Earlier this week, we dropped both of Complex's August/September cover stories, one with Kendrick Lamar and the other with Lana Del Rey. In our Kendrick Lamar cover story, we caught up the Compton native in L.A. as he readies the follow-up to his certified classic good kid, m.A.A.d. city. To get a sense of the struggles and hardships that come along with crafting one of the most highly anticipated albums in recent memory, we spoke with some people in Kendrick's inner circle including Punch, Dave Free, and Derek “MixedByAli” Ali. We also talked to Queensbridge legend Nas about the challenges Kendrick is facing. But the only one who could truly speak on the burden is, of course, K-Dot himself. We interviewed him on two separate occasions, first in his trailer during his Complex covershoot and then again at one of the L.A. studios where he regularly records. During our time with him, we talked about him texting with Pharrell, how getting famous has changed his outlook on life, how good kid could have been 30 songs, and the higher purpose that's driving him...

Interview by Insanul Ahmed (@Incilin)

What has your life been like since you put out good kid, m.A.A.d. city?
It’s pretty simple. I never was the type of person to be out in the open and having fun. I’m not moving around so crazy where [it’s] pandemonium. I still got my privacy and I got to keep that contained.

You’ve been touring for four years straight, do you have time for yourself?
When I’m off the road I do. I taught myself to really be in the studio and come up with ideas. Being on the road, you start to become like a robot. You just doing shows, doing radio interviews, doing regular interviews, then right to the studio. It just becomes a practice and you become a robot.

You’ve been around the world, has your outlook on life changed?
My outlook on life’s changed dramatically. When you in Compton or from a small city like Philly or the Bronx, you grow up and you grow up quick, but you only know maybe a four-block radius and that’s all the world has to offer.

I grew up in a Black and Mexican world, so I don’t recall ever having a white person in my school whether it was a student or a teacher in all my years of school. You get used to that, so it’s kind of like a culture shock when you meet all these different cultures and ethnicities.

You’re learning about them and you’re like, “Wow. It’s bigger than what my block is known for.” When you go to places like Europe, there’s so much more to offer than what I thought years ago.

Is there something you used to believe that you no longer believe or vise versa?
There’s so many things man. It’s such a cliche [to say] that we’re all the same but really we’re different in so many aspects. The way we look at things, our characteristics, what we believe. You got so many people that believe in the same thing and figure that 90% of the world believes in what you believe. Having different conversations and you’re like, “Damn, this person don’t think like me. He don’t have my views on life.” [I’m] learning how people think.

I heard you spent some time in South Africa. What did you gain from being there?
A culture shock. I was shocked knowing that the world, that black people, are bigger than just Compton. Their experiences are somewhat similar but just but on a more dramatic scale.

It’s funny because you had quite a dramatic life already.
When you see the world and you see other people’s struggles, or how tough things go for them, it’s actually like a reality check. It humbled me.

I grew up in a Black and Mexican world, so I don’t recall ever having a white person in my school whether it was a student or a teacher in all my years of school. You get used to that, so it’s kind of like a culture shock when you meet all these different cultures and ethnicities.

You mention still having your privacy, you’ve talked about the personal and ethical costs of being a rapper on songs like “Buried Alive.” Has it cost you some since? You are much more famous since that song.
Oh yeah. It costs you a little bit of everything. The number one thing, it costs you relationships. I’m sure every artist has had some type of experience of losing relationships whether it’s with your family, friends, or whoever that’s close to you.

Some people can’t really understand your job and how much you indulge yourself in it. You can eat sleep and breathe music, but some people can’t really understand that. So they have assumptions to try to explain your success for you. They say that you changed but really, what I learned is that the person that changes the people around you is you. It’s because they can’t convey your success. It’s a topic that’s spoke on all the time, but when you’re in it, you really can understand it.

I always think of that Jay Z line, “Everybody look at you strange, say you changed/Like you work that hard to stay the same.”
Yeah it’s definitely true. We all come from ghettos and come from situations where we have to make some type of movement to actually do something positive, so we changed a lot. If you come from a negative place and you’re doing something positive, that’s change within itself. You’ve got to continue to grow.

