Drake’s Dilemma Could Make Him A Hip-Hop Hero

Drake is perched atop the Hip-Hop game right now; his musical Midas touch, dominant as ever. Nothing Was The Same, his third studio album, debuted at number one on Billboard’s Top 200 chart and sold close to 700,000 copies in its first week sporting four successful singles. It was the biggest splash a Hip-Hop album has made in its initial release since Lil Wayne’s Tha Carter IV in 2011. But, for every ounce of glory attached to the premiere position comes a chilling challenge.

Pusha T provoked Drake on The Dream-assisted single, “Exodus 23:1”. Chi-Town hall-of-fame candidate Common pitched curve-balls at Drizzy on his single, “Sweet” and a remix to “Stay Schemin'”. Even Ludacris shoved the Canadian all-star a bit on “Bada Boom”. But, Kendrick Lamar is another topic all together. Hip-Hop’s darling mentioned Drake, among others, on Big Sean’s “Control” sparking a debate among the fans as to who would prevail in a slug fest. Drake, however, responded listlessly in an interview with Angie Martinez on Hot 97’s airwaves when she suggested he enter a rap battle.

“I feel like those things are of the moment… I’d hold it down… I really do this as far as writing goes… and it would have to be warranted ’cause it would be scathing, the bars would be scathing. I can’t be the first one.”

Then, she mentions Kendrick’s attack to which he responded:

“It just wasn’t real to me. Like, I saw him after that and it was just like, love. So, it’s like, “was that real or was that just for the people?… Let it be real then because, you know, those were harsh words. Right? So, it’s like, you can’t just say that and then see me and be like, “Yeah, man! What’s up? Pretending like nothing ever happened. To me, that’s not the nature of battling. There’s passion behind it. There’s anger behind it, you know? And I personally enjoy making great music and bodies of work over being the talk of Twitter for five days.”

Lamar took the opportunity to address these words at the 2013 BET Hip-Hop Awards.

And nothin’ been the same since they dropped ‘Control’

And tucked the sensitive rapper back in his pajama clothes

Haha, jokes on you, high five, I’m bulletproof

Your shots will never penetrate

Pin a tail on the donkey, boy, you been a fake

The top two emcees in Hip-Hop are currently connected via competitive animosity – Drake, a trend-setter and trailblazer whose approach to Rap music stirred a settling pot, and Kendrick Lamar, a fierce lyrical herald with unanimous acclaim, are in position to wage a war of words. Some fans including Erykah Badu, strongly urge Drake to respond to Lamar’s jabs in Hip-Hop’s best interest. Seemingly, a duel between these two could rival the storied Jay-Z and Nas feud. Other fans see it as a necessary survival tool for the Canadian songsmith, as if his deference would cripple his empire similar to Ja Rule and his Murder, Inc label. It’s as if they forgot Drake’s subliminal responses to the aforementioned slights. Even though he has proven he can hold his own, the Hip-Hop nation forgets things rather quickly. But, the bottom line is Hip-Hop thrives off these situations. Competitive rivalries nurtured the culture since its birth. Therefore, when two elite stars in their prime cross paths in this playing field, every body’s a winner, fans and artists included. Since Drake and Kendrick represent this generation’s cream of the crop, if they keep things Hip-Hop by embracing one another with the pen, we’ll all rise to the top.

And that’s all everybody wants.

The public doesn’t care who’s camp is tougher. Nobody figures the two emcees for gangster rappers, anyhow – an important detail considering the culture’s maturity. Previously, fans would side with beefing emcees based on who they think would win an actual shootout rather than a battle. But, the top scores in the game today belong to lyricists and hipsters – Wale, J. Cole, Mac Miller, Macklemore, Wiz Khalifa, and so forth. Drake is known for his emotional expression and Kendrick for his poetic capacity; the two are pure artists, not street credible talents. Imagine two mainstream acts with every-man backgrounds vying for artistic supremacy. The battle would be Hip-Hop’s rite of passage, the advancement symbol it desperately thirsts for. The mafioso and gangster stereotypes would be pushed further into the background and this new era could usher in the next wave of urban craftsmen.

