Lupe Says Kendrick Lamar Isn’t the Dopest Lyricist in Hip-Hop, Is He Right?
I know, I know, that's kind of an awkward way to phrase a question, especially for someone who, like, writes words for a living, or whatever. I could have just written "Is Kendrick Lamar the Dopest Lyricist Alive?" or something similar, but that wouldn't really get at the root of this piece. The root of this piece is, very specifically, Lupe Fiasco not only saying that Kendrick Lamar isn't the dopest lyricist in hip-hop, but much more specifically, Logic, King Los and Cassidy are all better.
(Skip to here for those who don't want to sit through the rest.)
Ok, quick pause. On one hand this is well tread ground at this point, I already dug into the subject here, so there's a part of me that just wants to let it go like Elsa. But on the other hand.....come on, this is exactly the kind of debate that makes being a hip-hop head fun. If you're not drinking and debating Lebron vs. KD and Kendrick vs. the world, what are you really doing with your life? Trying to stop global warming or cure cancer or some nonsense? So fuck it, why not, let's go back in.
One step at a time. First off, I completely get the anti-Kendrick backlash. Whether it's sports, music or food, anytime so many people seemingly unanimously agree on something, there's got to be some unthinking hype involved. Of course there are, in the words of Lupe, Kendrick "nut hugger"s. Of course.
At the same time though, the "that guy's not that good" stance can be just as reactive and unthinking as the hypebeasts' testicle fondling. There was a point, circa 2012, when if you said "Lebron's the best player in the league" you weren't being a 'Bron stan, you were stating a well-grounded fact. Lebron really was the best, and any debate to the contrary was just argument for argument's sake.
Music is far too subjective to ever see even the rare consensus of something like Lebron's 2012 MVP season, but still, there had to be a point where Biggie went from a buzzing rapper without even a debut album to actually one of the greatest of all-time, when Lil Wayne went from definitely not the best rapper alive to at least debatably the best rapper alive. So why is it so impossible that we're at that point with Kendrick? Why am I a nut-hugger/stan for saying that "Sing About Me/Dying of Thirst" is lyrically one of the best hip-hop songs ever written? I'm not saying that glibly. I've spent nearly two decades rabidly consuming hip-hop, I feed my family by writing about it seriously, and I seriously think "Sing About Me" is the 2012 Lebron of lyricism.
Still, if you don't think Kendrick's one of the best lyricists alive, fair enough. There's a point at which this shit is just subjective and I won't be able to 100 percent convince you. But....Logic, King Los and Cassidy over K. Dot? Really? Really, though? Now it feels like Lupe's either trolling or doing the knee-jerk backlash thing.
Speaking of which, allow me to not reflexively speak poorly of those artists in the name of elevating Kendrick. I absolutely recognize Logic and King Los as being very dope lyricists in their own right, I've got no problem at all with them being in the discussion. And Cassidy is....alive. But if we're really discussing the best lyricists, they're just not there, not yet. Los is an incredible freestyler, and line for line one of the best punchline rappers going, but elite lyricism is about more than just similes and stacked punchlines. Nas' verse on "Triple Beam Dreams"? There's not a single punchline on there, but it's lyrically incredible. In one verse, Nas manages to encapsulate the relationship between America's lust for money, drugs, poverty, racism and education. Now that's lyricism.
Similarly, Kendrick's "House lick went down perfect / Two shots to the head he deserved it / I overheard it hit my bed with a bowl and remote control / Dark Wing Duck lost service" on "Cartoons & Cereal" isn't the ILLEST WORDPLAY EVER B, but it is a gripping picture of how quickly children lose their innocence growing up in the midst of violence (even if you're a good kid, the mad city will destroy you). Now that's lyricism.
That doesn't mean that Kendrick is perfect, "Fucking Problems" exists, just like "Oochie Wally" exists. But I am prepared to hold firm to the idea that Kendrick's lyrical best is better, or at least as good as, anyone's right now, and certainly better than the people Lupe named.
Speaking of which, you know who could give Kendrick a lyrical run for his money? Lupe on something like "The Cool". Or the Slaughterhouse crew, or K.R.I.T., or (obviously) Nas. So while I know this discussion will contain a fair amount of slander and trollery - this is the interwebs - I'm hoping it'll actually resemble something closer to a passionate but reasonable discussion, maybe even a celebration, of hip-hop lyricism, and Kendrick's place in it.
Let's see what happens...
Written by Nathan S. on 06/5/14
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