Age of Lords /// Lil B as the Messiah
A serious analysis of modern rap.
Once, we lived in an age of kings. There was the king of basketball, Michael Jordan. There was the king of pop, Michael Jackson. There was the king of rap, first Biggie, then Jay-Z. The West Coast, which in my eyes is a different country, had its own kings, Tupac, then arguably Snoop. That was the 90s, the idyllic end of the second millennium.
What distinguished these kings, Jay-Z and Michael Jordan especially, was their role as unifiers. This is how kings traditionally arose in human history. There would be the rulers of smaller domains, the lords. The king would rise up from among them and bring all the others under his control.
Jay-Z was the last true king of hip-hop. He was the MVP on hip-hop’s most powerful label, Roc-A-Fella Records. When Roc-A-Fella cofounder Dame Dash and Jay linked up, that was huge. Dame was a Harlem dude and Jay-Z was a Brooklyn dude. That doesn’t happen, and it especially didn’t happen then, in 90s New York.
Think about ASAP Mob. They’re all from Harlem. When they did one song with Brooklyn’s Flatbush Zombies it was big. Jay and Dame built an empire together. They added soldiers from across the city and coast: Memphis Bleek from Brooklyn, N.O.R.E. from Queens, Beanie Sigel from Philadelphia. They had the Chicago producer on deck with Kanye. Jay even did a hit song, 1999’s “Big Pimpin’” with Southern Legends UGK — that was unheard of for a New York act. Jay was a hip-hop unifier, the last great one, whose reign, however brief, was undisputed and acknowledged on every coast.
But in the 2000s, New York City receded into fiefdoms. With Jay-Z’s “The Black Album” and first temporary retirement, he tried to stake a claim to becoming king absentia. However, the rise of New York power players Cam’ron and 50 Cent, as well as the dominance of Lil Wayne, Kanye, and Atlanta’s trifecta of Jeezy, Gucci and Tip, caused him to lose enough territory to lose the crown forever.
There is no king of New York City anymore. The city exists in a constant feudal state, with lords ruling over each domain. You can visit the various lords around the city, if you so choose. There’s ASAP Rocky and ASAP Ferg. There’s French Montana, somewhere in a penthouse. Joey Badass has his own territory out in Bed-Stuy. Cam’ron still rules swaths of Harlem.
There’s no king of hip-hop anymore. The two most visibly vying for the crown today are Drake and Kendrick, but they are so diametrically opposed that neither one can win. Kendrick is the “hard” political rapper and Drake is the emotional materialistic rapper. Drake is the anti-Kendrick, and Kendrick is the anti-Drake. They complete each other. The culture feeds off their tension.
Basketball went the same way. Jordan, icon of the 90s, was the king. He unified both the Eastern and Western conference by completely dominating both, winning 6 straight championships. But after him came feudalism. No one could dominate the NBA the way he did. Kobe tried, but Kobe couldn’t even unify the Western conference (or his own team, in the beginning). Tim Duncan was always there, waiting — the modern Lakers and Duncan Spurs have faced each other 7 times, splitting the series 4–3, with no convincing winner.
In Akron, Ohio, on December 30, 1984, a child was born named LeBron James. Maybe this child, it was said, would become the NBA’s one true king. “The Chosen One,” some called him.
Although Lebron is a great player, he is not the King. He has gone to five straight Finals and unified the East, but with his 2–4 series record, he has failed to unify the whole NBA. LeBron is simply the Lord of the Eastern Conference. Some call him “the king,” but we often mistake the most powerful lord for the king.
It’s clear: The Age of Kings has ended. The Age of Lords has begun. And we’ve been left to pick up the pieces of a broken world.
There is no better embodiment of the modern lord than ASAP Rocky. Advised by hip-hop visionary, ASAP Yams (RIP), Rocky knew there was no point in trying to become a king. Instead, he came into his own as a lord. He even titled the ASAP Mob album after it: “Lord$ Never Worry.”
The lord aesthetic is different than the king aesthetic. Rocky’s style is a blueprint for the future. A lord stands at his window, hands behind his back, surveying his realm. At night, a Lord takes walks amongst his people, the way Malcolm X used to do in Harlem, arbitrating disputes and breaking up fights. Some would argue that being a lord is preferable to being a king. A Lord can go amongst the people. A king must always worry about some threat. A lord never worries.
French Montana is a modern Lord as well. He captured the aesthetic in “Off The Rip”: “Looking through the smoky marijuana smoking marijuana.” Or in “Poison”: “Gotta take them shots / Gotta choose / Gotta make them choices.” A lord is contemplative. He strokes his beard as he thinks. There’s a reason why Drake recently grew a beard.
I’ve included a painting which I feel conveys the Lord aesthetic well. As you can see, the Lord is weighing decisions, looking over his balcony at his fiefdom. He is thinking about money or which car he’s going to drive next. You can see the crown thrown at his feet — symbolic of his status as a Lord, not a king.
The lack of kings in our modern era is a serious issue. If our government was ruled by a king, it would be much more effective. Plato believed only an absolute ruler could create a perfect society. Our government today is just made up of feuding lords. Kasich, Boehner, Rubio, they all rule over different parts of the country and although Obama has tried, he has failed to unify them. If he was a king, he could have done so much more.
