HYPETRAK Magazine: Volume 1 – Kendrick Lamar, The Luminary
There’s a new Kendrick Lamar in town. It’s been over two years since he conquered the music world with his major label debut good kid, m.A.A.d city. In the meantime, Kendrick has grown as an artist, and as a person; he’s a grown man now. The last few years that witnessed his rapid rise to stardom has left a mark on him. His new hairstyle indicates the change. His longer hair suggests that he is more focused on perfecting his craft, on conceptualizing and writing his next opus than maintaining a superficial appearance. He is spending long hours in the recording studio these days as he is finishing the highly anticipated follow-up to his celebrated 2012 major label debut good kid, m.A.A.d city. He is facing heavy expectation. He knows it.
Many praised his emergence onto the music scene as the arrival of a savior of hip-hop -- a culture that has often been accused of promoting ideals associated with crime, sex and drugs. His lyrically rich music is a bold antidote that counteracts hype-driven trends in a fast-paced world where information is consumed often too rapidly. His image is broad, yet very attentive to detail; he comfortably walks along the thin line between street credibility and pop stardom. He represents socially conscious rap, but also incorporates the intense dynamics of the streets while keeping an open mind toward other genres. His memorable performance with indie rock outfit Imagine Dragons was one of the highlights during the 2014 GRAMMY festivities. “I feel music should not have any classification to it just out of the simple fact that it's all vibes, it's all rhythm, it's all energy. You put two people in the studio that have the same passion for music, then there's nothing but greatness coming out of it -- no matter if it's rock, alternative, country music, or hip-hop.” It is this type of attitude and his humble and down-to-earth yet ambitious persona that resonates and is appreciated. Adding to this global following that is consuming his lyrics word by word, expectations for his upcoming album brings along a certain level of responsibility, a truth he has just begun to realize but has yet to fully understand.
There’s a saying in the music industry that implies that you’re always as good as your last hit. Kendrick’s approach to creating music indicates that he is fully aware of this fact. At 27 years of age, Kendrick Lamar has changed. While he might still be the good kid at heart trying to escape the negative influences of his hometown of Compton, he has matured. We meet him at a studio on a quiet afternoon in the Arts District of Downtown LA. At the time, the release of “i,” the first single and first audio impression of his new album, was only a few days away. Accordingly, there was a great deal of excitement among his entourage, including members from his TDE family and his label Interscope Records as they seemed ready for the next chapter of Kendrick Lamar Duckworth’s story as a recording artist to erupt upon modern pop culture. More so, they understand he’s onto something bigger. Casually dressed in a grey hoodie, jeans and sneakers, K. Dot, as he’s affectionately called within the hip-hop community, was calm, reflective and focused. He was ready for an extensive promotional campaign filled with a multitude of interviews, ready to spread his word out. He’s on a mission.
Kendrick loves himself, and he wants you to love yourself as well. This is the core message of new single “i,” a statement for those that let their brains be corrupted by negative elements in the outside world. Kendrick intends to release a more positive and inspiring song for those that are incarcerated or those “outside” that struggle to live a better life, to uplift their spirits. “i” embodies his new mission to go beyond industry standards to connect with people through music.
While recording his previous works, Kendrick had a specific audience in mind. His debut albumSection.80 is a tribute to his generation, to those that were born in the 1980’s, a decade riddled with severe drug epidemics. good kid, m.A.A.d city, on the other hand, chronicled a vivid picture of Kendrick’s inner conflict between his childhood innocence and the brutal realities of gang violence in his hometown of Compton. For each previous release, he spoke to a demographic that he was familiar with, people that shared the same set of experiences. What he did not realize back then, however, was that his music touched millions of people around the globe -- people that came from different backgrounds and were facing other issues growing up. He treats music the same way most other artists do; it is his trigger of self-expression, to let off steam. While he remains lyrically introspective, he openly confronts his problems of his past. His listeners, no matter they’re based in Southern California or on the Golden Coast of Australia, can relate.
He now is aware of the power of his lyrics, the power of word. Although he is consciously aware of his responsibility towards his audience, it marks an entirely new situation for him. “Knowing that not only people from my community, but people around the world, are hanging onto my words is remarkable to me. And I don't know everything. I'm gifted with a talent that was given to me by God but I'm only 27 years old. I go out to these shows and someone might approach me and say, ‘your music saved my life yesterday, and I was ready to kill myself.’ That's something I think about, when somebody marks my words, and I don't know how much this kid is affected by this one line, you know I'm saying? That's also something that's in the back of my head all the time. I'm learning to deal with this, to accept it. As time goes on, I will be more open to it.”
It’s in his hometown of Compton, the m.A.A.d city, where his words find arguably the biggest echo, where his mission of self-empowerment has the biggest impact. When you mention Compton, Kendrick suddenly lightens up. Despite his busy touring schedule that has taken him around the globe during the past 24 months, he goes back everytime he gets off the road. He understands that the people of Compton look up to him. With his music, he is pushing for improvement, to tighten the gap between their socio-economic realities and their aspirations. He wants to inspire. “I remember a lot of times when I was a kid, I used to watch entertainers on TV, believing that they were just part of my imagination because you couldn’t touch them. You don’t see these people in your neighborhood. They are popular, they travel the world, you don’t touch them. For the kids growing up in my neighborhood today, I’m their same figure of imagination. That’s why I go back every chance I get because the love is just there, and you just see it in the looks on their faces. I come from this city, this area. The kids see somebody in their community that came out and made something out of themselves. They ain’t gotta worry.” Furthermore, his love for his hometown is a matter of respect and appreciation, “My relationship with Compton is not a boundary thing. The people here know how to interpret my success: I did it for myself and you can do it too. They respect me for that, not from a gang perspective but from a perspective of showing. And I’d rather have them respect me for that than for killing another dude. That is ultimate respect to me. My going back is always a feeling of confirmation, confirmation of success.”