Straight Outta Compton - The All Seeing Eyes Of Kendrick Lamar

The new voice of America’s West Coast
Straight Outta Compton - The All Seeing Eyes Of Kendrick Lamar
Like a religious zealot waiting for the second coming, hip-hop has been waiting for Kendrick Lamar. Emerging quietly from the shadows of the hip-hop giants who came before him, the Compton native is the new voice of America’s West Coast. Recently signed to Aftermath Records it’s clear that one of these giants, Dr Dre, is in agreement. On their recently released collaborative single ‘The Recipe’, Kendrick takes the lead and the relationship between the two artists seems to be one based on mutual respect and faith. Lamar, describing the time he and Dre spent working together on his upcoming album, says: “He [Dre] let me go out there and finish it, [he said] ‘Go do what you do, keep doing, keep doing, you already done developed yourself', you know… that’s a blessed situation to be in.”

Blessed indeed, because Kendrick’s creative freedom is vital to the integrity of his sound and Dre’s conviction in this has allowed Lamar to stay true to the same formula responsible for his prior releases (including the seminal ‘Section 80’) for ‘Good Kid, M.A.A.D City’. This includes using a roster of tried and tested producers that Lamar trusts, as he explains: “I kept everything in house on this album because, you know, they know exactly what I want… they know the sounds that drive me to create the music that I wanna create.”

Small and unimposing, Lamar speaks quietly and croakily, insisting that the world around him fall silent in order to catch his words. He’s softly spoken and intelligent. He’s eloquent and thinks about everything he’s asked before responding, and is sincere when he does so. He wears a shoelace instead of a belt and Dr Martens with a Union Jack toe cap that he insists Clash captures (“You gotta get my shoes in!”) when taking his portrait - but his character changes entirely when performing. His small frame, drowning in an oversized TDE (Top Dawg Entertainment, his record label and home to his musical family Black Hippy) hooded sweatshirt, covers the stage with the fury of a rabid dog, eating the mic alive and infecting the crowd with the same disease he’s carrying; creating a frenzy. The Kendrick we had sat with hours earlier was gone. That Kendrick referred to his track ‘Fuck Your Ethnicity’ as ‘Eff Your Ethnicity’ but this Kendrick, this Kendrick yells the curses out as if his life depends upon it. Degenerate anthem ‘ADHD’ is a prime example - the music cuts and Lamar continues, the chorus sounding like a battle cry in the silence of the ballroom as the crowd duly respond with ‘FUCK THAT’ again and again, every time it’s required of them.

It is, however, important to note that although his demeanour alters as he performs, it’s an entirely internal occurrence. He appears in the same clothes on stage that evening as he’s been wearing all day, taking to the centre to exclaim to the screaming crowd, after condemning the extreme heat in the venue, “I’mma keep this [hoodie] on so I can sweat with you” - and they’re not just words, he means it. As the stage lights flash in his face, he’s bounding around relentlessly, he sweats, and he keeps the jumper on. The TDE jumper. His family, close to his chest. The façade put forward by many other rappers, all about the flossing and visual presentation really doesn’t exist with Kendrick - he just is, and it’s beautiful.

Words and Photo by Hayley Louisa Brown

Watch a film capturing behind the scenes of the Kendricks Lamar photo shoot for Clash.

The full version of this interview appears in the September 2012 issue of Clash Magazine. Find out more about the issue.

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