Greatest rapper of this generation: Kendrick Lamar or J. Cole? | The Tylt
Greatest rapper of this generation: Kendrick Lamar or J. Cole?
Kendrick and Cole have mutual respect for each other as lyricists and emcees. So much so that they were reportedly working together on a collaborative album. Back in December 2016, while promoting his new album "Do What Thou Wilt," Ab-Soul told the Breakfast Club the acclaimed rappers were working on the album together following much speculation. These days we don't know if the joint album will ever really happen.
"I don’t really know too much about it. I just hope they use my verse.” When Charlemagne asked again if there was a Kendrick/Cole album, Ab-Soul confirmed, saying “There is a Kendrick/Cole album. They got it. They got something in the works. They been working on that motherfucker for awhile.”
But Kendrick and Cole's respect for each other might stem from how much they have in common. Both are socially-conscious rappers, both are really great lyricists, both were inspired by Rap Gods like Tupac, and both have inspired and connected with younger generations by spitting rhymes about the black experience and social issues. While this is a tough call—this debate must be settled. Who will go down in history as this generation's greatest emcee?
Kendrick's popularity and acclaim grow with each subsequent album. The master lyricist just released his fourth studio album, "DAMN," to critical acclaim and commercial success—resulting in his highest first-week sales ever. But many fans still call his previous album, "To Pimp a Butterfly," his magnum opus.
Having two albums competing for the title as your greatest isn't a bad problem to have. "To Pimp a Butterfly" took home a few Grammys, but not Album of the Year in 2016. A hard, but expected lost. The Grammys still struggle to properly honor hip-hop/rap music in the major, non-genre categories.
If it were simply up to the critics, Lamar's magnum opus, 'To Pimp a Butterfly,' would sweep Monday's ceremony, including a trophy for album of the year – one of the "Big Four" categories, and arguably the most prestigious since it rewards a complete work, as opposed to a lone song or perceived potential.
Listen to Kendrick's magnum opus, "To Pimp A Butterfly," below via Spotify.
Kendrick Lamar knew something the rest of us didn’t when he released 'The Heart Part 4' in March. “My spot is solidified if you ask me,” he raps, with unshakeable confidence behind his words. The loosie didn’t mark the first time the Compton lyricist—who hasn’t even reached his 30th birthday—has called himself the greatest rapper alive...
KL's rhymes can be smooth, but often times, he delivers an aggressive flow. Kendrick isn't just a storyteller, his voice and lyrics are his rally cry and he motivates his audience to be mindful of and take action on what's happening in the world around them. Kendrick's unapologetic, militant and revolutionary lyrics translate into anthems. He paints a picture of the harsh realities Black people face in America, where the liberation struggle continues.
Though he's been blasted—like many rappers—about the misogynoir in his lyrics, recent critiques have only brought more visibility to the complexity of being a Black feminist and hip-hop head (and those who are both and still believe KL is the greatest.) Still, Kendrick musically highlights the Black community's resilience in the face of struggle, but like he raps, "we gon' be alright!"
J. Cole has been killing the game for quite some time, but he proved he owned it with "2014 Forest Hills Drive." The album went double platinum without any features. "2014 Forest Hills Drive," like most of Cole's music, takes you on a personal journey. His music is so relatable—often times tackling social issues from his perspective and through the point-of-view of others. Cole delivers a smooth flow that clearly lays out a narrative, to the point that you can visualize it (or his rhymes simply take you there).
He doesn't necessarily call himself the greatest. But how can he not be? Then again, for Cole, it's not about winning a title or even living in the spotlight. He's made a conscious effort not to focus on fame. He's been focused on family; his art is secondary. He continues to use his personal experiences and the Black experience as the groundwork for his music. Heck, Cole won't even make any future diss tracks because he feels rap beefs tear black people down. To many, he holds the title of greatest rapper alive.
Listen to the chart-topping "2014 Forest Hills Drive" below via Spotify.
J. Cole followed up "2014 Forest Hills Drive" with two more chart-topping albums: "4 Your Eyez Only" and "KOD." The New York Times' Jon Caramanica wrote about "4 Your Eyez Only":
It also transformed him from a student of the great storytelling rappers to a teacher. That’s clearest on “False Prophets,” released separately just before the album (it wasn’t included because it disrupted the narrative), which found Mr. Cole diagnosing the neuroses of his peers and heroes without naming them, though the internet filled in the blanks quickly.
While The Guardian's Alexis Petridis gave "Kod" four out of five stars, writing:
KOD’s sound exists in a curious, appealing area somewhere between beatifically stoned and slightly unsettling. Motiv8 revolves around little more than an eerie keyboard figure and a disembodied cry of “get money” from Lil Kim’s guest appearance on the 1995 Junior MAFIA hit of the same title – ripped out of context, it sounds bleak and despairing – and there’s something really haunting about Photograph, with its delicate two-note guitar sample and a chorus whose vocal appears to be slightly out of step with the beat.