About Kendrick Lamar
In an interview with Apple Music, Kendrick Lamar reflected on his 2015 album To Pimp a Butterfly—in particular, the song “Alright.” It wasn’t that it sold well (it did). It wasn’t that it won awards (it did). It wasn’t even that it broke new ground for where hip-hop might go. For Lamar, the success was that people sang it in the streets. “A lot of people don’t have voices out there,” he said. “So to see them actually express themselves through song, through lyrics that I wrote?” For a kid from Compton whose life was transformed by hip-hop, the fame was nice, but the singing, the spirit, the possibility that his music was opening a cultural inroad for people joining the fight for civil rights—that was real. He might’ve been writing alone. But he was speaking for many.
Born in 1987, Lamar grew up under the influence of JAY-Z, Eminem, and 2pac—for the wordplay, for the imagination, for the heart and sense of community. Given its popularity, Lamar’s music can be surprisingly dense, taking shape in winding, album-length narratives (good kid, m.A.A.d city), live-band hybrids of jazz and funk (To Pimp a Butterfly), and quasi-conceptual explorations of self (2017’s Pulitzer Prize-winning DAMN.). Yes, he wants greatness. But he wants it on his own terms. “I’m not doing it to have a good song,” he said. “Or one good rap. Or a good hook, or a good bridge. I want to keep doing it every time, period. And to do it every time you have to challenge yourself, and you have to confirm to yourself—not anybody else—that you’re the best.”
BORNJune 17, 1987