In House With Kendrick Lamar: Rapper Speaks on Dr. Dre’s Wisdom, Danny Brown, ‘DuckTales’ & New Album
Kendrick Lamar quit being selfish. After all, that’s what good kids do. He wasn’t stingy with his fries nor the free swag he receives; the rapper was actually greedy with his music until he realized that his lyrics were touching the lives of the very people who have tattooed “HiiiPower” — the word is based on Lamar’s daily ethos with each “i” representing heart, honor and respect — on their bodies. “I had to stop being selfish, you know, because I know people are out here living their lives through this music,” the 25-year-old Compton, Calif., native tells The BoomBox.
Songs like “Rigamortis,” off his indie effort Section.80, showcase his double-time rhymes and the intergalactic-esque “Cartoon & Cereal,” which will find itself on his highly-anticipated major label LP, ‘Good Kid in a Mad City,’ are a sampling of what fans have come to love about the Black Hippy. His approach to crafting music isn’t about making dance ditties or catchy choruses. Kendrick Lamar has a personal story to relay on his debut album and his poignant lyrical stylings, paired with production mastery from beatsmiths like Q-Tip and Pharrell Williams, will leave a far more lasting impression on the masses than a vapid hit.
The West Coast MC traveled to New York City to sit down with The BoomBox and discuss some of the material comprising his new album. Decked out in gold chains and an animal print wardrobe, Lamar was soft-spoken, candid and secretive all at the same time. Delve into the rapper’s mind as he sheds light on Dr. Dre’s words of wisdom, Danny Brown’s “careless” flow, his fondness for “DuckTales” and his “recipe” for the perfect track.
Your debut album is tentatively titled Good Kid in a Mad City. Why did you choose that?
Unofficial title. It never really was the actual, actual title. It’s just an a.k.a. of who I am — the music and city I represent. It’s a different story about coming from Compton. As teens, us trying to escape the influences that we used to seeing, visually all the time growing up in the city. I think that’s one of the reasons why we act the way we do. Gang culture is huge out there. So just want to come with a whole other different vibe rather than hearing about street credibility. [Some is] negative. I put that in there but with a twist. More stories and reasons behind it.
What will your message be when we finally get to hear this album?
Really my story. Everybody always seems like they’re interested in how I grew up, how I managed to think the way I do knowing I was growing up in this certain kind of city. When I did the Kendrick Lamar EP, that was an introduction, the O.D. was an extension of that, of myself, Section.80 wasn’t so much about me, it was people around me. Now I’m going back to the prequel, of who I am and what I’m about and why I think the way I do and where I come from and where it all started from. It’s very in-depth from any of my music, that’s what I can say. As far as a date, I know I’m pressed for time. People want it. The label want it. I just want to make sure all the music is there before I give out a date.
Is there a producer you worked with besides Dr. Dre that you really feel got the sound that you envisioned?
Definitely Q-Tip. And Pharrell [Williams]. Them two, as far as major producers that I’ve worked with. Q-Tip because he got that sound of the early ’90s that I love. I’m just a fan of his work, period. The Renaissance album is probably one of my favorite albums. His whole abstract sound is kinda the vibe of where I was going as far as my production. Pharrell, as far as the melodic notes and the vibe. I played him a few records before I got in [with him] and he’s like, “It’s already there. What you want to add onto it?” Other than that, I kept everything real in-house and tight-knit with the people I started off with from my earliest mixtapes. Soundwave… Willie B… Everybody who know my music know that they a part of my actual sound as far as the mixing and vocal production.
What was a memorable moment for you while shooting “The Recipe” video, which is set to release soon?
I think I was just caught up in looking in that camera then looking over the camera and seeing [Dr.] Dre behind it directing. You see this stuff on TV your whole life, you know, watching this cat behind the scenes but now I’m really, right now, looking at him behind the scenes while I’m doing my performing thing. That’s a beautiful thing.
How much voice did you have in the direction of the video?
Dre respects my opinion a lot. He asks me my ideas. I threw some in the air; he threw some back. It’s really just a mutual thing. It wasn’t so hard to come up with a crazy dope video for a title and visuals of what we talking about. So it was pretty head-to-head as far as the idea of what we wanted to do.
Speaking of recipes, do you know how to cook?
No [laughs]. I can make some cereal and a cup of noodles. Sandwich.
If you had to create a “recipe” and put some of your favorite rappers on a track, who would they be?
Ah, that’s easy. Ab-Soul, Schoolboy Q and Jay Rock. Overall, they got the same love of music I have, regardless of how different our styles are. When you put us in the studio, that chemistry, it starts from the passion in the music. That can go anywhere with anybody that’s in the studio.
