A look back at Kendrick Lamar’s “Control” verse and its impact


Kendrick Lamar – Photo: Gaelle Beri/Redferns via Getty Images

Five years after Kendrick Lamar’s “Control” verse and it feels like we just stop talking about it. The verse was one of the most infamous hip-hop moments of that era, where literally every hip-hop-related conversation surrounded Kendrick Lamaris heartbreaking, upsetting, Infinity Stones– end verse. Maybe we’re going too far with the hyperbole, but the verse represents a major shift among the new breed of MCs. Friendships, support and courtesy between the biggest names in hip-hop (Duck, Kendrick Lamar, big-sean, Wale, A$AP Rocky) felt compromised when “Control” dropped. The “glad to be here” prospect of celebrating new success was definitely over, and the real competition in rap finally returned.

Listen to the best of Kendrick Lamar here.

As everyone focused on the tenacity of Kendrick’s verse, big-sean was the real composer behind the song. The Detroit rapper became GOOD Music’s prodigal talent after a year of jaw-dropping verses (“Mercy” by GOOD Music, “As Long As You Love Me” by Justin Bieber, “Burn” by Meek Mill) and an acclaimed mixtape by criticism (Detroit). The stars were aligning for her highly anticipated second album Hall of famean album that boasted a dream collaboration between Kid Cudi and Nas, No ID production, and of course, Kanye West’s co-signer. “Control”, unmistakably an album-worthy track with Kendrick Lamar and Jay Electronica, was omitted from the album due to sample permission issues. However, that didn’t stop the track from seeing the light of day. Determined to deliver “pure and simple rap shit” people, Sean gave the record to longtime purveyor of “hard-core rap shit,” HOT 97’s Funkmaster Flex. By 10:00 p.m. world.

From its first moments, “Control” sounds like a hip-hop epic in the vein of classics like “It’s All About The Benjamins” or “Ante Up.” The combativeness, the bravado and the intensity of the song recalled the lyrical inflections exchanged by JAY Z, DMX, Eminem, 50 cents, and Nas during the golden age of hip-hop. Big Sean and Jay Electronica contributed their best verses, but there’s no denying that Kendrick Lamar stole the show. The Compton MC crafted his verse with surgical precision and sent shockwaves through hip-hop. In the verse, he donned the “King of New York,” a profound statement as a West Coast MC and swept aside his hip-hop peers by name — 11 of them, in fact — and swore not only to assassinate them on the microphone but also for their fans to expose them too.

It was, without a doubt, a moment. Twitter was on fire, conversations stopped and all posts – from Complex and XXL at Huffington Post and USA today – reported it. Kendrick Lamar’s “Control” verse has become worthy of mainstream coverage:

“What Lamar has done is force the conversation to the forefront in a way that no other rapper has ever managed to do before.” (NPR)

“In an age where the third element of hip-hop leverages relationships (rather than breakdancing), and the fourth protects corporate partnerships (rather than graffiti), where there is no single dominant voice but rather a plethora of them, fighting for control of the narrative, Kendrick just centralized the discussion. His “Control” verse is a bold statement about who matters and who doesn’t.” (Complex)

“By warning everyone, Lamar cements his place not only as one of rap’s most gifted lyricists, but positions himself as an advocate for culture, inspiring his peers to try harder in their work.” (Huffington Post)

Big Sean was one of the first MCs to respond and was proud to be the mastermind behind the moment. “It’s what you have to go back to…It gave me a sense of what hip-hop was, what it was before,” Sean said. VIBE. Hip-hop veterans love JadakisProdigy, Raekwon, Diddy, Styles P and Pusha T echoes the sentiment.

But it also created waves in the industry. Nicki Minajabsent from Kendrick Lamar’s hit list, replied, “I’m the queen and king of New York…you better respect my muthaf — in gangsta bitch.” The verse also started a series of back and forth between Kendrick and Drake. “It felt like an ambitious thought to me,” Drake said. Billboard. “That’s all it was. I know damn well that Kendrick isn’t killing me at all, on any platform.” Joey Bada$$, Lupe Fiasco, Papoose, Joell Ortiz, Cassidy, King Los and many other MCs also entered the studio to fight back. Something in hip-hop, and everyone wanted to defend their crown.

Five years later, Kendrick Lamar’s statement on “Control” is still one of the greatest moments in recent hip-hop history. It was a career-defining performance, which propelled him to mainstream stardom and quickly made Kendrick rap’s most requested feature.

Listen to the best of Kendrick Lamar here.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in 2018.

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uDiscover Music is operated by Universal Music Group (UMG). Some recording artists included in uDiscover Music articles are affiliated with UMG.

For the latest music news and exclusive features, check out uDiscover music. uDiscover Music is operated by Universal Music Group (UMG). Some recording artists included in uDiscover Music articles are affiliated with UMG.

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