There has been a huge debate in hip-hop last few years of who deserves to wear “King of Hip-hop” crown. Media and masses were divided in many ways. But internet presented most notable artists: Kanye West, Eminem, Kendrick Lamar. Well, talking about diversity, these three are million miles away from each other with their art, craft and meaning they give to their music. Speaking about metaphorical kings in hip-hop, 2pac and Biggie were not forgotten and their name and legacy lies deep within the roots of hip-hop and rap music.
I would say, the conversation began when Kendrick said he was a king of New York (negative feedback that he got, is still a feedback interscope could use for marketing). If you see his interviews, you’ll notice that he’s a real humble dude and if not the smartest person alive, he knows his shit, Kendrick ain’t no toy. But as I said, by doing so, he made himself more famous. Maybe Dre (the king of controversy) even pushed him, because Kendrick isn’t getting the same spotlight, that Dre’s artists are so familiar with. One way or another, Kendrick definitely knew what would happen – his reputation in underground got a little bit shaky, but mainstream world saw what they love to see – conflict in hip-hop and rappers going at each other (meek mill vs Drake turned into a huge marketing company for every major corporation (like Mcdonald and etc.) by referring rap beef in their own marketing). All this being said, Kendrick’s move was weak and he’s still a young man who has a future ahead. He’s just a good kid, in mad city…
Kanye West, phew, everyone will agree that’s a big name in rap industry, all tough he lost his credibility towards underground (real) hip-hop by achieving that. I’ll give you the truth: when Kanye blew up, his records changed the rap music. Kanye’s production was new, innovating and refreshing to dumbed down bass beats that were choking rappers and their talent. Word fresh is the only one that comes to my mind when I remember 2007 song “stronger” (got to give the credit to the original makers of that song – Daft Punk, but Kanye saw the possibility of sample and did it!). when I heard “Homecomin”, I thought, Kanye discovered Dre method of music production by bringing live instruments into studio. The melody, the hook, the beat, such a fresh vibe – it almost felt like somebody reinvented the rap genre – it was dope – period. All tough Kanye’s music didn’t resemble old school hip-hop, didn’t acknowledge greats before, wasn’t a continuation of any one’s legacy – he raised the bar for every other aspiring rapper who wanted to achieve something. Also leaving contemporary rappers in hateful amazement (no wonder Eminem hated him so much, at that time Marshall was working with his homeboy Trick-trick on an album that was way behind Kanye’s). And all tough I liked Kanye’s music back in the day – it still didn’t have that raw, gritty, keeping it real style that’s such a huge flavor to rap music. His rhymes were simple, flow at times off beat and songs sometimes so corny – “heartless” (tenderness and rap doesn’t cut it for me). But after that I also remember Kanye’s skirt, his ego, calling himself Yeezus, all the foolish things he said and did, and song “Niggas in Paris” was a clear statement that Kanye can’t rap that good. It was so clear when I heard him with jay-z. Jay begins song with such a style, laid back chill flow, rhythmic and rhyming on a dope beat (that Kanye made) you just feel it, but then Kanye comes in hollering and yelling something like a drunk mechanic on the ranch – with a ridiculous skirt! Kanye – good production, bad rap – nowhere near the crown of a King.
And we came to the Eminem. Is he a king of hip-hop? Hah, well, that’s a million dollar question. Eminems longevity in the game, his diverse personalities that make him so much interesting for anyone who just likes music, is really making him a huge phenomenon in rap business. Slim shady, Marshall Mathers and Eminem is a great example of divide and conquer. One man used three alter egos, three sub genres of his art (that is so different from any other rapper) to go on mainstream and conquer music listeners, hardcore rap listeners, angry teenagers, lonely teenagers, depressed people, aspiring people, athletes (many athletes stated that “lose yourself” and “till I collapse” helped them in many challenges), music for lovers, playboys, he even has a little bit of gangster sprinkled on and still manages to be a crazy insane person with ridiculous stunts on the set. Eminem’s ability of making heartwarming and inspiring songs to hardcore endless raps helped him to dominate rap and the world. You could say he’s a king of rap-sales – easily. But neither is he a king of hip-hop. All tough Eminem has a significant skill to make a song or write endless rhymes (also battling but that was long ago), he barely expresses hip-hop and it’s nature.
Because I gotta tell you the truth, I gotta tell you the truth. Here it is, you can use it however you want, take it where ever you want, share it with whoever you want. Ladies and gentlemen, the truth we’ve all been waiting for: There is no king of hip-hop and will never be one. Anyone who names someone “King of hip-hop” has no idea what he’s talking about. To understand my statement, we have to go back in time, early 90’s, to Afrika Bambaataa and Zulu nation. Bambaataa is the one who came up with the word “hip-hop”, and he never meant hierarchy in it. Hip-hop is a community (COMMUNITY!) hip-hop is people’s company. “peace, unity, love and having fun” – hip-hop described by the Teacha KRS-One. We would have to add there the knowledge – legacy of Brand Nubian. And as Afrika Bambaataa sums it up: Knowledge is the key that holds all hip-hop elements together – break dancing, deejaying, Aerosol writing, MCing and of course – peace, unity, love and having fun. This is hip-hop.
Kanye, Kendrick or Eminem barely represent any of the hip-hop elements. Eminem has couple of songs where he speaks his mind in a relation to community, like White America and Mosh… and he’s an MC. But that will never be enough. Hip-hop can’t have a King because it’s not a kingdom, it’s a mental state that represents itself in your work. You speak your mind and about community by painting something on the wall where anyone can see, or rhyming about something that everyone thinks. 2pac and Biggie were the most famous people in hip-hop music to come closer to that, but sadly they aren’t with us anymore. Today, you have rappers like Yasiin bey, Immortal Technique or Ras kass, who speak about things that matter not just to them, but to a community as well. But you’ll never hear them on radio. And being underground with 2000 followers, doesn’t make anyone a king of a culture that can’t have a king.