Kendrick Lamar’s desire to be the greatest is making hip-hop fun

Home » Kendrick Lamar’s desire to be the greatest is making hip-hop fun
Kendrick Lamar’s desire to be the greatest is making hip-hop fun

The 2002 NBA All-Star Game contains one of those Kobe Bryant moments that tell you so much about who he was on the court. The game is an exhibition, and players generally don’t care much about who wins. Well, players not named Kobe Bryant. The Philadelphia native wanted to win MVP at home, in the city whose 76ers he eliminated in the previous NBA finals. Despite the boos from the crowd, Bryant went out and played like it was a playoff game, taking 25 shots. He took 10 more shot attempts than forward Kevin Garnett’s 15. And he defended each possession like the game was on the line — much to the annoyance of players on both teams.

Bryant didn’t care about anyone else. He wanted to win.

It’s the same energy Kendrick Lamar has carried since he became a contestant for rap’s top dog. He brought that energy to his feature on Future and Metro Boomin’s “Like That” off their new album We Don’t Trust You. On the song, Lamar lofted bombs at Drake and J. Cole, two of the biggest stars in rap. While the verse has a lot of subliminal disses and jabs, lyrics like “motherf— the big three, it’s just big me” and “Prince outlived Mike Jack‘ ” — a commentary on the value of artistry over topping charts — are unmistakably aimed at Drake, with J. Cole catching shrapnel.

Though Lamar and Drake collaborated on songs such as “Buried Alive Interlude” from Drake’s 2011 Take Care album, Lamar’s “Poetic Justice,” and A$AP Rocky’s “F—in Problems” in 2012, things changed when Lamar’s competitive inclinations took over. On “Control” with Big Sean in 2013, Lamar aimed at pretty much every rapper in his class, from J. Cole and Big K.R.I.T. to Big Sean and, yes, Drake.

Lamar’s verse highlighted exactly what he was trying to accomplish: “I got love for you all, but I’m tryna murder you.” It’s a rapper insulted by the audacity of anyone on the same plane as him. It’s Bryant in Philly. It’s Michael Jordan dropping six 3s in Game 1 of the 1992 NBA Finals, ending all debate that famed guard Clyde Drexler could ever be on his level. It’s Houston Rockets center Hakeem Olajuwon eviscerating San Antonio Spurs center David Robinson in the 1995 playoffs and winning MVP. This is what the singular greats do. They embrace competition like a python embraces its prey.

Lamar’s “Control” verse shook up the industry, and almost every rapper he mentioned responded. Some shrugged it off as friendly competition (Lamar has subsequently made songs with some of the other people named, such as Pusha T and Mac Miller). Others sent out their responses — namely Big K.R.I.T., whose “Mt. Olympus” retort is as underrated as it is devastating. And then there was Drake, who never truly addressed the song directly on wax but seemed particularly bothered by it, telling Billboard in 2013, “I know good and well that Kendrick’s not murdering me, at all, in any platform.”

Since then, whenever Drake’s name has come up in discussions as being the best in the world, Lamar comes in ready for war. He did so by dissing Drake at the BET Hip-Hop Awards in 2013. He sneakily addressed Drake’s ghostwriting allegations on 2015’s “King Kunta” before Meek Mill did. And he made not-so-veiled disses all across Dr. Dre’s Compton album.

But now there’s “Like That.” There’s no wiggle room here. There’s no denying that Lamar dropped a full-on diss record to two of rap’s biggest names. Again, though, Lamar doesn’t have “beef” with these guys. He doesn’t want to fight any of them for real, and if they saw each other in public, I’m sure it’d be all daps and hugs.

However, the best part of this competitive spirit may be how these feuds make these battles exciting again. Rap is fun when artists refuse to concede their top spot to anyone. Jay-Z and Nas’ beef in the early 2000s had that same spirit. It’s exciting that Lamar is keeping that energy alive in hip-hop. Now, he needs willing sparring partners who want to fire back. Drake hasn’t shown much interest in a full-blown battle. But J. Cole may prove to be less like those NBA All-Stars in 2002, just here for a good time and more like Drexler or even Jordan himself — refusing to back down to someone who also wants to declare himself the best in the world.

Because otherwise, what’s the point of being great if you don’t want to prove it when called out?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.