scribbling rhymes in a notebook to perform without the confidence that s/he might be better at rhythm, rhyme, tone, cadence, and content than the next rapper. I rhyme better than you has always been embedded in rappers’ source code.
In the digital age, rappers going at one another on social media makes the art of MC battling seem like a ghost of its former self. Shyne (an MC most famous for getting incarcerated after firing gunshots while in a club with Sean Combs and Jennifer Lopez back in 1999) voiced his strong opinion of good kid, m.A.A.d city on Twitter the night of its release: “Kendrick Lamar is talented with a lot of potential but his album is traaaaash! I expected doggy style or the chronic. I got a product that was trash. I looked forward to hearing an instant classic from good kid. Trash!” Shyne found himself on the wrong side of history pretty instantly. Rapper Lupe Fiasco used the same platform in 2018 to tell over a million followers “KDot is not a top tier lyricist to me and my standards when it comes to punchlines and bars. His overall lyrics are good his stories phenomenal BUT punchline entendre lyrically I don’t see it.” He later deleted the tweet and apologized live on Instagram. Jay Electronica drove through Miami in the winter of 2016 broadcasting live on Periscope. When a fan asked him to play some Kendrick Lamar music, he said, “Fuck that.” After giving respect
 

 
to the early single “Cartoons & Cereal,” he threw his shade: “Other than that, we don’t know what these lames is talking about. Kendrick would tell you himself he couldn’t body me. Kendrick is my son. Kendrick is my baby. Kendrick wishes he could be me.” No one expects unanimous acclaim for any artist. Kendrick Lamar’s artistry registers as exceptional when measured by any barometer. But Michelangelo hated Leonardo di Vinci. Many considered Motown legends Mary Wilson and Diana Ross archenemies after (and during) their time in the Supremes. When the tides of rock and roll turned away hair metal bands, the attitude of Guns N’ Roses toward Nirvana looked remarkably like the cruelty of jocks toward geeks at any given high school. Artists, hiphop or otherwise, aren’t going to like one another all the time—for reasons rooted in self-doubt, resentment, rivalry, and whatever all else. Why should creatives be any different than the rest of us?

 
 

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