2015 was the year that both Drake and Kendrick Lamar reached the next level of their careers, and the year that the difference between them as artists came into distinct focus. In 2015 Drake truly announced his intentions to become a global icon, the once-in-a-generation superstar of his generation, a status that can only be reached by steering clear of any real controversy and making his music as universal as possible.
By contrast, in 2015 Kendrick Lamar doubled down in the opposite direction. This was the year he made it clear that he was dedicated to becoming a leader, a voice for his people, even if becoming that meant some people wouldn't understand his voice, even if it meant a adding some real weight onto his shoulders. And those aren't words I'm placing in his mouth, those are words he wrote himself as part of his essay for the latest edition of XXL:
"I know I’m chosen. I know I’m a favorite. I know in my heart there’s a whole other energy and leadership side of me that I have probably run from my whole life. How much power do I want? How much can I handle? That’s the question I keep asking myself. ’Cause when you are a voice for the youth, nothing can stop you. The youth is what changes things. Can I lead that? Should I? I get confused because people are championing me to be that vocal point and it’s a challenge for me to be that because I have some fear of that type of power. This goes back to me being who I naturally am or who think that I am now, that 28-year-old kid that’s kind’ve a recluse. But 28 is old enough for me to figure out who I am and have that power at the same time, that’s the battle and it’s a trip.”
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So while we'll continue to debate Kendrick's rank in the hip-hop's never-ending GOAT debate and argue about where To Pimp a Butterfly belongs in end of the year lists, let's take a moment to acknowledge that we're witnessing a young artist with influence and power truly embracing his role as a leader and role model, a role that so many celebrities actively run from. Between Kendrick, J. Cole, Chance the Rapper and more, hip-hop's regaining some of his power as revolutionary force, let's make sure we take a moment to applaud and support the artists fighting the good fight.
And Drake? He can provide some fun music to party too once the revolution is won.
The issue of XXL featuring Kendrick's full essay hits newstands on December 22. In the meantime, you can read more exceprts here.
[By Nathan S, the managing editor of DJBooth and a hip-hop writer. His beard is awesome. This is his Twitter.]