I love Michael Eric Dyson, but his analysis of Kendrick versus Drake is way off

OPINION: Michael Eric Dyson went on "The Breakfast Club" and said some things comparing Drake to Tupac that just don't sit right with my spirit.

(L-R) Drake (Photo by Amy Sussman/Getty Images); Kendrick Lamar (Photo by Christopher Polk/Getty Images)

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

I love Michael Eric Dyson like an uncle. He’s been a real friend for many years, but when he goes on “The Breakfast Club” and says blasphemous stuff about hip-hop, I gotta pull out my sword and go to work. I just texted him and told him what I was about to do here. He gets it. In academia, they show each other respect by attacking each other’s ideas. So this should be what he’s used to.

Dyson has thought and written a lot about hip-hop — he’s done books on Tupac and Jay-Z — and he genuinely loves the culture. But we all make mental mistakes sometimes, even when we’re one of the great public intellectuals of our time. 

Dyson went on “The Breakfast Club” and said, “I think Kendrick Lamar, in many ways, is Pac as he was.” Fine. OK. “Drake and J Cole is Pac as he could’ve been.” I just vomited in my mouth. “And that’s the clash.” What the what?

First off, funk your girl and the clique you claim. I’m just playing with the first part — I love Dyson’s wife Marcia; she’s a truly wonderful person — but I had to actually invoke Pac and the spirit of battling to get into Dyson’s so-called analysis here. Dyson goes on to say Pac was one of the great intellectuals in the history of hip-hop — that’s true — and a more mature (i.e., older) Pac would say, “You ain’t got to kill everybody.” Huh? 

Dyson still thinks the battle springs from “First Person Shooter” and Cole saying there’s a big three as if this is all about Kendrick’s misplaced bravado. As if Kendrick’s main message is “How dare you say there’s a big three, I’m the sole great here!” I think we get a clue what’s really going on here when we look at “Euphoria,” where Kendrick says, “This ain’t been about critics, not about gimmicks, not about who’s the greatest. It’s always been about love and hate now let me tell you I’m the biggest hater …” He’s saying I hate Drake. This isn’t about who’s a better MC, this isn’t about the big three line. It’s that I hate Drake.

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This was never about “First Person Shooter.” Kendrick and Drake have been talking about each other in subliminals for over a decade. This battle been brewing. It stemmed from Kendrick’s longstanding disgust with who Drake is. Dot’s sense of hip-hop purity clearly clashes with Drizzy’s commercial rap cuteness. This is a sort of righteous war for the soul of hip-hop that Kendrick has wanted for a while.

But more than that, as I’ve discussed, Pac is a central character in this beef so to say his legacy is somehow shared by both Kendrick and Drake is a bizarre bothsidesism that makes my skin crawl. Kendrick is absolutely the heir to Pac’s legacy as a California-loving, revolutionary-spewing hyperauthentic MC. Drake, on the other hand, is nowhere near what Pac would’ve evolved into unless you see old Pac turning into old Elvis — fat and bedazzled and selling out his legacy in Vegas. My God, to say Pac would have become like Drake in any way is a fingernails-on-the-chalkboard sort of idea. Drake is the opposite of everything Pac was about. 

Pac was about Black liberation. His music was quite often political. He was an intellectual. He was commercially successful in spite of himself — he would’ve hated Drake and the whole idea of a pop rapper who’s focused on parties and women. The crux of the battle was that Kendrick is the heir to Pac’s throne while Drake is so pathetic at comprehending the nuances of African-American culture that he thought that using Tupac AI would be funny or clever. It was neither. Kendrick emerged in all of this as the defender of Pac and, with that, the defender of the soul of hip-hop. He’s the one saying, hey, you own Pac’s ring, that’s gross, I’ll pay any price to stop that and keep Pac from turning in his grave. Kendrick was saying while you have enough money to buy the culture, only I have enough harmony with the culture to create a Tupac-ish song. “Not Like Us” is a hyphy-inspired beat, it’s an Oakland-sounding record. Kendrick finished Drake off with a nod to Tupac’s adopted hometown. That’s how deeply in harmony he is with Pac and his legacy.

My God, if Pac had grown into his 50s and become like Drake, I would have to agree with Questlove that hip-hop is dead. But I do not agree with Quest that hip-hop is not dead. I need my man Professor Dyson to come back with some new ideas because the ideas you spat on “The Breakfast Club” were like the intellectual version of “The Heart Part 6” — something that I hope never to hear again.

Touré, theGrio.com

Touré is a host and Creative Director at theGrio. He is the host of Masters of the Game on theGrioTV. He is also the host and creator of the docuseries podcast “Being Black: The ’80s” and the animated show “Star Stories with Toure” which you can find at TheGrio.com/starstories. He is also the host of the podcast “Toure Show” and the podcast docuseries “Who Was Prince?” He is the author of eight books including the Prince biography Nothing Compares 2 U and the ebook The Ivy League Counterfeiter.

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