My thing about it: I don’t even like to use the word “change,” I really like to call it “growth.” Sometimes you’ll be going so far that the people that you used to be with can’t relate. All you can try to do is help them and share some of the gains and knowledge.

Who hasn’t been able to grow with you?
You have certain people that always thrive off of negative. Somebody always worried about the sad or what’s not going on in their life, that’s really a drug. They see that you’re doing something positive and are not inspired by it, you stuck.

I gotta move forward. I can’t sit right here and mope with you all day. That’s coming from friends and that comes from family as well, usually those people most dear to you. I can’t say nothing else to them but say, “You have to be inspired because I come from the same place you come from.”

Right. I know you’ve talked about how you didn’t spend a lot of the money you made on yourself but you spent it on family. You bought your parent’s house and you’ve really tried to take care of people in your family.
Yeah. I won’t say not just family, I’m just saying people in general. I like to help those who help themselves. Nothing’s handed to you, that’s how my pops taught me. Sometimes you have people that don’t understand that concept until you get into a position where you present it to them and they don’t know how to react.

I’m not into the self-pity at all. Being in the position I’m in now, knowing how hard I worked for it, that word’s just out the window. I know everybody go through things, we have issues but when it’s constant issues about every little thing you can’t come to me like that. Get up off your ass and go do something. I sound like my pops right now [Laughs.].

You’ve obviously made some money as well. Have you spent any money on yourself?
You know what’s crazy, man? [Laughs.] I’ve got this thing where I’m scared I’ma lose all my money.

That’s a legit fear to have.
Yeah. I be talking to a few of my partners that’s doing they thing. A few of them don’t feel the same way but it’s like a real deal for me. I treat myself every now and then, but for the most part I be wanting to be smart about it. If my music were to stop today, how would I make this stretch for the rest of my life? My kid’s lifetime? Hopefully my grandkids. If I stopped today, how would I do that?

Of course, I treat myself but that’s always in the back of my head. This could be your last moment and your last shot to keep that revenue coming. I got a lot of people to support, a lot of people to inspire.

Did you buy the rapper starter kit? You know, you buy your parents the house, you buy yourself the mansion, get your girl the Range, get yourself the Mercedes?
[Laughs.] Nah man, you know I couldn’t spend that money myself. My purchase was to get my moms out that spot. That’s success for me. My parents came to Compton from Chicago with $500 in their pockets. So that’s 26 years of being in Compton on Section 8 and food stamps and nickel-and-diming every month. Getting them out of there? That made me feel like I bought me 10 Lamborghinis and 10 houses. Anything after that is petty.

So where do you live now?
I float around L.A.. I might be at one apartment in Downtown L.A., then I might go to another apartment on the beach.

You haven’t bought the big mansion?
Nah. [Laugh.] I don’t know if I’ma do that because of my personality, I like to see different spaces and not be caught up in one continuous place inside the walls. I might want to be over here next month, I may want to be over there. So to actually buy a house of my own that I can live in, I would have to have the kids and the whole nine. I will buy some private property, because I know the market is going right. But not for myself.

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You live a famous life, with that comes stress. You’re not known for drinking, you’re not known for smoking, how do you let loose and have fun?
As opposed to going crazy because this industry will drive you fucking crazy? Man it’s really about sitting in a room of silence for me.

Really?
Yeah, man it’s simple as that.

Like a monk.
Yeah, bro, being on some real recluse shit. That’s just how I deal with it. Your thoughts can be consumed by so much, you can literally go crazy. I don’t want to say no names but [it happened to music] legends we all know. There will be times where I just go to the studio and kick everybody out and just play instrumentals for the rest of the night because you need that peace of mind whether it’s 10 minutes, 30 minutes, an hour, four sessions, a day, two weeks. That’s how I relieve [stress].

I don’t want to say “too much stress” because I love what I do. But you have to find some type of peace of mind because you’ll have so many people pulling at you in each direction, it can get a little bit disturbing.

