By: Caleb Horvath
Here’s the thing about Kendrick Lamar…it may be hard to understand his impact on hip hop or what he means to the game. There have been many rappers with big buzz, big debut albums, critic and fan-hype but the fact is: Kendrick IS the most important RAPPER in hip hop since Eminem, possibly since 2Pac.
The list of guys who were/could’ve been as important is short: 50 Cent, Lil Wayne, Lupe Fiasco…and Kanye West & Drake would be on the list but I can’t consider them “just rappers”. Kendrick and Lupe Fiasco are the most gifted MCs in the game in this millennium, you could make a case for the Slaughterhouse guys but they probably won’t have the audience or platform to make as large an impact…Lupe won’t end up being as legendary as he could’ve or should’ve been, poor career choices, odd political and world-view stances, and a lack of greatness in album-form after 2 albums have led to his slow demise, which is a shame because Lupe’s initial message rivaled Kendrick’s in changing the way hip hop is viewed. 50 Cent, while making a big impact and leaving a strong legacy, ultimately was not a GREAT MC, he was a good one with strong ear for beats, big PRESENCE, but ultimately he will be remembered more for his business savvy and a few monster hits like “In da Club” than anything else. Lil Wayne made a huge splash on the culture, Wayne at his peak was nearly as popular as Eminem at his peak…I would even say Wayne’s peak topped Jay-Z’s peak in terms of strictly mass audience. But here’s why Wayne isn’t as important as Kendrick, it’s only roughly 7 years since his meteoric rise and he’s already fading in popularity, his product is sinking, his respect in the game is flailing, Wayne was unique in ways not many have been, but greatness remains, and Wayne as a rapper, songwriter, isn’t great. Nelly was arguably the biggest thing in rap for 6-8 years, Ja Rule too…guys like that with a lack of substance fall off. Drake and Kanye West have put their stamp on pop culture more than anything else. Both artists have made great albums, changed fashion in the game, blasted onto the radio in ways few hip hop artists could’ve ever imagined. But neither of them make “life-saving” music, their upbringings, their back stories, are not necessarily underdog stories, no fault of their own, but they cannot provide the hope that Lamar can and hopefully will.
Kendrick is like Nas but more listenable, and that’s the thing. Kendrick is capable of making BIG songs (Swimming Pools) with a message that could change hip hop and be heard by a massive amount of people. It could change the way places like the Compton’s of the world view life. There’s a reason Jay-Z, Nas, Eminem are as big now and have consistently made great albums/songs/product all for nearly 20 years. Kendrick does have a long way to go, he has to continue to make strong albums, be somewhat relevant on the radio charts, but Kendrick’s MESSAGE is what separates him. Songs like “Keisha’s Song” are IMPORTANT to the culture. I’m not sure Wayne has made an important song EVER (Tie My Hands, maybe?)…Kendrick is a boy from gang-life in Compton and came out saying “Look, you don’t need to sell drugs to get ahead, you don’t need to shoot people, dying, killing, that shit isn’t cool. You can be poor, you can be black, you can have bad role models, and YOU can come out good. And we have not seen such a positive message in the game…maybe ever. Guys like Macklemore, who actually is a good rapper, are great for their positivity, and even his backstory is strong, drugs, all that, got clean and rose to the top, but Macklemore isn’t Kendrick Lamar, not in skill. J. Cole is the only rapper of this generation whose message resonates like Kendrick’s, and J. Cole has a strong following and could be an all-time rapper at the end of it all, but Kendrick Lamar can get to more kids, he can make a bigger impact in the areas that need it most.
That’s why I’m so pro-Kendrick, and was so disappointed when Drake and others have come out and criticized the dude for the “Control” verse. Kendrick’s whole point of control was to up the ante. He’s giving young kids a message of “You can use something other than sports to be competitive, to strive to be the best”…he wasn’t rapping acts of violence, he was being competitive, and smart, savvy guys like Drake should know how important that message is.
PS: It would be foolish for anyone to lyrically go toe-to-toe with Kendrick, not named Marshall Mathers.