To say that Kendrick Lamar destroys Future on his remix of “Mask Off” would be both accurate and not really a competition. For one, Future mumbles drug-induced phrases I can’t understand unless I look up the lyrics, but my low opinion of Future is nothing new to readers.
Nonetheless, his song “Mask Off” from his self-titled record released earlier this year became a huge hit in the rap world after it became a meme due to the #MaskOffChallenge, one of those viral internet crazes involving people trying to rap the lyrics to “Mask Off” while someone else attempts the flute sample. Needless to say, I was really surprised to see that Kendrick Lamar added a verse for the remix, but after hearing what he had to say it made complete sense.
On his latest record, DAMN., Kendrick explored themes of humanity and contradiction—dealing with complex emotions and trying to be the best version of himself. When he released his last record, To Pimp A Butterfly, he thought he was inspiring people through his personal story about battling his inner-demons and learning to love yourself despite challenging political situations and systematic racism, yet instead he still received criticism, like the one he samples on DAMN., in which FOX News’ Geraldo Rivera said that he believes “hip-hop has done more damage for young African Americans than racism.”
Over the course of DAMN., we get to see Kendrick more as the mortal man than a god, an image one often feels when they’re on top of the rap game (Kanye West’s “I Am A God,” Drake’s “6 God,” Jay-Z’s “H.O.V.A.,” Nas’ “God’s Son,” Eminem’s “Rap God,” etc.). However, on the DAMN. track “GOD.” Kendrick talks about feeling what it might be like to be a god, but never calls himself one directly. On “HUMBLE.” and “LOYALTY.,” he questions how one can be known as the best rapper alive and still be humble about it (especially since humility isn’t really a tenet when it comes to rapping).
He continues to explore these themes on his verse for Future’s “Mask Off” remix, which kicks off by mentioning his prophetic persona: “I got a halo/I level up every time God say so… Ain’t no penny that I don’t touch/All my enemies bite on dust.” He then questions how “y’all let a conscious nigga go commercial, while only makin’ conscious albums?” Even though Kendrick’s records are considered “conscious rap,” a genre that had been considered outside of the most popular kinds of rap for some time until, well… Kendrick, he still sells higher than most rap artists (he is the G.O.A.T. after all). But being the greatest of all time doesn’t just mean that you excel on every track, though it is definitely the highest prerequisite.
Being the greatest of all time, the G.O.A.T., the king of rap, means that you’re not only the best at your craft, but that what you say denotes meaning and respect. Kendrick’s verse on “Mask Off” might just be another stellar verse ripe with braggadocio and post-DAMN. commentary, but it also acts as a sign of respect to the rest of the rap world. He might be a conscious rapper that still sells better than his more commercial contemporaries, but he’s not overly arrogant about his status—he’s very self aware (which is overtly evident by his verse here).
Kendrick Lamar appearing on Future’s “Mask Off” remix proves that he is as a part of the rap culture as he is above it. Here, he not only tips his hat to highly commercial contemporaries such as Future, but also adds his take on one of the most popular rap tracks of today. He’s called the best rapper alive, sometimes even the greatest of all time, but he’s still “one of us”—a voice both for and of the people. He’s a good king.