Black Hippy: A View from the Center

Lamar’s technical proficiency also serves to compensate for his greatest weakness—those brief moments on Section.80 where his naked honesty and genuine idealism can sound preachy or downright corny, particularly to ears weaned on brash rap tropes. (“No Makeup,” for example, dissolves into a “You ain’t gotta get drunk to have fun!” refrain that could’ve come straight out of an after school special.) Lamar is willing to wear his flaws on his sleeve, though and expects that this candor will pay off in the long run. “The best thing is to let people know that you a human just like them,” he says. “I think that’s why a lot of motherfuckers fuck with me because the shit I put out on my music is me not knowing everything. It’s me trying to figure out the world just like you.”

Sometimes Lamar is so broad in this worldly inquisition that he himself gets lost in the story. He’s mostly tightlipped about plans for his proper debut, Good Kid In A Mad City, but hints at a more introspective project. It’s hard to imagine what exactly this personal narrative entails because, for the moment, he seems to have so deeply buried himself in his art and career. How do you tell your life story through music if music is your life? “Music…is literally all I think about,” he says almost apologetically. “I could be talking to my momma and be thinking about music. So sometimes you gotta take a few hours out the week to really focus on family and not be caught up in your lifestyle.”

Later that day he does just that, paying his mother a visit at her home, a single story with two bedrooms and what Lamar calls a “traditional Compton kitchen.” “You got your little white stove top, a refrigerator with a hundred magnets, like a hundred boxes of cereal and noodles.” “I didn’t know he was into music,” his mother says. “Coming up, when he was a baby, we partied a lot. He’d always go in his room and eat his little cereal, make a cup of noodles and stay out of our way. He never was in the party scene.” A large, ’80s-style integrated DJ rig, with two mics and speakers about five feet tall, sits in the living room, seemingly left over from those party days. The system would still be the room’s centerpiece had Lamar not gifted his mom with the enormous flatscreen that now devours the other side of the room. A second TV of similar size swallows her bedroom. Amidst the big screens crammed into small spaces, his mother continues, “He was my only child for six years, he was my baby. He was lonely but he put it all into writing.” Now Lamar is the eldest of four. His 12-year-old sister just shrugs when asked about her brother’s music career. She prefers the more party-oriented output of fellow Compton rapper YG.

Early the next morning Lamar is back in the studio waiting for the other Hippies before a photo shoot. Taking the opportunity to touch up some tracks, he operates as his own engineer, pressing record a few bars early and then sprint hopping back into the vocal booth to lay his own vocals. Produced by Drake affiliate T-Minus, the track sounds a lot like, well, a Drake song with its bluntly emotional fluttering synths. It’s a record that could fit in quite comfortably on current day rap radio and yet Lamar seems a little embarrassed to be playing it in mixed company, perhaps recalling the fourth law of Top’s manifesto: Uniqueness. He emphatically points out that the track is not intended for his forthcoming album. It is, instead, “some freelance shit.” Then he plays a different track, one that is decidedly Kendrick Lamar. It folds much of everything he’s been talking about the past few days—his father’s teachings, his view of the world from the dead fucking center, Compton kitchens with a hundred boxes of cereal—into song, wrapped and rapped in fast flows and ricocheting cartoon voices.

“The debut album is really gonna put everything on the platform about where I’m at now,” he says. “You’re always growing and Imma put that in every song. Imma put my weakness in song, Imma put my strengths. You’re gonna see me.”

Soon the rest of the crew finds their way to the studio and the procession slowly moves outside. There is some confusion over where exactly the shoot will be taking place and a small caravan begins to spiral the cul-de-sac. As the TDE brass irons out the day’s plans, one of the cars blasts Q’s “Niggahs Already Know” and it once again sparks an impromptu party. Blunts are passed, bodies are slung into awkward half-dance steps and chants of the Niggas already know Q got… refrain so frequently work their way into the conversation that it begins to resemble a very loose rap cipher. This short burst of fun is both the reward for and the product of all of their hard work, the difference between being in the street and the studio may not be all that great.

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POSTED February 20, 2012 9:02PM IN FEATURES Comments (58) TAGS: , , , , , , , ,