After a banner 2015, Kendrick Lamar has spent much of 2016 planning his next move. With the release of untitled unmastered. and a slew of good-to-great feature appearances, Kendrick has kept his buzz at a fever pitch, and his fan base is hungrier than ever.
In a recent move of journalistic brilliance, GQStyle had legendary producer and hip-hop icon Rick Rubin interview the Compton emcee on his influences, successes, and what the future holds.
The entire interview is gold, but there are a few choice gems that Kendrick dropped throughout the interview, so let’s take a look at the five most meaningful things we learned from Kendrick’s talk with Rick Rubin.
1. He got his lyrical clarity from studying Eminem as a kid
One of the most stunning qualities of Kendrick Lamar as an emcee is his ability to compose extremely complex verses while maintaining an astounding level of clarity. This ability, he says, was learned from studying Eminem’s raps as a kid.
The clarity, I got my clarity just studying Eminem when I was a kid. How I got in the studio was all just curiosity. I had a love for the music, but it was curiosity. The day I heard 'The Marshall Mathers LP,' I was just like, 'How does that work? What is he doing? How is he putting his words together like that? What's the track under that? An ad-lib? What is that?' And then, 'Why don't you go in the studio and see?' So I do that. Then it became, 'How's his words cutting through the beat like that? What is he doing that I'm not doing, now that I'm into it?' His time is impeccable. When he wants to fall off the beat, it's impeccable. These are things that, through experience and time, I had to learn.
2. He meditates 30 minutes per day (or every other day)
Kendrick’s self-awareness as an artist is another quality that sets him apart from the masses. It’s clear that Kendrick is a student of the game and has taken note of the consequences that have befallen other artists who didn’t take the time to soak in their surroundings in the midst of industry hype.
One of the ways Kendrick is able to handle the immense pressure of becoming a voice for his generation is meditation:
I have to have at least 30 minutes to myself. If it's not on the daily, every other day, to just sit back, close my eyes, and absorb what's going on. You know, the space that I'm in. When you in music—and everybody knows this—the years are always cut in half, because you always have something to do. We in the studio for four months, that go by. Now you gotta go on the road for five months, that go by. Next thing you know, five years going by and you 29 years old. You know? So I have to find a way to understand the space that I'm in and how I'm feeling at the moment. 'Cause if I don't, it's gonna zoom. I know. I feel it.
3. He had the beat for "Alright" for six months before finding the right lyrics.
A decent-sized portion of the interview was dedicated to the potency of Kendrick’s single “Alright,” which has become a protest anthem for groups like Black Lives Matter.
As it turns out, Kendrick sat on the instrumental for “Alright” for six months before coming up with the right words, a testament to the power of letting an idea fully gestate.
You know what? I was sitting on that record for about six months. The beat's Pharrell. And between my guy Sam Taylor and Pharrell, they would always be like, 'Did you do it? When you gonna do it?' I knew it was a great record—I just was trying to find the space to approach it. I mean, the beat sounds fun, but there's something else inside of them chords that Pharrell put down that feels like—it can be more of a statement rather than a tune. So with Pharrell and Sam asking me—'Am I gonna rock on it? When I'm gonna rock on it?'—it put the pressure on me to challenge myself. To actually think and focus on something that could be a staple in hip-hop. And eventually, I came across it. Eventually, I found the right words. You know, it was a lot going on, and still, to this day, it's a lot going on. And I wanted to approach it as more uplifting—but aggressive. Not playing the victim, but still having that 'We strong, you know?'
4. He's open to the idea of making an album where he's not rapping.
Over the last few Kendrick releases, we’ve been introduced to a more musically diverse artist who, although he considers himself a rapper first and foremost, isn’t afraid to dabble in musical roles outside of the confines of an emcee.
According to Kendrick, it sounds like the prospect of us getting a non-rapping Kendrick album is far from outside the realm of possibility.
Yeah, I think I got the confidence for it. If I can master the idea and make the time to approach it the right way, I think I can push it out.
5. He's already got "ideas" for his next album.
Now here’s where the real excitement comes in. While untitled unmastered. was a strong release and enough to keep Kendrick fans at bay, there’s a lot of pressure following the universal acclaim of To Pimp A Butterfly, and Kendrick let fans know that he’s already working on his next masterpiece.
It's soon. I have ideas, though. I have ideas and I have a certain approach. But I wanna see what it manifests. I wanna put all the paint on the wall and see where that goes. Maybe you can help me with that.
Not that he needs the help, but yes, Rick, please offer up your many talents. We're ready.
By Brent Bradley. Follow him on Twitter.
Photo Credit: Alan Gwizdowski for GQ