Kendrick Lamar Details What Saved Him From The Streets Of Compton

Kendrick Lamar credits discovering Malcolm X as a teen and a 100% commitment to his music as the two things that saved him from the streets of Compton, in an interview with Touré for VICE‘s i-D, published today (October 16). “[Malcolm X’s] ideas rooted my approach to music,” says the multi-Grammy award- winning MC. “That was the first idea that inspired how I was going to approach my music,” he says, referring to the famed 1965 autobiography based on extensive interviews and penned by Alex Haley. “From the simple idea of wanting to better myself by being in this mind-state, [the] same way Malcolm was.”

“We used to have these successful people come around and tell us what’s good and what’s bad in the world,” Kendrick recalls of his schooling. “But from our perspective, it didn’t mean sh*t to us because you’re telling us all these positive things but when we walk outside and see somebody’s head get blown off, whatever you just said went out the window.” Exposure to violence from a young age in cities such as Compton, he says, “chips away at the confidence. It makes you feel belittled in the world.” So, most of the “kids” end up saying, “F*ck everything, I’m gonna do what I’m gonna do to survive.'”

This week marks the fifth anniversary of Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d city, and the i-D interview finds the rapper in a reflective mood. He is reminiscing over President Barack Obama, lost for words to explain the rise of Donald Trump, but also highly focused and motivated to give back to his community in Compton.

Lamar counts President Obama as a friend. During a visit to the White House, he remembers thinking of how proud his grandma would have been to see him greeting the country’s first African-American President. Meeting with the 44th Commander-in-Chief showed him: “How far we have come along with this idea about how [much] further we can go. Him being in office sparks the idea that us as a people, we can do anything that we want to do. And we have smarts and the brains and the intelligence to do it.”

Despite his massive commercial and critical success, Lamar says that he retains his thirst for the competition. “Hip-Hop plays two ways in my head. It plays as a contact sport, and as something that you connect to [through] songwriting. Growing up and listening to battles between Nas and JAY-Z, that’s the sport for me,” he says. Songs like 2013’s “Control” verse and 2015’s “King Kunta” have been widespread illustrations of Lamar playing full-contact with peers, whether he names names or not. Years before the early 2000s conflict between Jay and Nas, fans traced lines back to the two legendary MCs checking one another for pole position in New York Hip-Hop and the globe.

And then when asked to nominate his greatest verse, Lamar chooses “Fear” – the 12th cut from this year’s DAMN., saying it is “completely honest. The first verse is everything that I feared from the time that I was seven years old. The second verse I was 17, in the third, it’s everything I feared when I was 27.”

With Serena and Venus Williams, Dr. Dre and Compton’s 35-year-old mayor, Aja Brown, Kendrick Lamar is closely involved in projects to boost the neighborhood where he grew up and still lived until recently. Lamar has been helping people find real jobs and assisting projects, putting “YMCAs inside your community and [giving] a job to these cats that can’t be hired anywhere else.” He explains, “You make the opportunities, and that’s what I’m doing personally. Because once I put the power in their hands, they can put it in the next. People can’t believe that it can change that way. But it has to start with one.”

Tweeting messages of support, or donating money isn’t enough, he says; he needs to be there, in person. This shows people that there’s no need to be “scared of where we come from.” He adds, “There’s a lot of people that are scared of their own people, the gang culture that is still there, but you can’t be scared. You gotta be there because it shows confidence not only in yourself but in those in the neighborhood.”

Lamar also shares how he has started a daily meditation practice, every morning for 30 minutes. It reportedly gives him perspective and discipline—his two favorite words. “There are so many vices in the world,” he states. “Especially being in the entertainment business. You’re exposed to so much at any given time. Whatever you need is right there in your face,” he says. Meditation apparently gives him more awareness and distance from distracting forces. “How much discipline do you have when the camera’s off, when the light’s off? That inspires me. How to restrain that.” He then adds, telling Touré, “That shows who you really are. To control yourself, that is the ultimate power.”

#BonusBeat: Recently, Kendrick Lamar confirmed the DAMN. as two-albums-in-one theory. It was covered for LAST 7:

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