Who’s the King (currently)? Is it Drake, J Cole, JAY-Z, Nas, Royce da 5’9, Big K.R.I.T., Eminem, Chance the Rapper, Big Sean, Meek Mill or Vince Staples? Did I miss someone obvious?
Kendrick Lamar is king.
He's a combination of all things great. I'm not saying he is better than Jay, Nas, or Eminem at this point, but Kendrick currently is king because he embodies everything Hip Hop and transcends generations. Jay and Nas doesn't transcend to the youth (15-22) as much as Kendrick does currently.
It's not just Kendrick’s reach; the storytelling is as good as a Steven Spielberg or Ryan Coogler film and his attention to detail is as good as Lupe Fiasco. K dot’s freestyle game is pretty good as well, not King Los level (an elite level), but still admirable and more commendable for someone of his status because he is actually freestyling (rapping off the top of his head). Contrary to most rappers who have written and remembered their lyrics and are just reciting from memory, i.e. the last Drake “freestyle” Behind Barz.
Lamar is able to enter all rap circles without missing a beat. I hear a Drake fan somewhere, what about Drizzy? He's the most famous Hip Hop artist and a Top 3 artist in general between Beyoncé, Bruno Mars, and Drake. The Top 3 artists are arguable, but most would agree Drake is in the top 3 on most people’s list as far as current popularity.
So why isn't Drake king? A few things, number one he doesn't take any risk. Drake’s albums all follow the same formula outside of Views, which next to So Far Gone is his best effort. Sometimes art isn't received well at the time but appreciated after, see Jean-Michel Basquiat or XXXtentacion.
True artists take risk, one to challenge themselves and two because they are unable to channel the same vibe for a complete album twice. If the music is organic it's risky.
Two, Drake gets help writing lyrics. I think it is ridiculous to think Drake can't write. If he wasn't an artist he would be in demand like King Los or Cyhi da Prince as a Hip Hop writer and could be one of the best r&b writers of this generation. Though to be considered on the Mount Rushmore of rap you must write your own rhymes, all the time.
Many artists, including Nas bounce ideas but stealing a whole verse(s) is different. Drake also has been known to steal flows, from XXXtentacion, Young Thug, D.R.A.M. and others. Originality is key in hip hop to be considered the king. Drake’s out.
“My first album no guest appearances, the outcome, I’m crowned the best lyricist” - Nas
J. Cole is Kendrick’s closest competitor. The glaring difference is the consistency with albums. All of J Cole albums have been good with a couple classics. Every single album Kendrick has put out has been considered a classic among numerous music critics.
J Cole still has an impressive resume, even more impressive he's had no features on his last 3 albums and they have all been #1 on the Billboard 200. A strategy and/or challenge he took from the aforementioned Nas lyric. Also, Cole produces the majority of his beats. J. Cole is a true talent and definitely makes the argument difficult.
Kendrick cannot be beat, it's a reason there was no response from the top rappers called out on “Control.” They didn't want that smoke. They know Lamar will annihilate them. I was surprised Drake responded to Pusha T, he was a Clipse’s fan and should know how strategic and lyrically gifted Pusha is, but if that was Kendrick, Drake’s loss would be even more magnified, because of Lamar’s popularity.
Arguably, JAY-Z had the crown for a very long time, Kendrick is now on leading the Mount Rushmore of Hip Hop for current active artist. He can have a song so complex and introspective like “How Much A Dollar Cost,” but still have a club/radio hit like “King’s Dead,” a song about love entitled “Love” and a song related to and named “Fear.”
Kendrick Lamar is able to be this multifaceted and still remain authentic. It's an attribute few can achieve, it was one of the late Tupac Shakur. King of Rap is like the NBA MVP. It's the best for the current time/season, no sane person believes James Harden is better than Lebron James. When it is all said and done Kendrick maybe the greatest of all time but for now he is the reigning King.