Kendrick Lamar Gives His Most Revealing Interview About The Meaning Of DAMN (Video)
At this point in his career, Kendrick Lamar is an icon. The critically acclaimed rapper from Compton, California has conquered the Rap world several times over, and his success has stretched far beyond. Easily one of today’s most successful musical artists, his discography is one of the most celebrated of any genre, and it seems he is simply unable to release an album that doesn’t resonate on a cultural level.
With DAMN., the Top Dawg Entertainment artist has once again landed himself in the upper echelons of popular culture, proving that his lyrical talent is repeatedly backed up by staying power and innovation. Considerably more reclusive than many artists of his generation, Lamar has not done much by way of interviews in the months since dropping the LP, but he stopped by the studio of another Los Angeles legend, Big Boy, for a revealing discussion about the layers of the album’s meaning, recording process, and much more.
Once asked, near the 4:40 mark, to comment on his goals for DAMN., Kendrick says that, while a main objective of the LP was to be listenable in a wide variety of settings (a car, the club, and so forth), it was lyricism that was ultimately the guiding direction. “I wanted that lyrical content that connects, where it’s not just lyrics. It’s stories that you can feel, emotions you can relate to.” Big Boy asks his guest about the LP’s title, to which the Grammy-winning MC responds “it was so many different ways you can put it in my head, from the concept ‘damned if I do, damned if I don’t,’ the loudness of the record just screams dead in my face…when I think of ‘DNA,’ when I think of ‘HUMBLE’…it just felt like [‘damn’].”
At the 7:48 mark, Kendrick is asked about the single-word titles for all of the songs on DAMN. “It was like Scrabble, trying to figure out which emotion that captured the actual lyrics,” he says of the album’s track list. “I’d write a verse and do the whole song, and then I look at words that I feel like capture that emotion, so we was goin’ through that back and forth through the whole process.” Several minutes thereafter, at the 12:20 mark, Big Boy asks Kung Fu Kenny if any particular track on the album elicits the strongest emotion in himself. Without hesitation, he responds with “DUCKWORTH,” the LP’s closing song (or opening, depending…) and one in which Lamar tells a powerful story about Anthony “Top Dawg” Tiffith plotting to kill Kendrick’s father, Kenny Duckworth.
“The moment I met Top, my pops came around and they just bumped heads. Sure enough, they knew each other back then, so I’ve been holding this story for a minute,” Kendrick explains of the true story in the song. He also says that neither his father nor Top even knew his plans to include “DUCKWORTH” on DAMN., and says they were both “blown away” upon hearing it for the first time. At this point in the interview (13:37), the conversation organically morphs into one about the theory that the LP is meant to be listened to both forwards and in reverse order, though Kendrick is hesitant to confirm when asked if “BLOOD” is the beginning or end of the album. “You know I can’t tell you that,” he says. “It’s for the listener [to decide].” However, he does share a little insight on the topic, saying “for me, the initial thing was these stories never happened, if that makes sense.” With a cheeky smile on his face, it’s clear Kendrick is not eager to discuss the conceptual meaning of the album any further, and the topic of discussion shifts.
When discussing the meaning of “DNA,” Kendrick says that it really just boils down to putting the emotion of confidence in the lyrics, a side of him he says definitely comes from his father. “He’s loud. He’s extra. He’s the start of the party, the end of the party. And he’s confident about where he comes from” (33:30). It’s then that Big Boy brings out a real DNA test, one that requires Kendrick’s saliva and the results of which will inform him of where, geographically , his DNA is from. It’s all done in good humor, and the radio host promises to reveal the results at some point in the future…
Halfway through the interview, Kendrick is asked whether he considers himself the G.O.A.T. “I got to,” he responds (27:22). “What’s the point of doing it if you don’t want to be the best? I can’t take that for granted, at all…I gotta challenge myself. For me, it’s always searching for that next thing…it’s just the challenge to write that perfect verse, or that perfect song. I’ll probably never get it but I know one thing. It keeps me driven to keep me going hard.” But it isn’t just Kendrick, the rapper, who is the subject of a “G.O.A.T.” conversation. Big Boy and his staff ask Kendrick to rank his albums from his favorite to least, and he unequivocally names DAMN. his greatest album of all time (37:23).
Elsewhere in the interview, Kendrick discusses shooting the “ELEMENT” video on his birthday, the album’s alternative title (What Happens On Earth Stays On Earth), getting stomped out in front of his mama at the Avalon swap meet, the social-media backlash his family received after he purchased his little sister a Toyota, the thousands of unreleased songs he has, and more.
Perhaps the most exciting element of the interview came at the very beginning, when Big Boy asked Kendrick “do you feel like you’ve written your best verse yet?” near the 1:40 mark. “No,” he replied. “I’m always searching for that.”