It’s the change we’ve all waited to see happen. And it’s all in Drake’s hands.


Eminem’s De-Evolution

Eminem, a.k.a. Marshall Mathers, a.k.a. Slim Shady, is the most feared lyricist on the planet. He has been since his milestone Marshall Mathers LP tsunami-ed through the airwaves and changed Hip-Hop forever. “Rap God, his latest single from The Marshall Mathers LP II, has reminded listeners just how fierce his mic skills remain. And although he set the Internet ablaze with the epic track, die-hard fans still agree, Em is just not the same caliber emcee we initially loved. The song, or perhaps Eminem as a writer, is still missing the “it” factor that wowed audiences into a frenzy. What exactly is he doing wrong?

Let’s look at his earlier, more acclaimed work and compare it with his contemporary writings.

“Lose Yourself” (Verse 1):

His palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy 

There’s vomit on his sweater already: mom’s spaghetti

He’s nervous, but on the surface he looks calm and ready

To drop bombs, but he keeps on forgetting

What he wrote down, the whole crowd goes so loud

He opens his mouth but the words won’t come out

He’s choking, how? Everybody’s joking now

The clock’s run out, time’s up, over – blaow!

Snap back to reality, oh! – there goes gravity Oh –

there goes Rabbit, he choked

He’s so mad, but he won’t

Give up that easy nope, he won’t have it He knows,

his whole back’s to these ropes

It don’t matter, he’s dope

He knows that, but he’s broke

He’s so stagnant, he knows

When he goes back to this mobile home,

 that’s when it’s Back to the lab again, yo,

this whole rhapsody He better go capture this moment

and hope it don’t pass him

It’s a pretty immaculate 16, isn’t it? His rhymes don’t sound forced. He doesn’t use a double time tempo to stretch corny metaphors or wordplay. Instead, he uses multiple compound rhyme schemes throughout the verse, a complicated technique only the finest lyricists employ, and flows succinctly with the instrumental. It’s efficient storytelling and technical prowess wrapped in a lyrical bow.

Now, let’s contrast that verse with later material.

“Cinderella Man” (Verse 1):

There’s a storm coming that the weatherman couldn’t predict

I start the bug, prick you better, flee cause I get ticked

It’s a wrap, I was down, when I was down, I was kicked,

I got up I’m back to punch you to the ground, you trick,

it’s a trap Fuck my last CD, the shit’s in my trash

I be god damned if another rapper gets in my ass

I hit the gas and I spit every rap as if it’s my last

You can die in the blink of an eye So bat your eyelashes,

and keep winking and blowing kisses Cause you’re flirting with death

I’m destroying your livelihood, I ain’t just hurting your rep

I catch a flow and get going, no remorse I’m showing Ain’t slowing for no one,

knowing there is nothing you can do about it

Zero in on the target like a marksman,

the target is you

I shut your lane down, took your spot, parked in it too

Arsenic flow, lighter fluid saliva: what can you do?

Go get your crew to hype you up stand behind you like “whoooo!”

That boy’s hot enough to melt Hell, burn Satan too

Fry his ass and put his ashes back together with glue

See you can hate em, he don’t blame you frankly he would too

This game could ill afford to lose him, how ’bout you? Now guess who?

He begins the verse with juvenile wordplay (the “bug…flee…ticked” lines) and doesn’t upgrade. He’s still using compound schemes but that’s the only credit he earns here. His flow lacks a natural cadence and the entire verse is uninspired and generic. The rest of the song follows suit. It’s enjoyable mostly due to the production and back-up vocals and it’s unusual that any song feature steals the spotlight from Em’s verses.

We’ll revisit another exceptional performance as an example.

