It seems like the Compton MC is unstoppable right now.
HIs UK shows received rave reviews of 4 and stars, his album was one of the biggest first week sales of 2012 (bigger even than Rihanna and Rick Ross) and he has everyone from (erm) Dido to Gaga queuing up to work with him. Check his freestyle over Nas' Nas Is Like to get some idea of why he is being heralded as on the greatest rhymers out today.
We caught up with Kendrick when he was in London recently. Here's what he had to say for himself:
It's been a good year for debut artists like yourself, 2 Chainz, Meek Mill etc. How have you found the last few months, in terms of all the critical and commercial acclaim?
I find it quite amazing, alongside a lot of great artists, good artists. And they’re placing me to the side, as far as an album or a new artist, as one of the pinnacles. Placing me at the forefront of hip hop. It’s a great feeling cos I put a whole lot of hard work and dedication into it. They say I’m holding it down as the leader of the new school.
How have you managed that?
I think it’s really just based on the connection. I have a real close connection with people that listen to my music; it’s bigger than just a hit song or a hot video or something like that. They really feel me, they really root for me because they know at the end of the day, I’m just like them. It’s something I learnt to grow with, how to take my talents from that underground world and clash it into a universal world is something that I’ve developed over the years, for a long, long time. Some things you really can’t explain; Jay-Z can’t tell you why he’s still around. He could tell you a politically correct answer, but it’s really God’s gift to be able to be true to yourself while still appealing to a lot of people.
Section 80 appears to have been the turning point, but where did the fans come from before?
By putting my best music out. I was once one of those artists who didn’t want to put certain tracks out because I was saving it for an album. But in all actuality, you should be able to constantly make something better than your last project. Every time I put a song out, I want it to be my best song, not a throwaway song, just throw it to the internet; it should be your best song. I really had that initial state of mind; if I continue to put my best music out and be competing, then it would eventually spread through word of mouth. It’s incredible, the effect and the power of people hearing and talking about your music.
Some things you really can’t explain; Jay-Z can’t tell you why he’s still around. He could tell you a politically correct answer, but it’s really God’s gift to be able to be true to yourself while still appealing to a lot of people.
How did you defy the odds of being a young man from Compton?
Man. I think just by the grace of God. I had faith. I was always the chosen one out of my neighbourhood. I was the one to follow something positive to do and my outlet was music, it became my life 100% and I ran with it. I knew for a fact that those that could help themselves around me could at least put themselves in a position to be inspired by me. I take full leadership, full responsibility for it. I knew I was blessed with a gift of having both parents. That right there gave me a little bit more insight than a few of my other homeboys that didn’t have that. They weren’t the most straight-arrow parents (grins), but they were there and that gave me a whole lot of confidence. So I had respect for that and I didn’t want to throw that away, I didn’t want to throw my life away. So thinking about that, I was swayed towards positivity through music. I chose to do this.
There's a lot of 90s samples in your music - Aaliyah, Adina Howard etc. How would you describe Compton in the 90s?
The 90s is some of my most prolific memories. It was a whole bunch of house parties, more people were outside then, for some reason. The block was always filled with people, the swap meet was always filled with people shopping. It was a time in my life where there was a whole lot going on. It seemed fun, at the time. It was very unpredictable but it was exciting. You have your best of days and you have your worst of days. I can remember, it was give and take, a balance. Sometimes when you go outside and play basketball, sometimes you hear gunshots, sometimes you have houseparties and there’s a driveby – it was just up and down. But that triggered a lot of what I talked about in my music and what I’ve been through and what my family's been through.
Your album feels intensely biographical.
The album represents one day in my life; the day that I actually turned my whole life around. That shows you how much can go on in one day (laughs). That was one particular day in my life that turned my whole life right around. The world can understand a story but they won’t really understand it until they come to the city and hear these people that I’ve been around and see the locations that I’m talking about. For the people that I’m talking about, it’s really close to home for them because it shows a different light, a realist state of mind but showing at the same time that things can change, things can turn around.
The album represents one day in my life; the day that I actually turned my whole life around.
Where did the idea to offer a different perspective on Compton come from?
It never was really no reasoning behind it. That was a dare to myself to stand out and do that. Because you never know how people will take you or perceive you to be, if you’re not something they’re used to. People are scared of change, change is definitely me. I felt like it was something I’ve seen, something I know, my whole life, my real life. Something that’s never been touched on is the reasoning behind the street credibility; why these kids wanna be they they do, why they act the way they act, live the way they do and take full responsibility for it. That’s my whole science behind it.
What are those reasons?
Really, no guidance. The true story behind this album is showing how the world look at my friends as delinquents, as terrible people when they really are good kids at heart. Great hearts. But from the time they was born, they had no figure in their lives to really coach them and show them how to become a man. I had that father figure, my friends didn’t. With that being said, they tend to act upon what they see and it’s a constant cycle. I was born in ’87, most of my friends were born in the 80s. This the era of crack cocaine, the crack epidemic hit very, very heavy, so you have most of these kid’s father’s going to jail for life, they mothers getting strung out on drugs. So all they stand with is their grandmother and their grandmother can only show them so much without a father figure around them. That’s one of the stories that I put out there through my album.
