“Believe it or not, Section.80 is just a warm up.”
When Kendrick Lamar speaks of his critically acclaimed project in this manner, you get a sense of sincerity in his voice. The Compton, California representative has received rave reviews from various publications, including ours. He’s also garnered support from other emcees, veterans and newcomers alike. Hip Hop legends like Snoop Dogg, Kurupt and Dr. Dre have all cosigned Lamar’s talent. So, what’s next?
Before moving forward, K. Dot understands it’s always crucial to look back and to look within. During this exclusive interview with HipHopDX at the request of guest editor Game, Kendrick spoke as to why he wants to let Section.80 settle for some time before unveiling the newer projects he has in the stash. He also spoke on how various life experiences have informed his writing and about what it’s like to run with the West Coast’s baton.
Kendrick Lamar Acknowledges Game For Supporting His Movement
HipHopDX: What was it like to work with Game on the R.E.D. Album?
Kendrick Lamar: It was crazy, man! You know, I always admired Game’s work ethic, as far as being a student of the game, like myself. So, when he finally called me to be on The R.E.D. Album, that was a blessing for me, just off the fact that somebody I admired in the game would reach out and extend their hand to do me a favor to put me on the intro, not just a track, but the intro. That says a lot because it sets the tone for what he’s talking about. I’m privileged to be side by side with a rapper like that. I felt that it was a song that was necessary. I’m from Compton, he’s from Compton. I’m the young one coming from Compton. He was basically saying, here, take this and run with it. That’s how the track felt. It was real.
DX: Like passing the torch or baton.
Kendrick Lamar: Yeah.
DX: You’ve had that a lot. You’ve had a lot of co-signs from different artists, including Dr. Dre. How does it feel to not just be the up and coming artists, but to be someone who’s actually running with them?
Kendrick Lamar: It feels great, man. The best feeling is knowing all these years that I sat and slaved in that studio, working on my craft as a student of the game, that it finally, it’s really paid off. Not only that but the vision that I seen four or five years ago is actually manifesting. I always say, what’s a man without vision? If I couldn’t see myself at the forefront, as far as the best artists in the world or running with them or against them, I probably would never even be having this interview right now. This is something that I’d always seen. I always prepared myself for it. I don’t care if it’s Jay-Z or Nas, you could bring [Tupac Shakur] and [Notorious B.I.G.] back. If God did that, I’d be right there competing. That’s how I take it now. I take it as an honor. It’s nothing but respect. It’s a blessing.
DX: When do you think the world will be ready to hear the work you have done with Dr. Dre? Not necessarily Detox records. I know you have some records stashed for your own album. When do you think the world will be ready to hear that?
Kendrick Lamar: When do I think the world will be ready to hear that? I think I’ma let this Section.80 sit for awhile longer. I don’t have no exact time or month, but I’ll say soon. I want to let this Section.80 sit and let everybody soak in what I have to talk about before I really give them the big bang, or the real story. Everything that I’ve been putting out has been premeditated for what’s going to happen and what I really want to say. I held a lot of stuff back for my debut album. Believe it or not, Section.80 is just a warm up. People are really blessing it as one of the greatest albums of the year and I love that. It just excites me because I know I have so much more to say. The records that I have in the cut, it wows me to listen to them and know what the people are about to hear.
Kendrick Lamar Breaks Down Section.80
DX: Let's talk about Section.80. One of the Section.80 lines that stands out is when you say, “I wrote this because I was ordered to. People say I speak for generation Y. Why lie? I do.” What would you say are the greatest issues that you have to address as you speak for generation Y and what made you get on this quest to be a spokesman for the generation?
Kendrick Lamar: It's just my life and the experiences of those around me and how I put it in my music and the cause and effect after I put it in my music. The response that I got, I walk in the streets everyday in the city of Compton. People come up to me every day and tell me how I'm [making] music that is helping them get through life and I'm speaking for them. So, a whole year of going on with the same type of responses, I couldn't help but sit back and realize that the music is just bigger than me now. I can't be selfish and just make records that I want to make. Now I'm talking for a whole generation that needs help. It feels good. They tell me it feels good to hear it come from a person that is in their same age group, that wants to spread positive words to the help them have a better insight on life. So, I felt it was my responsibility, man. Ain’t nobody out here that's really doing it. Everybody that we looked up to coming up, our favorite rappers, they’re in a whole 'nother space now. They can't talk about something that's going to be relatable to the average 18 year-old that's just getting out of high school and don't know what to do with their life. I was there a few years ago so I can speak on topics that people want to hear, as far as L.A. and even around the world. That's what motivates me. That’s what Section.80 was based around.
DX: When did you realize that within yourself, that you had a voice, a gift to where you could speak for others as well as yourself?
