Uneven Bars: Eminem, Kendrick Lamar, Lupe Fiasco And The New Rap Olympics

Kendrick Lamar’s TMZ debut didn’t come via a PCP overdose or struggle mugshot .

On August 13, 2013, when Kendrick Lamar’s grill first graced the Kardashian-obsessed gossip site, it was a vicious, three-minute lyrical display—peppered with some provocative name-dropping—that was the cause.

K Dot’s electrifying verse on Big Sean’s Hall Of Fame leftover “Control” is the peak of many 2013 moments—including some responses to Kendrick’s challenge—that represent a renewed worship of rap acrobatics. To listeners’ delight, GQ’s 2013 Man Of The Year has been eating high-profile collaborators like Cronuts all year—everyone from Jay Z to Pusha T to Young Jeezy has been turned to crumbs on young Kendrick’s handkerchief.

Of course there’s always been that blood-thirsty rap circuit, where the likes of Slaughterhouse and Jay Electronica joust over instrumentals without a solitary fuck given about radio play. But when you have Eminem—one of the most gargantuan rappers of our time—putting on a seminar of wordplay, flows and metaphors on his single “Rap God,” the concrete lid of the underground gets peeled up for the world at large to take a quick peek.

And thus, ratchet has taken a backseat to rappity rap, even beyond these here Internets. Suddenly, everyone wants to be the wittiest, wordiest, flowiest, what-the-fuckiest MC on the microphone.

The same day “Rap God” dropped, another lyrical Midwest MC Lupe Fiasco logged into his Twitter and stepped up to the plate, taunting, “…what’s a God to a non-believer again? Hahahah… Shots!” and “[Too] many best rappers…not enough best raps…” He even threatened to hijack the beat to “Rap God” before going back on his word, because “it’d be soooo not appreciated.”

Lupe has been defending his lyrical fortitude since “Control” first atom bombed the Internet, indirectly striking back at Kendrick on the esoteric “SLR 2,” on which a German impression of dictator Adolf Hitler is somehow seamlessly weaved into the lyrics. Then, on the epic tongue twister “Peace of Paper/Cup of Jayzus,” Fiasco riverdances all over a piano-laced beat, along the way directing a non-diss at Odd Future before imitating a likely Earl Sweatshirt response a couple of bars later. (Lu is quite the impressionist: He’d also tweeted spot-on responses to “Control” from other rappers’ perspectives.)

Rap is once again starting to feel more like a sport than a hand-holding singalong.

There’s a subplot to all of this: This brewing kinda-sorta passive-aggressive rivalry between Drake and Kendrick. Honestly, after listening to Em’s six minutes of magnificence, did you really want to emo out to “Wu-Tang Forever,” or did you replay the middle verse of “Control” to check if the proverbial bar had in fact been high jumped?

Melody will always reign supreme—people love to sing—but the rap game is all about honor. More so now than in recent years. Drake can clearly emote and slick talk with today’s best, but will 2013’s commencement of the new Rap Olympics force him to momentarily forget about platinum and go for gold? —John Kennedy