It’s something of a sport in hip-hop culture to have the insight into which artists are going to do great things. Of course, no one can outright predict an artist’s career trajectory, but the more one listens to and internalizes the greatest offerings to hip-hop, the more equipped one is to recognize traits that, given the right opportunity, could produce the next icon.
In a recent interview with Kendrick Lamar conducted by Dave Chappelle, Chappelle ends the interview by telling Kendrick he was first put on to his music years ago by none other than the artist formerly known as Mos Def, Yasiin Bey.
As a matter of fact, the first time I heard about you was through Mos [Def], who told me years ago, "You've got to watch this kid."
While Dave doesn’t specify how many years ago, given Mos' vast knowledge of hip-hop and music in general, I wouldn’t be surprised if Mos was up on Kendrick before many of us even knew his original stage name was K. Dot.
Kendrick also revealed to Dave that Mos gave him “a lot of game early on,” which is certainly intriguing, but what really got me is the last line of the interview. Chappelle states, “He said to me that you're the one. Turns out he was right.”
Again, we don’t know how long ago a hip Mos hit up Dave with his grand appointment about Kendrick, but it was presented to Kendrick in a way that implies it was well before he reached anywhere near the heights he’s attained today. Mos Def clearly saw the same thing that many of us have seen during Kendrick’s rise to stardom, and pinpointed him as “the one.”
Describing the essence that leads an artist to become a voice for their generation is enough for 1,000 think-pieces that still won’t hit the nail on the head. All we know is that every once in a while an artist comes along that seems indescribably special. There are minds like Mos’ and storied star-scouters like Dr. Dre and Kanye West, however, who have managed to pluck probable greatness from a sea of voices.
When it comes to hip-hop icons, there’s a magical gumbo of ability, timing, and circumstance that allow one individual expression of the culture to stand out among the multiverse of possibilities, and the fact that Mos Def was able to pinpoint that happening before it fully arrived is a testament to his understanding of what makes someone great.
How Mos Def, or anyone else for that matter, is able to predict things like this, I’ll never understand—it’s why I’m not an A&R. All I know is I’m glad they exist, and I’m certainly glad Mos was right this time.