Kendrick Lamar: I knew the potential the moment I got in the studio. I was probably around 16, 17. There was a few particular records that I had made that, when people listen back on them, they just have a greater energy. It’s something that I had never felt when I was 17, on any one of my records. The response I got let me know that I could be something greater than just a rapper or a writer. I can’t change nothing. Change takes years and time, longer than probably what I will live. But, what I can do is make people think a little more.
DX: When you started, did the flow come naturally to you? Was it something you worked on while studying others? How did the flow come?
Kendrick Lamar: Before I found my complete mix as an artist and solidified my sound, I was a student of the game, period. When I got into this industry, I said, “I’ve got to be the best at it.” So, I went back to study all these people that were great, you know? [Artists ranged] from Bone Thugs-N-Harmony to [2Pac] and everything in between, Nas, Jay-Z, Big, of course, you know, the elite players. What I really did was, I sat down and listened, learned what I should do and what not to do. I learned what completes me, what betters my sound, as far as my tone, how I say my words and my content. I think all of it goes hand in hand to be one of the elite players in this business, as far as creating music. That’s how I went about it. Now, it’s coming out to where all those sounds are manifesting.
DX: Why was it important to begin Section.80 by making sure that color lines were non-existent with “Fuck Your Ethnicity?”
Kendrick Lamar: That was inspired by my shows, man. When I first started doing these shows, having my own headline, I would notice this. I went to the shows with the intentions of them being Black or Latino but when I looked around, there were so many different ethnic groups of people. There were Black, Latino, Caucasian people and Asians. That really did something else for me because it let me know that the minorities are not just listening to me. The people that I grew up in Compton with are not just listening to me. Now, it's getting on a different scale where I can go out to these different states or even out the country and people are saying these words verbatim and feeling the same way that I felt growing up in a little bitty neighborhood in Compton. They are feeling the same emotions that I was feeling when I was writing these records. So, it inspired me to do a song called “Fuck Your Ethnicity” . That's something that I come out to at all of my shows now, so the outcome was positive, man. I love it.
DX: How does that type of message allow us to embrace one another as people and not just different circles within our ethnicities? How does that help us as we move forward?
Kendrick Lamar: It lets people know that we are in a new day and age now. We need to get over the whole fight and war about racism. At the end of the day, we’re all human beings. I think that's what a lot of people, even myself once upon a time, get misconstrued. Yeah, we have different ethnicities but at the end of the day, we’re all humans living on planet earth. This is not our earth. This is God’s green earth. So in order for us to live, we're going to have a question that eventually. That's why the world is so fucked up today because over the years, people have lost sight of what's really going on. Shit is really real. The main thing is to live and we're not living because there are so many distractions. That's why I felt that song was necessary especially for our generation
DX: “No Make Up” is also an inspired concept. What brought that track to life for you? What do you hope that record gets across to young people?
Kendrick Lamar: Section.80 was based on my generation and through the whole thing, I just wanted to speak on male and females. That's one of my female records where I wanted to talk about a woman's vice. “No Make Up” represents everything. It represents a woman’s vice, it can represent flashy clothes and being out in the club, being loud and wanting attention or being disrespectful to elders. This is what we see in everyday life, especially growing up in Compton. I wanted to make a song that had some sort of analogy towards that. “No Make Up” was one of them joints where I felt like a lot of women put on make up because they feel they are not beautiful on the inside and the makeup hides the fact that they feel that way. When I say not beautiful on the inside, it means everything they have insecurities so I think a lot of people can relate to it, a lot of females come up to me now and say thank you for the record
DX: Yeah and at the same time, I think the end of the record is powerful because it also puts the mirror in the man's face to say, “What are you doing to make a woman feel that way?”
Kendrick Lamar: Exactly! That's the whole twist on that song. I'm glad you caught that. I did a record called “She Needs Me” that had that same type of twist on it. Everybody thought “She Needs Me” was about a woman but it was basically biggin' up myself saying how powerful this woman was and she wants me so if this woman is that powerful, imagine what I am.
DX: “Ronald Reagan” is another cut that has some history to it. Now, certain people may love Reagan while others definitely hate him. What effects do you think of, though, when you think of the Ronald Reagan and what he did to the nation?
Kendrick Lamar: Well, first off, my pops was putting me on it a while ago, before I made the record, basically telling me how that era was an era where a lot of crack was coming in. The reason behind that record is just the fact that when that era was going on, a lot of babies was being born without having their father in their lives. I felt like since we had this stigma about the Ronald Reagan era, why not make a song about it? So that's what it is, man, just talking about the ills of the world and the children of the world. Really, that record was based upon just in Compton, in general, I felt like we are a big product of the Ronald Reagan era.
DX: “I used to want to see the penitentiary way after elementary.” When did you realize that the penitentiary wasn’t your destiny?
