Earlier this week, Kendrick Lamar spoke at the Forbes Under 30 Summit in Boston, a gathering of thousands of the top innovators and entrepreneurs from across the country, where he fielded questions about his successes and failures, how each of his three records labels (TDE, Aftermath and Interscope) have helped to engineer his impressive career and what it's like to mentor young artists after being mentored himself.
In the midst of answering that last question, Kendrick shared the best advice he has ever given to his TDE labelmates, which, really, applies to any artist pursuing a career in music—signed or unsigned.
"Don't ever reach, always do something that you feel good about," Kendrick said. "Don't do it because you want to get signed or you want a distribution deal because, at the end of the day, that doesn't last. What lasts is something that is 100% true to yourself. You get so twisted and tangled in singles and how many streams the other cat gets, you lose vision of the creative process and this is something I try to mentor to the other artists."
Setting aside the fact that Kendrick is no longer under 30 (he turned 30 on June 17), suffice to say that his incredible 14-year journey through the music industry ranks make him more than qualified to both speak at such a prestigious event and to offer such pitch-perfect advice.
Unlike, say, Drake, who despite his incredible, otherworldly success has a history of riding trendy waves, Kendrick's words are bolstered by his actions. It's one thing to tell others not to get caught up in their peer's streaming numbers and another to actually craft an album like To Pimp a Butterfly. Even if you don't subscribe to Kendrick's school of philosophy, Dr. Future offered up the same advice for longevity in music earlier this week.
Many artists believe that in order to secure placements on key on-demand streaming service playlists, they must follow a specific sonic blueprint. (And if you scan RapCaviar, the most popular playlist on Spotify regardless of genre, it isn't hard to understand why this sentiment has grown over the past two years.) But while playlist placements can greatly help an artist monetize their music outside of the streaming ecosystem (booking shows, selling merch), it doesn't guarantee longevity.
For any artist, if staying true to yourself means making whatever type of music will generate the most plays, views, likes and retweets, by all means, that lane is wide open and will always be open. Just know that eventually, it will close. And when it does, will you have anything left to offer?