Anyone who is a fan of Hip Hop knows where they were August 12, 2013, when “Control” leaked. The song was an event, instantly spawning memes on Twitter and responses from people inside and outside of the Hip Hop world alike. What elevated the track from being just a good song that didn’t make Big Sean’s album because of sample clearance issues, to somewhat of a landmark moment, was Kendrick Lamar’s name dropping of several other relevant rappers: J. Cole, Big K.R.I.T., Wale, Pusha T, Meek Mill, A$AP Rocky, Drake, Big Sean, Jay Electronica, Tyler, the Creator, Mac Miller — no one was spared. But, other parts of the song (including two other verses), became quickly overshadowed by the wrath of K.Dot. One year later, we’re looking back at “Control” in its entirety, highlighting five lesser discussed merits of the song.
The No I.D. Beat
The first thing heard when listening to “Control” is the high pitch vocal sample, “El Pueblo Unido Jamás Será Vencido,” over an ominous anticipation-building keyboard before the drums come in. The sample somewhat ironically translates to “The people united will never be defeated,” however, the phrase is rather fitting, considering its roots as a Chilean protest song. Sean, Kendrick, and Jay’s verses are credited with making lyricism a relevant talking point in Hip Hop again, but No I.D.’s production also aimed to address lesser confronted artistic points in Hip Hop. “I had a conversation with Sean towards the end of his album,” No I.D. said in an interview with Complex. “I told him, I felt like he needed to do some straight, hardcore Hip Hop records. Sometimes we focus so much on selling records that we leave some artistic points uncovered.” No I.D. also said that the beat was originally made for Jay Z, and that “it wasn’t intended to be a full song.”
Big Sean’s Verse
Big Sean has gone on record multiple times saying that he did not re-record his verse after hearing Kendrick’s. Full of quotables, his verse holds its own, and even has some gems that are made greater considering that they were recorded before Kendrick’s. “I’m one of the hottest because I flame drop, drop fire/And not because I’m name droppin’, Hall of Fame droppin,” has Big Sean delivering clever wordplay and braggadocio without rallying up his peers, as Kendrick did. There are other instances of wordplay throughout (You gon’ get this Rain like it’s may weather/ Got up in the game won’t look back at my old seats), as Sean steadily and effectively creates a crescendoing calm before the storm.
Jay Electronica’s Verse
When asked on Twitter to rank the “Control” verses, Jay Electronica ranked his verse the highest, with Big Sean and Kendrick Lamar following, respectively. Kendrick “didn’t really say anything,” Jay Electronica tweeted, which shows that these comments may have been tongue in cheek. Regardless, Jay Electronica verses are like Detox: they’re hard to come by. But what they lack in quantity, they make up for in quality. Metaphors, Nation of Islam references, and a Hova name drop are all on the checklist for a Jay-E verse, and the appear here in full effect.
Every Other Part Of Kendrick’s Verse
Let’s not forgot that Kendrick’s verse also included 30+ bars that were just as impressive as the 8 that got everybody talking. Kendrick provokes Phil Jackson, compares himself to The Beatles, and pays respects to Tupac, Nas, Eminem, and Jay Z, all before the serious name dropping begins. Of course there’s the “king of New York” line, which was first said by Kendrick’s “big brother” Kurupt on Terrace Martin’s 2011 “Get Bizy,” which featured Lamar (“I’m important like the Pope / I’m the king of New York / I’m live from South Central / I’m a Muslim on pork.”). Not to mention the imagery and flow brought forth in the last lines. Kendrick implores others to reach the bar he just rose, but ensures them that they’d have no greater chance than if they were using a condom as a parachute after jumping out of an airplane piloted by their drunk, Tupac-listening, grandfather. That’s a challenge, and Kendrick may still be waiting for someone to take it on.
There Is No Chorus Or Hook
When was the last time three artists spit verses back to back with no chorus in between and created an unparalleled amount of buzz? In a climate where popular, radio-friendly Hip Hop music is driven by fancy hooks and choruses, Big Sean, Kendrick Lamar, and Jay Electronica rely solely on their lyricism, which keeps the listener’s attention for seven and a half minutes, and lends itself to feats such as gaining a 510% increase in Twitter followers. Prior to releasing “Control,” Big Sean tweeted that it was “not no radio shit,” and said it was “grimy,” perhaps perfect ways to describe it. The song’s title doesn’t refer to a repetitive lyric wedged between the verses, in fact the word “control” is never used in the song, but rather, it refers to what the three artists clearly established they had over the rap game.
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