Don’t Believe the Hype, Kendrick Lamar Isn’t Over-Rated

Posted 2 years ago by
Download DJBooth's new App, The PLUG There's a lot of things on the interwebs I could write about today: the new Jay Elec track, the new Freddie Gibbs albums, boobs. But everyone else on the interwebs is already writing about the same thing. 

Instead, I'm going to keep things completely in-house and tackle a comment a citizen of RefinedHype Nation made regarding Kendrick Lamar's (debatable) over-rated status. It's far from the first time I've read something like this, in fact I see it almost every day, and it feels like time I really fully addressed it. 

kendrick prob the most over rated rapper of the last 10 yrs, hes ok, he only stands out cuz of how terrible the rest of the rap game has gotten. He looks great compared to Migos n Keef, but put him up w Pac, L, Pun, Nas, Big, that era, and hes total garbage. So you gotta think a lil, know what I mean. - Bmore Snipaz via "Best 3 Album Stretch

First, let me say that I see where Bmore is coming from (or at least I think I do, he can let me know in the comments) and in some respects I agree. We not only live in the era of the immediate, but the era of polarized opinions THIS IS THE FUNNIEST VIDEO EVER YOU HAVE TO WATCH IT NOW!!!

Distilling the world into 140 character tweets rewards over-reaction - who rewteets a carefully balanced and nuanced opinion? - and from the media to the average man, almost all of us have adopted that mentality. Albums are either classics or garbage 24 hours after they leak, and a week before they officially drop. Rappers are either the greatest of all-time, or the worst thing to ever happen to hip-hop, after their first mixtape.  

As a rapper who really broke through in 2012, Kendrick Lamar as a public figure was birthed into a world controlled by hypebeasts. Believe me, as someone who named their site RefinedHype, I feel you. "Control" was a culturally important song, but was it the greatest verse in the history of western civilization? Of course not. I'll argue for "GKMC" as a classic, but does that make "OD" an all-time great project? It does not. I can honestly say I've been listening to Kendrick since the early days, it wasn't always evident he was going to be a superstar. Far from it. In any professsion, it takes a lot of being bad, then average and then good before you can be great. And even then, no one's excellent literally 100% of the time (cough, cough). 

So yes, it's a wise move to discount the people who proclaim that Kendrick is a flawless God MC. But that fight to balance out the hype can be a slippery slope that can lead you to become a hip-hop Grinch, cold and lonely on top of the mountain with your heart three sizes too small. Really, thinking a good rapper is total trash because other people say he's great is just as reactionary and unfeeling/unfeeling as thinking a good rapper is great because other people say he's great. 

When I say that Kendrick Lamar is a great emcee, and on the whole properly-rated, that's not the product of a reaction. That's the product of sitting in my car in the parking lot because I don't want to get out until "Cartoons & Cereal" is over. Personal subjectivity means you might not even like this as much as I love it, but if you think it's garbage, I honestly don't think you're listening. (I'm also ready to argue that Gunplay's verse here is legitimatley, non-ironically excellent, but that's an argument for another time.)

House lick went down perfect

Two shots to the head he deserved it

I overheard it hit my bed with a bowl and remote control

Dark Wing Duck lost service

Mama said I'd better duck, she's nervous

I'm not going to delve into some complex argument for Kendrick's skill here, partly because that's a separate 27,000 word post, but mostly because I don't think the "over rated" talk is even really about Kendrick's skills specifically. It's more about the people who are doing the over-rating. Let me put it this way...

Because I have a compulsion that requires me to compare hip-hop and basketball, as an '80s baby Michael Jordan was everything to me, even as a Celtics fan. Not only was he obviously the best, he was the coolest. If my mom had let me shave my head and get a hoop earing at 10, I would have. So when the very first "Lebron is the next Jordan" rumblings started, I was Jim Harbaugh-level outraged. Part of that outrage was rooted in objective fact, but part of it was also rooted in my deep seeded belief that the guy I idolized growing up would always be better than the guy you're idolizing growing up. And so when I watched Lebron, I was more interested in pointing out his weak spots than anything; see, Jordan would have won that game

But then I had a bit of an epiphany. During the 2012 playoffs James averaged nearly 30 points, 10 rebounds, 6 assists and 2 steals per game, numbers so slap you in the face great it frankly made me feel dumb . Was I really going to miss appreciating someone who was obviously becoming one of the greats because I was so concerned with proving he wasn't the greatest? That'd be like turning down sex with Scarlett Johansson because she's not Rosa Acosta. (I'm really going off the analogy rails here.)

To bring it back to hip-hop, by no means do you have to think Kendrick Lamar is the GOAT, or even anywhere near it. But why is it so unthinkable that at least one young emcee in the 20 years since Nas dropped "Illmatic" could get into Nasir's ballpark? Did Rakim fans recoil when Nas' name began to come up in great lyricist conversations? Did Run-DMC fans recoil when Rakim's name started to join their ranks? Etc. Etc.

Or maybe bringing up those classic names is only going to antagonize you. Scratch that, it's actually the exact opposite of the point I'm going to make. Forget all of it. All the tweets from those proclaiming Kendrick a hip-hop God, the comment threads on rap websites, where Kendrick belongs on that mythical all-time chart. Forget it all. Go listen to Kendrick when you're alone, and as much as possible, block out everyone else's voices while you're listening, except for that one deep in your hip-hop loving heart that only cares about dopeness. 

I'm pretty sure if you do that, you'll discover an emcee that you still might not love, but certainly isn't "total garbage" when compared to the classics. I appreciate everyone holding it down for the increasingly-forgotten old school emcees who built this foundation, I try to do the same. At the same time if we don't recognize and support the next generation of deserving artists, hip-hop really will die, not because the rappers or music industry failed us, but because we left it for dead in the past and failed to carry it into the future. 

And that's really why I'm writing this. Not because I want to start yet another rap interwebs debate, but because I love hip-hop. I've literally devoted my life to hip-hop, and I can't think of anything sadder than missing out on everything the next generation has to offer because we were too busy fighting hypebeasts. When that happens, the hype wins. 

Don't let the hype win. 

Kendrick Lamar   Refinedhype

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