A king can go in search of a land or a land can go in search of a king. The latter is what happened with Hip Hop.
Ever since Wonder Mike‘s next two words after leading what would become rap’s very first single with the lyrics, “I said a…” became the term that would name the genre, the form itself was, well, without form.
And the advantages were several; fluid music, all possibilities accepted, and lots of fun.
If there was anything close to a ruler in the early days, it would have been Slick Rick, the London-bred, Bronx representer of Jamaican heritage.
We now had a king.
Understand; part of what made Rakim’s coronation conclusive was how jarring a departure his sound was from what already existed.
Five Percent lyrics with a slow rap flow? Unheard of!
This era was fraught with contenders.
Slick Rick remained, LL Cool J had proceeded Rakim, and we would soon see the emergence of KRS-One and Big Daddy Kane.
Rakim’s last definitive act as king came with the song “Juice (Know the Ledge)“.
After that, Hip Hop went into a brief Period of Contention or POC, during which time group leads like Chuck D from Public Enemy, former NWAer Ice Cube, and emerging stars like Tupac Shakur, Redman, and CL Smooth all showed promise.
The crown however would be taken by a lanky young man from Long Beach, California named Snoop Doggy Dogg who, after staking his claim on “Deep Cover (187)“, confirmed himself on “Fuck Wit Dre Day” from Dr. Dre’s The Chronic album, all before dropping his own solo album.
Snoop held this crown until the Notorious BIG, who New Yorkers had prematurely crowned, left no doubt as to his status with the “One More Chance” remix.
Upon Biggie’s death, Hip Hop entered another POC, where the likes of Nas, and interesting newcomers like Eminem and Juvenile were all looked like possibles.
But it would be another skinny dude, Jay-Z, who confirmed what we all suspected when, after selling 5 million copies of that trash album Hard Knock Life, declared himself king with the knockout combo of “So Ghetto” and “Do it Again” from his S. Carter album.
Jay-Z’s reign was one of the longest and shrewdest that Hip Hop has ever seen, demonstrated by the fact that when newcomer 50 Cent seemed poised to reinvent the genre, Jay-Z pulled the equivalent of Napoleon stationing himself at Elba and, momentarily at least, retired, letting 50 run out of steam.
Hov’s last act as king was a relatively exhausted performance on the Watch the Throne album during which he was lapped on every track they shared by co-star Kanye West.
Amazingly, instead of making a definite statement to declare himself king, Kanye wandered, throwing Hip Hop into yet another POC, leaving newcomers like Drake, J. Cole, A$AP Rocky, Young Thug and even a couple grizzled vets like Brooklyn’s Fabolous and Gucci Mane looking like potentials.
That all ended when Kendrick Lamar spit that verse on Big Sean’s “Contol“.
The effect of that verse cannot be overstated. It was the equivalent of of a scene in The Godfather aptly called “The Baptism Murders“.
Kendrick’s good kid, m.A.A.D. city had been a more than promising debut, and if there were any doubters even after that “Control” verse, the fact that his sophomore album, To Pimp a Butterfly, is the best sophomore Hip Hop album ever, did more to shut mouths than cold weather.
This is where we are today.