This week, Compton MC Kendrick Lamar was crowned GQ‘s Rapper of the Year and graces the cover of the iconic magazine’s 2013 Man of the Year issue.
On the surface this may seem like a barrier shattering day in Hip-Hop, but Anthony “Top Dawg” Tiffith, CEO of Lamar’s label Top Dawg Entertainment, has issued a scathing statement criticizing the “racial overtones” in the cover story written by Steve Marsh.
Read Lamar’s GQ cover story here.
Marsh apparently believes Hip-Hop culture began in 1991 with the founding of Death Row Records, and that Compton is a gang-infested landmine — at least that’s what the article portrays. He refers to Top Dawg Entertainment as “baby Death Row” and Tiffith as “TDE’s Suge Knight.” Compton is reduced to the place of drive-bys and urban decay, with Lamar, soaring on the wings of success — literally — looking down on it from a private jet as he contemplates life in the hood.
This kind of cultural voyeurism and dependency upon racist tropes is common in stories about Hip-Hop. And Marsh’s admitted surprise at Top Dawg’s professionalism and “discipline” throws the prejudice he had stepping into the interview into stark relief.
And Tiffith was not having it — none of it. He canceled Lamar’s performance at GQ‘s annual Man of the Year party and issued the following statement:
Kendrick Lamar Top Dawg Entertainment Chief Executive Office, Anthony “Top Dawg” Tiffith, Addresses GQ Man Of The Year Story
In 2004, I founded Top Dawg Entertainment (TDE) with the goal of providing a home for west coast artists and a platform for these artists to express themselves freely and to give their music to the world. From our beginning in 2005 with Jay Rock, to developing Kendrick Lamar, ScHoolboy Q, and Ab-Soul, to most recently singing Isaiah Rashad and SZA. We, as TDE, have always prided ourselves in doing everything with heart, honor, and respect.
This week, Kendrick Lamar was named one of GQ’s 2013 Men Of The Year, an honor that should have been celebrated as a milestone in his career and for the company. Instead, the story, written by Steve Marsh, put myself and my company in a negative light. Marsh’s story was more focused on what most people would see as drama or bs. To say he was “surprised at our discipline” is completely disrespectful. Instead of putting emphasis on the good that TDE has done for west coast music, and for hip hop as a whole, he spoke on what most people would consider whats wrong with Hip Hop music. Furthermore, Kendrick deserved to be accurately documented. 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. We would expect more from a publication with the stature and reputation that GQ has. As a result of this misrepresentation, I pulled Kendrick from his performance at GQ’s annual Man Of The Year party Tuesday, November 12th.
While we think it’s a tremendous honor to be named as one of the Men Of The Year, these lazy comparisons and offensive suggestions are something we won’t tolerate. Our reputation, work ethic, and product is something that we guard with our lives.
GQ editor-in-chief Jim Nelson responded with the following:
“Kendrick Lamar is one of the most talented new musicians to arrive on the scene in years. That’s the reason we chose to celebrate him, wrote an incredibly positive article declaring him the next King of Rap, and gave him our highest honor: putting him on the cover of our Men of the Year issue. I’m not sure how you can spin that into a bad thing, and I encourage anyone interested to read the story and see for themselves. We were mystified and sorely disappointed by Top Dawg’s decision to pull him at the last minute from the performance he had promised to give. The real shame is that people were deprived of the joy of seeing Kendrick perform live. I’m still a huge fan.”—Jim Nelson, GQ editor-in-chief
While it would be easy to say that Tiffith overreacted, it would also be wrong. The kind of passive-aggressive racism and bias on display in that article needed to be called out for what it is. Lamar shouldn’t have to be grateful for the cover if he is not being portrayed authentically. And Tiffith has every right to pushback against unfair characterizations of his company.