“My Name Is” (Verse 3):

Stop the tape This kid needs to be locked away

Dr. Dre don’t just stand there, operate

I’m not ready to leave, it’s too scary to die

I’ll have to be carried inside the cemetery and buried alive

Am I coming or going, I can barely decide

I just drank a fifth of vodka, dare me to drive

All my life I was very deprived

I ain’t had a woman in years My palms too hairy to hide

Clothes ripped like the Incredible Hulk

I spit when I talk, I’ll fuck anything that walks

When I was little I used to get so hungry I would throw fits

How you gonna breastfeed me Mom, you ain’t got no tits!

I lay awake and strap myself in the bed

Put a bulletproof vest on and shoot myself in the head

I’m steaming mad And by the way, when you see my Dad

Tell him that I slit his throat in this dream I had

Slim ‘s sarcastic lyricism is top notch on “My Name Is”. His inflection is well choreographed with the Dr. Dre beat and his trademark multisyllabic patterns are creative and entertaining. He also uses assonance for added effect. “It’s too SCARY to die, I’ll have to be CARRIED inside the cemeTARY and BURIED alive…” The chorus, infamously catchy, and the production, a stripped down Labi Siffre sample, is but an afterthought in the wake of Eminem’s charisma and technique.

Let’s compare this performance with another lackluster effort.

“Fast Lane” (Verse 2):

Catch me in my Mercedes Bumping Ice Ice Baby

Screamin’ Shady til I die Like a half a pair of dice, life’s crazy

So I live it to the fullest til I’m Swayze

And you only live it once

So I’m thinking bout this nice, nice lady

Wait, don’t stop me now fore I get on a roll (Danish)

Let me tell you what this pretty little dame’s name is cause she’s kinda famous

And I hope that I don’t sound too heinous when I say this

Nicki Minaj But I wanna stick my penis in your anus

You morons think that I’m a genius

Really I belong inside a dang insane asylum

Came to drive them trailer parks crazy

I am back And I am razor-sharp, baby

And that’s back with a capital B with an exclamation mark

Maybe you should listen when I flip the linguistics

Cause I’mma rip this mystical slick shit

You don’t wanna become another victim or statistic of this shit

Cause after I spit the bullets I’mma treat these shell casings like a soccer ball

I’mma kick the ballistics So get this dick, I’mma live this

The beat’s engaging drums and blaring bass are combined with a hearty chorus that just pulls the listener’s ear. But, unfortunately, Eminem’s verses practically push it away. These sped up paces are him practicing quantity over quality. The quicker he raps, the more rhymes he can stuff within his verse. However, the substandard puns and repulsing banter leave the fans altogether detached. There’s also no imagination to the bars. It’s verbose, bland, and unsophisticated.

Measure this work against his material on the original “Bad Meets Evil”.

(Verse 1):

I don’t speak, I float in the air wrapped in a sheet

I’m not a real person, I’m a ghost trapped in a beat

I translate when my voice is read

through a seismograph And a noise is bred,

picked up and transmitted through Royce’s head

Trap him in his room, possess him and hoist his bed

’til the evilness flows through his blood like poisonous lead

Told him each one of his boys is dead

I asked him to come to the dark side, he made a choice and said…

(Verse 3)

Cause this is what happens when Bad meets Evil

And we hit the trees til we look like Vietnamese people

He’s Evil, and I’m Bad like Steve Seagal

Above the law cause I don’t agree with police either (Shit, me neither)

We ain’t eager to be legal

So please leave me with the keys to your Jeep Eagle

I breathe ether in three lethal amounts

While I stab myself in the knee with a diseased needle

Releasing rage on anybody in squeezing range

Cold enough to make the seasons change into freezing rain (He’s insane)

No I’m not, I just want to shoot up and I’m pissed off Cause I can’t find a decent vein…

(Verse 5)

I used to be a loudmouth, 

remember me? I’m the one who burned your house down,

well I’m out now

And this time I’m coming back to blow your house up

And I ain’t gon’ leave you a window to jump out of

Give me two fat tabs and three shrooms

And you won’t see me like fat people in steam rooms

And when I go to hell and I’m getting ready to leave

I’mma put air in a bag and charge people to breathe

Eminem exhibits astute lyricism and a self-assured flow in “Bad Meets Evil”. He’s humorous and his vernacular is technically impressive as he employs remarkable assonance in the second verse without altering his pace. It’s an ideal lyrical delivery that carefully carries the listener’s attention till its conclusion.

