interviewKENDRICK LAMAR  (May 2011) | Interview By: Nima Etminan

Dubcnn met up with Kendrick Lamar at the Top Dawg Ent headquarters in Carson, CA, to find out what he's got going on. Kendrick takes us back in time to the days when he was going by the alias of K.Dot and explains why he switched it up to his government name - and now that helped him as an artist.

We find out how Top Dawg Ent formed and why Kendrick, Jay Rock, Ab-Soul and Schoolboy Q rap together under the name "Black Hippy". We talk about Kendrick's current single "HiiiPoWeR", his upcoming album "Section80" and what fans can expect from it.

We also talk about the upcoming project wit J. Cole, whether he would sign to Aftermath if given the chance, his motivation behind making music and which artists from California he's currently feeling.

Read on and enjoy. As always feel free to hit up
nima@dubcnn.com with questions or comments.

Interview was done in May 2011

Questions Asked By: Nima Etminan
Dubcnn Exclusive Kendrick Lamar
By: Nima Etminan


Dubcnn: Kendrick! You on dubcnn right now, back on the site. You've been on here since like '07 as K.Dot!

Kendrick: Yeah, "Training Day" mixtape.

Dubcnn: All that, "Training Day", the mixtape with Jay Rock, I forget the name but it was the one with all the DJ's on it..

Kendrick: *laughs* He said the one with all the DJ's! Yeah, "No Sleep Till NYC", all the "Watts Finest" tapes, we've got a whole catalogue!

Dubcnn: Looking back at your stuff as K.Dot, it seems like when you changed your name to Kendrick Lamar, a change happened in your career and you started getting noticed by more people. Was that intentional or was it something that just happened?

Kendrick: It came with developing myself and my growth as a person, as well as an artist. K.Dot was me trying to find my niche and find myself. I came into this business wanting to be the best rapper, so I went and studied the greats, the usual suspects - 2Pac, Jay-Z, Nas of course. It was basically finding my niche, taking pieces from their styles and putting it all into one. Eventually, by practicing and getting better in the studio and working on my craft, I developed into my own. That's something that takes time.

Dubcnn: What got you to the point where you were like "Okay, this K.Dot thing… I gotta switch it up to Kendrick Lamar"?

Kendrick: I felt like I didn't wanna be just another cat out in the streets that's got a lot of raps. I had started focusing on so many lyrics that I forgot the structure of being a real artist. The transition to Kendrick Lamar was me getting comfortable with myself and not being confined with what the radio and the industry wanted. K.Dot was a person that was trapped in a world where I felt that I needed a hit single or I needed praise from a label to get the type of push I need. And that was just me being a kid at 16, 17 years old, trying to get on. You can't knock that.

But with time, as I matured, I found out that I wanted to do something that really defines who I am and my character, something I feel like doing. That's what I did and the world has been real receptive to it.

Dubcnn: You're part of Top Dawg Ent and a lot of people don't really know the background story to TDE. How did this crew come together? I mean you got Jay Rock, who's branded as more of a gangster rapper, you got yourself, who's more eclectic and lyrical, and you've got Ab-Soul and Schoolboy Q. It's an interesting mixture, how did these 4 become a group?

Kendrick: I can start back from the jump. You know, Watts and Compton is just 5 minutes away and I always used to see Rock around the city and stuff, he used to be up at my school bullying and shit like that, having fun. He was messing with Top Dawg prior to me meeting him and getting in the studio with him.

I was like 16 at the time and had a local mixtape out, "Hub City Threat", Top Dawg heard it, he brought me in the studio, I locked in with Rock immediately and it was just us two, working. Then Rock got signed (to Warner) and we started pushing mixtapes and working on his album as well.

Ab-Soul, I don't know where this dude came from! He came with the slick ass wavy hair, we thought it was a curl kit! *laughs* But it actually was his real hair and shit. So we was clowning him and shit, this was before he jumped in the booth, we was just roasting this dude. Then he jumps in the booth and he sounds like some other shit! Top was like "Go back in there again. Let me see how many of those you got!" Me and Rock were looking' at each other like "This dude is sick!"

He started coming back more and more and we started building a family like that! Same thing with Schoolboy Q, he fell out of nowhere, he just came into the studio session one day, I think my dude Ali brought him. He hopped in the booth and it was a wrap! The funny thing is, a lot of artists come in our studio and do music, but it just shows you how unique these 4 individuals are because they got the attention of not only myself, but Top Dawg, the CEO and President of the company. It just let us know that we were doing something right from the jump and ever since then, we've been making music as a family.

Dubcnn: What I find interesting about Top Dawg is that ya'll blur the line between street/gangsta and the other side of it. You've got Schoolboy Q, when you look at his twitter, he spells his N's and his H's in capitals, but at the same time, when you listen to his music, it's different. It makes it hard to categorize the music and I think that puts ya'll over the top as far as being accessible to a wider audience.

Kendrick: It just comes from us being ourselves and wanting to take the game to a whole other level. We all come from L.A., we lived the culture. It's not just the music, we was born and raised out here and walked these streets, before the music. That's always going to be instilled in us, the street side in our music and the things we talk about. At the same time, we also wanna broaden our fanbase. We don't only want it in the West Coast region, but worldwide and make it universal. So we talk about different things that other people can relate to.

Dubcnn: You put out the Kendrick Lamar EP early last year. That's the one that first turned a lot of heads, did you notice a different in the way you were received right after you put that out?

Kendrick: Oh yeah. It was a big difference from when I was going by the alias of K.Dot, because when I did the Kendrick Lamar EP, it had more substance and more me in it. I started to realize that the more I did that type of music, the more people was relating to me. It wasn't just "Oh you a tight rapper, you got 100 bars, you're really dope", but it was more so people in the streets coming up to me like "Nigga, you doing something, you damn near changed my life."

It got to the point where I was getting calls from OG's in the pen like "Yo, keep doing what you're doing because I'm not there for my son to kick the type of shit that you're kicking. You're not preaching, you're kicking reality shit but you're putting a twist on it. At the end of the day you let them know that it's real. So that was my whole approach man and I ran with it! I felt more comfortable doing it, it was my life and my life story, my experiences that I grew up with.

Dubcnn: You took it one step further with the "(O)verily (D)educated" project. That was the one where the whole game started watching you. Top Dawg Ent was one of the first camps to put a stop to constantly releasing free albums by taking your stuff to iTunes via EMPIRE Distribution. Are you happy you made that move?

Kendrick: Yeah, actually, I was finding with Top Dawg about that for a minute! *laughs* We fought about that for months, like real heated arguments, because I felt like the world wasn't ready to support my music yet, because they didn't know me. I was really feeling that way. I almost felt like it was a cocky move to be like "Go out and buy it" without even having a buzz.

But the point that Top Dawg was trying to make was that he believed in me from the jump and he said "Your music is better than 90% of these cats out here. If these people out here really want to stop complaining about what's on the radio and all the bullshit they be always hearing, then tell them to go out and support real music." Once he said that, I said "You know what? You're right. Let's put a price on it and get it back to where it's supposed to be.

We did it and that muthafucka moved man, on iTunes it peaked at number 4 with no promotion. So I realized that it's still a bulk of people out there that still respect real music and support it. So I'm happy with it!

Dubcnn: Now you recently put out a new single "HiiiPoWeR". What's HiiiPoWeR? Cause it's more than just a song…

Kendrick: Yeah. HiiiPoWeR is a way of life, it's how we live and how we think. My whole thing about HiiiPoWeR is the spirit of being rich - not in physical paper, but in mind and heart and spirit. It's about standing higher and being on a plateau above all the bullshit. That's how you carry yourself, the way you act around people and it's just a way of life, really. It's not just a song for me and my crew, because we really go out there and practice this.

Dubcnn: So this is the first single off your upcoming project "Section80". For those who don't, what's Section80 and why Section80?

Kendrick: I can't give it away yet! *laughs* I still wanna shock the people with the shock value when they hear the project and see the whole concept and the cohesiveness of it. A lot of people have been asking me and I was gonna tell it, but I think this is some of my best material and I want you to hear it.

Dubcnn: Wasn't this album supposed to be called "Good City In A Mad City"?

Kendrick: That will probably be my first official, official album. I'm still in the air with the title, but that will be the realm of the concept.

Dubcnn: What can people expect from Section80?

Kendrick: I can give you this much… When I say people in the streets can relate to it, this is that times 10. I would say that. I went deeper with my experiences and just people around me and how I feel about certain things. I can't give you too much *laughs* It's incredible though, I put some time and some effort in it and really sat back and made sure I give people 110%. I wanted to better the last projects that I was doing and I think I've done it. I'm sure I did. I'm quite sure everybody is going to appreciate it.

Dubcnn: Something I noticed about Top Dawg Ent projects is that they always have a certain feel to them. It's cohesive, you can listen to it from front to back, and even though each artist has their own qualities, you can still feel that it's coming from the same camp. Is that something that you want to keep on going for the future?

Kendrick: My whole thing is about broadening my sound with the people I came in with. So when you hear production from Sounwave, Tae Beats and Willie B, these are the people that I've been grinding with from the jump and the people that got me the recognition that I've got now.

