Kendrick Lamar did not release an album in 2013. He put out three singles from his 2012 album that was hailed as an “instant classic” by people who think classics can be instant, and had many verses featured on songs by artists such as Miguel, J. Cole and Big Sean. Thusly, men’s interest magazine Gentlemen’s Quarterly named him “Rapper of the Year” and interviewed him in their “Men of the Year” issue, alongside some other white men. When the 2000-word feature with white freelance writer Stephen Marsh came out online, most hip hop websites covered the event with a picture of Lamar on the cover and some choice quotes from the feature. Nearly all of the pulled quotes were either about the vision of Tupac Shakur that Lamar recounts in the piece, the strained indifference to Drake he keeps perpetuating or the avoidance of talking about an alleged confrontation with Diddy. The official Top Dog Entertainment Twitter account tweeted out a link to the article.
Four days go by, and the CEO of Lamar’s TDE record label, Anthony “Top Dog” Kiffith, released a statement outlining his problems with the article and stated them as reasons for pulling Lamar out of a party celebrating the magazine. Kiffith said GQ put him and his company in a “negative light,” and “focused on what most people would see as drama or bs [sic].” He said, “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.” Kiffith didn’t mention it in the statement, but the story compared him and his label to Suge Knight and Death Row Records, respectively. That might be an unfair comparison, but TDE is a successful West Coast rap record label, and very few GQ readers are familiar with J. Prince. Not to mention, Kiffith made that exact same comparison in August.
Kiffith pointed to one quote from the article in which Marsh says that he is “surprised by their discipline.” A white man being surprised at a black man’s discipline is certainly not without the “racial overtones” Kiffith accused GQ of having, but the “discipline” quote is contextualized within a conversation with Kiffith himself and by Marsh pointing out that Lamar doesn’t drink, smoke or “so much as glance at the many, many girls around him.” Further, Kiffith’s statement ends with this sentence: “Our reputation, work ethic, and product is something that we guard with our lives.”
This is right on the crossroads of a major publication writing about a black man with a condescending tone, and someone becoming successful enough to no longer control how they are perceived. Somewhere right next to Kanye. Kiffith mentioned in his press release, “ We would expect more from a publication with the stature and reputation that GQ has.” I’m not sure how much he actually reads GQ.
The Atlantic published an article today (by a white guy) which agreed with the claims made by Kiffith. Its main point was to say it’s unfortunate that publications like GQ or The Atlantic have to write about rap from an outsider’s perspective with dated and broad references. The problem is it won’t change with that knowledge alone. These popular magazines are in fact outsiders to rap. The magazines that aren’t outsiders to rap are either going out of business or becoming content mills on the internet.
When the original Lamar interview hit the ‘net, popular hip hop website Rap Radar made this post which included the phrase “Suit & Tie.” like an Instagram caption and a weirdly out-of-place Rakim reference. The author of the post said on Twitter, “[Kendrick Lamar] on the cover of GQ solidifies his celebrity. If you didn’t know it before, you now know dude is a legit star.” When Kiffith’s statement came out days later, Rap Radar posted this with a new caption: “Cultural Tourism.” The writer again took to Twitter to say, “I was hoping [GQ] had a qualified hip-hop writer for [Kendrick Lamar] feature. So much for that. #CulturalTourism” There were no objections to the GQ piece on any rap website before Kiffith’s statement. Such is the state of Hip Hop Journalism.
Kendrick Lamar stood to gain exposure and GQ stood to gain credence from the article. Once it came out, the parts having to do with drama and bullshit were covered by hip hop publications. Lamar’s boss got mad that the article featured drama and bullshit. Hip hop publications covered this new drama and bullshit surrounding the article. Everyone got paid. And we still don’t even know what Kendrick Lamar thinks of all this.