I wanted to have the freedom to post whatever I felt was dope with no authority micro-managing my ideas. I wanted to be that one writer where simply having the audacity to write more than 140 characters set me apart. I wanted competition, I truly did, but I was a bit whimsical about going out and finding it. I was a big fish in a very small pond, merely articulating the things people around me couldn't.
But it's bigger than that, much bigger.
I need people that will tear my work apart and speak up when something doesn't fit. That will be honest enough to understand that being respectfully checked is a good thing. I need to have more than "a few writers in my cipher," because sharing ideas is the only way to get better. I need competition. I need that sense of accountability seeing others in my lane (many who put me to shame, from content to the sheer size of a portfolio) penning original and thought-provoking content that rivals hip-hop magazines of the '90s.
From writing to sitting at the top of hip-hop's elite, competition is no longer just important to stay hungry, it's necessary for survival. Emcees may get away with deflecting competition, but the culture suffers.
Remember Hov and Nas’ back-and-forth? Although Nas Stans won't agree, the feud revamped his career (I still hate the “Hold Me Back” video) and cemented the two emcees as legendary. The production on "Ether" was sub-par, but Nas’ jabs were legendary. On the converse, "Takeover"…man, if you sample The Doors it will always be a win in my book. Luckily, their situation never spilled out on the streets, but something had to be said, something had to be done. Names were mentioned and two emcees competed. It was ugly, but it was hip-hop; perhaps not the best moment for them personally, but a great moment for this culture. Seldom do we see these moments when one of our favorite emcees seems to make time stand still, but when it does happen it's memorable. Over the past two years we’d be hard pressed to find a more sensational moment than a leaked song intended for Big Sean’s last album, Hall of Fame. Kendrick Lamar embodied everything that was hip-hop on the song, prompting a slew of, “Nah, no he didn’t” texts.
We’re still seeing remnants of Kendrick’s “Control” verse, with a recent couple bars from Drake on “Used To”:
“They gon’ say your name on them airwaves, They gon hit you up right after like it’s only rap.”
Drake is not Marlo, and Kendrick is not Omar; literally and figuratively. I applauded “Control” because it was a call to action. It’s cool to be friends, it’s cool to collaborate, but at the end of the day, who’s the best emcee? I knew exactly what his intentions were, but for some strange reason, the line “I’m here to murder you niggas” was taken seriously? Or was it just easier to deflect the jab by “assuming” Kendrick was taking it there? Even if he meant it, what kind of get-indicted-hotline stuff is that? To focus on that line and negate the next two lines, “Trying to make sure your core fans never heard of you niggas/ They dont want to hear not one more noun or verb from you niggas” is awful.
There’s no reason to conjure up some feud built off something that just isn't there; however there are numerous reasons to look at Kendrick’s verse as a fellow emcee - especially the ones he called out - and feel something for competition's sake.
In one verse Kendrick held the entire rap game accountable by showing love, but also reminding his fellow emcees that he wasn’t playing. He threw out a shot and with the exception of a few, there were no adequate responses. I remember waking up the next morning hopeful that at least someone would respond, but what could have been a bigger moment stayed in Kendrick’s hands. Maybe others took the line personally, maybe they were confused, but it was just a song; a song in my opinion aimed at shifting the culture.
Sadly, we have seen what rap “beef” does. It becomes confused, easily fed by third parties. It grows due to a lack of communication and when all is said and done, we look back like, “How did it ever get this bad?” We never got to see Big and Pac compete on a non-emotional playing field - well perhaps once at Madison Square Garden with the help of Big Daddy Kane - but just imagine it for a second. Of course, Big would do his thing, dancing around the beat with a horn player's bravado, while Pac spilled that passion that compelled listeners to feel exactly where he was coming from. As a culture we could have truly benefited from a meeting of the minds between those two, but egos and miscommunication prevailed.
So yes, it’s only rap. It doesn’t have to be getting run up on at a stoplight or ambushed in the studio. It can be an emcee saying, “Yes, I’m better than you, here’s why.” It can be calling someone out for being overly sensitive, prompting some sort of conversation. Walking on egg shells because someone gets overly emotional or insecure is not hip-hop. Competition inspires creativity, and creativity benefits everyone.
Looking at DJBooth alone, I’ve begun to see fellow writers putting down excellent work about this genre, a genre that means so much to me, and those articles are everything I need at this point. I don’t forsee a "Contol"-esque column anytime soon, but the idea of inspiring others to work harder is the fuel I need. I'm trying to make sure that they dont want to read not one more noun or verb from you writers.
[By Greg Stowers, Non Nobis Solum Nati Sumus. This is his Twitter.]