Roundtable discussion: Kendrick Lamar’s verse on “Control”

by Elisse Miller

Written in collaboration with Ryo Miyauchi and Nick Knott

Elisse Miller: A rap track is only worth its weight in hype. That being said, it looks like Big Sean’s self-leaked song “Control” is the heaviest hit of 2013.  The song features a verse from Kendrick Lamar that clocks in at nearly 3 minutes, in which he name drops several rappers and then claims, “I got love for you all but I’m tryna murder you n—-s.”  This list of Lamar’s alleged competition set the Twitterverse on fire, causing rappers (whether mentioned or not) to create response tracks and for hashtags like #rapperskendrickdidntmention to trend.

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Ryo Miyauchi: For better or worse, I read the initial responses about Lamar’s verse before hearing the actual content. The consensus from retweets from my Twitter feed all pointed to the verse being the “verse that shook hip-hop.” Most people were referring to Lamar’s attempt to raise the bar in competition. Personally, I believe what is being debated on the Internet is more interesting than what actually went on record. Lamar touched on controversial remarks only briefly, which were quickly piled on by more syllable-cramming and pop-culture references. In a pure brag-and-boast type of verse, he put on a phenomenal performance.  But does it extend further as a mean to wake up the rap game?

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Nick Knott: Kendrick Lamar put hip-hop in a state of turmoil with his verse on Big Sean’s recent track, “Control.”  Personally the biggest thing I took away from this was its impact.  The verse was lyrically sound, which is what I always expect from Lamar.  However, I can’t remember a verse, or track for that matter, that shook up the game like this. Naturally rappers and listeners took to the Internet and spouted their opinions.  Response tracks hit the Internet music stream from rappers past and present.  To me, Lamar did in fact wake the game up.


EM: Is rap in such a state that in order to “wake it up” an artist has to compose a sort of hit list, rattling off the names of the game’s most popular players? What I’m struggling to understand is the hype of the verse, in general. The only people who have shown signs of being offended are those who weren’t mentioned; those who were actually mentioned seem honored more than anything else.  Granted, it’s certainly an example of how Lamar has mastered the genre, but I’m not sure a featuring spot on a B-side track should be the center of the rap spotlight.


RM: That was a problem I had in mind, Elisse.  Lamar’s verse certainly brought attention that competition is still an exciting thing for hip-hop, but it was never anything that died out. Writer Brandon Soderberg asked an important question when he wrote about the verse for SPIN: “Does it mean anything in 2013 to be the King of New York Rap?” Although New York City is the culture’s birthplace, the idea of NYC still having complete reign of hip-hop is a mythical concept. Not even New York rappers are competing for the crown anymore. So is the competition Lamar is trying to start still relevant in 2013?


NK: I guess I am the only one here who feels it is a big deal for a West Coast rapper to say he’s the “King of New York.” There is still something to be said today for having that title.  That is the birthplace of the genre, everything started there.   I’d agree that New York’s mythical reign is not really a concept anymore, but the next generation of New York rap, such as A$AP Rocky and Joey Badass, are highly regarded as the city’s future.  They could have easily claimed that title already, but they didn’t.  It’s funny you say that New York rappers aren’t competing for the crown anymore, Ryo, because I think that is Lamar’s point.  That’s why he called out his friends to step up their skills.  I think he just wants better quality music all across the board.


EM: I’m all for the betterment of the genre, and I guess I have to come to terms with the fact that drama will always garner more attention than simple, solid rap.  I’ll be left here scratching my head until the next Twitter controversy comes about.


RM: If anything, this issue called attention that past traditions don’t weigh in the same anymore for hip-hop in 2013. Lamar’s hit list only covered a narrow spectrum of rappers running hip-hop. There’s so much talent, and the old model can’t sustain it. Perhaps it’s a model new rappers aren’t even dealing with anymore.


NK: The industry hasn’t been shook like this in awhile.  Hip-hop is a very fickle beast and that is why the responses to the track ranged from good to extremely bad, and came from rappers old and new.  Lamar upped the ante for all in hip-hop.  I look forward to the responses by the rappers who were actually acknowledged on the track.  Hip-hop is in a good place right now, but Lamar challenged it to get much better.

Watch the video and tell us your take in the comments.