BY ELI KABERON
Last week, MTV named Kendrick Lamar the “Hottest MC in the Game” for 2013.
Though I know what it means to be a “hot” MC, I was left confused as to what MTV meant by calling Kendrick the “hottest” rapper in the game right now. Kendrick had the best album from start-to-finish in recent memory; does that really make him the best overall? Is that the same as someone calling Joe Flacco the “best” quarterback in the NFL right now, since he just led the Ravens to the Super Bowl?
In terms of full disclosure, I’m a big fan of Kendrick Lamar. When I first learned he’d signed to Dr. Dre’s Aftermath Records a few years ago, I downloaded his mixtape Overly Dedicated. The next year, I copped the follow-up, Section.80. In 2012, before he released his hit album good kid, m.A.A.d. city, Poor Scholars editor Scott Philips and I went to see his sold out show at Chicago’s Congress Theater – it was awesome. I personally didn’t find the album as amazing as some others, but thought it was a strong effort, especially from someone making their major-label debut.
But I struggle with the idea that he is the “hottest MC in the game,” as MTV put it, just because of two strong mixtapes and one album that was good but didn’t really blow me away. Kendrick Lamar is a terrific lyricist and storyteller, and has the ability to mix up his style when needed. He’s going to put out albums better than good kid, m.A.A.d city before his career is over, especially if he continues working with Dre. However, I’m not ready to give him the crown quite yet.
The good thing about rap music is that debates like this can be settled through performance, not talk. On Monday, Kendrick released a remix to one of my favorite songs on the album, “Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe.” It features the one and only Jay-Z, who almost never spits a verse on a song he doesn’t think is insanely hot.
Thankfully, here at Word is Bond, we have the ability to compare and contrast two different rappers. So for the first time, I’m going to break down multiple verses, from two different MCs, on the same song. Who’s hotter? That’s up for you to decide.
Song: “Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe” (remix)
Album: “Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe” (remix)
Artist: Kendrick Lamar featuring Jay-Z
Verse: First (Kendrick Lamar) and second (Jay-Z)
[Verse 1 – Kendrick Lamar]
Look inside of my soul and you can find gold and maybe get rich, hol’ up
Trinidad Jame$ in four weeks
But now my album platinum and shit, so what
Y’all keep the numbers
I’m more than another statistic, my nigga
This courtesy of Compton
Brooklyn go hard, motherfucker
Love me on the East like I’m Chuck D
Dominicans wish that I was born there
I’m lookin’ to be the god MC
You look at my hat and see thorns there
I look at the game and see porn there
I’m fuckin’ this industry hard
I’m bagging this money, tea-bagging your honey
You thought I was fresh out the yard
Don’t cry to me dummy, you’re a lightweight
They tell me you nice and I’m like “wait”
Go get me a knife, you’re looking like steak
And when the stakes are high, I stake out for days
And when the water inside, you’re Bobby Boucher
We thirsty nigga, never alert me, nigga
I got a P89 in a suitcase
I know you heard me, nigga, this is a burpee, nigga
Right now, homie, I’m in the extra vibe
Pipe down, it occurred when you heard that I got these words
To the upper echelon, that’s excellent
[Verse 2 – Jay-Z]
Up in the clouds, me and my spouse
Rumors on the ground gettin’ too loud
Please turn them shits down, down
Can’t hear myself think
Turbulence, shit, almost spilled my drink
Running through that bitch like it’s my house
All up in the hall like a mall
Told you motherfuckers, all I do is ball
No, I don’t ‘member you, I don’t intend to empty my memory bank
Sittin’ next to Hilary smellin’ like dank
Presidential pardon, name one nigga out there harder than him
I’ve been in my weight like 20 years straight
I’ve been on my vibe like 20 years straight
Don’t fuck up my high, don’t fuck up my high
Nights like this, I could fuck up a pie
Still keep straight and still be straight
Fall back, bitch, I got a lot on my plate
Don’t waste my breath
I don’t know how many moons a nigga got left
Back to this joint, smokin’ this shit like I’m tryna’ prove a point
I’m the highest, the highest title, numero uno
Kill my vibe, that’s your motherfuckin’ funeral
There’s a third verse worth checking out (by Kendrick), but for this discussion, let’s just examine these two.
The cover art really says it all on this. The black and white pic of Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan, side-by-side during a 1997 game, shows exactly what this song represents:
Kendrick is the up-and-coming West Coaster, the young star who is poised to take the game over for the next decade-plus. He has all the tools needed to dominate, including the self-confidence to dominate. All he needs is time to grow. Jay is the living legend from the Eastern Conference, a first-ballot Hall of Famer, the best to ever do it. Not only that, like MJ in ’97, he still can reach into his bag of tricks and show everyone he still is the premier performer out there.
On this song, both rappers – young and old, West and East, the next big thing and the icon – bring out the best in each other. Kendrick goes hard right from the start. He points out that he’s more than just another rapper with a platinum album; instead he’s the leader of a new movement from California, bring the rap game back to a place where it has been lacking for so long. He shows his lyrical skills by going at the people who say he is just another gangster rapper or the opposite, that his hooks and occasional soft voice make him not gangster enough. The verse ends with Kendrick Lamar basically putting himself in the upper echelon of rap, a place he rightfully belongs.
Jay-Z takes a bit of a different tone on his verse. As the sport’s reigning champion for the past, oh, 15 years, he really has nothing more to prove. But like he’s been doing lately, Jay’s method of proving his skills to listeners is to basically brag, talking about where he’s from and where he’s been. Those places include going to a Presidential inauguration in a mink coat, sitting next to Hillary Clinton while high, and “being on my vibe for like 20 years straight.” It sounded both like a lot of recent Jay-Z verses, but at the same time different, with more of an attitude and cockiness. Like Jordan in ’97, or Kobe Bryant today, Jay-Z sees the end of the road is near, but wants to show one last time he still has the skills to compete.
In the end, I’m not sure whose verse I like more. I’m also not sure who’s the “hottest MC in the game.” But I do know that Kendrick Lamar held his own next to the greatest rapper to ever live, and Jay-Z showed up strong appearing on another artist’s hot song. Neither one, so to speak, killed the vibe.