Yeah, it’s hard to silence all the voices in your head sometimes.
And I know if I go to just drinking my motherfucking life away, shit, I’m no better than people that I’ve seen growing up. How can I make them proud by doing the same thing they was doing? I know once I start, I’m gone.

That’s one thing that people don’t understand—I’m not indulging in drugs because I just don’t want to, I’m not doing it because I know me and I know my history and my family. Once I’m there, there’s really no going back. That could be the demise of not only me, but the whole generation that’s following me. That’s a whole lot of responsibility. But a little cat won’t hurt nobody every now and then. [Laughs.]. I wouldn’t take that away [Laughs.].

Hey, I know you said you like to be alone but nobody wants to be that alone. [Laughs.].
Yeah. [Laughs.]. That’s real talk, though.

I hate to ask because I feel like a gossip reporter, but since good kid was driven by a woman, what are the women in your life like now?
It’s funny about not seeing just this one particular woman, a Sherane. Like I said, that’s all you’re familiar with, pretty, but grimy and scandalous. You used to that so when you go all around the world and you see these different types of women, you may not know how to approach them because you ain’t never dealt with this type of caliber of woman.

That’s been most cases not only for myself but a lot of my partners. They think they supposed to call a woman, “Come here. [Claps hands] Get over here. Let me holla at you.” They press on and they scare them away. So seeing the world, that gave me a whole ‘nother respect for women. To not pigeonhole them like, “I like this one particular woman that was scandalous.”

It’s all types of women, I’m not just talking about my race. I like the fact that I can grow like that and not just say [Chuckles], “All these girls right here is bitches.” You feel what I’m saying? [Laughs.] Because of my encounters with this one girl, I can say “These beautiful queens right here.” I know to differentiate.

Right. You’ve had the sample platter. [Laughs.].
Right. There’s a lot of beautiful queens in the world, not just four-legged dogs.

Speaking of Sherane, whatever happened to Sherane?
I don’t know, man. I’m so far gone. I don’t even try to go back to them type of memories. My partners in the city, they really don’t care. That’s K-Dot, he’s doing his thing. That girl, you doing your thing.

There’s a great photo of you floating online, you’re a teenager where you’re wearing a Sixers jersey and the hat. Have you seen that?
Yeah, I seen that. They thought that was Sherane. That wasn’t Sherane.

That wasn’t Sherane?
Nah. [Laughs.]. That’s some crazy stuff. I thought that was funny like, “How y’all dig that up?”

It’s funny because my dad will argue with my mom like, “I’m the one who played him N.W.A.! That’s why it sounds like that! Because I put that in his ear.” He’s just a whole other dude now thinking that he just put me on, which he did.

The album was not just driven by Sherane, but also driven by your parents. Are your parents famous in the hood now?
[Laughs.] They was famous in the hood already. They still is even though they ain’t on the same block. But they always been known in the neighborhood.

Because of their parties?
Right, because of the parties. Then with that album, it just got a little different. You’re used to it when you see some of the homies pulling up like “[Daps] How is your pops?” But when you get people from Hollywood coming to Compton just to see the van in front of the house, that got a little creepy.

Do they still have that van?
Yeah, they still have that van.

That’s a piece of rap memorabilia now.
Yeah, man. That was probably the best thing I ever could’ve done was put my mother and father on there because we ain’t gon’ be here forever. God willing, my grandkids and my kids will see my parents. But if God plan another way, they will always be able to hear that record and know what type of people they were. That’ll always live forever.

Your dad is a true rap fan, what did he think of the album?
Aw, man, he’s a day-one rap fan. It’s funny because he’ll argue with my mom like, “I’m the one who played him N.W.A.! That’s why it sounds like that! Because I put that in his ear.” He’s just a whole other dude now thinking that he just put me on, which he did, so I’ve got to give him that credit. He’s the one boasting, taking credit for it which is cool.

