The New York Times and writer Lizzy Goodman recently unveiled an in-depth profile of Kendrick Lamar – peeling back the layers on one of the most promising emcees in hip-hop – utilizing insights from the likes of Pharrell Williams, Eminem and more. Spanning months of coverage from her time spent with Lamar backstage at the Barclays Center as part of the ‘Yeezus Tour’ to more contemporary happenings for TDE’s brightest star, Kendrick is candid about his battles with a speech impediment as a youth and he shares his thoughts on an industry that he deems has “lost its edge.” While a choice excerpt appears below, head here to read the entire piece.
In person, Lamar is so serene and warm, and on his record, so erudite and philosophical, that it’s tempting to read him as a mellow, cerebral guy, a monk reincarnated as a young rap star. But that would be a mistake. Lamar has made his name in part by trying to reawaken what George calls rap’s “combative” energy, which has always been central to the genre’s identity but has fallen off in the past decade.
“If my edge is dull, my sword is dull, and I don’t want to fight another guy whose sword is dull,” Lamar later told me. “If you’ve got two steel swords going back and forth hitting each other, what’s gonna happen? Both of them are going to get sharper.” He laments what he sees as the impotency that has taken over the rap game. “Everybody that’s in the industry has lost their edge,” he said. “There’s really no aggression. You gotta say things particular, and everything is so soft.” Last August, in a guest appearance on “Control,” a track by Big Sean, Lamar named himself, alongside Jay-Z, Nas, Eminem and Outkast’s Andre 3000, as the best M.C.s of all time. He also called himself “the king of New York” (a big no-no for a West Coast rapper) and sent out a message to his immediate peers: “I got love for you all, but I’m tryna murder you niggas/Tryna to make sure your core fans never heard of you niggas/They don’t wanna hear not one more noun or verb from you niggas.” The influential hip-hop magazine XXL called it “the verse that woke up the rap game.”
Lamar approaches his music career with the ambition of an exacting, if sedate, C.E.O. At one point, after he left his Barclays Center dressing room, the crew descended on the catering table, eagerly assembling double-decker sandwiches and raiding the fridge for leftover Gatorade. “I’ve never been on a tour where there’s no booze,” someone grumbled. “I need alcohol.” When I was on the road with Lamar, he didn’t drink, and in general, his crew followed suit. This is part of his commitment to staying focused on his singular ambition: greatness. “There’s a certain hunger that you can sense about Kendrick,” Eminem says. “He raps to be the best rapper in the world. He competitive-raps. That’s one of the things that’s going to drive his career. He’s going to be around for a long time.”