Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre and Game pass torch to Kendrick Lamar
East Coast hip-hop's line of succession is relatively clear: The Notorious B.I.G. branded himself the Black Frank White, lifting one of his many pseudonyms from the white iteration, the Christopher Walken-played anti-hero of "King of New York." The throne was relatively uncontested, even though you could rightfully argue that Nas and Method Man had a claim to the crown throughout the mid-'90s. And when Biggie died, Jay-Z snatched the diadem and has largely refused to cede control since then to any would-be inheritors.
The succession plan for L.A. hip-hop has always been a bit murkier. Less "Glorious Revolution," more "War of the Roses." So it goes when gangbanging was long one of our chief exports. The king of L.A. has always been a subjective matter, less readily discussed than its New York counterpart. The first rapper to put L.A. on the national map was Ice-T, whose "6 in the Mornin' " ushered in the first wave of gangsta rap in 1986. When "Straight Outta Compton" dropped two years later, it was clear that Ice Cube had consolidated his Jheri-curled reign.
In 1992, "The Chronic" dropped, introducing the world to the lazy drawl of lanky Snoop Dogg. He may have repped the LBC, but he appeared under the auspices of Dr. Dre, a kingmaker in his own right, but one more reputed for his production than for his mike skills (writing credits on the early Dre material go to the D.O.C., Snoop and Cube).
Few West Coast rappers mustered the sales to match Snoop between 1995 and 2005. 2Pac's "All Eyez on Me" and the album he recorded under the Makaveli pseudonym made him the most obvious candidate for King of L.A., but he was raised in Baltimore, New York and the Bay Area. Meanwhile, Dre dedicated his creative energies and invaluable co-sign to promoting mediocre Aftermath Records compilations and the multiplatinum efforts of Detroit's Eminem and New York's 50 Cent.
That changed with the introduction of the Game in 2004. The Compton-born rhymer had a monomaniacal desire to resuscitate the West, and three albums and roughly 10 million record sales later, he cemented his legacy as the inheritor of the Death Row/Aftermath lineage. His new album dropped Tuesday (finally).
But last Friday night at the Music Box Theatre, Game, Dre and Snoop held an investiture for Kendrick Lamar, the Dre-affiliated 24-year-old from Compton. You can watch the procession at the Smoking Section, where the trio do everything but cloak him in purple and hand him a jewel-encrusted scepter. Most invested parties had deemed Lamar the new king since the release of last month's "Section.80." Indeed, the record ranks as one of the year's finest and ended an interregnum that had found everyone from Blu to Bishop Lamont to Nipsey Hussle and Lamar's close kin Jay Rock clamoring for the distinction.
But the ball is now in Kendrick's court, with the co-signs of his canonized peers, press and rumors of a completed deal with Interscope. The only question is, can a smart, uncompromised rapper earn national radio play and go gold without having to change the style that got him there in the first place -- particularly in a commercial climate that favors the pop crossover? This remains to be seen. But don't bet against Jimmy Iovine staring wistfully at Bruno Mars' number on speed dial during the recording of Lamar's official Interscope debut.
-- Jeff Weiss
Picture: Kendrick Kendrick Lamar performs at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, this year Credit: Joey Maloney