There are several different theories as to why no king has risen in the modern era. Number one, the population has ballooned since the reign of the last king. Roughly a billion people have been added to the world since the early 2000s. But, according to genetic theory, with the increase in population increase the amount of mutations, and so a man or woman should have been produced already who could herd this world into the new millennium.
Perhaps whatever light that had produced kings has fled this planet. Perhaps it is punishment by God for our sins. As it stands, we need a king now more than ever.
I scurry to the window, like a human-sized rat, and watch as the storm clouds gather across the plain. I retreat back into my studies, fanatical, tortured, chasing half-prophecies and scraps of paper. “Who will be the one?” I think. I obsess over the question.
Both kingdoms — hip-hop, the mental lens of viewing the world, and basketball, the physical expression of life — lack a great unifier. But I think one who could unify both would transcend being a king. Someone who was both the illest MC and the illest basketball player alive would literally be God. But no human can be a God, and so they becomes the next closest thing, the Messiah. The ancient Hebrews had a name for this, מָשִׁ֫יחַ. The Christians called him Jesus.
I find my prophecy in the stories of the Bible. Once the Temple fell, there were to be no more kings, only a dark period before the Messiah arrived. When Jordan and Jay-Z retired, the world was thrust into a blackness from which it has not yet recovered. Think about the actual Middle Ages, ~400–1500. That was the Age of Lords as well.
For now, we wait for the Messiah. The exciting thing that we’re taught the messiah can be anyone. It’s not a slow accumulation of talent. It’s one day you wake up and shine with the radiance of a thousand blunts being lit at once.
Of course, there will always be false Messiahs, those who fall short of our expectations. Master P was the most promising. With his label No Limit Records, he had enormous power over the South. He was a platinum recording artist. He was also a powerful basketball force…he made the practice squad of two NBA teams in his prime. However, he never played an actual game in the NBA and his label eventually faded from relevance.
One day, as I was studying the histories of ancient wars, I realized I was thinking all wrong. You don’t have to be the illest MC to run rap. You also don’t have to be a basketball player to run the NBA. The king isn’t the one on the battlefield. It’s the one who controls what the people on the battlefield do.
With this knowledge, I immersed myself further in my studies. I shut myself off from the world, convinced that I was closer than ever to finding the truth. One day, as I was looking through the smoky mirror smoking marijuana, I came to The Realization. Something seemed to possess me and I ran to my desk. My hand grabbed the closest pencil. I flung myself onto my sketchpad. I felt my body lose control of my hand as it hurriedly drew a face. Once I had finished the drawing, my hand dropped the pencil. I was overcome with an immense pain. I howled and gripped my hand.
I stood over the drawing I had created. I recognized the face before me. It was Lil B.
Don’t laugh. Trust me, I’m not crazy. That’s the one thing…I’m not. Lil B has gained immense influence over the NBA. After he cursed Kevin Durant with the BasedGodCurse, Durant got injured and didn’t make the playoffs. James Harden, who was also threatened by Lil B, had a historically awful playoff game with 13 turnovers and lost the series to Golden State. Golden State, Lil B’s hometown team, won the championship.
Lil B has made territorial gains in the NBA with his BasedGodCurse, but he’s more visibly influential in hip-hop. I originally had a whole case outlined for this, but I saw Kendrick Lamar recently tweeted that “Lil B and [Lil] Wayne [are] the most influential of our generation.” Lil B’s prolific output, swag, internet distribution strategy, and lyrics have objectively changed the culture, and still elicit strong reactions from nearly every hip-hop artist alive. There’s few other artists in history that have done that.
Lil B may be the messiah. But that’s just one theory. Like any theory, we need data to prove its validity, and we need more data. In our lifetimes, if Lil B continues to gain influence, he may one day burst into flames, ascend to heaven, and finally unify both the NBA and hip-hop.
However, during my studies, another theory arose that warrants consideration. It is that the Age of Kings is over, and this next millennium will beget the Age of Queens. This decade did bring hip-hop its first universally accepted queen in Nicki Minaj. Next year may bring our country’s first woman president. We also must not forget the rise of Ronda Rousey, the woman fighter who has a legitimate chance to beat any male boxer, including Floyd Mayweather.
I like the Age of Queens theory. I think that males have ruled the world for too long. Males have a poison running through their blood, testosterone, which is the reason for so many of the world’s wars. Females have estrogen, the hormone that will heal the world. Maybe it is time for males to step aside and let themselves be ruled by queens.
Whatever happens, what a time to be alive. In our lifetimes, we’ll get closer to the answer. Perhaps a king will arise eventually. Maybe the Age of Lords will continue, unabated, for hundreds of years as the world plunges into darkness. Maybe Lil B will save us all. Maybe it is finally, (rightfully?) the dawn of the Age of Queens.
For now, we’re left waiting. A winter wind blows gently across the face of the earth. The streets are empty. A woman hangs up a lantern in her window, a beacon for the messiah when he or she does arrive.
Out in Oakland, Lil B remains the BasedGod. Somewhere in the world, perhaps a Middle Eastern country, a little girl is being raised up, being educated in the ancient mysteries, cultivating her powers. Everyone else — we stay in our homes, waiting for the Messiah, the מָשִׁ֫יחַ, the man or woman who can save us all. We can only hope that it is soon enough.