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Interview: Kendrick Lamar Talks Album & Ghostwriting with Rolling Stone

Rolling Stone

Kendrick Lamar sits down with Brian Hiatt over at Rolling Stone to talk about his DAMN album, tour and more. Kendrick talks ghostwriting, being the best rapper, his thoughts on Donald trump plus his feelings on his level of success. Take a look and read some of the interview below and be sure to catch the full story over at RS.

Rolling Stone: Do you ever feel like you should be having more fun?

Kendrick Lamar: Everybody’s fun is different. Mine is not drinking. I drink casually, from time to time. I like to get people from my neighborhood, someone that’s fresh out of prison for five years, and see their faces when they go to New York, when they go out of the country. Shit, that’s fun for me. You see it through their eyes and you see ’em light up.

RS: Was there a sense that you were special as a kid?

Kendrick: From what my family tells me, I carried myself as a man – that’s why they called me “Man Man.” It put a stigma on the idea of me reacting as a kid sometimes – I would hurt myself and they would expect me not to cry. That put a lot of responsibility on me, got me ready for the responsibility my fans put upon me. I ended up getting tough skin, too, even with criticism. My first time in the studio, [label chief] Top Dawg was like, “Man, that shit wack.” Other artists around couldn’t handle that. But it made me go back in the booth and go harder.

RS: Other than a few lyrics, you’ve been quiet about Donald Trump. Why?

Kendrick: I mean, it’s like beating a dead horse. We already know what it is. Are we gonna keep talking about it or are we gonna take action? You just get to a point where you’re tired of talking about it. It weighs you down and it drains your energy when you’re speaking about something or someone that’s completely ridiculous. So, on and off the album, I took it upon myself to take action in my own community. On the record, I made an action to not speak about what’s going on in the world or the places they put us in. Speak on self; reflection of self first. That’s where the initial change will start from.

RS: On “ELEMENT.” you make that funny distinction between “black artists and wack artists.” What, to you, defines a wack artist?

Kendrick: I love that question. How would I define a wack artist? A wack artist uses other people’s music for their approval. We’re talking about someone that is scared to make their own voice, chases somebody else’s success and their thing, but runs away from their own thing. That’s what keeps the game watered-down. Everybody’s not going to be able to be a Kendrick Lamar. I’m not telling you to rap like me. Be you. Simple as that. I watch a lot of good artists go down like that because you’re so focused on what numbers this guy has done, and it dampers your own creativity. Which ultimately dampers the listener, because at the end of the day, it’s not for us. It’s for the person driving to their 9-to-5 that don’t feel like they wanna go to work that morning.

RS: Is it ever OK for a rapper to have a ghostwriter? You’ve obviously written verses for Dr. Dre yourself.

Kendrick: It depends on what arena you’re putting yourself in. I called myself the best rapper. I cannot call myself the best rapper if I have a ghostwriter. If you’re saying you’re a different type of artist and you don’t really care about the art form of being the best rapper, then so be it. Make great music. But the title, it won’t be there.

RS: How did “HUMBLE.” start?

Kendrick: It was the beat first, actually. [Producer] Mike Will sent the beat over. All I could think of was [Marley Marl’s] “The Symphony” and the earliest moments of hip-hop, where it’s complex simplicity, but it’s also somebody making moves. That beat feels like my generation, right now. The first thing that came to my head was, “Be humble.”

RS: The track “LOVE.” is probably another hit – it’s the poppiest thing you’ve ever done. But you must draw a line somewhere where things get too soft for you.

Kendrick: We call it ear candy. There’s ear candy, and then there’s corny. You have to have an incredible ear to recognize it and an incredible team to recognize it, to know the differences. It takes years of experience. Years of making wack shit [laughs], and knowing what works for you, and also knowing when to step out of your box and try things that feel good and still can remain you.

RS: On your earliest mixtape, from when you were 16, there are points where you sound just like Jay-Z.

Kendrick: Oh, yeah. That was my guy. Still is. I’m still a fan. That was just a page I took out of his book, to be able to carry a lyric through conversation and make it feel like I’m sitting right here talking to you.

RS: When did you truly find your own style?

Kendrick: I think it was the day I said I was gonna go by my real name, Kendrick Lamar.