Kendrick Lamar And Rick Rubin Meet & Have A Conversation For The Ages (Video)
Kendrick Lamar is a complex individual. The 29 year-old Compton, California MC makes music that is richly inventive, blending personal thoughts and intricate storytelling. He approaches the listener’s ear with a variety of vocal tones, tempos, and styles of presenting his rich, often literary songwriting. On albums like good kid, m.A.A.d city and To Pimp A Butterfly, K-Dot can expound on his childhood growing up around street gangs, prostitution, and drug addiction, and blend with visions of hope, vignettes of close-knit families, and strong messages of Black Pride.
In many cases, especially during the last four years, Lamar’s music is the conversation piece. Kendrick often shies from promoting his art, and the spotlight. If anything, the MC appears in media to listen—in cases like conversations with N.W.A. or Quincy Jones. This month, GQ magazine was able to get Kendrick Lamar to open up—through an interview by iconic music producer Rick Rubin.
The Def Jam co-founder hosted Kendrick at his Malibu, California’s Shangri-La Studios. Previously a recording home to another man-of-the-people musician Bob Dylan, it is a fitting setting for a lawn-chair conversation between vocalist and producer. Rick, who was instrumental in the careers of LL Cool J, Beastie Boys, and Public Enemy, gets his subject to open up in a way that few can. Keeping things focused on the music, media influence, and the process of creation, this 49-minute conversation has some truly illuminating revelations about Kendrick Lamar the artist. Those looking for next album tidbits or other puffy soundbites may not find them.
One strong theme is how Kendrick Lamar understands his audience and fans. While those supporters helped propel the MC from a lauded independent in the late 2000s and 2011 Section.80 LP, he had to negotiate how to broadcast to those and new fans, once backed by Dr. Dre’s Aftermath Entertainment and its distributor, Interscope.
“We’ve been told to call the consumers ‘dumb.’ But they’re not,” says Kendrick Lamar at 12:00. They know when [art is] real. And they know if they can feel it. That’s something that I always understood, just being a fan myself. Still to this day, when I look at my certain aspirations, as far as artists, when I look at Eminem, when I look at Jay [Z], I felt the stories they were telling [in songs]—whether it was fiction or not. These ideas that they were putting down made me believe any and every thing that they were saying. It just came from a space of [reality] or just their imagination being so strong and so heavy that you just get bombarded with ideas.” Later in the interview (around 29:00), Lamar says that his concentration on vocal clarity also came from his admiration for Eminem’s delivery. The two Aftermath artists worked together on “Love Game,” a Marshall Mathers LP2 inclusion, produced by Rick Rubin.
At 21:30, Kendrick also gives his millions of supporters credit. Approaching his major label debut in 2012, Lamar alludes to songs like “Swimming Pools (Drank)” and “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe” as the good kid, m.A.A.d city records that would introduce him on a mainstream level. “In my head, I knew what songs were gonna be big records [on] radio; I’m playing the game. I’m a new artist [at the same with] enough knowledge going through meetings and going to labels and trying to get signed in my early twenties; I just know how the game works. So I’m creating these records for the radio. It was just ear-candy for people to enjoy. So in my mind, I’m thinking these [singles] are going to the records on [good kid, m.A.A.d city]. But, turns out that a song called ‘m.A.A.d city,’ where I’m just rapping for maybe 40 bars or 30 bars is probably the song with the biggest [audience] connection on that project.” That song, which never received a video, featured late 1980s Hip-Hop alum MC Eiht and found Kendrick, in part, paying homage to a vintage Ice Cube track. “That [response] threw me for a loop, but it also gave me an insight clear enough to know that sometimes it’s not about what you think is gonna happen, or what you feel. People connect to things in strange ways. At the end of the day, you have to go with that feeling.” On Spotify, “m.A.A.d City” is the album’s most played track.
Rubin followed up, asking Kendrick Lamar what he personally thought of the song produced by Sounwave, THC, and Terrace Martin. “I loved it; it was one of my favorites.” Rubin suggests that Kendrick trust those intuitions in music-making.
In recent years, Rubin has been tapped by Jay Z, Kanye West, and Eminem on some of Hip-Hop’s biggest albums of the last 13 years. Kendrick alludes to the possibility of working with Rick on whatever he is working on in the future.
Elsewhere in the interview, Kendrick Lamar discusses 30 minute of alone time to meditate daily. He opens up about the challenges of being accessible to loved ones and an artist. The MC also discusses his top-down approach to writing, recording, and contributing to the production of his music.
There is an online transcript at GQ, but it is by no means the complete interview.