TDE Vs. GQ: Hip-Hop Tastemakers And Journalists Weigh In


TDE’s disapproval of GQ’s Kendrick Lamar cover story and their boycott of the magazine’s 2013 Man Of The Year party remains as a hot topic in the hip-hop community. While many agree with Top Dawg’s stance, the debate rages on. In response to TDE’s official statement, GQ editor-in-chief, Jim Nelson has spoken out, but VIBE wanted to know how hip-hop influencers feel about the matter. Read both TDE and GQ’s official statements as well as commentary from the rap blogosphere below.

The official statement from TDE’s CEO Top Dawg reads as follows:

In 2004, I founded Top Dawg Entertainment (TDE) with the goal of providing a home for west coast artists and a platform for these artists to express themselves freely and to give their music to the world. From our beginning in 2005 with Jay Rock, to developing Kendrick Lamar, ScHoolboy Q, and Ab-Soul, to most recently singing Isaiah Rashad and SZA. We, as TDE, have always prided ourselves in doing everything with heart, honor, and respect.

This week, Kendrick Lamar was named one of GQ’s 2013 Men Of The Year, an honor that should have been celebrated as a milestone in his career and for the company. Instead, the story, written by Steve Marsh, put myself and my company in a negative light. Marsh’s story was more focused on what most people would see as drama or bs. To say he was “surprised at our discipline” is completely disrespectful. Instead of putting emphasis on the good that TDE has done for west coast music, and for hip hop as a whole, he spoke on what most people would consider whats wrong with Hip Hop music. Furthermore, Kendrick deserved to be accurately documented. The racial overtones, immediately reminded everyone of a time in hip-hop that was destroyed by violence, resulting in the loss of two of our biggest stars. We would expect more from a publication with the stature and reputation that GQ has. As a result of this misrepresentation, I pulled Kendrick from his performance at GQ’s annual Man Of The Year party Tuesday, November 12th.

While we think it’s a tremendous honor to be named as one of the Men Of The Year, these lazy comparisons and offensive suggestions are something we won’t tolerate. Our reputation, work ethic, and product is something that we guard with our lives.

GQ’s editor-in-chief Jim Nelson has since responded to Tiffith’s statement on GQ:

“Kendrick Lamar is one of the most talented new musicians to arrive on the scene in years. That’s the reason we chose to celebrate him, wrote an incredibly positive article declaring him the next King of Rap, and gave him our highest honor: putting him on the cover of our Men of the Year issue. I’m not sure how you can spin that into a bad thing, and I encourage anyone interested to read the story and see for themselves. We were mystified and sorely disappointed by Top Dawg’s decision to pull him at the last minute from the performance he had promised to give. The real shame is that people were deprived of the joy of seeing Kendrick perform live. I’m still a huge fan.”—Jim Nelson, GQ editor-in-chief

Read how the tastemakers and journalists from the hip-hop industry feel about the matter below:

“It read like a Hip-Hop outsider trying to explain this new movement to other Hip-Hop outsiders. Not intentionally malicious, but left unchecked could result in a lack of respect for how great TDE is managing their rise into mainstream media. I really loved them speaking out against what they felt was a misrepresentation of who they are and are trying to be…”

–Ebro, HOT97, Program Director

“I was surprised that TDE gave GQ such access to not only Kendrick but the label itself. The comparisons between TDE and Deathrow (i.e. Top Dawg & Suge Knight) make GQ seem misinformed about our culture. I’m proud that Top Dawg said something, too often we allow someone else whether it’s the media,or another person to create their own truth about who we are. TDE worked to hard, they’ve been in business since 97 and I don’t think people realize that. I don’t think GQ was being malicious, just lazy reporting.”

–Karen Civil,

“TDE is setting a new standard in hip-hop, musically and organizationally. They’ve already made their mark challenging how hip-hop is supposed to sound in 2013 and now they are challenging the media on how hip-hop should be covered. If these thoughts and ideas are never challenged, then the culture won’t grow. Whether you side with TDE or GQ, it should be a welcomed conversation.”

–Rob Markman, MTV News, Senior Hip-Hop Writer

“I think there were definitely a few unnecessary points made in that article about Kendrick Lamar and TDE’s rise to fame. However, we have to keep in mind that the more mainstream Hip-Hop becomes (a la Kendrick Lamar making it to the cover of “GQ”), the more we have to realize that Hip-Hop is subject to a ubiquitous level of misinterpretation. What was once so insular has now become widespread, and not everyone is going to understand the foundation of Rap and its current architects or the pioneers that preceded them. Do I think the writer’s remarks were racist? Not particularly. I think they came from a place of blatant misunderstanding about Hip-Hop, but this is all par for the course. This is what we (Hip-Hop) wanted, right? To be accepted by the greater public, flaws and all? If that’s the case then there will be individuals who will pen stories about Hip-Hop’s current genius minds and forget to bone up on 30+ years of Hip-Hop history. The more back and forth between TDE and GQ on this matter though, the sooner that wall will be rebuilt that Kendrick initially knocked down by reaching that magazine cover in the first place. “

– Kathy Iandoli,, Media Editor

“To be honest, while reading Kendrick’s feature those ‘racial overtones’ didn’t necessarily jump out at me. But then again, when I’m reading a piece like that i’m expecting it to be through the lens of a writer who’s peering into hip-hop culture and sometimes offering a general and maybe unoriginal connection to the past in order to paint a picture for an audience that might only be vaguely familiar with ‘the rapper of the year.’ its nothing new.

What’s new was Top Dawg reacting so strongly to it–I appreciate that and i think it says a lot about TDE’s movement and why they’re such a reputable force in hip-hop and pop culture, period. Now i’m curious to see if any writers might change their approach to covering rappers for publication like GQ. Maybe Top Dawg just gave them some food for thought!”

–Nadeska Alexis, RapFix Editor, MTV News

“I can see why Top Dawg may have perceived the GQ cover story to negatively have portrayed Kendrick Lamar and the TDE brand as a whole. Even though I understand his logic I feel like pulling K.Dot from the performance in which he was being honored as man of the year ( the only African American on the Issues multiple covers at that ) was not the best decision. If anything before or after the performance he could have expressed professionally what they stand for and why. All in all both parties made what they felt like was the best decisions for their respective platforms.”

–Quinelle Holder,, Content Manager

“When mainstream media reports on any niche culture–that includes hip-hop–things often get lost in translation. I have no idea what the GQ writer’s credential are, but this profile clearly reflects the perspective of a cultural tourist; someone with little affinity for the culture beyond stereotypes. I understand GQ’s target audience is not made up of hip-hop heads, but as someone who both writes frequently for mainstream audiences and loves hip-hop, I know for a fact that you can profile a rapper without pandering to him nor relying on antiquated notions (and outdated references to Death Row Records).

GQ is one of the few remaining media platforms with remarkable access that artists actually want to speak with. After all, when’s the last time Kendrick flew another magazine writer on his private jet?! With that level of power comes responsibility.”

–Sowmya Krishnamurthy, Journalist (Rolling Stone, MTV, VIBE)