Lamar, Simmons and The State of Hip Hop

King of New York
Earlier this week a mix tape featuring rising rap star Kendrick Lamarr caused a bit of a meltdown on Twitter.

It is hard to remember when last a rapper threw down the gauntlet for others to step up their game and garner such a response. To declare themselves the king of a city on the other side of the country to which they live. To name drop those who he saw as at the top of their game, name drop those who he suggested should raise their own (including two of the collaborators on the said song) and then omit a huge swathe of other rappers worthy of being in the same air space.

* Cue bruised egos, missed metaphors and a short outburst of lame arse responses. *

Link for Control verse. For those easily offended don’t click. It contains a couple swears.

The first thing that jumped out at me was how come he was able to throw down the gauntlet on the same record as Big Sean and Jay Electronica. Dang this was Big Sean’s song! Further digging suggested that he only recorded his section after the original lines were done.

Secondly thing that struck me is that the track that did not actually make the cut for the album would probably end up being it’s most popular.

Thirdly it made me smile as to how many people took it as a diss track. Taking offence to the lyrics and braggadocio that has essentially been part of the whole rap scene from the beginning. Rushing to the studios (basement) to churn out a response to this throw down. Even though some of the talented one’s got it. I guess I smiled internally to see that he had not included Two Chains, Lil Wayne and Fiddy on the named list.

In some weird way it is this kind of event that hip hop probably needs. Whilst a lot of effort is placed on albums dropped by the likes of Jay Z and Kanye, commercial juggernauts which through a combination of clever marketing and the latter’s ever present, ever dominant and polarising personal bland, it is a breath of fresh air to hear raw unapologetic spitting over bars. The kind of lyrical wordplay that dominated the East Coast West Coast rivalry of Tupac and Biggie, before it went pear shaped. A real alpha male stand off played out within the confines of a studio rather than on the street.

It is easy to look back on the past with rose tinted glasses but at the same time it is this kind of thing that got me turned onto rap in the first place. That this is the exception speaks volumes, but then I wonder if we expect too much from the art form and its share of antagonists and protagonists. Which leads me to Russell Simmons

Russell Simmons and Harriet Tubman
Rappers (especially African Americans) are ill advised to make spurious references to iconic heroes. L’il Wayne infamously used the beating of Emmett Till as a metaphor for his grand delusions of his own sexual prowess.

Simmons is no stranger to controversy, from those in the mainstream who took his issue with his promotion of Public Enemy and their pan African anti government rhetoric to this own personal marriage being the centre of conversation. The latest controversy surrounds the uploading and subsequent take down of a video which had a ‘parody’ of abolitionist Harriet Tubman being raped.

Every artist will deem it their right to have freedom of expression and artistic licence. You are not ,by a long shot, however, going to think that you can parody such an icon as Harriet Tubman and not think that you won’t be able to take hell over it. Given the amount of backlash around male privilege and how this can be acted out through entertainment (and real life) through rape I wonder who sat down with Simmons and stroked his ego to say it was OK on the launch of his new channel to take this piece live.

Everyone is going to be watching. You are a legend. A media mogul and you upload this?

The cynical side of me wants to believe it was intentional. That such controversy would bring publicity. After all there are many who have thrived nay, grown their careers off negative publicity. Yet in the absence of such evidence I am more tempted to think he was just a numpty and whilst a lot of people will find it hard to forgive he has aimed to clear the air. We press on.

Whilst I opened with the reflection of how Lamar could have shaken up hip hop, the mindset of someone Simmons and bit the following tweet reminds me not to get too excited.

May be they don’t react because they think “their presence is charity:

Yes I did go there.

As you were.

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