It’s been over a month since Kendrick Lamar shook the Rap world to its very foundations with his verse on Big Sean’s “Control”. If you have been hiding under a rock and have not heard the song, Kendrick claims the title of King of New York while appearing to take shots at J. Cole, Big K.R.I.T., Wale, Pusha T, Meek Mill, A$AP Rocky, Drake, Big Sean, Jay Electronica, Tyler, The Creator and Mac Miller. Rappers from every section of the globe bolted to their Twitter accounts and their soundproof studio booths to respond to the Compton native’s jabs. Some applauded Kendrick for giving rap a much needed shot in the arm, while others took things a bit more personally and made response records.
Not surprisingly most of these response records came from offended New Yorkers. Joell Ortiz, of Slaughterhouse fame, starts his off, saying “I ain’t even gotta give this too much thought/ Joell Ortiz won every war that he ever fought/ This ain’t no different, I’m listening, you’re the King of New York?/ Lil homie, you ain’t the King of New York! You’re the next thing on my fork.” The pushback Kendrick received is not surprising since he is a West Coast rapper claiming dominion over a city he has never resided in. This is only compounded by the fact that the last undisputed holder of the K.O.N.Y. title was the late Christopher Wallace who has almost been deified in death. Another Slaughterhouse member, Joe Budden, likewise took offense stating directly, “I’m on my sh*t today/ You the King of New York? Might as well have spit on Biggie grave/ I couldn’t let that slip away…” It doesn’t stop there however; rappers have come out the woodworks seemingly materializing off the back of milk cartons to give vigorous responses on behalf of their belovedNew York: Graph, Papoose, J.R. Writer, Ransom the list goes on.
What seems to be missing in this conversation is healthy perspective. Firstly, it is important to note that the lines “I’m important like the Pope, I’m a Muslim on pork/ I’m Makaveli’s offspring, I’m the King of New York/ King of the Coast, one hand, I juggle them both” is a slightly augmented Kurupt line. Kurupt, who he quotes again later in the song, first claimed he was the King of New York in an obscure song from West Coast rapper/producer Terrace Martin called “Get Bizy”. This does not make Kendrick’s words any less damning but it does bear mentioning. Secondly, when breaking down the lyrics what Kendrick is saying is not as important as how he is saying it. The Pope is obviously a very religious figure while a Muslim eating pork is obviously not very religious. Makaveli or Tupac Shakur was one of the West Coast’s biggest stars before dying while the King of New York is a title only someone from the East Coast could claim. The rhyme is all about paradoxes, stark contradictions Kendrick merely uses to bolster his rhymes not anything people should get offended over. Kendrick Lamar being the King of New York is about as likely as him being the legitimate child of 2Pac, enough said.
It is interesting how up in arms the New York Hip Hop scene has been after this song came out. The most recurring theme has been ‘How dare Kendrick Lamar claim the title of King of New York! Biggie is the only King of New York!’ The aforementioned Grafh echoes this clearly, going as far as to begin his response, by saying: “The King of New York ain’t talking/ Cuz after BIG died that gold crown was buried in his coffin/ N*gga you can’t buy it, cant get it from endorsements/ and Kendrick tryna get it from an auction (ha)” Is this true? Will there really never be another King of New York because Biggie prematurely died without naming a successor? Will the throne forever be vacant? Will no New York emcee no matter how talented or successful ever be eligible to wear the crown? Typically in countries with monarchies when a king dies another has to be named for very obvious reasons. With no king who makes laws? Who issues decrees? Who sends soldiers into war? Without a king, the kingdom is vulnerable. A monarchy without a king is a weak, the same could be said for New York Hip Hop at the moment. If we are honest with ourselves we would say that Jay Z has been the de facto King since the death of Christopher Wallace but out of respect for his memory he has not openly claimed the title. Now that Jay Z is in the twilight of his career who, if anyone, will step up and claim the title?
When Kendrick Lamar namedrops his peers saying: “I’m usually homeboys with the same n*ggas I’m rhymin’ with/ But this is hip-hop and them n*ggas 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 n*ggas/ Tryna make sure your core fans never heard of you n*ggas/ They don’t wanna hear not one more noun or verb from you n*ggas.” It’s clearly a challenge, not of their manhood, but to collectively return the spirit of competition back to the faltering art of Rap. When interviewed by Philadelphia’s Power 99 about Kendrick’s comments Meek Mill had this to say, “he wasn’t coming at (me) in a disrespectful way. He’s coming at (me) in a competitive way… Hip Hop needed that. With Kendrick just mentioning a lot of people names he’s setting that bar high…” Now the bar has been set? Who’s going to jump and get it? Not just by dropping a one-off response record but by dropping Hip Hop’s next instant classic. This is a challenge to Hip Hop in general but to New York Hip Hop in particular. If you are so offended by a West Coast emcee claiming the K.O.N.Y. title, step to the throne and make sure it is not up for grabs. Word.