Interview: Kendrick Lamar

Photographer Geordie Wood
October 17, 2012

Kendrick Lamar stopped by FADER offices recently in support of his major label debut, good kid, m.A.A.d city, out October 22nd on Aftermath/Interscope/Top Dawg. He declined to empty his pockets for a Things I Carry ("I've just got my license and a little money…"), but opened up about Barack Obama, being labeled a "conscious rapper" and Top Dawg Entertainment, the tight-knit label where he and the Black Hippy crew came up.

So tell us about the album. It's really just a self portrait. I feel like everything that people have asked me in interviews should be explained in this one album. How I'm able to think the way I think now—it had to come from a negative place first. Family issues, morals. All that is in one debut. I feel like it's a whole new market of people that's listening to me now, so it's almost like a reintroduction to who I am and furthering that longevity.

Has being on a major label made things easier for you? It's really just the same procedure. I'm still with this Top Dawg Entertainment company and we already ran this company like a major. Top Dawg: four individual kids off the streets, man, and really just gave them a domain to do something positive. We always did the work. We understood that if we wanted to be amongst the elite, we gotta conduct ourselves. So us joining forces with Interscope is basically a continuance of that, giving us an opportunity to do something constructive with ourselves, and the most positive high ever.

How’s it going with everybody? Ab-Soul’s album seems like it did well. I think every artist on the label is in a great space. We never wanted to present it as only one main artist in the camp. We wanted to solidify everybody as their own individual. That's what's happening now. You see Schoolboy Q's taking off. [Jay] Rock already been there and still working. Ab-Soul. Everybody's making their own lane and their own path to where people can't look at it as if Top Dawg Entertainment is Kendrick Lamar. It's all of us as a collective that's representing this company.

Stream: Kendrick Lamar, "Backseat Freestyle" (Prod. by Hit-Boy)

The album looks like a picture of you as a baby at a house party. What's the story behind that picture? I think the people that'll really understand the cover and the significance of every little piece in the portraits is people that's been rocking with me since day one. Those are real portraits. They'll understand what that means way before they hear the album. I'm sure that paints a big, big picture of what I represent, coming from this place, but it’s what I've been talking about, the lifestyle and putting a positive light on it at the end of the day.

That runs through so much of your music, this uplifting spin on things. There's so much negativity in the world today. People know what's real and know what's fake. They know who really lived it and who's trying to live it. That's what I think people rock with me genuinely, because they know I'm not out here trying to glorify certain situations through these records or say I'm the biggest killer in the world. I don't believe in none of these rappers anyway. The real gangsters, you never really see their faces because they're either in the ground, in prison or behind the scenes.

What is people’s biggest misconception about you? Early on, when I started really getting attention, I seen a lot of blogs and a lot of media try to classify my music as one particular thing. That was like the "conscious" thing. It's crazy, because they define it after just one project, certain things I was talking about. I never wanted that. I never want people to classify my music. That went out the window once I dropped a record called "Ignorance Is Bliss." It was street, it was West Coast, it was a little bit more wisdom, and a person can't really fake that. They figured out it wasn’t just the introspective side. At the end of the day, I want people to recognize me as just a human being, period. I talk about whatever I feel and whatever I go through.

What makes you happiest right now?It's a few things. One, this influence I have on my community, on my city. I'm doing something in a positive light for these kids out here. A few of my homeboys, they're locked up, they got kids and they're going straight to jail as soon as they have these babies. Their sons, they're five, six years old now. They're looking at me to do something different. Their fathers respect that. So when their kid can see me on TV and get excited about it and know that I came from the same place they came from, that's a great feeling to accomplish. That's definitely a great feeling because I know it's gonna start from that small place, that community in Compton, and eventually speed around the world. I wanna spark that idea in my own backyard first.

In another interview recently that you said you don’t vote. Has anyone given you a hard time for saying that? No. It was my own personal opinion and they know I'm true to myself. I'm not knocking the kids not to go out there and do it. Do it and get that experience. I gained that experience, it's just a personal thing within myself and where I'm at in my life and how I feel about the world and spiritually. It has nothing to do with Obama. I want Obama to get that spot because I know he has a good heart. It's just the people behind him. You have some people that say I’m in a space now where I disregard the people that are still struggling. That's bullcrap, because at the end of the day, I've been thinking the same way since I was 16 years old. My whole thing is: people always look at the high places to come back down and help these communities, but at the end of the day, it starts with the people that's in the communities. That's what I really wanna stress.

Interview: Kendrick Lamar