Words by Nick Harwood
Photos by Ahmed Klink
To hear Kendrick Lamar tell it, he’s already made his Reasonable Doubt.
But Kendrick Lamar isn’t talking about the self-titled, I’m-here-now 15-song “FreEP” he dropped in the final hours of 2009 or last year’s impressive follow up, O(verly) D(edicated). And he’s not talking Section.80, his most recent effort, which hit the web like a velvet glove stuffed with quarter rolls when in dropped in July and sold 10,000 digital copies first week. He’s not even talking about the series of K. Dot tapes you can find online, recorded before he honed the smoothed out, hyper-verbal flow that has propelled him to the forefront of the New West, rolling shotgun with Dr. Dre as Detox (allegedly) rumbles toward release.
Nah. When Kendrick Lamar places his output in the company of Jay-Z’s classic debut, he’s thinking even further back, to his first tape, Youngest Head Nigga in Charge, which he pressed up himself eight years ago and distributed 500 copies hand-to-hand around his way.
“God willing, [nobody] finds it until I’m ready to put that motherfucker out,” the 24-year-old Cali native says, seated in a dimly lit Manhattan recording studio the day after shooting the video for Section.80’s “Rigamortis.”
“It’s very dear to me. It’s like my masters – my Reasonable Doubt masters.” To say Kendrick Lamar is feelin’ it would be an understatement.
The rest of the article, after the jump.
Born and raised in Compton, Kendrick Lamar grew up in one of the country’s most notorious neighborhoods, a late ’80s baby surrounded by gangbangers. Uncles, cousins, and friends all felt the pull of the flag, but Kendrick was one of the lucky ones raised in a stable, two-parent home. “I wasn’t born to be a Blood in the projects,” he says today. “At the end of the day, I go back to my pops. He always said, ‘A man stands on his two feet, and that’s what defines him.’ So that’s how I chose to live – [on] my own two feet.”
Kendrick’s commitment to stand strong on his own has stood him well. Since settling into himself and releasing Kendrick Lamar, he’s carved a lane through the New West by tackling themes that go far beyond the scene’s dominant swagged-out, style-first stance, choosing to dive deeper in search of more substance instead. “I write my raps in the form of a kid searching for answers, if that makes sense,” he says. “Some paths I do know where to go, and some I don’t because I haven’t experienced it. I’m not scared of that. I’m 24-years-old; I don’t know everything.
As a result, Kendrick Lamar’s young catalog (much of it crafted in conjunction with a small stable of producers led by Sounwave, who he met in ’03) is marked by the intimate and the introspective – a testament to coming of age in Compton in the digital age that takes heavy cues from the work of Kanye and Drake. But on record, Kendrick, who’s referred to himself as “a close cut to Common and Gucci Mane” isn’t as proud as Kanye or as paid as Drake, and his pen can be found just as often pushing lines pointed at empowering the community just as often as promoting himself. It’s an approach and a philosophy that he dubs HiiiPower on the Section.80 track of the same name.
“[HiiiPower] represents heart, honor, respect,” says Kendrick. “My whole thing I try to get across is taking the negative energy that they placed upon us and making something bigger than that. We need some type of morals, because we in a world now where we can’t really believe nothing, nothing that nobody tell us… and if I can do that through music, so be it.”
Though Kendrick rejects the “conscious” tag – “I don’t really like to say conscious because I think everybody’s conscious, long as you’re breathing” – there’s no doubt that his is a different rap. And yet, of the West Coast’s current crop of up-and-comers, Lamar looks to have a better-than-average shot of taking his mixtape message to the mainstream stage. His group, Black Hippy — a collective of artists signed to L.A.-based Top Dawg Entertainment, composed of Jay Rock, Ab-Soul and Schoolboy Q, in addition to Lamar, who joined the label shortly after releasing YHNIC — has been gaining traction as Lamar and Jay Rock’s careers have begun to take off. He’s also got the cosigns. He’s already cut records with Gucci Mane and RZA and there’s been talk of a collaborative tape with J. Cole coming soon. Just days after dropping Section.80 a video hit the web of Pharrell Williams in the studio with Lamar talking up Lamar’s work and the work of his crew. At one point in the clip, Pharrell turns to the camera and offers a simple two-word assessment: “He’s dope.”
And as for Dr. Dre, who told Power 106 in November that he’d like to work with the young spitter and has been making good on that wish since? “He give me that push and that motivation to better myself, period,” says Kendrick, brushing aside any rumors of a possible move to Dre’s Aftermath Entertainment. “Seeing the work ethic he has and the passion that he has for his music, it lets me know I’ve got to work ten times harder and eventually one day I will be on his level of creation.”
Then, maybe, he can rerelease YHNIC.
“God willing, I have a longevity in this music business,” Lamar says. “That’ll make people appreciate [it] even more, after all the accomplishments and everything – I put something out when I was 16.”
You might also like
More from Interviews
RESPECT. Exclusive! From the Crates! DRAKE Interview by ELLIOTT WILSON & Images by RUBEN RIVERA
Despite the constant criticism, there's no denying that Drake is one of the best hip-hop artists our culture has to …
RESPECT. Interview: Actor Hal Williams Talks Anniversary Of ‘The Waltons’, Upcoming Cookbook, Favorite Jazz Album + Much More
Legendary Actor Hal Williams has done it all in his long and flourishing career. He’s best known for iconic television …
RESPECT. Interview: Yung Sinner Talks New Visual For “Sticks R Us”, Musical Influences + More
Yung Sinner, a newly signed artist from out of Stone Mountain, GA has been making waves in ATL. He first …
Leave a Reply