“My lyrics say I have morals, I have confidence, I have weaknesses, I have strong points, that I am a human being.” King Kendrick Lamar.
A man of strong values and deep soul, 25-year-old Compton lyricist Kendrick Lamar is responsible for the highest selling album of 2012. His first official compilation good kid, m.A.A.d city has shifted one million albums since its release via Interscope on October 22nd. Popular with the most successful hip hop artists of our generation: Drake, Rick Ross, Kanye, Busta and Pharell, Kendrick was originally discovered by his teacher in tenth grade. Today that same man, Dave Free, is also his manager. Overcoming the kind of gritty adversity that would jade a lesser man, Kendrick’s music is positively game changing. Everything that he has achieved and built, Kendrick hard earned. Citing the moment he stepped into the studio with hip hop don, Dre, to consult on the Detox album as the moment that everything changed, today the powerhouse duo keep in touch on a daily basis; Dre also features twice on good kid, m.A.A.d city. Bringing a crazy energy to his live shows, the deep-voiced artist writes with stirring intent and delivers his rhymes with mad flow and bare conviction. Comfortable with being vulnerable and open to whatever, Kendrick’s unwavering self confidence is overwhelming. i-D online caught up with the competitive conceptualist to find out how he’s handling his sudden and insatiable success, ahead of the release of his massively anticipated second album courtesy of hip hop giant Top Dawg Records.
So you’re performing in Brixton on Monday, what happens at one of your live shows?
Craziness. A lot of energy, a lot of energy from myself and the crowd.
How do you feel in front of a crowd?
I feel at peace, you know. It’s a way to express yourself, a way to vent, put all your emotions out on that stage.
Where was your first ever gig?
My first ever was at a hole in the wall place, in a small city, in a small club in Los Angeles.
I was probably terrible.. But it was a growing experience, a growing process, and you know, you never forget those moments.
Who was the first person to tell you that you were good at music?
The first person to tell me was probably this guy named Dave Free, he’s my manager now, since I was like tenth grade...yeah.
How did he discover you?
Through a mutual friend, it was all in high school, rapping and stuff. And then a mutual friend told him about me and we decided to start doing music and we’ve been doing it ever since.
How did he help you to develop your sound?
He really just allowed me to experience different things in music, and listen to different people, he got a broad playlist in music everybody from west coast, to the east coast. And basically we just started developing there.
You said in an interview before that your mum told you that whatever you do, you just gotta do it really, really well. What does she make of your success now?
Oh yeah, she loves it. She sees that I took heed in what she was saying because you have people that’s calling me the best at what I do, and you know l pride myself in that. She always said that whatever u do make sure that ur the best at it.
What kind of a son where you when you were younger?
I was a good son, respectful, I never disrespected my mother, I never disrespected my father intentionally. Probably some of the things I did, outside of the house were a little bit outlandish, but as far as verbal disrespect or inner presence disrespect, never, so, I was a good son.
What are your earliest memories of their music?
A lot of oldies, gangster rap was played in my household, which really inspired my sound today from new melodic driven, aggressive type feel.
What track or album have you listened to more than any other?
That’s hard, that’s tough. They played a lot of Tupac All Eyez On Me, Me Against The World, they probably played that track a hundred thousand times in our house.
How did the collaboration with Drake happen?
I went on his Club Paradise tour and we really built a bond, a relationship, since the first time we met. He put me on his album, which was the interlude, red light interlude, we always said it was gonna work, it was just about finding the right song, that was the right song.
What happened in your first meeting with Dre?
I was very excited, I wasn’t nervous at all. I was more excited, 'cause I knew that this was my shot, everything that l've worked for, everything I’ve built up to came down to that moment.
What happened in that moment?
That moment I recorded my first song with Dre, which was Compton, which is the last song on my album.
Do you speak to him on a daily basis?
Yeah I talk to him.
And what’s he up to at the moment?
At the moment he’s just working his Beats by Dre. Doing a lot of promo and press for that, getting buried in life right now.
Can you see yourself moving to projects outside of music like he does with Beats?
Yeah definitely. You know when you conquer one thing, you want to move on to the next and be able to challenge yourself? He inspired me to want to do that, once l get the years behind me, of being exceptionally great at music.
Are you creative in other ways outside of the music?
Yeah. I'm very hands on with the whole visual and concepts beyond the music.
Are you a competitive person?
So where does success lie?
Success lies in challenging myself, thats where l get my success.
And how will you ever be fulfilled?
Probably when l see that my music has touched more people than l can possibly imagine, and that point in time will come.
What do your lyrics say about you as a person?
My lyrics say that I have morals, say that I have confidence, say I have weaknesses, say I have strong points, say l am a human being.
What are the morals that you live by?
Treat others the way you want to be treated. That’s the number one, that’s something that my mother always told me. That’s the one piece of advice I would give everybody and the world would be a better place.
Can you tell me about the picture on the front cover of the album?
The front cover really represents the lifestyle that I’m used to, the coming up, seeing a lot of parties, a lot of good times, a lot of bad times and really I blanked the eyes out so that you see the innocence, the little boy that’s in there, which is me. No matter what he is around, you still see the vulnerability in this kid, you know that he wants to figure out whats going on around him.
Do you think your music comes from a positive place?
Yes. My music comes from a positive place, only because I was once in a dark place before in my life so, to actually get to that positive space you have to come in this negative world, where you’re striving to do something better for yourself.
How did you allow those negative situations to not affect you, or jade you?
Just knowing something was bigger than me, something was bigger than just Compton, something was bigger than the trouble we were getting ourselves involved in, I knew something was more, and l wanted more for myself. Not only for myself but for the people l care about.
Are you still based in Compton now?
No, I’m a rolling stone. I don’t have a place to stay. Im roaming the world.
What do you do with all your stuff?
My mother has all that stuff. I’m in the world now, I like to see other things. 'Cause for so long when you're in Compton, its all you think that exists, so when I finally got out to see other places, like London, it makes you want to continue the travel.
When you're travelling what are things you have to have with you at all times?
Fresh pair of drawers, fresh pair of socks.
How have you been enjoying London?
I love it. Y’all weather’s a bit gloomy right now, I like gloomy weather, I work best and do most of my album under gloomy weather, so you’ll hear a lot of dark tracks in there.
How are British fans different to your US fans?
There's a little bit more excitement with British fans, a little bit more energy, I think you guys just appreciate a little bit more.
Out of all the tracks you have written, which do you feel the most proud of now?
The most proud of is tough, I've written a lot of tracks. If it had to be from this album, any one off this album really, sing about me, l’m real, Compton.
From the previous mixtapes, are there any songs that you’ve written that you find difficult to listen back to now?
What’s crazy is that l don’t listen to none of my older music, just because I always wanted the team to grow. I don’t wanna get caught back in that time, or critiquing what i should have done or what sounds right.
Who will you collaborate with in the future?
I’m really tight on collaborations, I always say Erykah Badu, that’s it for now, that’s always in the back of my mind.