“Grand opening, grand closing
God damn, your man Hov cracked the can open again
Who you gon’ find doper than him with no pen
Just draw off inspiration
Soon you gon’ see you can’t replace him
With cheap imitations for these generations…

– Jay-Z, Encore

Even after Jay-Z’s first “official” retirement, these lyrics remained true.

For seven summers, he released multiple hits and classic material, giving his listeners the perfect balance of substance and entertainment in a way that no rapper after him has been able to replicate. During his 20-plus year career, there have been a handful of artists worthy of accepting the “torch”, but they were always missing something.

Eminem was present, but his output, as well as the quality of music he’s released recently, has declined as it has been able to line up with the times of evolvement. During the mid-to-late 2000’s, Lil’ Wayne also made a strong case for the best rapper alive; his delivery, punch lines and metaphors were second-to-none, but a large part of his music lacked the content needed to propel him past the other Mr. Carter. One can say that Drake has been the closest to Jay in terms of his consistency; even though he’s an amazing lyricist, many say that he’s shifted his sound more towards the pop genre and has focused less on music with the traditional hip-hop feel. Out of all the people who have touched the microphone since Reasonable Doubt; Hov has found the first suitable successor… and he goes by the name of Kendrick Lamar.

At the 60th Annual Grammy Awards, Jay-Z had a total of eight nominations, which led all artists. Unfortunately, he lost all categories that he was up for; four of which were awarded to Kendrick Lamar. This year’s Grammys was supposed to be Mr. Carter’s “swan song”, but I viewed it as an unofficial changing of the guard. That evening, Kendrick took home awards for “Best Rap Album”, “Best Rap Song”, “Best Rap Performance” and “Best Rap/Song Collaboration”, with Rihanna. All three of his studio releases have received high praise from fans and critics alike, as well as staying true to his craft. However, what sets him apart from his contemporaries (J. Cole, Drake), is his ability to merge lyricism with popular music, on top of receiving acclaim from those award academies that have eluded our culture for so long.

Since the release of Section.80 in 2011, Kendrick has had a DAMN. near flawless discography. With each of his projects, he has pushed the envelope, but are we honestly ready to call him the new king? Jay-Z has flirted with retirement since his return to releasing solo music in 2006; and some feel that his decision to keep making records was by choice, not by chance.

On The Blueprint 3’s “A Star Is Born”, Hov, like a sovereignty with the arduous decision between a progeny of worthy successors, asserted lines such as “Wayne scorching, I’ll applaud him; If he keep going, pass the torch to him…” and “Drake’s up next, see what he do with it”. The song also featured an up-and-coming young rapper from Fayetteville, North Carolina with the mark of merit; J. Cole has amassed a cult-like following and is also considered arguably the best lyricist in the game, today. He, along with Kendrick have solidified their positions at the top of the game in recent years, but the disparity in their latest albums caused a slight shift in the “…who’s better?” conversation, for many.

Hip-hop has really evolved as a culture. Although it has many facets, it’s heartbeat is the music. The sounds of hip-hop that we enjoyed in our formative years molded a lot of us into the people that we are today, and for almost 20 years, Shawn Carter reigned as it’s Caesar. Next winter, he will be a 50-year-old, father of three, so this would be as good a time as any to make the transition into a new era in rap.

In my opinion, the integrity of hip-hop was never seriously in question; because with every mumble-rapper with low quality records, there were also lyricists and artists who protected the purity of the music with their lives. This amazing genre will continue to grow with each passing year, and with Kendrick Lamar, I feel that it is in good hands.

Until next time,

– Okla