Kendrick Lamar: Probably around eleventh grade, man, to tell you the truth. In elementary and middle school and even high school, everybody that I know wanted to go to the penitentiary just to say that they did. When that's what we was raised around, motherfuckers in and out of jail. Then we thought that was cool once upon a time. When I seen that my uncle wasn't really coming home, that fucks you up once you get a certain age and you realize the power of taking life for granted that something that I realized any change my whole outlook seeing him behind the walls and him telling me that's not the place to be, telling me to make something of myself. Hopefully one day you can change our family history of going to gel and being locked up and being present but it's bigger than me just changing my ways because there's a responsibility now for the next generation
DX: But you also mentioned that you didn't just want to see that because you thought it was cool, you also know that this was institutionalized.
Kendrick Lamar: Right! Exactly, because I have six uncles and throughout my years coming up, they were always constantly in and out of jail, with juvenile hall or county jail or prison. They got prone to being institutionalized when I seen that and not only seen half on my household but all my other homeboys were going through the same type of experience. I thought it was regular to do that. It's institutionalized. I was thinking that we were all supposed to be institutionalized someday at sometime as black man. And it's fucked up that young black males thing that I literally thought that and I know millions around the world think the same thing.
Kendrick Lamar Talks About Religion And Faith In His Music
DX: On the same song, you say, “Ministers tried to save me. How I’m gon’ listen when I don’t even hear God.” You also talk about God in other tracks. What has been your relationship with religion in your life?
Kendrick Lamar: I intend to put that in my music because that's a part of me that I cannot hide. I had a record on my first EP called "Faith." I tend to put the record amid record about that because we're scared to talk about going in and out of faith with a higher power because there are certain moments in life are we feel that everything crumbles and we feel like there's no help, no where, not physical, mental or spiritual form. I felt I needed to put that because I’m a person right now-me as a person, not even an artist-I’m just somebody looking for answers. I think that’s why people can relate to me. I believe in a higher power. But, I am human at the same time and I go through things where I’m like, “damn, why is this happening to me?” That’s emotion and that’s how I vent. I vent through the music. I sit down in my room after I write records like that and I pray about it to help me better myself, and my strength with God, my relationship.
DX: Right. On “Faith,” you talk about walking out of church feeling like you were free from sin but then getting a phone call that a homie was murdered, you lose faith again. I think that speaks to the ups and downs of the world. What helps you cope with the downs when you’re going through them?
Kendrick Lamar: My family, man. My family. When I think about me going through downs, I always think about somebody going through a greater turmoil than I’m going through. I think about that, I think about my family and I know there’s a greater person, a greater power within myself that I have to build on. I know I can’t be selfish and dwell. I can feel down but I can’t sit and dwell on it. Everybody has sorrows but when you dwell on it and harp on it, that’s time consuming. That’s tedious. There are people that don’t even have homes.
DX: When you composed “Keisha’s Song,” what did you hope that it would make people think of? Also, how would you like it to affect women who are either in that life or thinking about it? How would you like it to affect men who are out there driving around in search of that?
Kendrick Lamar: “Keisha’s Song” is a true story based on a real person that I know and a street that’s in Compton called Long Beach Boulevard. It’s a long strip. Well, it’s not that long. It probably stems from a 20-block radius, as far as prostitution goes. One particular female that I know, who was fairly young, 17, well, truthfully, everybody out there is really in high school still. Going past, these are young girls. I so happened to roll passed a particular female that I do know. I went to school with her sister. Her younger sister was out there. It was just a crazy feeling to me because the first thought I had when I seen this young lady was of my little sister. I have a little sister who is 11 years old. So, that was probably the fastest record I wrote, truthfully. I went home, found the perfect instrumentation for it and started penning about it, man, just coming up with the concept and the story of it. I feel like the situation I was talking about, the pain that she had in her eyes, I know she’s gone through some type of experience. I know she’s going through that or otherwise, she wouldn’t be going out there looking like that. I wanted to get the message out to show the reality of it all, that there’s real women that’s really out there that’s hurt with a lack of guidance, not just men with a lack of guidance, but women with a lack of guidance where it goes from being promiscuous to prostitution. That was her situation. I always knew that little girl to be real promiscuous, as far as being a "ho" in the streets, quote, unquote a “ho” in these streets, as we would call it, sleeping with the homies and whatnot. Now, she done manifested to actually really getting paid for prostitution. It’s just a look on life to let people know, when you see these types of people, reflect on the people you love, your sister, your mother. Would you want to see her out there like that? So, the first thing I did was hit her people up and tried to reach out to her to let her hear the song. I know they haven’t got back yet, but I don’t know her response, but hopefully, it’ll get at her and put some insight on her life.