You’re known for being just a rapper. But in 2014 that’s kinda weird because I feel like people aren’t even singers and rappers, they’re online entertainers. Do you feel like that limits you in some ways?
Nah, it don’t really limit me. No matter what you do, no matter what you say, nigga, if your music is trash we don’t give a fuck about none of that Instagram, Twitter, Vine. You just going to be a market that will be on memes about three months making jokes.

To be fair, there were great memes when “Control” came out.
Oh there was some funny shit, I be cracking up, but I always want to put music first. I know people on social media every day but it’s not more powerful than music. That’s smoke and mirrors compared to what the legends are putting out there.

But beyond social media, you’re not like starting a fashion line, you’re not doing movies. Those things don’t seem to interest you.
Nah. None of that. Not saying there’s nothing wrong with that, maybe five or ten years I’ll make the jump. But right now I know I have a purpose. God put something in my heart to get across and that’s what I’m going to focus on and that’s me being as vocal as possible, using my voice as an instrument, and doing what needs to be done.

What is that purpose?
I’ve got to do something. I couldn’t tell you what I’ve got to do but I’ve got to do it and it’s not even for my fulfillment. This is something bigger that I have to get across, not for myself or so my generation, but even a higher cause than that. When it’s said and done, I’ll be able to talk about it.

How have you been working on music? What is your process like now?
The same way, man. That’s my peace of mind, being creative. I got to write one line or idea down a day, I’ve got to do it. I process the same way I gain inspiration. I really don’t like [that while I’m] touring I’m not able to create sometimes. That’s one thing you can’t never let somebody say, “I can’t make time for that.” You can and that’s exactly what I do, whether it’s 30 minutes or an hour.

When I really lock in, I locks in. I cut phones off for months. You can only reach me as long as you my father, my mother, my sister, my brother or anybody that really know me. If you know me well enough and you want to get in contact with me, you go through them or Top Dawg. They know how to reach me but outside of that, the phone is off.

Since releasing good kid how often do you find time to lock in a session?
I haven’t been touring for about six months now, so I’ve been getting back in the groove of doing it. I’m only as good as my last word, as my last hook, as my last bridge, and I need that space to think about what I’m going to say next. If that goes with me having my phone off, two, three, four months, six months, however long it takes, that’s what I’m doing.

I don’t know if you do realize this, but every time a rapper plays me their album, they’re like, “You know, man, hip-hop these days is wack...except for Kendrick’s album.” Or they’ll be like, “Yo, my album, man, I would compare it to good kid m.A.A.d city.” It’s become the go-to standard of what everybody’s trying to make now.
I experienced that too when I went back to my old high school. These kids is like 16 and they looking at me like I’m the real big homie. [Laughs.]. Like, same way I look at Jay Z, Nas, or Dr. Dre. I’m like, “Damn I’m only 10 years older than y’all. I just got out of school, too. Y’all part of the generation I’m talking about.” I walked in there, you would’ve thought Michael Jackson walked through that joint off the excitement that they had. That let me know that I’m doing something right.

I wouldn’t say this person’s music is wack because of this sound, that’s not me. I don’t do that and I hate when people do that. Everybody can’t have the same sound. As long as you making music that you feel is true to yourself and to your heart, then do that. But best believe Kendrick Lamar is going to bring the balance for what you’re making if there’s too much of it.

Anyone who comes across like that—preachy and positive—it’s probably because they never dealt with too much hardship.

Getting that reaction is obviously dope, and I feel like for a lot of people that’s the ultimate goal. But it seems like you want to go further than that...
I don’t know. It’s something else, though. I can’t give you the answer for that. Like I said, it’s something more than being inspired or a celebrity, it’s something deeper. When I come across that one song, or that one line, or that one hook then I’ll understand it. But what’s in my heart right now, it’s developing.

Is it that you want to inspire people to change and actually grow and do those things?
I don’t know. I couldn’t even say if I want you to inspire for the better of who I am. Everybody is different. I don’t say, “You need to be me,” because I’m human, too. I make mistakes just like you. I’ll probably make the same mistake you made yesterday, today for myself. When it comes across, whether its the next album or two albums, then I’ll understand exactly what it is. But it’s not there with one album yet. It’s not there.

