Hold on, we’re cyphering about you. When Kendrick Lamar’s searing verse on Big Sean’s “Control” showed up in August to give rap nerds something to debate, its stylistic conservatism gave it something of a hollow ring. Why? Well, the biggest rapper around right now, Drake, had just transcended New York-centric boom bap entirely by releasing “Hold On, We’re Going Home” from his then-upcoming album Nothing Was the Same.
Now, Lamar is taking aim at Drake. In the below clip from the great good kid, M.A.A.D. city rapper’s verse for the BET Hip-Hop Awards — taped in late September but airing on October 15 — Lamar can be seen saying, “Yeah, and nothing’s been the same since they dropped ‘Control’ / And they tucked a sensitive rapper back in his pajama clothes.” The full video isn’t here yet, but the mere fact Lamar is going after Drake in this way shows Drake has already won.
That’s just the way it works: If you’re not moving forward, you’re dying. If you’re responding to someone else, you’re losing. The rappers who reacted to “Control” with lame replies rather than starting new conversations of their own only proved Lamar’s original point. And now Lamar reacting to Drake by pointing to his own previous hit just demonstrates that this sensitive rapper in his ridiculous clothes is, like it or not, the guy to beat.
Because Lamar’s entry in BET’s annual cyphers does, in fact, come as a reaction to Drake. The former child actor was originally dismissive but polite about “Control,” telling Billboard the verse was “ambitious” but didn’t affect his day: “I know good and well that Kendrick’s not murdering me, at all, in any platform,” he said. Closer to the BET show, though, Drake took a slightly harsher tone in an interview at New York University, criticizing the verse as “halfway.” He went on:
“Are you listening to it (‘Control’) now? At this point? I can’t wait to see what he does because now it’s time to show and prove consistency. It’s been, like, one album. Consistency is make more than one album. I look forward to seeing what he does. He’s super fucking talented. When it comes to competition, I’m more worried about consistency, about bodies of work. I’m talking about hit records, that’s Kanye West. He’s always going to be the guy who’s trying to out-think and outdo. That’s my guy that I aspire to surpass.”
The way to beat Drake, then, isn’t to dis him in an awards-show cypher, no matter how great that cypher turns out to be when we have the full thing. Especially not by referring back to your previous song. The way to beat Drake, like the way to beat Kanye West, is to keep putting out albums worth discussing, including some songs everybody knows and a lot of people love. You probably already know Drake has the No. 1 album in the country right now. But guess what’s the No. 1 R&P/hip-hop song? According to Billboard, it’s “Hold On, We’re Going Home.”
Then again, Drake might be taking the wrong lessons from his healthy sense of competition with West. Sure, Kanye is evidently buddies with Miley Cyrus, who in some circles has been heavily criticized, and we’re still awaiting the pair’s seemingly legit “Black Skinheads” remix together. But there’s really no comparison between Cyrus and Chris Brown in terms of pop pariahs — Brown, by almost all accounts, deserves it. And yet Breezy has posted on Facebook, “Hangin with Drake in the studio.” This, only a little more than a year after Drake and Brown’s infamous nightclub brawl. Maybe we all really can just get along. There’s officially hope for Congress, Syria, and dogs and cats living together.