In this, our fifth installation of DDM, we’re going to drop two men in the ring and see what happens.
Typically, these are feminine affairs; it’s just so fun to imagine hair getting snatched and nails clawing into powdered cheeks. But Kanye West is the biggest diva in hip-hop, is he not? Sometimes he feels like a caricature of himself, showing up on talk shows, spouting ridiculousness and acting like an idiot and whatnot. And as we’ve professed before, West Coast emcee Kendrick Lamar is comin’ up quick and trying real hard (and seemingly succeeding) at becoming the next giant hip-hop star. So it’s no real surprise that West courted Lamar to open for him on his Yeezus tour, slated to restart at the Wells Fargo Center this week after some postponed dates.
We may have to adjust some of the metrics here for both genre and gender, but we’ll still score these tour co-headliners on the basis of five timeless, obviously scientific evaluative diva categories. Shall we begin?
Pretty sure Kendrick’s got this one on lock. Of course, this is a dramatic statement because hip-hop is very often about ‘hoodness (and that’s ‘hood, as in neighborhood). “The city”—urban concentrations of men, particularly of color—is regularly the source and inspiration for some of hip-hop’s biggest achievements. Rakim, Biggie, Ice Cube, Snoop—the Los Angeles southland and New York’s boroughs have both been the cradle of some of the biggest lyrical achievements in the genre. So when Mr. Lamar gave us good kid, m.A.A.d. city, and Compton was one of the primary characters, it was safe to say it was a ‘hood masterpiece. In contrast, West has souped up the sophistication of what it means to be ‘hood by simultaneously engaging U.S. ghettoes and European designers more than any other pop star in the game at the moment. Still, though, he’s always been such a pretty boy, with his polos, pastels and pout. Kendrick, therefore, takes Round One.
West: 2, Lamar: 5
This regular category is particularly relevant because of the heat we anticipate these emcees will bring to the microphone. Even though it’s one of those magically unquantifiable factors typically measured in our favorite female queens, fierceness is nonetheless a certain je ne sais quoi, as Kanye’s French friends would say, that’s often hard to put your finger on. Specifically, much shade is thrown from emcee to emcee about flow, delivery, hardness and authenticity. We’ll get to vocal chops shortly, but in the meantime, let’s subjectively evaluate the magic they’re each cultivating with their respective whole packages. Kanye loves that high-society thing that Jay Z did with Magna Carta and art worship, so he’s all about labels, even in leather sweatpants—which isn’t unwelcome in hip-hop; it’s kinda fun to see him rapping about Margiela and YSL. But Kendrick does it right, too, with his own sense of style, pulling off a short set like no other and keeping his fade cute and tight. Tough one here, but—perhaps a little regrettably—it looks like West wins this one.
West: 4, Lamar: 3
Obviously, everyone’s still gagging over Kendrick’s “Control” verse, and it’s often said that Kendrick’s guest spots overshadow a track’s primary artist, intentional or not. Let’s not sell Kanye short, but his talents lie somewhere in the purgatory of production tricks, wizardry and smart sample-shopping. There are absolutely some leveling runs from Watch the Throne and Yeezus, including some moments where he definitely sounds like he’s on the edge of sanity—a good place to be if you want your rhymes to sound extra venomous and potent. But that’s basically his number-one weapon, while Kendrick’s got both breath and versatility. He can be quick, slow, syrupy, hazy, empathetic, pompous, swagadocious, funny and poignant. Kanye’s looking a little woozy.
West: 3, Lamar: 5
SINGLES AND SALES
While KL’s second, good kid, has done exceedingly well, debuting at number-two on the Billboard charts and achieving platinum status, Kanye’s clearly got this one on lock. Yeezus debuted in the top chart spot, West’s seven albums into the game now, and, with the exception of 808s & Heartbreak, they’ve all been pretty well-received by fans and critics alike. College Dropout, now almost a decade old, is inarguably a hip-hop achievement. The elder statesman’s landed a few heavy, insurmountable blows in this category.
West: 4, Lamar: 2
Here’s where that magical X factor’s gonna come into play. And lately, anyone paying attention could see that Lamar’s stock is on the rise, while West just keeps sailing himself down the River Nutz. Going on a talk show and preaching about the eminence of your porn movie-making, reality-star fiance—in direct opposition to our distinguished, beloved First Lady—and claiming creative credit for some bullshit slippers? For real? Sit the hell down. Just stay on your grind, dude, because Kendrick Lamar is comin’ for you—and he’s lookin’ real virile. The old man’s stumblin’, and the youngblood’s arm’s getting raised. See ya, Kanye.
West: 3, Lamar: 4
West’s 16 to Lamar’s 19.
Sat., Nov. 16. 8pm. $36.50-$196.50. Wells Fargo Center, 3601 S. Broad St. 215.336.3600. wellsfargocenterphilly.com
PW's Music Issue 2014