Kendrick Lamar opened up about his personal and professional lives – and the intrinsic ties between them – in a rare interview with The New York Times, explaining his artistic connection to Compton, lack of social media presence, and ambitious “Hood Beethoven” live show.
Published online yesterday (December 27), much of the profile hones in on Lamar’s creative dynamic with Dave Free, a childhood friend and longtime collaborator of Lamar’s, to whom the modern-day legend owes at least a portion of his success. While Lamar was getting his rap career off the ground, Free used his connections as a computer technician to link him up with the head of Top Dog Records. Free then joined the label as an in-house producer and upon leaving at the turn of the 2020s, cofounded PGLang with Lamar.
On how he and Free stay connected to their roots – both were raised in Compton, California – Lamar told The New York Times: “It’s nature versus nurture. I was nurtured in an environment where there’s, like, a lot of gang mentality. That certain language, certain lingo. How we walk. How we talk.
“All the little nuances and in-speaks that I have in Compton. I have that. That’s not going nowhere. That’s why I can go into any environment, any type of street environment, and be able to still connect even at this high of a level, as the son that never leaves. That’s nurture.”
“But the nature of me is pure… And therefore, I lean too much to the nurture of it, I won’t be able to be as expansive as I want to be. A lot of these artists, they want to be expansive, but they so tied into what they homeboys will think about them or their belief system. I know, because I was once there, but I got out of that mentality as a teenager, my teenage years. These cats still be 30, 40 years old and still trying to hold up a certain image.
“And not to say it’s bad. Everybody got their own journey. I was just fortunate enough to have a group of guys around me that gave me that courage to feed myself with the arts, whether it was the street cats in my neighborhood, whether it was Dave who pushed me to be an artist, whether it was Top from the projects, the Nickerson Gardens. I always was allowed to be myself.”
On the notion of “being himself”, Lamar later explained why he mostly stays inactive on social media. “My social media, most of the time, is completely off,” he admitted. “Because I know, like… I can easily smell my own [shit]. I know… Like, I’m not one of those dudes that be like, Oh, yeah, I know how good I am, but I also know the reason why I’m so good is because God’s blessed me with the talent to execute on the talent, and the moment that you start getting lost in your ego, that’s when you start going down.”
Lamar also spoke at length about ‘The Big Steppers Tour’, several dates of which framed the conversations he and Free had with Jackson. The rapper noted that his “initial idea” for the stage production was “Hood Beethoven”, which he and his team would “incorporate … with dance and art” to develop a “contextualized, theatrical type of performance”. He summed it up as “a theatrical hip-hop show, and not the corny [expletive]”.
‘The Big Steppers Tour’ ended earlier this month in Australia and New Zealand, following legs in North America, Europe and the UK. A stop in Paris earned a five-star review from NME’s Fred Garratt-Stanley, who wrote: “There’s a human touch here that can sometimes be lost in the midst of creative genius… [The tour] presents a creative vision that would boggle the minds of most mere mortals. It’s a stunning, moving display from a true great of modern rap.”
The tour came in support of Lamar’s fifth album, ‘Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers’, which arrived back in May. It scored a a five-star review from NME’s Kyann-Sian Williams – who called it “a cathartic, soul-baring autobiography” – while the album also came in at Number Five on NME’s list of 2022’s best albums, and ‘N95’ scored Number 14 on NME’s Top 50 songs of the year.
Since releasing the album, Lamar has kept the hype for it alight with a steady stream of music videos. After releasing the ‘N95’ clip alongside the album itself, he shared a video for ‘We Cry Together’ in September, then ‘Rich Spirit’ in November, and finally ‘Count Me Out’ earlier this month.