Is that a picture of your dad on the album?
Yeah, with the shotgun? (Laughs). He’s crazy. That was his young, wild days. That’s how I remember him. It was normal to me, guns in the house. They kept them away from me though, they were smart enough to do that. But I seen it.
And the taped conversations that you have on g.o.o.d kid?
That was for real. That was me bringing them [my parents] into the studio and telling them 'be yourself and reminisce’. That’s all I told them. Some parts I didn’t tell them the mics were on. So what you’re hearing is really them actually talking how they would talk inside the house.
Is there a line on the album that implicitly defines who you are?
(Raps for a bit). ‘Look inside these walls and you see them having withdrawals/ Of a prisoner on his way, trapped inside your desire/ To fire/ Bullets that stray/ Track a tire/ He’s told you I’m tired and ran way/ I should ask a choir what do you require to sing a song that acquire me to have faith?’ [Pauses]
Ok, this the line. ‘As the record spin I should pray/ But for the record I recognise that I’m easily prey/ I got ate alive yesterday.’ Just that line. ‘For the record I should pray, I got ate alive yesterday but I’m prey.’ It describes me really being right in the dead centre of everything that’s going around and being vulnerable to it and oblivious to it and trying to find my way out. ‘As the record spin I should pray/ But for the record I recognise that I’m easily prey/ I got ate alive yesterday.’ Just being vulnerable to everything that’s going on around and being scared, then fearless the next moment, trying to pull out all of these different emotions going on but you’re trapped. A good kid trapped trying to figure it out.
You lost a lot of people? Is music a way for you to cope?
Yeah music. My music is really venting sessions; they keep me alive, they keep me motivated to continue to vent through it. This album is a self-portrait but it’s really a piece to help me move on with my life and get past my past demons and really better myself as a person. It was really a growing process so when I go back and listen to this, I can really say ‘I did it’. I wasn’t scared to tell these stories and show this vulnerability knowing it can help somebody else. Because for a while, you know, as an artist, you be scared to talk about certain topics because you can never be sure how people will perceive you or what they’ll think about you. That’s something that I learnt from Tupac, how to put those emotions out there’s and not being scared to.
This album is a self-portrait but it’s really a piece to help me move on with my life and get past my past demons and really better myself as a person.
What was the problem with the Lady Gaga track?
It really was a timing difference and something that was out of my control but then I think these things happen for a reason. We didn’t want to push the album back again, so getting that song mixed and mastered and getting the business done would have meant it would have been pushed a couple more weeks and it might have come out the day Obama was re-elected so… that wouldn’t have been good. I didn’t want to wait so I had to go forward. But by the grace of her, she put that version out. I love Gaga (laughs). I’m glad she got to share that moment with the world.
What's she like to be around?
Great, great, a beautiful person. She’s always happy, very considerate, very passionate. A people’s person.
Lady Gaga is always happy, very considerate, very passionate. A people’s person.
And how about your relationship with Dre? How involved is he?
He has input. For the process of this album he really just told me ‘go ahead and make your album and bring it back’. He felt I was already developed, he felt I had a vision and he felt I could execute this vision. The initial plan was for me to make this album and then come back and get in the studio with me and him. But when I came back he said ‘You’re done, what do you need more beats for? It would have just been prolonging people from hearing this masterpiece’. That was a big wow for me that a person can appreciate my music that much that he doesn’t want to lay any type of hand on the back end of it. It was really humbling. This is Dr Dre. He said ‘I’m Dre. I’m on it, lets get it out’. Humbly, he just loves the music, he’s a fan of music. He said ‘You’re ready, you did it’.
Was it weird for you to meet him?
It was weird. Very weird. Especially at the beginning. Like, all these people you see on TV all the time. As a kid, figuratively, you really don't look at them as a human being cos you’re on these high places, like TV, so a kid feels they can’t touch you. That’s how I felt as a kid looking at my favourite rappers like Dre, Snoop and them. The fact to see him and shake his hand and then work with him bought back all the memories of me watching TV and wondering what it would be like to be around these guys. At the end of the day, they’re just genuine, regular people.
Dre works out hard. Everyday. Two miles a day hiking, gym… I’m going to start doing that if I can hang. I don’t thing I can hang..
With his big arms.
(Laughs). Yeah, he works out hard. Everyday. Two miles a day hiking, gym… I’m going to start doing that if I can hang. I don’t thing I can hang (laughs).
So, what are you bringing to the hip hip landscape?
Continuing the culture as far as being original, keeping originality inside of hip op. My earliest memories of hip hop from an older persons telling was that if you copied or bit anybody’s style, you’d get kicked out the game so, seeing the repetitiveness that was here over the last couple of years, just really changing that design and standing out and what happens is that furthers the culture. My initial start with doing that, is with this album.
good kid, m.A.A.d city is out now.