Lost amidst the misguided (and often self-serving) media storm that cropped up over Big Sean’s “Control” release last week was a true understanding of 4 great verses from 3 soon-to-be-if-not-already great rappers.
More than enough digital ink has been spilt over parts of Kendrick’s second verse, but so few of the articles went into detail about just how good, and how much better, the rest of the song was than most of the stuff we’ve heard since J. Cole’s “Born Sinner” dropped in June. Forget the “King of New York” line and the second (and arguably less important) list of rappers Kendrick named.
Here are the 5 gems you missed:
1. “They prayin' on my motherf***n' downfall b****, like a drought, but
You gon' get this rain like it's May weather, G.O.O.D. Music, Ye weather”
Before you even knew what you were hearing, Sean dropped a subtle but deft double-entendre (triple if you ask him), setting the stage for everything after it. May weather rainy season, Floyd Mayweather’s furious fists/fighting style and his boxing dynasty (“reign”... cue light bulb). And to finish the weather motif he tacitly shouts out his G.O.O.D Music clique’s last album, “Cruel Summer” (Ye weather!). You can always tell a rapper’s improvement by how many more ideas he can get into fewer words. Consider Big Sean improved.
2. “I got paid then reversed debts
Then I finally found a girl that reverse stress
So now I'm talkin' to the reaper to reverse death”
This sequence sets off the trend of explaining concepts in threes, which both Kendrick and Electronica do in their verses. It’s one of those nice subtle things that adds continuity to the entire song.
3. “And I'm over n****s sayin' they're the hottest n****s
Then run to the hottest n****s just to stay hot
I'm one of the hottest because I flame drop
Drop fire, and not because I'm name dropping, Hall of Fame droppin'”
Even though some pointedly claimed he himself was doing this with this track by recruiting Kendrick, that doesn’t take away from a good line that describes so much of rap right now. The only way to get on urban radio (which, admittedly, is no longer a apt barometer for good hip-hop) these days is to have Lil’ Wayne, 2 Chainz, Drake or Miguel on the track. Every major release (even Sean, who has 3 out of the 4 on his album) this summer has had some combination of those artists.
4. The real “call-outs”
“I heard the barbershops be in great debates all the time
Bout who's the best MC? Kendrick, Jigga and Nas
Eminem, Andre 3000, the rest of y'all
New n****s just new n****s, don't get involved”
The Internets got its panties in a bunch over Kendrick calling out his peers, but the real call-outs occurred much earlier in the verse and were far more symbolic.
The line itself is great because it describes the entire point of his verse and the problem with comparisons in general. As Kanye West once said, “Trying to say your music is gonna be better than The Beatles or something is like declaring you’re gonna be someone’s new best friend. It’s impossible. to do instantly”
Comparing yourself to greats is like chasing ghosts. We won’t know whether good kid, m.A.A.d city will stand the test of time like Illmatic, Reasonable Doubt, Aquemini or The Marshall Mathers LP, because that time hasn’t past yet. It’s only until music has had a chance to age and live with its listeners that we'll know whether its gravitas matches that of its predecessors.
These call-outs are also brilliant because if you listen closely, you can hear him go in and out of sampling their styles throughout his verses. The opening is stylistically similar to 3000’s pitch-changed verses on “Da Art of Storytellin’” Parts 1 and 2, not to mention the “B.O.B” reference in the Farrakhan-Saddam line.
He subtly recalls the famed Jay-Z-Nas beef, calling himself the “King of New York”. Jay and Nas verses from the late 1990s/early 2000s are littered with shots at each other’s claims to being the new-age Frank White.
Not to mention, the line itself is a reference to a notorious Jay-Z line:
“I’m from where n****s pull your card, and argue all day about
Who’s the best MC, Biggie, Jay-Z or Nas.”
The end of his verse is reminiscent of so many Eminem verses that veer headfirst into semi-nonsensical, quasi-genius tales of outlandish bravado. Something as simple as, “You can’t reach the bar I’ve set” is turned into a verbose account of an arthritic grandpa flying a leer jet. Calling his verse original would be an understatement.
5. Jay’s verse fell severely under the radar because of how tough Kendrick’s bars were. But it was loaded with religious references that would make even the stoutest biblical scholar sweat a little bit.
“put your trust in the Lord, but tether your Chevy Nova,”
“And God is my witness, so you could get it from Hova/To all you magicians that’s fidgeting with the cobra”,
“you go from blind sight to hindsight, passion of the Christ
Right, to baskin' in the limelight”,
Because of Eletronica’s intonation, it’s tough to hear clearly the depth in his rhymes, but there are so few rappers who could pull off allusions like these while riding a beat. The God/Satan imagery continues throughout, even playing off of his boss/mentor Jay-Z’s nickname a couple times to continue the triplet motif Sean started in the first verse.
I challenge you to go back and listen to each verse closely. He’s one of the few rappers who’s religious references don’t fall short of their build-up.