Kendrick Lamar is the man of the moment. You know you've made it when Jay-Z adds verses to your song and Lady Gaga offers her vocals after being too busy to collaborate in the first place. We interview Kendrick for Oyster #102: The Peace Issue — on sale now! Read an excerpt below.
At the tender age of eight, Kendrick Lamar watched his childhood heroes Tupac and Dr. Dre film the 'California Love' music video in his home town of Compton. Seventeen years on, Lamar is living the dream: signed to Dre's label, Aftermath; collaborating with Busta Rhymes, Drake and Lady Gaga; and reclining on couches in fancy hotel rooms, which is where I found him before his (sold-out) Sydney show.
Ariane Halls: How many of these have you done today?
Kendrick Lamar: Just a couple.
I thought you might be lying down because you'd done too many interviews.
[Laughs] Nah, I'm just chilling; relaxing.
It's actually quite hard to interview you, because—
I like your shoes.
Oh, thanks! So… it's hard to interview you because your album is so autobiographical. I feel like I already know everything about you.
Mmm-hmm. I messed all the interviews up.
After everything you were surrounded by when you were growing up — everything you talk about on the album: guns, angel dust, whatever — why do you think you've ended up here, in the Hilton, rather than in jail or dead?
Fate. God. Simple as that.
What about your parents?
Mmm-hmm, yep. Oh, [suddenly paying attention] what about them? [Laughs]
[Laughs] What was the biggest thing you learnt from your dad?
To be a leader.
How do you do that? Do you think, for example, you're now having an influence back in Compton?
Yes. I think all entertainers have an influence on kids, whether you like it or not. You're always going to be a role model, because they see you coming from negativity and now you're on TV, which is something positive. So, yeah — I'm definitely having an influence.
On the record you talk a lot about your love for your home town, but also about the bad stuff that happens there. How do you feel about its gentrification?
I feel good about it. It gives kids more opportunities to do something different rather than just following in the same footsteps, you know? It creates a better place — not only for the city but for the world. One less person in a prison, one less person in a grave, one more person that's a doctor or a lawyer or doing something positive.
I was listening to an interview with you on the radio this morning, and you said that Dre had influenced you to be a better musician — a better artist — but also to be a better person. How?
How? Really just to learn from your mistakes, and to not be scared of your mistakes. A lot of people regret a lot of things, and one thing about Dre is that he's lived and he's learnt, through his career and the mistakes he's made. That being said, it gave me a little bit of confidence knowing that you will make mistakes in business and outside of it, you know? Because it goes hand-in-hand, trying to balance it all — you just have to accept and learn and grow from it.
What's the biggest mistake you've made and learnt from?
Really following the trend, you know? I think that crushes hip hop. I crushed myself for a long time trying to be heard, and once I stopped following the trend and started doing what I liked — doing what I felt people needed to hear — that's when everything opened for me.
Pick up a copy of Oyster #102 to read the rest!
Interview: Ariane Halls
Photography: Ryan Kenny