Lastly, we’ll examine “Rap God”.

(Verse 1):

But for me to rap like a computer must be in my genes
I got a laptop in my back pocket
My pen’ll go off when I half-cock it
Got a fat knot from that rap profit
Made a living and a killing off it
Ever since Bill Clinton was still in office
With Monica Lewinsky feeling on his nut-sack
I’m an MC still as honest
But as rude and as indecent as all hell
Syllables, killaholic (Kill ’em all with)
This slickety, gibbedy, hibbedy hip-hop
You don’t really wanna get into a pissing match with this rappidy rap
Packing a Mac in the back of the Ac, backpack rap crap, yep, yep, yackity-yak
Now at the exact same time
I attempt these lyrical acrobat stunts while I’m practicing that
I’ll still be able to break a motherfuckin’ table
Over the back of a couple of faggots and crack it in half
Only realized it was ironic I was signed to Aftermath after the fact
How could I not blow? All I do is drop F-bombs, feel my wrath of attack
Rappers are having a rough time period, here’s a maxipad
It’s actually disastrously bad for the wack
While I’m masterfully constructing this masterpiece as

It’s apparent Eminem emphasizes his performance (breath control, enunciation, tempo) over lyrical substance (metaphors, double entendres, punchlines, etc.) to make up for his apparent weaknesses. Aside from his blazing vocal dexterity, the song quality is average at best and the verses lose their appeal over time because his bars still lack personality, a characteristic that endeared him to the masses. It’s monotonous and vacant of any thought-provoking imagery or meaning.

Nevertheless, I do agree with Eminem. Although he can’t out-rap his former self, he can embarrass 99% of the game. So, he is in fact a Rap God. But, his production lately just reminds me how much I miss the old Eminem. He was funny, witty, sarcastic, and provocative; the kid from the wrong side of the tracks whose artistry inspired me. The trailblazing career he shared with his fans in the beginning designated his reputation utterly bulletproof. His winning streak from The Slim Shady LP to The Eminem Show is legendary. Practically everything he touched during that time period was platinum, literally and figuratively. (Actually, The Marshall Mathers LP went diamond). Not even the greatest of all time, Jay-Z, could match the genius behind Eminem’s penmanship. And on that note, I leave you with his finest hour: “Renegade”.

Related articles

It’s Not Radio’s Fault

A Hot 97 interview took a heated turn as B. Dot, an editor at RapRadar, insinuated radio personalities get paid to boost records. Whether or not you agree with him, it’s a common opinion among underground fans who argue mainstream music erodes the culture as DJ’s allow money to dictate their music rotations. The playing field became unfair and so the listeners and lesser known artists were left struggling. Ebro, the program director at HOT 97, before he spirals out of control, breaks down the mechanics at radio stations. There’s a formula based on song statistics that determines which music gets played to best maximize the radio station’s output. It has nothing to do with the DJ’s turning a profit by being selective.

It’s a subtle yet important moment for the culture. Hip-Hop fans pelt radio stations for their musical selection, but it ‘s rarely the DJ’s choice. In certain cases the music is hand-selected by the DJ. But, those are moments far removed from prime time slots. Mostly, the radio must appeal to the masses, the casual listeners, underground heads and everyone in-between. It’s not their fault some of your favorite artists don’t make music everyone enjoys or that fits the general audience. The reasons vary. Even still, there are many sites catered to damn near any playlist preference; as Ebro calls it, fragmentation, music siphons through different mediums these days. You can always find what you like somewhere else.

So, it’s time we hopped off radio’s back and stopped complaining about their selection. There’s much more involved in their operation than we know. And at least in the case of Hot 97, we can finally brush off the Payola rumors.

Here’s part 1: