In his treatise on military warfare, philosopher, general and military strategist Sun Tzu put forth some interesting advice that dynamic young rappers will find useful. Kendrick Lamar may be well-versed with the art of verse, but Tzu’s Art of War can give him an edge over his ilk, coming into 2017, and put him front-and-center in people’s minds.

With a strategic project release from K.Dot this month, hip-hop could be saving the best for last. And if Jay Z were to follow suit, it would be a fitting end to 2016 for fans of the genre. But all this is speculation at best, because there is no news from both camps on forthcoming album releases.

Planning – Evaluating his competitive position

In the context of warfare, perceptions differ from reality. Warfare is based on deception, says Tzu. When you’re near, you must make the enemy believe you’re far away, and vice-versa. Appear strong when you’re weak and weak when you’re strong.

Right now, the only rumors floating around suggest a collaboration between Lamar and J. Cole, which would be the bee’s knees. But there is no reality i.e. concrete information to pin down if he has completed a solo studio album. The perception, however, is that he needs to perhaps drop one as soon as he can. To Pimp a Butterfly came out in March 2015, and we’re looking at a nearly two-year break. In contrast, pretty much everyone else has had a release this year, from Drake, Gucci Mane, J. Cole, Talib Kweli and Belly to a full-set of December drops from the likes of John Legend, Childish Gambino, The Dream and Kid Cudi to Aaron Rose, Yasiin Bey, Trina, Curtiss King, T.I and Trev Rich.

After enemies have made their move, you can more easily assess the strengths and weaknesses of their strategy. In warfare, information is hard to come by, which is why it must be strategically gathered with a robust spy system. In contrast, Lamar knows everyone’s stance and the current hip-hop landscape as it has been shaped this year by artists across a spectrum of genres. The information is out there, giving him the upper hand and the opportunity to drop something bigger, better and different from the rest.

Launching the attack – Going head-to-head versus stealing the show

Lamar’s arch rival Drake released his fourth studio album Views in April this year. He promoted the album with the single Summer Sixteen in January. His next album More Life is scheduled for early 2017. Backed by consistent work, its advantage Drizzy for the moment.

The Art of War cautions against creating too much conflict that can increase the cost of competition and affect the overall outcome. Already, shots have been fired by Drake this year – though indirectly. He recently dissed Jay Z, Kanye West and Meek Mill, but more surprisingly, also trained some of his wrath towards President Obama for picking Kendrick’s album over his. Lamar can avenge the insult in three ways:

  • With not-so-subtle digs that J.Cole reserved for Kanye recently.
  • Go head-to-head in the way Meek Mill and Drake went after each other, continuing a beef that had been gathering momentum since 2015. Lamar has previously called out Drake for his childish antics and doublespeak post the Control verse controversy.
  • Steal Champagne Papi’s thunder with an album drop, throwing him off course and forcing him to push back his project.

Option 3 would be ideal because Drake has commented on Lamar’s ability to put out albums consistently. The insinuation that – though Lamar is undoubtedly talented but not prolific – Drake has cleverly shifted the conversation to Lamar’s fragility, while buttressing his own image. The payback could be a smash hit album that erases doubts about Lamar’s consistency and reinforces his virtuosity.

Turning the direction of the Atlanta Trap force

This has been a solid year for Atlanta Trap rappers, with the likes of Gucci Mane and Mike WiLL Made-It dominating airwaves. Rap fans can do with a fresh dose of conscious hip-hop – which has never been more important than it is right now with everything that’s going on in the United States and the world. This deliverance can come from Lamar, Common, Talib Kweli and J. Cole, who have steered conversations in the right direction and empowered youth to participate in civil society and political life. For Lamar in particular, an album drop is the opportunity to follow-up the brilliantly executed Alright and announce his ascendancy to the hip-hop throne.