Kendrick Lamar & Kobe Bryant Discuss What It Takes To Be Great (Video)
At the peak of his career, Kobe Bryant was indisputably one of the greatest, if not the greatest, basketball players on the planet. In the 2005-2006 season, alone, he put on a display of dominance not seen in the modern era, with more than 20 40+ point games, 5 more 50+ point games, a 62-point game and, of course, his historic 81-point game on January 22, 2006. In many ways, Kendrick Lamar is having a comparable year in his “sport.” Over time, Kendrick Lamar has established himself as one of the greatest MCs of his generation and, arguably all-time, and in 2017 he has combined his lyrical dominance with chart dominance, as his DAMN. album is on pace to be the best-selling of 2017, in any genre. At last week’s Complexcon, the two men sat down for an in-depth conversation about what it takes to be great.
To start, Kobe and Kendrick were asked about the differences between who they were in their early days vs. who they became later. Kobe, in speaking about the difference between the man who wore number 8 vs. the one who wore number 24 said “It’s almost 2 different people, in a sense. Having a certain mentality of coming in the league where you’re literally headhunting everyone, because it’s your time to establish yourself and say ‘I belong here.’ As a result, everybody must go. Then when you hit a certain maturity level, which is where [number] 24 [is], it becomes less about your self-domination. It becomes about how can I help others grow.”
When posed the same question about K. Dot vs. Kung Fu Kenny, Kendrick responds similarly. “K. Dot…This is me prepping myself, as far as the lyrical ability, and being able to go in the studio and say ‘You know what? I want to be the best wordsmith. Anybody that gets on this track, I have to annihilate, however that is. Whether it’s through rhyme schemes, whether it’s through metaphors, whether it’s just punchlines, whether it’s just wordplay.’ And, I didn’t have the actual technique of songwriting then. This is the transition [to] Kendrick Lamar/Kung Fu Kenny. I look at Kung Fu Kenny as a master of the craft now. Now you have the ability to make songs, and still have the wordsmith technique and intertwine it, and have a composed mentality on how to approach music. Now, you’re just not connecting with people in the studio and your homies. You’re connecting with people around the world, universally.”
Next, the two men were asked if being the best was something they set out to do from the beginning or something that evolved over time. Kobe says “For me, I set out immediately to be the best. It was a decision. At what point do you say ‘OK. I have the skills that are good enough to be one of the best ever?’ How do you even know that? I think it has to be a quest from day one. This is a choice that you’re going to make. You know, the sacrifices that come along with that. But, once you make that deal with yourself, that it. There’s no going back.” Kendrick says his process was more of a progression. “Mine comes from the standpoint of after so long of spitting raps to your homies and your friends in the neighborhood and being in the studio, you kind of feel that this is all you know and this is your audience–especially being in Compton. It’s a small city. I think the moment I was able to go overseas…And I see the people in the front row reciting these lyrics, as if they wrote them inside my mom’s kitchen, where I was at writing them…This right here took my whole approach and appreciation for music to a whole other level, because now I see that these words are not just for me and my friends. It’s people that actually connect with them that I’ve never met. And that the moment I felt I’ve arrived. This is not just something I do for fun, and that gave me another fuel and battery in my back to keep doing it.”
Asked what the intangible to greatness is, Kobe responds “I think it’s a certain stubbornness that comes along with being great. I think people see greatness as kind of an easy road: It’s like a one path thing; you work hard and then all of a sudden it happens. And it doesn’t work like that. There’s a lot of darkness that comes from it, as well. There’s a lot of personal experiences that you go through, that you use as fuel to propel you forward. Whereas, otherwise, it would just be obstacles for others. It might even prevent them from going forward. Whereas, for us, those moments do nothing but fuel us even more. The anxiety, the fear, the anger-all of that stuff–plays a significant part in it, just as much as love does. And it’s not easy, but if it was easy, I guess everyone…We have a world filled with lions, but lions eat gazelles.” Kendrick builds on Kobe’s point about the trials and tribulations that motivate greatness. “It’s the curiosity, the fear, the anxiety. It’s the curiosity of knowing ‘Damn. I can possibly overcome this.’ And when you do and another [obstacle] approaches [you think] ‘I want to challenge that too.’ That’s real greatness. We spend so much time prepping our careers and what’s next and how we’re going to move through it, but at the same time there’s always that curiosity in the back of our heads about what’s to come and how we’re going to conquer that.”
Elsewhere in the conversation, Kobe is asked what his inspiration is now that he’s no longer playing basketball and he says “Fast-forward 20 years from now. If basketball is the best thing I’ve done in my life, then I’ve failed. It’s a very simple mission, very simple quest, very simple goal. These next 20 years need to be better than the previous 20.” Kendrick is also asked what his experience was being in the building as Kobe ended his career with an amazing 60-point performance. He said seeing Kobe put that energy an effort in all the way through is final game was a life lesson for him.
This is not the first time Kendrick has been compared to Kobe. When he released the remix to his song “B*tch, Don’t Kill My Vibe,” featuring a new verse from JAY-Z, the Compton spitter used the iconic picture of a young Kobe lined up next to the veteran Michael Jordan. The entire conversation is a fascinating watch.