Ab-Soul recently did an interview with The BoomBox where he explained that the Black Hippy movement that you all are a part of is a global movement and not just a West Coast entity. What’s your opinion of that?
Definitely. In knowing that we’re the leaders of the new school, we’re going to put ourselves on the forefront to be the leaders across the world. We know a lot of kids look up to us. We got a whole backing behind us. When we go to different states, in the states, or overseas, we know it’s more than just one song or three songs. It’s more of a lifestyle and movement, you know.
Have you had a fan encounter that made you sit back and think, “Wow, my music is really touching people”?
Oh yeah, plenty. The first few times people was crying over my music. That kinda tripped me out and let me know it’s bigger than what I was doing. I had to stop being selfish, you know, because I know people are out here living their lives through this music. It’s getting ’em over humps, you know, day by day, dealing with life. I knew it was much bigger than that once I seen them tears and I started seeing more and more.
You and J. Cole are working on a collaborative album together. Why did you choose to team up with him on this project?
J. Cole, just our relationship, he feel like a distant cousin, somebody like that. Every time we meet, man, we have a bunch of fun. It’s really just the chemistry and the vibe further than the music. He a good dude. The chemistry is there, instant. As soon as we got in the studio we came up with so many ideas. This wasn’t nothing we planned. It just came off that first session. We got so much done. We were like, “Man, imagine what we could do if we really locked in and wanted to do something. We could really mess the game up.”
When did you first get in the studio to do that?
This was a minute ago. At least last year. We have a few songs. We could put something out if we want to but we just want to make it right.
Can you give us some insight on a song you recorded with J. Cole?
One that everybody always talks about is “Temptation,” “Shock the World.” I can’t really give no secrets out. I want y’all to hear it.
I interviewed Jim Jones in the past and he spoke about his intense recording sessions with Dr. Dre and how he wasn’t necessarily used to doing many takes of one song. How did it feel when you first got in the studio with Dre?
Dre is definitely a perfectionist. I was just excited. But along with being excited, I was a perfectionist on myself. Being in the booth and making sure everything is right, that was something that I was already used to. It was just [Dre] taking it to the next level. I was like, “OK, cool.” I used to always hear these stories of how like Dre [would say], “Do it again. Do it again.” When we started [working together], it didn’t feel like that. It felt like, “Let’s listen to that one again. OK? Good, now that sounds right. Let’s try it like this. OK, now that sounds better.” That’s it, let’s move on. Next verse. It felt like that. It’s just a great experience overall, man. He let you hear so many sounds that you didn’t even think you was capable of doing — certain deliveries. He’s so much of a perfectionist as far as hearing sounds sonically.
Are there any words of wisdom you’ve taken from Dr. Dre?
Yeah. He said he worked with plenty of artists that lose passion for the music and once they lose the passion they start chasing the dollar, and when they chase the dollar they lose within themselves. Then their egos go so far, then after that, their career will be destroyed. He said he seen it so many times. He said, “Do not lose the passion for what you gotta do and not let the dollar build you up to what you’re capable of doing or else you’ll fall victim.” That sticks.
What song from a newer artist do you really like?
“Monopoly” from Danny Brown. I love Danny Brown; he’s crazy. The way he flips his words is nuts. Just how he has fun and is really careless and his delivery and tone. It’s just a fun, free record. He’s just doing himself.
Your last name is Duckworth. It made me think of “DuckTales,” the ’80s cartoon. So what’s your favorite cartoon?
“DuckTales” is actually one of my favorite cartoons [laughs]. “Dennis the Menace,” that was probably one of my favorites. It flips through the week. I’m big on cartoons. “Cartoon & Cereal,” I put that song out. That’s actually something for the album. I don’t know, I’m still debating if I want to keep it and revamp it. You listen to that song and you’ll get the gist of where I’m coming from.
Quadron spoke to me recently and they revealed that you worked with them on a new song. What about Robin and Coco’s music were you drawn to?
Quadron is dope. I want more sessions. They’re music is incredible. Guy [Robin] makes the crazy melodies. She [Coco] puts the crazy vocals around it. Simple as that. Just the feel and where I’m at now as far as my music, they’re in that same pocket. It’s just something totally organic and it feels real, not what everybody else is doing. I feel you’re supposed to be original in hip-hop. I don’t want to sound like nobody else. I want my voice to be distinctive as possible. I want you to know that’s Kendrick Lamar, I want you to know my production is Kendrick Lamar. Just everything about me.