Kendrick Lamar Explains Why Every Rapper Is Conscious

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Hi. We recently created AFH TV, Ambrosia For Heads’ streaming video service, because we believe real Hip-Hop deserves its own dedicated TV home, but we need your help to make it great. Please subscribe to AFH TV. It is only $1.99/month or $12/year, and already features some amazing content, but the best is yet to come. Thank you for all of your support.

Kendrick Lamar is on the cover of the upcoming issue of Forbes magazine. The Compton, California superstar leads the way on the “30 Under 30” music issue. Less than six months after he celebrated his 30th trip around the sun, the TDE MC is reported by the publication to be grossing more than one million dollars per concert. Through DAMN. album sales and streams, touring, as well as deals with apparel giants, Lamar is estimated (by Forbes) to be closing in on a $30 million-earning 2017.

For corresponding cover-story, Forbes‘ Zack O’Malley-Greenburg interviewed Kendrick before a live audience. The conversation looks at a number of items surrounding Kendrick’s upbringing, his artistic development, and how he balances brand partnerships with authenticity.

Z.O.G. asks Kendrick his take on the label “conscious rapper.” Talib Kweli, a Lamar collaborator, famously released Prisoner Of Conscious as a statement about that label putting him a box. The DAMN. creator points to another influence and sees things a bit differently. “I always go back to what 50 Cent said, and it always stuck with me. And when he said it, it made an even more valid point. He said, ‘We all are conscious, whether you’re doing Gangsta Rap, whether you’re doing so-called Conscious Rap, whether you [are] doing whatever genre you may in because you have a post, you alive and you’re telling your true feelings … these are your true thoughts, and you’re conscious of them, and you’re aware of them. You are conscious, as simple as that,’ When he said that, that inspired me to not only recognize my own influence on what I have with my people.” In 2013, Kendrick and Fif’ collaborated for video single “We Up.”

In 2012, while speaking with Ambrosia For Heads for a “Politics As Usual” segment, Kendrick spoke about this idea in confronting another label, “Political Rap.” “When people say ‘political message,’ they all usually mean [the song] is about the President [or] Congress. A political message, to me, means Pac’s ‘Dear Mama.’ Because that holds just as much power as the President speaking in front of the world because this is a person that’s speaking something relatable to kids that’s in the ghetto. That’s one of the first Rap joints that I’d say is political in my eyes [and those of my peers]. It was something that everybody felt and something that everyone could understand and actually speak on and debate on.” In that same conversation, K-Dot cited N.W.A., early Outkast, Big K.R.I.T., J. Cole, Kid Cudi and Rick Ross as artists that teach him things about the world through music.

Back in the Forbes discussion, K-Dot says that according to his family, his mother scolded his father for playing Big Daddy Kane too loudly in the car on the newborn’s first trip home. He says that from N.W.A., Kurupt, Snoop Dogg, Tupac, and X-Clan were major influences. Notably, he credits the Clan’s “F.T.P.” as an influence upon YG’s “FDT.”

Asked about his endorsements, Kendrick says, “That’s something I always took upon myself, and I promised myself any type of venture or partnership I’m doing with a brand, I have to have … 100% creative control on how I want the proceeds to go, and the look and the creative process, and actually what it’s saying, rather than just putting a name and a price tag on it.” Kendrick is asked specifically about a Reebok partnership that began several years back. The shoes’ color-ways were inspired by the rag colors of some of the gangs in Compton and many cities. “You want to look back and say, ‘Okay, this red and this blue shoe, it actually did something for the city of Compton, which it has done when I walk back through the city and I see people that I grew up with and certain enemies wearing the shoe.’ And how they embrace the fact, okay, this is culture now. We got somebody that’s representing us that understands us and value the actual mistakes that we made, as far as value is pushing it forward and moving forward past it. And that was the whole process. So anything that I do as far as branding I have to have that sense of awareness and knowing that it’s just not a price tag.” Earlier this year, K-Dot reportedly entered a venture with Nike too.

Forbes‘ “30 Under 30” issue hits newsstands next month, although the interview is available online now. The announcement comes one day after GQ presented Colin Kaepernick on their cover for the second time in four years. They crowned the former NFL quarterback “Citizen Of The Year.”

#BonusBeat: Less than six weeks ago, Forbes released its “Hip-Hop Cash Kings” list for 2017. Kendrick, Chance The Rapper, and J. Cole all made the rankings—showing an important statement about “Conscious Rap” and its star MCs. This was covered in a recent LAST 7 episode:

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