Back in September of 2009, I had the privilege of talking to Kendrick Lamar right after he changed his name from K. Dot – I’m talking like days after. This piece was originally published on WeTheWest.com and Kendrick and I discussed his name change and who he is an artist (in which he also hinted towards his then future release Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City). It’s pretty interesting to look back and see where his mind-frame was before the fame. Check it out below!
Interview with Kendrick Lamar by Tim Sanchez
TS: We’ve known you for the longest time as K. Dot but you recently changed your professional name to Kendrick Lamar. You gave a brief explanation via Twitter but let’s get the full story on that if we can.
KL: I feel like I’ve grown as an artist. The world needs to know my story and know who I am as a person. I felt like what better what to do that then by using my own name – my birth name – the name my mother gave me. I am making a transition and this is the first step in letting the world know who I am.
TS: Did you just wake up and decide to do this one day?
KL: Yeah, it was a big epiphany. I woke up and called my dude Top Dawg – he owns Top Dawg Entertainment- and told him that I thought it was time for the people to know who I am. I’ve put out a lot of songs and mixtapes and they know that I can rap but they need to know my story. What is a man without a story? Just like Pac did and all of the greats – they are legends. They had their story and everybody believed in their story. I just woke up one morning and it hit me like a ton of bricks and I went from there. I had been feeling this way for the last 6 months or more. It’s been on the back of my mind.
TS: You felt limited as K. Dot?
KL: Right. What you put out is what people are going to remember you for. I felt like there was going to be a big change as far as my music was going to go. I want to change people’s perception of me.
TS: You want the world to know about Kendrick Lamar and who you are. So tell us. Who are you?
KL: I was a kid growing up in Compton, a positive kid that wanted to rap but facing the peer pressure that comes with growing up in that city. I was born and raised there. The thing that separates me from a lot of others is that I have a father who persuaded me to go on the right path. It’s hard to stay on that right path when you have family and friends that you hang out with on a daily basis that do the things that go in the streets. I’m a good kid in a mad city – that’s my story! A good kid in a mad city. Everybody always glorifies the actual gun-play, the violence and whatever street credibility they may have or not. I’m coming from the perception of the average-joe from the city of Compton.
TS: Without your father being there, where would Kendrick Lamar be right now?
KL: Dead or in jail – straight up with no exaggeration. I see the ways of my friends and relatives and I see where they are at now. They had no fathers there for them. I’ve had my father since I came out of the womb. I’m grateful and blessed to have the type of father that I have who pushed me in the right direction.
TS: Let’s say you didn’t have rap or this gift of expression, what would you be doing with your life right now?
KL: Truthfully man, my life is dependent on this. I don’t know what I would be doing right now. I really feel that I am blessed with the talent that God put in me to use with my voice. I feel that I was born to do this. There is nothing else in this world for me to do but get my word out.
TS: When did you realize that you first had this gift?
KL: Probably during the times of 2Pac’s “All Eyez On Me” album. I got deep in to his lyrics. I was around 9 years old and I remember looking in to the mirror telling myself that this is what I wanted to do. I wanted to be in the music business. I was freestyling at 9 and I penned my first lyrics when I was 13. The DMX album inspired me too. I started studying the craft and I’ve been working on it ever since.
TS: Which artists have inspired you to be the artist that you are today?
KL: All passionate artists from Al Green to Marvin Gaye to the Jay-Z’s, 2Pac’s and Biggies. I respect and look up to everybody that is passionate about their music and not just generate revenue. We are all about getting the money of course, but you’ve got to have the passion. That’s what I want to bring to the game. I pattern myself after people are like that.
TS: Creativity is not really pushed in this industry. To be successful, you pretty much have to keep things simple. How are you going to manage to be creative and successful in today’s type of industry?
KL: It’s about being true to who you are. If I’m being true to myself and what I love to do and what I respect – then I don’t feel that I can lose. I don’t feel I should have to follow trends – doing that is destined for failure. The world is trendy. Everything is about a trend. We like something and then we hate it the next day. I feel I should be real with what I do. If I don’t win, at least I can say that I did it my way.
TS: You don’t feel a level of compromise is in order? To relate to what radio or the youth of today likes?
KL: When I was 16, Top Dawg was walking me in to these offices and I was just feeding in to everything they were saying. I’m 22 now – I’m grown. I’ve done all that compromising. Now that I’m grown, I feel that these labels don’t actually know what’s dope now. The streets know what’s dope. If I be true to myself, the streets will know that and real will recognize real.
TS: I know that you’re in the group Black Hippy. Do you have anything that you are working on as a solo artist?
KL: I am going to put out this Kendrick Lamar LP. After that, I’ve got two major projects. We are doing it ourselves from the ground up, that we don’t have to hold anybody up at the end of the day. I’ll throw some freestyles on the internet but now I want people to hear the music that I actually do. Most of the stuff you’ll be hearing will be over original beats from our in-house producer.
I am going to talk about life. Life in general means everything. It can be partying, street or political. I’m going everywhere. I’m a human and what we create at Top Dawg Entertainment, we call “Human Music.” If you can’t relate, then you are not Human. I am going to touch on everything. I’ll do love stuff too. I’m going to talk about an actual girlfriend. I’ll talk about an ex too (laughs).
TS: Tell us about the Black Hippy group.
KL: Black Hippy is crazy. It’s a group with no rules. It’s care-free music. The word Black represents everything. It can be love, hate, life and death. The Hippy represents being care-free. Put those two together and that’s what we are trying to bring to the game.
TS: You are in the group with fellow Top Dawg members Jay Rock, Ab-soul, and Schoolboy Q. It’s got to be a challenge being in a group as opposed to being a solo artist.
KL: Not really when the chemistry is there. It’s all team work. We get in that studio, lock in and put all of the ideas together. It’s a lot easier actually – because 4 heads are better than 1.
TS: The 4 of you are all from different areas of the Los Angeles area, which don’t get along, yet you guys can function as a tight unit.
KL: It’s all about brotherhood and being positive. We are all black men trying to be positive. We aren’t thinking about color lines or what city you are from. We are trying to make a way from our families. We are trying to get away from the life of the streets. It’s not hard to come together when you have the right type of focus, you can avoid clashing. Anybody clashing like that is a stupid motherfucka cause it’s about money out here – money to feed your families. That’s how we think and it will never be a problem.