Kendrick Lamar – this guy came up quick. In only two years he grew from being an underground MC, only known to a handful of rap nerds, to touring all over Europe, ruling the rap charts and working with some of the greatest names in the industry. The fast rise gained him worldwide attention and made Kendrick Lamar one of the most wanted rappers out there today.
We had the chance to meet him in Hamburg, Germany during his European Tour, and sat down for a quick talk in his tour bus right before the show. Short questions, quick answers – just enough to get a glimpse of a 25-year-old rap phenomenon from Compton, LA.
You were born and raised in Compton. What sums up “Compton Style” for you?
Sun, culture, neighborhoods – but most of all: aggressiveness.
If Compton were a sneaker, which one would it be?
Nike Cortez Originals – I got a whole bunch of those.
You started rapping under the moniker “K-Dot” releasing several mixtapes, going on tour and also doing features under that nickname as well. In 2009 when your career took off you dropped that stage name and continued as Kendrick Lamar. Your recent album good kid, m.A.A.d city takes the listener back through the life of “K-Dot.” If you had one question, what would you ask your alter ego today?
I would ask him: What’s your definition of patience? Because “K-Dot” really had no patience, he wanted everything fast. Fast money, fast music, fast everything….
What would you be doing today, if you hadn’t become a rapper?
I don’t know what I’d be doing. I didn’t have a plan B. Once I found something positive to do I just stuck with it.
Was there a breakthrough moment for you?
My breakthrough moment was when I started identifying my music with myself. Rapping is a very personal act and it took some time for me to feel comfortable with that role. As time went by I learned that rap could affect my life in a very positive way and that I was becoming better and better at it. Once I recognized that, other people started recognizing it as well.
What’s the main difference between old school rappers and your generation?
I think our generation has even more of a “go-getter” factor as far as doing it ourselves, you know, a lot of these kids come from the internet, going inside little small studios making music; next thing you know, they’re on tour buses, selling out shows in Europe. I think that’s just a hustler’s mentality inside the business, saying that we don’t need a major label to always back us to get what we want – or tell us if we’re any good in the first place. Today you can simply reach out to your audience directly and let them decide.
If your rap style were a car, which one would it be?
It would be an older model car. It would probably be a Regal, an ’87 Regal, because it’s hard, it has edge, but at the same time it’s a great look – kinda smooth if you ride it the right way.
If you could buy any sports team, which one would you choose?
Of course I’d buy the Lakers. I gotta be somewhere in my hometown.
How do you feel about them (Lakers) not really living up to everyone’s great expectations so far?
Once they get their chemistry right, it’ll probably take a couple of years, maybe next year, but you gotta get in the groove of things. And it’s not really on the coach in my opinion, it’s on the players meshing together – you got Nash, you got Dwight, you got Kobe – that’s three great players. Once they get that balance in, they’ll be fine.
Tell us a classic Kendrick Lamar pick-up line that works:
“Whats happening, I’m Kendrick Lamar and I rap.” (laughs hard)
No, just kidding, that’s my cliché rap line. I really have no lines. I never was a pick-up line dude. I always thought that was corny. I don’t do no lines.
What makes a woman interesting for you?
Just her self-confidence you know, her just being a woman, how she carries herself – but also the way she looks.
Do you have a favorite comedian?
Mike Epps. He’s funny.
Who was the funniest of all the great artists you’ve worked with so far?
Lady Gaga, she has a lot of energy in the studio. We had a lot of laughs. She was fun, she was cool!
What makes you mad?
A lot of stuff makes me mad. Laziness makes me mad, miscommunication makes me mad. Sending hard drives over here from LA and them not getting here in time makes me mad.
You talk a lot about being a sinner on your album, what’s the biggest sin…
… in rap?
Chasing the dollar is probably the biggest sin in hip-hop.
… in bed?
… in showbiz?
… in the tattoo game?
Having somebody working on you that don’t know what the hell they’re doing!
… in fashion?
Being confined to a trend in general, but the biggest no-go to me is wearing shorts in the winter with a long sleeve shirt. That’s like retarded to me. You’re wearing shorts, obviously to keep cool but you got a long sleeve shirt on… come on man… (shakes his head)
Name three style essentials that should never miss in your luggage when you’re on tour.
A pair of Air Jordan XI’s, some nice Polo draws to keep me comfortable, and a TDE hoody, just because Top Dawg will probably be mad if I don’t have that with me (laughs).
[Top Dawg Entertainment (TDE) is one of the music labels, Kendrick Lamar released his latest album on. The founder is Anthony “Top Dawg” Tiffith. The label also features a clothing brand named TDE.]
Choose to work with any artist – dead or alive.
Tupac, of course. He was such a big influence for me, doing what I wanna do as far as talking about real life situations and stuff like that, no matter what topic it is. I think that’s the biggest inspiration I get from him. “California Love” had a strong impact on me. I remember when they shot the video when I was a kid, they came to the neighborhood in Compton. We were there live on set when Pac was rollin’ around, him and Dre – it was huge…
What’s your next step to world domination?
I don’t want no world domination, that’s the devil (laughs). Just wanna continue what I’m doing and be inspired by the culture. Come out here and tour more, get back in the studio… Just continuing the cycle and challenging myself.
To wrap up this interview, we’d like to throw you some topics and you strike a pose. Cool?
- Downloading music -
- Being a role-model -– Your last heavy hangover -
- California love -
- You’re going on stage now, how do you feel? -
Interview: Tom Gabrea
Photography: Henning Heide for Highsnobiety