Kendrick Lamar: “I Don’t Want to Be Something That Just Comes and Goes”

29lamar1-superJumboUntil his massively awaited sophomore major label album arrives, there’s not much to say about Kendrick Lamar that hasn’t already been said. However, The New York Times published a truly compelling and insightful profile on Compton’s golden child this morning.

Shadowing the rapper on Kanye West’s Yeezus tour over the course of three weeks last year, writer Lizzy Goodman provides a sharp analysis of K. Dot’s current place in the hip-hop ecosystem, gathers quotes from relevant figures like Eminem and his old high school teacher, and offers a rare window into his personality, which is uniquely non-hip-hop: he doesn’t make it rain in the club, he’s in a long-term relationship and he doesn’t even drink. “This is part of his commitment to staying focused on his singular ambition: greatness,” she writes.

This isn’t a story about juicy quotes or half-cooked controversy, just a great piece on one of hip-hop’s true modern gems.

Read some of our favorite quotes from the story below…


“If my edge is dull, my sword is dull, and I don’t want to fight another guy whose sword is dull,” Lamar later told me. “If you’ve got two steel swords going back and forth hitting each other, what’s gonna happen? Both of them are going to get sharper.” He laments what he sees as the impotency that has taken over the rap game. “Everybody that’s in the industry has lost their edge,” he said. “There’s really no aggression. You gotta say things particular, and everything is so soft.”

Backstage at the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards, West personally approached Lamar about joining him on the road. “It’s a different kind of thrill when an actual artist asks you, when Kanye asks you,” Lamar said, pronouncing West’s first name the way he always does, with the emphasis on the last syllable, kahn-YAY. “Now I know he’s really interested in what I do.” Lamar said it was easy to make that happen after the chat, but his team remembered a lot of back and forth. “Believe it or not, we were actually trying not to do the tour,” says Terrence Henderson, better known as Punch, the president of Top Dawg Entertainment, Lamar’s label. “We wanted Kendrick to be recording that whole time.”

I had been shadowing Lamar on tour with West off and on for almost three weeks before I saw the two rappers in the same room. The tour had swept through the Southern states and headed West. We were in Texas on an unusually cold Saturday evening just after a record-setting snowstorm. Lamar was heading to the stage at Houston’s Toyota Center. As he walked down the hallway, a black van pulled up, and West got out with Kim Kardashian. As the two men greeted each other, their respective posses fell back — except for Lamar’s videographer and his counterpart in West’s camp, both of whom acted as if this was the moment they’d been waiting for all tour. They traced a tight circle around the men, lenses open to capture every word of a conversation that lasted less than 30 seconds. The two rappers embraced, then Lamar paused, allowing West to proceed down the hallway first, before continuing to the stage to play his set.

This is how it is with Lamar all the time — he is constantly engaging in a mental version of the literal gatekeeping Big Mingo was overseeing in Brooklyn the day we first met. Every thought (“You’re going to win a bunch of Grammys”) and every request (“Come to my club”) is weighed in an ever-changing calculus designed to maximize success and maintain sanity. “Everybody can’t take this lifestyle,” Lamar said early on. “To put that pressure on somebody not made for it, they’ll go crazy.”

Lamar typed on 2Teez’s iPhone (where he stores some of his raps), while the same foreboding beat played over and over again on the computer, little bars pulsating on the screen in hypnotic unison. “I’m the worst,” he eventually said, breaking the silence. “Whenever I get good news about anything . . . man, I guess I’m bad at receiving compliments.” He stopped typing but didn’t look up from the phone, his face all but obscured beneath his black hood. “Like yesterday with the nominations, things like that — it made me feel like I had to be in the studio because I had to do it, not again, but. . . .” He couldn’t quite finish his thought. “It just bothers me,” he said finally. “I don’t want to be something that just comes and goes.”

Read the full story on NY Times.


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