Kendrick Lamar talks indie success, West Coast rap and Dr. Dre
Kendrick Lamar pulled off an impressive feat when he released his third mixtape, “Section.80,” early last month: He topped two of the mightiest forces in 2011 pop, Adele and Lady Gaga, on the iTunes chart.
Making the coup all the more surprising was that the Compton rapper’s release soared without being backed by a major label.
Released digitally through local indie-rap imprint Top Dawg Entertainment, the album peaked at No. 3 on the iTunes charts, debuted as the top hip-hop/rap album and landed in the top 10 in more than a dozen countries, including Australia, Germany and France -- all without radio airplay or splashy promotions.
The surprising success comes as the 24-year-old rapper is racking up some major co-signs. Such heavyweights as Snoop Dogg, Nas and Dr. Dre have championed him, and Lamar is lending a helping hand on Dre's serially delayed “Detox.” He also landed a spot on the cover of XXL's coveted Freshman list. Hopefully, all the hype will reward him in kind when when he releases his as-yet-untitled official debut, which is still in the works.
Pop & Hiss recently caught up with Lamar for a quick chat ahead of his Music Box gig Friday on the mixtape’s success, growing up in Compton and whether or not he’ll ever embrace a major label.
You could almost hear a collective "huh?" when "Section.80" popped up on iTunes ahead of major players like Adele and Lady Gaga. What did that mean for you?
It was a great accomplishment. I like to just stay in the creative space and not worry about actual numbers. It lets me know that people still have love for real music and wanted to appreciate it. You can go find dozens of individuals here that have talent, even more talent than I have. The West Coast [scene], it's not the same stereotyped sound. We can take it to the next level. "Section.80" shows that you didn’t know a guy from Compton could do it -- without getting radio play, or commercial play.
What inspired the album, especially the title?
"Section.80" is really based on my generation. I wanted to make an album that represented everything from 1980 to 2011. Everything in between -- from persons born in that time, all the way to now. I felt like when I went out into these streets, a lot of people would say I speak for my generation. People that’s coming up under me, that admire me, and admire my message and my music.
Everybody that we looked up to are on a whole other plateau talking about things that can't relate to the average 17-year-old because he’s just out of high school and trying to figure out his way into the world. That’s where I come into play. The album just talks about the ills of going through life and society as a young person when you’re trying to figure things out the hard way, for better or worse.
People associate Compton almost with a singular sound in rap. How did growing up there shape your opinion as an artist?
It had a lot of influence on me, period. Growing up in Compton, that’s what I represent. I feel like I have to connect with my own backyard before I connect on a universal level. When I speak about me going to the county building with my mother every month or being influenced by the homeboys I grow up with in a neighborhood, being chastised by the police -- that’s me, and the people can relate to that. I grew up in a household where my parents partied. It was a whole lot of gangster rap, and oldies being played in the house. I start penning my rhymes when I was 13.
The project obviously has majors knocking your door down. Any plans to switch over to major, or do you plan on remaining indie?
When you get into this business, you’ve gotta be your best promoter. People have to believe in you enough to want to take you to the next level. That’s what we did with Top Dawg Entertainment. We always had that mind-set.
As far as going to a major label ... I don't feel no pressure. The situation has to be right. Everybody has to be cohesive as to what the plan is and not try to sway things. In some situations, it could be the perfect marriage. I’ve always felt I needed to build a fan base from the bottom to the top. Whatever situation I get into, my people are going with me. I'm going to continue to make the positive music that I make.
What's going on with this joint album with J. Cole?
It's still in the works. We’re just trying to get our schedules intact. He has his album coming out, I have my tour dates coming up. We’re working on it. That’s the conflict. But we already have stuff and it's sounding great.
And you've logged time with Dr. Dre for "Detox." Anything you can say about that?
The magic that happened in there was incredible. Dre is somebody that I’ve looked up to for as long as I can remember. To be in the studio and work on a monumental album like that is an honor. It's something I’m proud of.
Kendrick Lamar with ScHoolboy Q at the Music Box, 6126 Hollywood Blvd., Friday at 8 p.m. Tickets are $25.
-- Gerrick D. Kennedy
Photo: Kendrick Lamar. Credit: Courtesy of Kendrick Lamar.