Kendrick Lamar is on a hot streak. He’s fresh off the release of his acclaimed independent album Section.80, he’s gotten co-signs from legends like Dr. Dre, Nas, and Snoop Dogg, and he recently linked up with Pharrell.
To top it off, he’s got a busy schedule ahead. He’s got a mixtape in the works with J. Cole, another project with his Los Angeles-based rap group Black Hippy (composed of himself, Ab-Soul, ScHoolboy Q, and Jay Rock), and let’s not forget all the work he put in on Dr. Dre’s Detox.
With Kendrick and members of his label Top Dawg Entertainment visiting New York City, we caught up with the artist formerly known as K-Dot and talked about the Odd Future namedrop on Section.80, searching for that hit single, and the time he got high and had a bad trip.
You’ve gotten a great reception for your latest mixtape, Section.80. What was the recording process like?
I started working on Section.80 like four months prior to it coming out. There’s a point in time where I was doing a lot of shows and I had to really make the transition to find the balance between recording and doing shows.
I’m a studio writer. That’s how I was raised, locking myself in the studio and working on my craft. That’s what I love to do. So by the time I dropped OD it was getting to the point where I was on the road a lot. I had to find time to lock myself in the studio for a good three months and gather all my thoughts.
I was doing a lot of writing while I was on the road. Sometimes when you’re not in that vibe and that presence of the actual studio feel, your best material is not going to come up. It’s whatever makes you comfortable.
What made me comfortable was going back to the same small little studio in Carson, California, 20 minutes from Compton. I’ve been recording there since I was 16. It’s called Top Dawg Studios, but House of Pain is what we like to call it. It’s our little dungeon. I had to go back there, sit down, and come up with the whole process of Section.80.
How did “HiiiPoWeR” come about?
That was one of the first beats that I picked out of the batch [that J. Cole gave me]. I was coming from the XXL freshman shoot and I had the beat in my e-mail. I had the beat for a while, I was sitting on it. We were flying back and [the President of Top Dawg Ent.] Punch was just throwing all these names in the air like Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, and Marcus Garvey.
Punch is a mentor [to me], he can teach you knowledge that you can relate to and that you’ll want to hear. So he’s throwing these names in the air, names you know, but you never did your research on. I thought it was crazy that you’re in a school district your whole life in Compton and they never really gave you the proper history on these people that’s monumental to your life.
They always telling you the typical, like he’s an incredible man. They never really sat down and said, “Yo, he did this for you.” [These are] individuals that’s made sacrifices for your life, of black males in general.
When I approached that record, I didn’t want it to sound like I’m preaching. I wanted to approach it just like what I heard when Punch was telling me these names that I didn’t have an understanding of. So when I attacked the record, I attacked it as a boy searching for answers and trying to figure it out. Asking you to tell me. I got the inspiration from Punch and recorded it the next day at Top Dawg Studios.
One of my biggest things that I didn’t want to do for “HiiiPoWeR” was just make it a race thing. I wanted to make it for a bigger goal in mind and that’s to stand above all the bullshit, that’s what those people did. So when I say “HiiiPoWeR,” I’m representing everybody that’s trying to escape the negatives in the world and do something positive with their life and stand for something bigger that’s going to live forever, just like they people did.
Ab-Soul: I’ll tell you something else about that record too. Originally it was called “Black HiiiPoWeR.” But we were like, we don’t like that attitude of HiiiPoWeR. It’s got to be larger.
I heard you had 25 different mixes for that song. Is that the Dre in you?
[Laughs.] Might be. That’s [my engineer] Ali mixing all them records. We sat down for a minute trying to get it right because we knew what it was going to do when it hit the masses.
[It was like that for] probably like 80% of the project. I always sit in with the mixes, there’s a certain sound that I be looking for. Not only with the instrumentation, but with my vocal performance. Sometimes you gotta get it over a few times to get it right to your likings.
MC Eiht once had an album called Section 8 and has been on a label called Hi Power since 2006. Does that have any relation to your movement?
I might’ve been aware of it. [Laughs.] That’s dope. That’s good research. You know your stuff.
One of the songs on the album, “Ab-Soul's Outro," has a reference to Odd Future. I had to listen to it a few times to get it.
What did you get out of it? [Laughs.]
Well, it sounded like he was rapping about aliens and the Mayans, and the world ending, so it was like, “Odd Future’s aight but our future’s not.” So I was like, “Oh the rap group is cool but we’re doomed because the world is going to end next year.” But I don’t know for sure, I wanted to get that clear.
That’s a line that I still don’t know. [Laughs.]
Does someone want to help us out here?
Ab-Soul: You’re gonna need an Ab-Soul interview. [Laughs.] Yeah, you gotta get that Ab-Soul interview. You can take that line in so many ways but I think it’s just a tight line.
But seriously guys, what does that Odd Future line mean?
He’s saying that they’re dope, but our future’s not.
So my original interpretation is correct. How much deeper can I read?
No deeper. [Laughs.]