“Tell Flex to drop a bomb on this s***,” Kendrick Lamar knowingly
warns at the beginning of his verse. Calling Kendrick’s verse atomic isn’t even accurate, this isn’t Nagasaki or Hiroshima for hip-hop. This is Tsar-Bomba, unparalleled levels of destruction that no one else would dare repeat for fear of reprisal. However, only focusing on Kendrick’s carpet-bombing of everyone else in hip-hop would do to a tremendous disservice to “Control” as a phenomenal rap song. The bridge where Kendrick revives the stereo-panning of “m.A.A.d. city” is an onslaught of assonance and alliteration, that may be the brightest point of the entire fireball. On either side of King Kendrick Lamar are unassailable verses from Big Sean and Jay Electronica. Big Sean tends to be one of those guys you either love or hate (forget fence-sitting) and if at the very least you don’t love Sean’s intensely autobiographical verse of “talkin’ to the reaper to reverse death, so I can kick it with my grandad,” then you have no heart for hip-hop. Jay Electronica breathlessly maneuvers through an inextricable sea of religious iconography for his verse; “tangling with Satan over history” and inscribing Jay Elec on the Book of Life. In any other scenario hip-hop heads would be foaming at the mouth over a new Jay Elec verse, but it’s missing the firebreathing and namechecking that made Kendrick’s verse so “controversial” in the first place. One mad city wasn’t enough, so Kendrick’s reach becomes bi-coastal and scoops up the Big Apple for lunch. Why stop there though? Kendrick continues over the blistering No I.D. beat to bring everyone else down and in the process raise the bar for rap:
“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****s.
Tryna make sure your core fans never heard of you n****s.
They don’t wanna hear not one more noun or verb from you n****s.
What is competition I’m tryna raise the bar?”
Some (see Joe Budden) chose to stand at the gates to the keep the rap interlopers out. Others sat in silence , K.R.I.T. indulged his inner Maximus, and Lupe Fiasco crafted theoretical attacks. Pusha took the invitation in stride, not bowing to regional pettiness or half-baked retorts, simply tweeting: “I hear you loud and clear my n****.” Rest assured, retaliation tracks will arise. But before they do rappers would be wise to heed the words of Omar Little: “if you come at the King, you best not miss.”
Listen here and look for Big Sean’s Hall of Fame LP to drop on August 27.