So my whole thing is trying to not ever lose that sound. We can make it better but let's not lose what we came in this joint with, because it will throw people off. You always wanna experiment but we always gotta stay in our pocket with the music that we've been doing.

Dubcnn: The four of you (Jay Rock, Kendrick Lamar, Ab-Soul & Schoolboy Q) are also a group called Black Hippy. Why Black Hippy?

Kendrick: We're all from L.A., but from different parts. We just decided to come up with Black Hippy because it describes who we are when we come together. When you think of the word "hippy", you think of people that's carefree, doing what they wanna do, and that's how we look at the industry and how we look at ourselves coming toward the industry and all the politics around it.

We wanna do what we want with our music and that's why we're able to express ourselves on certain tracks and people are receptive to it. We put the word "black" in front of it, because when you think of a hippy, you think of a lot of bright colors.

We took "black" and we placed it in front of that because we're not just talking about a certain color, we're talking about all colors and the colors represent life. The colors represent being happy, being sad, being angry, being mad, being depressed, being stressed. That's how our music feels and we think black represents that when you put it all in a pot. So when you break it down that's why we come together as Black Hippy.

Dubcnn: Do you have an idea when we can expect to hear the Black Hippy album?

Kendrick: It's almost complete. We've got a few mixtapes in the cut too, we've just been sprinkling songs out and testing the waters to see how the people feel. They've been crazy over it, so we're ready for a full project.

Dubcnn: Now you have even more projects lined up. You're working on a full mixture with J. Cole. I know you already talked about this but how did you and J. Cole meet and make a connection?

Kendrick: I met J. Cole in 2010 at the XXL shoot. It was just an introduction of who I am and I already knew his music.

Dubcnn: You mean for Jay Rock's XXL Freshmen shoot in 2010?

Kendrick: Yeah, I was out there with him. So we shook hands and I told him "You know what? I'll see you later on." Sure enough, I think like a month later, he was at my dudes U-N-I's mixtape release party. I was there spitting on the mic and he hollered at my dude Dave and said "Yo, dude is crazy! I remember him!" So we exchanged numbers, he came back a few months later and we hopped in the studio, banged out two or three records and they came out so dope that we said "You know what? Let's see what happens." First we just wanted to throw some songs out, but they started coming out so crazy that we decided to do a full-length something. We kept on banging them out and it was cohesive and felt right. So we decided to tell the public that we're finna go full-fledged with it!

Dubcnn: To put that pressure on yourself to actually have to do it?

Kendrick: *laughs* Right, right. Exactly. When you're dealing with two artists that have their own personal life, their own music and business aspect that they deal with, it's hard to meet up all the time and be on the same level. So we did that by putting the pressure on ourselves by saying "Yo! It's coming!" Now we have to do it! I put out a sample at my in-store ticket signing a while back and the response we got from that was so crazy that we set "We really gotta go now." The YouTube footage audio got ripped and people were bumpin' in their cars! Riding down the street and playing it I was like "How you got that?" *laughs* But it's coming about, I just wanna sit down with him and perfect it and get it all the way right.

Dubcnn: Now something that put you in a lot of people's mouths that didn't know you before, was the Dr. Dre cosign. I didn't bring it up earlier cause I feel like that's not even what makes you special, I believe that you would be in the same spot without that cosign. But how did your music get into Dre's hands in the first place?

Kendrick: Paul Rosenberg, Eminem's manager. He heard it first while I was on the Strange Music tour with Jay Rock. I got the word that Paul Rosenberg called Dre, told him check out this kid in YouTube, the song "Ignorance Is Bliss". That was the first time Dre ever heard me, through that video, which is a great introduction. If I had to pick any song I did as an introduction it would be either that or "The Heart Pt. 2".

Anyway, he heard "Ignorance Is Bliss" and called my dude Top Dawg immediately, same day. Top called me and was like "Yo, Dre just heard your music. He wants to fuck with you." I was like "For sure, that's a go!" I mean he's a legend, he's somebody I looked up to when I was a kid! When I was 4 years old my pops was bumpin' N.W.A.!

Then Dre went on the radio like two weeks later and said the name. That was huge, I didn't think he was gonna do that, I thought he was gonna be real secretive cause that's how Dre works. He's a perfectionist and he don't like people to know what weapon's he got under his sleeve. But he went on the radio and said the name and it just really woke up people that wasn't believers, you know how that go. Somebody with a credible name has to stand up and now they're like "Ah yeah, he's that dude." Nah man, I've been doing this music for a long time.

Dubcnn: I don't know if this is even being discussed, but if given the chance, would you sign to Aftermath?

