Who Could Beat Kendrick Lamar in a Battle?
Yesterday I wrote an article on hip-hop stans and Kendrick Lamar's fans came up repeatedly, hours later Kendrick's BET cypher hit the interwebs complete with now predictable acclaim, and hours after that I got the following tweet from a member of RefinedHype Nation:
@refinedhype article on the only rappers that could really have a go at kendrick? Or imma do it over the weekend
— Konrad (@kziemlewski) October 16, 2013
Well then, it seems like the interwebs rap gods are clearly telling me that I need to make "Who Could Beat Kendrick Lamar in a Battle?" the new "Question of the Week". It's a great question because I think hip-hop's currently struggling to figure out where to rank Kendrick. He's clearly one of the best rappers alive right now, and if you don't think so I don't know what to tell you, you're an insane person. At the same time though, hip-hop seems to also be on "Kendrick had the best verse" auto-pilot (aka "Nosetalgia"), and anytime a rapper starts getting treated like they can do no wrong you know things have gone too far.
First and foremost, let's define what "have a go" means. I'm assuing Konrad means something close to a straight up, bar for bar, lyric for lyric face off (maybe not literaly a "battle" in the classic "8 Mile" sense, but something close). I want to make sure that's clear because, more than "Control" or any BET Cypher verse, it's "GKMC" that made Kendrick one of the best. Having a classic album under his belt, and an album that bridged the gap between the underground and mainstream better than any album in recent memory, counts for far more than any guest verse. If you really want to take out Kendrick on a larger level, you're going to have to drop a better album than "GKMC". But for these purposes we're only focused purely on the song level, not an album or overall career level.
By the same token, we have to seriously discount sales and fame. As I just wrote, don't forget "GKMC" went platinum, Kendrick is a bigger commercial force than most of his peers, but he's still not at the financial/fame level of a Drake/Eminem/Jay Z etc. If this is all about stats we can just check Billboard and not even bother talking about this.
On the flip side though, I think we also need to look for someone in at least the same general fame ballpark as Kendrick. It just means something different when that dope underground rapper comes at Kendrick than when, say, Drake does. There might be some guy at your local park who's the best baller you've ever seen, but unless he can at least actually step on a NBA court with Kobe, you can't really count him in a "better than Kobe?" discussion. So could....RA the Rugged Man put together a track that really went a Kendrick? Absolutely, but the stakes are completley different for someone like RA. He's got everything to gain and nothing to lose by going at Kendrick, which just doesn't make a battle between the two as exciting. That's why I didn't even bother listening to so many of the "Control" responses. Does it really matter what Papoose or Cassidy has to say about Kendrick? That was a rhetorical question, it doesn't. There's a lot of grey area here - is someone like Killer Mike or Freddie Gibbs in Kendrick's ballpark? - but we're just going to have to work through it.
Last but not least, I'm assuming here that each emcee "having a go" is bringing their absolute best effort. For some reason a lot of rappers who could at the very least give Kendrick a run for his money haven't really done so, or have pulled their hardest punches. (Fabolous is apparently still looking for a studio.)
I know people can't seem to wrap their heads around cross-racial comparisons, but if Kendrick "sounds" like anyone, it's Eminem. That last section of "Control" (the "airplane" section) where Kendrick goes stream of conciousness style, and each line is just a little crazier than the last, even when you thought there was no way it could get crazier? That's got Em's fingerprints all over it.
I wouldn't even call the Em we heard on "Rap God" the man at his best. But if he somehow managed to get in the same zone he was in for the "Forever (Remix)", Kendrick woud be up against the ropes in a serious way. Kendrick overwhelms a lot of his competition simply by being willing to go completely fucking insane, but if Em can reach back to his pre-sobriety days, even Kendrick couldn't touch his insanity.
I don't know if Slim Shady still has it in him to really engage in lyrical warfare anymore, but if so, he's the leading contender to beat Kendrick at his own game.
I'm a litle surprised that TIP's name popped into my head here, but as soon as it did and I started really thinking it over...yeah, T.I. definitely could trade punches with Kendrick. More than any other mega-rapper his age, T.I. still sounds just as hungry as he did in his earliest days.
The heads who only pay attention to that super miracle lyricism won't be willing to acknowledge that T.I. vs. Kendrick would be a serious battle, but they're discounting just how fucking fearless and intense TIP can get. If the same Clifford Harris who threw down crushing verses on "Big Beast" and "In the A" showed up against Kendrick, I'd pay to watch that shit.
Now that I'm thinking about "Big Beast....
I don't know if we can count Mike as being in Kendrick's fame ballpark, depends on how big your ballpark is. But if we are counting him, sweet baby jesus this would be a battle. Mike might just be the most straight up intimidating rapper in the game - who would possibly want a piece of this dude? Forget zero fucks, that dude gives negative fucks. And lyrically he's far more complex and deep than he often gets credit for.
This shit would be like watching Tyson vs. Mayweather in their primes, the power puncher vs. the technician. I could see Kendrick wearing down Mike with his complexity, and I could also see Mike landing that one knock out overhand right (lyrically speaking).
Easily the biggest question mark in this discussion.
Could Andre show up to a battle with Kendrick, reclaim his vintage form, drop some shit in the vein of "I'm Sorry" and put Kendrick in his place? Yes, absolutely. Could Andre show up to a battle with Kendrick dressed like a Viking and spend the next 17 minutes singing while playing a harpsichord? Yes, absolutely.
Which Andre would we get? I don't think even 3 Stacks knows. But this wouldn't be a discussion if his name wasn't in it.
Notably Absent: If this was 2007 I'd be forced to include Lil Wayne and Ludacris here, but in 2013, I don't think either one is either capable or cares enough to really go in. As for Jay Z, again, if this was ten years ago Jay vs. Kendrick could be a bizarro version of Jay vs. Nas, but there was nothing in "Magna Carta" to make me believe Hova still cares enough to really give a verse 100%; if his 100% is still what it once was.
As for J. Cole, I can already see the comments pouring in, but I just don't think he's built to battle. I think Kendrick's the better overall emcee and "GKMC" was a better album than "Born Sinner", but if you want to argue otherwise I'll hear you out. We're talking one song, one verse here though, and Cole just doesn't have the style on deck that's he'd need to step in the ring.
As for Drake...man, that might be the toughest call here. Drake vs. Kendrick would be a battle of such different styles it'd almost impossible to envision what a "winner" would even sound like. Think about it like the 2006 Phoenix Suns vs. the 2006 Dallas Mavericks. Phoenix tried to suck Dallas into trying to match their uptempo style because they knew there was no way Dallas would have been able to keep up. While Dallas kept trying to slow things down and play in the half-court where Dirk and company could pound Phoenix in the paint and take advantage of their size advantage. The winner would be the person who forced the other to match their style the most. (Kendrick is clearly Phoenix and Drake is clearly Dallas in this analogy.)
Allright RefinedHype Nation, I think I've done everything I possibly could to set the stage here, now it's up to you. Who could knock King Kendrick off his throne?