Kendrick Lamar is the latest artist to cover Vanity Fair Magazine talking to Lisa Robinson about his recent Pulitzer Prize win. He’s won 12 Grammy Awards and his work is being archived at Harvard University. He sat down to talk about the early days growing up in Compton, to becoming a star and selling over 17.8 million album.
Take a look at some of the interview below and read the full story over at Vanity Fair.
On His early days Recording:
“I was recording in Dave [Free]’s garage,” he tells me, “and Dave said he had to get my music to Top [Anthony “Top Dawg” Tiffith], who was getting into the music business. The first day in the [vocal] booth, Top said, ‘Let me see if this is really you,’ and I was just freestyling, rapping whatever came into my head, sweating for two hours.” Dave Free said, “The first time I ever heard him rap, I had to listen back because it was so developed, super-complex, and I just couldn’t believe it, since he was so young.” (After Kendrick’s early E.P.’s and mixtapes, Dave told him that it was time for him to drop the K.Dot and use his real name.) And Top, now the head of TDE, who described himself then as “a local street dude who was trying to change his life for the better,” adds, “What impressed me was how advanced Kendrick was at 16 years old. He spoke from an adult perspective every time he touched the mic. Over the course of 15 years, I’ve watched him evolve from a kid on the corner breaking down street tales to a creative genius breaking down cultural barriers.”
On His First Album:
“That was our world. I remember when good kid came out, the people I grew up with couldn’t understand how we made that translate through music. They literally cried tears of joy when they listened to it—because these are people who have been shunned out of society. But I know the kinds of hearts they have; they’re great individuals. And for me to tell my story, which is their story as well, they feel that someone has compassion for us, someone does see us further than just killers or drug dealers. We were just kids.” I ask about the line that implies he shot someone at 16, and he just looks at me, smiles, and eventually says, “I’ll put it this way: I’ve seen my own blood shed, and I’ve been the cause of other people shedding their blood as well. There was a split second when I felt what my homeboys were feeling—like I don’t give a fuck anymore—and that’s when I knew something else had to happen.” Among the “something else” in his life: two baptisms, the first at 16 and “again in my 20s—just for that reassurance and belief in God.”
On His Writing Style:
“Execution is my favorite word,” he says. “I spend 80 percent of my time thinking about how I’m going to execute, and that might be a whole year of constantly jotting down ideas, figuring out how I’m going to convey these words to a person to connect to it. What is this word that means this, how did it get here and why did it go there and how can I bring it back there? Then, the lyrics are easy.” I ask him how he delivers so many syllables and words in one line, with no wasted words and juxtapositions like “Halle Berry/Hallelujah” or a play on words like “Demo-crips and Re-blood-licans” or “I got power/poison/pain and joy inside my DNA.” “It comes from my love of hip-hop. Eminem is probably one of the best wordsmiths ever,” Kendrick says. “There’s a whole list of why, but just bending words. . . . The Marshall Mathers LP changed my life.” (Eminem returns the compliment, saying, “He switches up his flow every few bars so it’s more interesting to listen to.”) Kendrick adds, “My other favorite word is ‘discipline.’ Discipline gives me all my unvarnished strength and makes me curious about how disciplined I can be.”