Being called out has never felt so validating.
The mad carnival that is Big Sean, Kendrick Lamar and Jay Electronica’s “Control” continues to have ramifications to this day. Or maybe it doesn’t. Who really knows. Can we fairly attribute Kendrick’s notorious call-out, easily the song’s most iconic moment, as the fire that sparked beneath the collective asses of eleven honored emcees? And thus, is it fair to attribute their respective bodies of work, many of which are considered if not classic, damn fine efforts, to be a direct response to that fateful challenge?
Consider those who caught Kendrick’s eye that day. J. Cole. Wale. Krit. Tyler. Mac Miller. Drake. Jay Electronica. Sean. Meek. Rocky. Pusha T. Circa 2013, those eleven emcees served as the elite voices of an era. The ones that, by Kendrick’s own estimation, were both inspiring to his creativity and threatening to his reign. Rather than smothering them in the crib, he issued a warning and allowed them room to prepare a return volley. And prepare they did. Cole’s next album was 2014 Forest Hills Drive. Mac Miller’s was Faces. Jay Electronica came through with...Rocky had At. Long. Last. ASAP. Drake’s pulled a stylistic about-face and channeled his inner miscreant on Nothing Was The Same. Appropriately, following Kendrick’s verse, nothing really was the same.
Can one verse really have so much power it alters the career trajectory of a fully grown man? Kendrick’s DAMN. proved his understanding of pride as a concept, a powerful if ultimately sinful motivator. It stands to reason that his own pride drove him to write the verse in the first place. Coming off the release of Good Kid, m.A.A.d City, critics and fans alike were singing his praises; with one major-label debut under his belt, many were already touting him as the best rapper alive. The only reason the “Control” name dropping had such an impact is the fact it came from Kendrick Lamar in the first place. For one, it dulled the sting of the blow, the most painful sting reserved for those who went unnamed. Second, it established him as a competitor, one who still enjoyed the pure sportsmanship of a streetside cipher. A quality that feels by and large absent from modern-day hip-hop, save for a few signs of life.
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That’s not a slight on today’s musical climate by any means. But muse on this -- could a verse akin to Kendrick’s “Control” have the same effect if delivered in 2020? Specifically, a verse that mirrored the same process of name-dropping eleven elite emcees and challenging them to a duel for dominance. If so, two questions arise: who would deliver the verse, and more importantly, who would make up the eleven?
Unfortunately, it’s hard to imagine somebody dropping a “Control” style verse without coming off as a fiend for the clout. Shades were teased during Tory Lanez’s spirited verbal tilt with Joyner Lucas; perhaps, for the sake of this what-if, our challenge might come from one of them -- though neither party having a Good Kid under their belt might serve to lessen the blow. J. Cole has previously teased that “nobody likes rapping with him” anymore, following a particularly elite spree of feature verses -- might that confidence not be better suited as arrogance? He’d certainly turn heads if he chose to take such a road, but given his newfound position as Dreamville’s unofficial father-figure, it’s unlikely. In truth, I’m not concerned with who does the name-dropping, but rather which names are dropped. It’s 2020, and everyone listed in “Control” has ascended into O.G. status. Provided those named actually took up the challenge (in lieu of penning responses on social media) think of all the glorious music us fans would receive. Receive from... receive from….
Denzel Curry. He’d get named for sure. The Carol City artist has proven himself to be one of the game’s most confident lyricists. Not only can he bring high volumes of intensity to the mix, but he’s supremely talented when it comes to penning verses. Songs like “Speedboat” and “Sirens” reveal the depth of his cleverness, and the Flordia-centric Zuu prove he’s creative enough to explore more thematic bodies of work. Whoever would dare put the game on watch would be wise to bring Curry into the fold. If only to boost their own credibility by way of real recognize real. On that note, it feels appropriate to throw New York’s own, and Denzel’s former sparring partner, Joey Bada$$, into the mix. Strictly on the basis of lyricism, few can match the Badmon’s intensity; having spoken of competitive ciphers, who better to rep that energy than the man who helped revive Big Tigger’s Tha Basement, if only for one day.
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Curiously enough, when older rappers reflect on their favorite “younger” artists, there are two names that come up with more frequency: Gunna and Lil Baby. Having earned co-signs from the likes of Nas and Westside Gunn, the melodic stylings of the Drip Harder duo have earned them the right to be deemed elite in today’s climate. Omitting them from a “Control” redux would feel particularly biased, and arguably salty given the impact they both continue to have. Speaking of the Baby moniker, DaBaby would be an easy contender. At once lyrical, charismatic, and competitive, DaBaby would likely benefit from having a fire lit under him, especially if it allowed his early-millennium influences to emerge. Newly-minted number-one spot holder Roddy Ricch, still benefiting from the house that eee-err built, feels destined for greatness. Perhaps it would be wise to name-drop him, if only to keep the young Compton star on his toes. As some of the game's best current straight-up lyricists, the Griselda trifecta would have to be challenged -- especially given the sweet three-for-one value.
Would it be realistic to challenge Lil Uzi Vert? I suppose he’d be the stand-in for Jay Electronica in this context, elusive bastard that he is. When he does eventually drop, it’s entirely possible that Eternal Atakeushers in a whole plethora of new styles, making him one of the game’s chief influencers. It only makes sense to pay respects accordingly. On that note, it’s tempting to namedrop Playboi Carti in the same breath, though it’s unlikely he’d be moved by his own inclusion to begin with. Still...it would almost be worth it if only for the inevitable uproar it would cause. Likewise for more established artists like Future, Young Thug, or the Migos, who would likely balk at the prospect of healthy competition at this juncture of their career. Cardi B might have been an interesting contender, were the full extent of her pen game ever revealed. Still, her presence on a beat cannot be denied and sleeping on her popularity would be unwise. Megan Thee Stallionis another contender for inclusion, cutting a domineering cloth and capable of trading bars with every collaborator she’s liked with thus far. And bar for bar, it's unwise to count out Young M.A, who recently killed it on her first collaboration with Eminem.
In actuality, all of the eleven Kendrick originally named shared one defining attribute. All of them were lyrically proficient. A hypothesis might then suggest that Kendrick draws inspiration from strong lyricists, as would anyone penning a fictitious successor to “Control.” As some of the game’s best writers, it’s likely that Mick Jenkins, Rapsody, YBN Cordae, Maxo Kream, and J.I.D would be positioned within the crosshairs. Hell, J.I.D. might be one of the only current rappers capable of penning a verse of “Control’s” game-changing pedigree to begin with. Consider how he was absolutely salivating at the prospect of trading competitive bars with Tory Lanez, only for those dreams to be swiftly quashed without so much as a punchline. Mick himself almost inadvertently set it off on 2018 single “Bruce Banner,” rapping “can’t nobody come for me except Kendrick, and I hope you’re offended.” If he were to commit a little bit further to the dubious art of provocation, who knows what matter of beast he might have unleashed. On the opposite end of the beast spectrum, loveable everyman Boogie might be worth a mention, though he’s a little too relaxed to muster up a convincing retort; when it comes to artistic vision, however, he’s arguably among the game’s most focused album sequencers. As for Vince Staples, he’d likely write off the whole process as corny -- honored though he may be on the inside.