Two years ago today, Detroit MC Big Sean released a song online that didn’t make his album Hall of Fame due to sample clearance issues.
Entitled “Control,” it was produced by award-winning music producer No I.D. and featured enigmatic lyricist Jay Electronica and up-and-coming Compton MC Kendrick Lamar.
But what was supposed to be a throwaway track for Big Sean’s fans to enjoy quickly turned into something way more profound than just that. Kendrick Lamar’s verse was so powerful and resonated with listeners worldwide so much that not only did many people forget “Control” was Big Sean’s song, but it marked a turning point in the direction that hip-hop had been moving.
“I’m important like the Pope, I’m a Muslim on pork / I’m Makaveli’s offspring, I’m the King of New York, King of the Coast, one hand, I juggle them both…” – Kendrick Lamar, “Control”
Between vivid, cutting allusions to the Vietnam War, Minister Louis Farrakhan, Black barber shop banter and a brilliant extended metaphor, Kendrick Lamar reminded hip-hop lovers and casual listeners alike of the things that made rap music so great for so long: Knowledge-filled bars, deft, poetic wordplay, and most of all, rhymes that made other emcees want to do their best or not perform at all.
Most notably, Kendrick called out virtually every other elite MC at the moment by name (“And that goes for Jermaine Cole, Big K.R.I.T., Wale, Pusha T, Meek Mill, A$AP Rocky, Drake, Big Sean, Jay Electron’, Tyler, Mac Miller”) and did it unapologetically.
Not only had Kendrick worked with all of the artists he named except for Tyler The Creator, but he did so with the intent of reminding them each of hip-hop’s competitive, “iron sharpens iron” nature.
Two years since Kendrick Lamar had MC’s seething and hip-hop lovers rejoicing on “Control,” hip-hop is seeing something of a renaissance. 2015 has seen a lot of great things happen for the peers Kendrick named in his verse:
- Wale has released another critically-acclaimed album and perform at the White House in front of President Barack Obama.
- Big Sean has released the best album of his career thus far in Dark Sky Paradise.
- J. Cole has released a critically-acclaimed and platinum album in 2014 Forest Hills Drive.
- Meek Mill has finally seen his first album Dreams & Nightmares go gold and has watched his second, Dreams Worth More Than Money debut as the #1 album on the Billboard charts.
- A$AP Rocky has released a stellar rock-influenced album in At. Long. Last. A$AP and had a feature role in Dope, the #1 film at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.
- Drake has released hit-after-hit and steadily evolved into one of the biggest stars in the world.
Whether Kendrick foresaw this or not, his verse on “Control” helped change the way many people, artists and listeners alike viewed rap music and hip-hop as a culture. And to his credit, Kendrick isn’t doing too bad, either.
Aside from commercial and critical success. Good Kid M.A.A.D. City has been hailed as a modern classic by many critics, and his sophomore release To Pimp A Butterfly has many exploring and loving Black music history all over again.
One bridge and sixteen bars was all it took to have people celebrating hip-hop all over again. Who will drop the next verse that will have us looking back two years from now?