The Compton-native sits down and discusses his tour and recent success in hip hop
It is 2:30 p.m. on Friday April 1, and up-and-coming rapper Kendrick Lamar, 23, is sitting on a window sill inside a dimly lit room in the high-ceiling Andrew W. Mellon auditorium in Washington D.C. The only light visible travels in from the window behind him.
Lamar wears a black sweatshirt and sweatpants and leaves his hood on while photographers snap pictures of him. He’s still, quiet, and occasionally checks his Blackberry phone. Lamar’s clothes and movements say he’s taking it easy from what seems to be a hectic schedule. On Sunday he would be performing in Greensboro, N.C., and just the night before, he performed to a packed out show in Atlanta.
Now over 600 miles and less than a day later, he’s mentally preparing for a press run and his performance that night as headliner for the Gentleman Jack Arts, Beats, and Life urban artistry showcase. This would be his first performance in D.C ever.
But Lamar who has been rapping since he was 16, is gaining many ‘firsts’ as of recent. Soon enough, the Compton, Los Angeles native will have his first major feature on Dr. Dre’s long-awaited third album Detox. In January, he performed his first sold old show at the Key Club in Los Angeles. And this month he is featured on his first XXL magazine cover, as one of the newest rappers expected to part waves in the hip hop industry this year. His sharp-tongued, witty lyrics about life, accompanied by soulful beats have given some of his younger fans clearer eyes on seeing life.
From under his hood. Lamar reveals a smile as he discusses these new experiences. Any previous idea that he is near exhaustion on his journey, quickly fades. It’s obvious Lamar is anticipating the arrival of his future destinations.
NW: How has touring been so far?
Kendrick Lamar: It’s been fun. People gave me a lot of energy last night. I gave it right back. That’s what I look forward to when I perform, is touching the people and feeling the vibes they got and it’s been incredible I’m blessed.
NW: Is this your first time being on tour?
KL: No. This is probably like my third time.
NW: What’s the best part about being out, traveling, and performing your music?
KL: Touching the people. You know you do the music and you be in the studio all day. You hear about people liking your music but it’s way different from seeing them reciting the words, being excited to see you and giving that energy off. That’s what I like the most.
NW: When you’re performing what songs get the most responses from the audience?
KL: Aww man, I got a record called “Cut You Off.” It’s a laid back record but it gets real hype throughout the hook and a big energy record called “Michael Jordan.” I got a freestyle called “Look Out for the Detox,” that really gets them hype. My “Monster” freestyle gets them hype and “P&P” gets them crazy. So every time I’m performing I say I look forward to those songs.
NW: Over the past few months you’ve been gaining alot of recognition, you are apart of the XXL cover and you recently performed at SXSW, how has that felt?
KL: It’s been crazy, I’ve been getting a lot of recognition. It just feels good people are actually recognizing real music, and music that I like to say is from the soul. The industry has been tainted by everything on the radio and everything the labels want. So when people are really going out here and doing music that has 110 percent effort and it stands for something and speaks for something, it feels good for people to recognize that. Because I’ve been doing this music thing since I was 16 – I’m 23 now. And I feel I’ve grown to a level where people can actually be receptive to it. When magazines like XXL or blog sites look forward to seeing my music and giving me that recognition it just lets me know that I’m doing something right.
NW: You’re 23 and I’m sure people back home look up to you as a role model of some sort. How do you feel about that?
KL: It’s a crazy feeling because it’s just now hitting me. I get a lot of 16, 17, 18, 20 [year-olds], they come to me and be like, “Yo i wanna be just like you and I want to be able to express myself just like you.” They tell me that all the time. That makes me feel good because when I was they age I didn’t know what I wanted to do. 16, 17 – I was out running the city and being a knucklehead and being confused with the world. When you’re at that age it’s real hard to find a thin line between being yourself and being caught up with what everyone else wants you to do. And these kids out here telling me, “You know I want to express myself and I know who I am because of you.” And that feels good. If you consider that a role model, I’d take it. Because I got little brothers myself, I’m the oldest, and a little sister. So if I’m responsible for that it’s all good.
NW: Also how do you feel about fellow Cali-rappers such as Dom Kennedy who was out here last weekend at Georgetown, and also Pac Div who dropped their mixtape in March, and the movements you all are making?
KL: It feels good that they’re getting that recognition because I sat back and seen this whole vision four, five years ago. That talent has always been in L.A. I tell people this all the time. It was only a certain amount of time where we will feel it and be able to hear it for once. You know Game came back and gave us that light but he couldn’t do it by himself. And that’s a big weight to carry. But these individuals been out there putting it out for years and I got mutual respect for them.
NW: Dr. Dre is featuring you on his upcoming album. What is like getting the support from the rap legend?
KL: That’s a beautiful feeling when you get legends call you up like Dre, Snoop, Kurupt because these are people we grew up listening to for years. Since I was two-years-old, I could remember listening to them and for them to recognize the type of movement that we’re trying to carry and the legacy we trying to build on, it’s a beautiful thing. Because they’re saying “Yo we appreciate what y’all are doing, I know y’all appreciate what we did, now keep this moving.” So it’s a good feeling to have that support.
NW: What’s next from Kendrick Lamar over the next few months?
KL: I’m debating on putting this project [out] that I had in the cut for a while. I think it’s some of my best music and I think I’m not going to be selfish, I’mma give it to the world. I want them to hear it so I think that’s where my focus is right now, as far as that. [And] Getting this Detox record out, I know he’s [Dr. Dre] been prolonging it for about ten centuries so I’m trying my best to make sure it comes out because it’s an incredible album. He’s a perfectionist though. But that’s my focus right now, just to continue to make music.
NW: Can you give any specific dates?
KL: I can’t give no specific dates. But I can say soon…not soon, but ‘soon soon’ (laughs). That’s the extra push I gave you.
NW: Anything else you want to say to the people?
KL: Kendrick Lamar. I want y’all to get to know me and know what I represent. You know I got this motto called high power, it’s the way we think and the way we live. You don’t necessarily have to be rich to represent it and be about it, but you have to be rich in mind and spirit and that’s what we do, that’s what we represent. Top Dawg Entertainment, High Power.