seven minutes with kendrick lamar

We go back to school with the Compton rapper as he releases new video for his track I Am.

by Stuart Brumfitt
12 December 2014, 4:35pm

After announcing his partnership with Reebok, Kendrick Lamar went back to his school in Compton, LA, to meet with - and inspire - the kids. The accompanying video, filmed at Centennial High and the surrounding neighbourhood, shows Lamar spitting empowering verses on I Am. i-D caught up with the rapper to talk about his teenage porch hang-out, cyphers in the schoolyard and the current state of relations between the African-American community and the police.

How was it for you coming up out of Compton?
You basically go through your trial and error. You bump your head as a kid, then you suddenly realise you know what you want to do, and what I wanted to do was music. By the blessings of God, it just so happened to be that. It takes a lot of work and a lot of preparation.

Was Centennial High supportive?
I definitely got a lot of support. The staff supported, the kids supported. It's only right that you come back and spread light.

What are your memories of high school?
There were a lot of different things going on man [laughs]. I definitely wasn't speaking some positivity to the kids [like in the video]. It was a lot of crazy memories going on. My friends were behind the scenes and we chatted it up about things we used to do.

Tell us about Kendrick at school.
I was chilling man. I was hanging with the homies. We had our certain porch where we used to hang out. I wouldn't say I was one of those kids who was not in the in-crowd, but I wasn't pushing to be in the in-crowd. It just so happened that people gravitated toward me and my personality. There was a certain energy in the air when music was going on, so every now and then I would jump into a little cypher, but I wasn't really serious about it.

Was there a lot of hip hop in the school yard?
Yeah definitely man. I remember when 50 Cent first came out in high school. That's all we were playing: G-Unit. It was definitely a huge influence.

How does it feel to go back?
Since I've been off the road, I've been back a while. I've still got family members there, so I slide through every now and then, whenever I can and let the people see you, because when you come from where you come from, it gives some type of inspiration. I like to slot in unexpectedly. I don't want them to roll out security cars. It would cause too much commotion. The people I go around, they don't look at me like Obama came into town. They still see me as little Kendrick from up down the block.

Why did you choose these particular kids for the video?
Some of them were honour students, and some had struggled throughout the year, but shown a lot of improvement within the last month or two. It was really about grabbing kids that show growth, or struggle with schooling and are working hard at it.

How do you see the state of race relations in the US right now? The relationship between the African-American community and the police.
I'll tell it to you like this. It's something that's been going on way before I was born. It's not one of those things where I'm totally shocked by, because I've been harassed and I've been put in situations where they force you to want to fight back. At the end of the day, it's nothing new. It's really about grabbing some hope - that same hope that Martin Luther King had, that same hope that Malcolm X had - and trying to continue that, without being too irrational about it. To be 100% real with you, it starts with self first. It don't start with what the police is doing, or what the world is doing. People need to start noticing their full potential. We can't wrap our brains around it without starting with self first. 


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Text Stuart Brumfitt

Kendrick Lamar
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