Kendrick: Would I sign to Aftermath? That's a good question. That's a trick question, too, so I ain't gonna answer it. *laughs* Nah, but I mean… being put into the hands of Dre, not only because he's a legend, but because there's a certain chemistry of being in the studio with him, the vibe I get and just making good music. That would be my ultimate reason. Because a lot of times, you'll build yourself up about going in the studio with people with whom you don't click. That's what fucks you up from the jump. If you can't click with a person in the studio and you're forcing yourself to fuck with them, it will never be right.

Dubcnn: Cause through the years, I've seen a couple of people come and go through Aftermath. I've been doing dubcnn since '02 and in like '04 or '05, Dre went on the radio and said he wants to work with Bishop Lamont and ended up signing him. We all know what happened to that situation, so I just wanted to know if that would be something you take into consideration when thinking about that move?

Kendrick: Would I take it into consideration? Nah, I wouldn't.

Dubcnn: Because we all actually want to hear your album! *laughs*

Kendrick: Right, right. I don't really know about prior attests' situations, I ain't really into all that and hearing all the rumors and all that crap. My whole mentality is that I always had a team, before anything. I always had Top Dawg Ent, with a group of 20 cats that's hungry and starving and believes in me that much to go out there and do what's necessary to put my music out. That's who I'm banking on - the people that got me here from the jump. So I'ma always be credible with having music out and doing what it takes and not actually depending on nobody but myself. That's my whole mindstate and mentality.

Dubcnn: You come across as a real humble person and from the times that I've seen you and known you, you never came across as somebody who's overly flamboyant or materialistic. I don't know any of that, I'm just saying the impression you give. So I wanna ask you, what's your personal motivation and your personal goal when looking at your future in the music industry?

Kendrick: My motivation is my family. I'm really big on family. I talk about my family a lot, my uncles and my cousins. I'm really the only one that's pushing the line of success and they're banking on me. All my uncles are locked up. Just that right there, having vivid memories of them taking care of me while being in Compton and in these streets, that's what makes me wanna further better myself. To make them proud, to make my pops and my moms proud.

That's the ultimate goal, because it takes a lot to grow up in Compton and not get into some bullshit. I was easily influenced, all my homes around me were very easily influenced because they're locked up right now. Just the thought of that, me getting this far and falling off and not pushing the line - I would fuck myself! I'd be a dumb muthafucka to fuck that off, so I'm really serious and passionate about this. This is my life and that's the motivation right there.

Dubcnn: It's a lot of fresh faces coming up out of L.A. and California in general right now. Who are you personally listening to right now?

Kendrick: I'm fuckin' with everybody!

Dubcnn: Just give me a couple names.

Kendrick: Bad Lucc, Lady G, Mykestro, Problem, Dom Kennedy, U-N-I, of course Black Hippy, YG, Mann, it's so many. Ill Camille is crazy.

Dubcnn: She's a spitter! I saw the video she did over the song she has with Battlecat.

Kendrick: Ill Camille is dope. Oh and Terrace Martin. Terrace Martin, that's my dude, that dude is crazy. He's a all-around cat that's full of talent and he inspires me. It's crazy because he told me this from the jump: this talent has always been here and I always felt that way, but he really branded it. He had a New York cat that was over and the dude was saying "West Coast always had the craziest underground scene, it's just unheard. And he's right, because we've got a crazy one right now that's finna bridge the gap and go in another market.

Dubcnn: It's exciting, I saw MTV did a video feature called Welcome To The New West, you were heavily featured in that. That was a good look. I don't wanna keep this going for too long but I got a last question.

Kendrick: Yessir.

Dubcnn: You really don't smoke?

Kendrick: No I don't smoke. *laughs*

Dubcnn: But I know you know that you make perfect smoker music, because of that song "H.O.C.".

Kendrick: I got some G shit on this project too! But nah, I don't smoke. In high school everybody thought I smoked because my eyes be low, but that comes from my family, genetics and shit. They got lazy eyes too, hopefully I don't get that shit! But my shit always be super low. But I don't smoke.

My homies do though, Schoolboy Q and Ab-Soul? Stop it. Them niggas be having me high off contact all day! Them niggas is blowing, and when I say blowing, I don't think Snoop fuckin' with it! *laughs* Snoop or Wiz. Them niggas is crazy. But a lot of people ask me that, that's crazy that you asked that. A lot of people say "Man, the shit you be talkin' about you gotta be higher than a muthafucka!" But nah, I'm cool my nigga.

Dubcnn: Alright man I really appreciate your time. Do you have any last words for the fans?

Kendrick: Section80! HiiiPoWeR the first single, video is coming soon as a matter of fact. I'm calling it right now, it's my best work, yet.




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