Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Kendrick Lamar's Control Challenge: Updated 2016 Rankings

In August of 2013, the hip hop world was shaken to its core by a track that didn't even have an official release. Big Sean's "Control" was originally supposed to be on his 2nd album, Hall Of Fame, but sample clearance issues prevented it from landing on the final track list. By the grace of all that is great, Sean decided to share the track regardless, which set off a frenzy for the following weeks.

On a song that featured Kendrick Lamar and Jay Electronica, one would expect Big Sean to drop one of the best verses of his career or for the hermit-like Jay to chime in with a contribution of superb quality, but it was Kendrick that got the whole world talking:

I'm usually homeboys with the same n----s I'm rhymin' with
But this is hip-hop and them n----s should know what time it is
And that goes for Jermaine Cole, Big KRIT, Wale, Pusha T, Meek Millz,
A$AP Rocky, Drake, Big Sean, Jay Electron', Tyler, Mac Miller
I got love for you all but I'm tryna murder you n----s
Trying to make sure your core fans never heard of you n----s
They don't wanna hear not one more noun or verb from you n----s
What is competition? I'm trying to raise the bar high
Who tryna jump and get it? You're better off trying to skydive

Plenty of people answered the challenge, which was great since the culture always thrives when there is healthy competition involved, but the highest potential laid with those who were called out. Would we see any noticeable change in quality after they were given a warning shot in front of the entire world?

It's been more than two years since "Control," which I think is an appropriate amount of time to examine the impact Lamar's verse made on those that were mentioned. In order to be fair, I only took a look at an artist's career after they had enough time to respond properly, so I didn't factor in albums like Nothing Was The Same and My Name Is My Name since they were only released a few months after the fallout and it was likely too late for Drake and Pusha T to change course. While Kendrick didn't count sales as part of the criteria, I did take into account an artist's visibility throughout this period since it is a reflection of hard work. For the most part, I graded on how much an artist improved from their previous material and if their output was worthy of them being mentioned as the best since the track was made public.

Here are the current standings, as I see it, for Kendrick's Control Challenge in 2016.

1. Kendrick Lamar  

We've been through two calendars and no one has come close to knocking Lamar off the perch. He made another great album with To Pimp A Butterfly, which was as culturally relevant as anything released last year and earned Lamar a second straight Album of the Year nomination at the Grammys (not to mention having one of the best performances at the ceremony). Ideally, twelve of the best hip hop albums from the past five years should come from this group. Only one artist can undisputedly claim to having two spots on that list. The recent success of untitled unmastered with no promotion only further cemented the hold Lamar has on listeners hungry for quality. Outside of the recording booth, Lamar could be found conversing with Quincy Jones or performing with the National Symphony Orchestra, which is miles ahead of what anyone who has released a debut album in the past five years has done to expand the scope of hip hop. Whether it be on wax, on stage or freestyling on the spot in front of a bunch of kids, Lamar not only accepted his own challenge, but showed the rest of the field how it's done.

2. Drake 

He's certainly had stronger albums, with works like If You're Reading This It's Too Late and the Future collaboration, What A Time To Be Alive, falling short of the quality of Nothing Was The Same. The idea of the Control Challenge was to show improvement and take risks, but Drake pretty much stood pat for the most part and didn't do anything to alienate his core fan base. While Drake has been consistent, he rarely excites with a song the same way that other greats have been able to do. So why is he ranked at #2 for such a so-so outing so far? Look no further than "Back To Back." At a time where most beefs are handled on social media, Drake took it back to the core essence of hip hop and aired his grievances with Meek Mill using a pen and pad. The purpose of the Control Challenge was to flesh out who was going to grab that brass ring and at what cost. He hasn't measured up creatively, but when the opportunity came, he didn't back down.