Don’t act shocked by the headline. We all knew this day was coming. The day isn’t even today, it was sometime during the last few months but now I have enough political clout to put this one out there.
Today is more like the inauguration. It’s the swearing in of Kendrick Lamar officially taking over the reigns as hip hop’s innovative top dawg (pun semi-intended) from Kanye West. The transfer of title isn’t even over age or talent, which is what makes this scenario so somber. ‘Ye’s only 38 years old and the The Life of Pablo is only his seventh solo studio album (in comparison, for example, to an already peaked Jay Z who’s completed 12 LPs).
What makes the Compton native hip hop’s new top ambassador is his constant reinvention of ideas mixed with impeccable timeliness and execution. You could argue Kanye attempts the first, but the second two are a harder sell. I’ve listened to TLOP multiple times now and find it’s pretty solid. It’s nothing groundbreaking, and while it triumphs with instrumentals (like in “Wolves” or even “No More Parties in L.A.”) it perils lyrically in comparison to previous Kanye albums or more contemporary artists even included on the project.
It’s not exclusively music though that has Kendrick winning this battle. It’s posture. It’s in the simple juxtaposition of words versus action, and it’s actually what used to make Kanye West so renowned. It’s ‘Ye dropping 808s & Heartbreak and letting us fight with each other for months over its acclaim – all of which would eventually separate the forward-thinkers from dusty purists. But that’s what Kendrick Lamar does now better than everyone, and in the age of everything becoming viral it works even more in his favor.
While Yeezy rattles off tweet after tweet about his genius, why you don’t get it and if you’re white, why you shouldn’t write about it, Kendrick lets his spellbindingly progressive Grammy performance and the hardware that followed shine on everyone. This all while attempting to stage a conversation about blackness in America so many in our society still don’t even believe should take place. With today’s political climate the way it is and social tensions bubbling beyond the mark of years past, it isn’t simply about the “art” anymore – as Kanye would put it. It’s about the movement.
It’s Kendrick taking students from Compton High School to The Grammys or himself to the White House for a discussion with the President about the problems in his community. Kendrick Lamar is the Kanye West without the reality baggage, misplaced anger or sexist statements that are having even the largest of ‘Ye stans questioning his motives. He’s the “George W. Bush doesn’t care about black people” of our time, but with the ability to put it together in a way West doesn’t do anymore.
There are rumors about Kanye’s mental health, and it’s hard to know whether he’s really on the path to a breakdown. While his most recent tweeting is strange, disturbing and constantly contradicts itself, this isn’t the first time he’s made statements with a lot of bullet-holes. His arrogance has famously made its way on-stage during the Grammys, the MTV VMAs and unfortunately for Sway, on Shade 45. Many, including Rhymefest have voiced their personal concerns for Yeezy and his mental health but from what I’ve heard – mostly in songs from TLOP – it seems ‘Ye has an awareness of where he’s at musically, and he’s chosen it.
There’s always that time where an older generation hands the baton to a newer one. That’s where we’re at with this. For a while now Kendrick’s been preaching the social justice Bible largely beginning with good kid m.A.A.d city and now even more with To Pimp A Butterfly and beyond. Kanye’s release of The Life of Pablo was, as Ebro described, a good recap of everything we’ve heard from him since the beginning. But on its own merit, along with prior releases during Kendrick’s ascension, musically he isn’t stacking up against K Dot either.
The question of whether Kanye West’s outlandish behavior was only an outfit for YEEZUS is finding an answer more and more substantial as we move forward. Rather than proving he’s still the most culturally moving he has to yell it. Perhaps most damaging to Kanye is his loss of sincerity.
Most may view defending his actions over the past few years a losing battle, but what you couldn’t argue is his beliefs are what he genuinely holds dear. With recent tweets about Bill Cosby’s innocence, Taylor Swift’s acceptance of his misogyny (which we all knew wasn’t true) and other disheartening themes, Kanye West has raised the question of whether we believe that he believes what he proclaims. And that could be more damaging to his current legacy than simply music.
Paul Meara is a Columbus, Ohio native and resident and has written for Billboard, Complex and HipHopDX, among others. Follow him on Twitter: @PaulMeara
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