It’s interesting that you say, “You don’t have to be like me.” I feel like your greatest accomplishment is you’re able to be a “conscious rapper” without being preachy.
Anyone who comes across like that—preachy and positive—it’s probably because they never dealt with too much hardship. I think my greatest gift is the fact that I come from the same soil that this person on the block come from so I know the evils of it. So it’s not me coming from the Hills and I come to Compton saying, “Y’all should do this.” They ain’t going to believe me.

I had to be right there in the trenches in order for you to believe me. That’s the whole catch. My track record can back it up. You go right there on the same street, you going to see my same partners, you never going to hear no fugazy shit about Kendrick Lamar or K-Dot because it’s already written. That’s why people are able to connect with me on that level where it’s not this preacher. It’s a blessing so I embrace everything that I’ve ever been through. I try to convey it like that and hopefully the people can understand it.

One thing about good kid that struck me is the undercurrent of the album. In every song, no matter where you are, no matter where you’re going, there’s so much tension because you feel like you might die, you might get arrested. Every song things keep getting more and more out of control even when it’s just you and your boys in the van.
That’s how I felt from actual happenings around us and in the stories that you hear. I remember one situation where I was at my partner Yo’s house. We finna to go to the barber shop. The barbershop is right across the street from Rosecrans. He said, “Alright. I’ma post right here for a second.” I go in the shop and called him and said, “The shop is open right now. It ain’t too many people on the line, might as well come over here and get your cut real quick.” He was like, “I finna walk down.”

He was on the corner with a group of the homies, so as he’s walking back to the barber shop, boom, you hear the car. The same spot that he was at three or four minute ago, somebody just came through and hit the whole block and killed one of our partners. ‘Til this day he be like, “Man, those three or four minutes saved my life when you told me to come to the barbershop.”

That’s how we grew up thinking, any given minute something can happen. That wasn’t me purposely trying to do my album like that, that just comes from the music reflecting the lifestyle. I sat back and listened to it and said, “Damn, it does feel like that.”

That’s not the same murder you describe on "m.A.A.d city?"
Nah that’s a whole other situation.

Which is also not the same murder as when your uncle got murdered.
No, that was another situation.

You’ve seen a lot of it.
Man, if I could’ve got my whole album, it would’ve been 30 songs, three discs. I had to narrow it down to 12. A lot of records will never see the pavement, good stuff.

You’re out of that environment now, but how often do you think of your mortality and death?
Mine? Man, I try not to because this is something that I sit back and think of all day just because of who I am. Since a kid, that’s always been something that wowed me. What’s after the physical? That’s something I used to sit and think about in the first grade.

So I try to think about it as less as possible because I am a firm believer of what you think about, what you consume, and the people you’re around, it comes back to you. You could say I want a billion dollars every day of your life and actually get a billion dollars like Dr. Dre because that person installed that type of thinking in himself.

Just like he did that, the fact of me sitting in the first grade thinking about the afterlife, that right there can spark the idea of a demise at an early age and that’s something I hate people talking about. But it’s who I am, so I try to block it out as much as I can with music.

Were you really thinking about that in first grade?
Yeah man.

Man, if I could’ve got my whole album, it would’ve been 30 songs, three discs. I had to narrow it down to 12. A lot of records will never see the pavement, good stuff.

Jeez. I was not thinking like that in first grade.
My first grade teacher, I’ll never forget this, she was always flipping out because I had wrote the word “audacity” in a story. I wish I could find this teacher too because she will remember this because I seen her when I was in ninth grade she was like, “Duckworth, I’ll never forget that last name. You wrote ‘audacity’ in my class in first grade.”

You knew the word “audacity” in first grade?
Yeah only because I heard my auntie and uncles arguing saying, “You got the audacity to take my motherfucking drink and pour it out?!” [Laughs.] I learned all my words like that so when I went to school it was in my head. I didn’t know the actual definition but I knew how to use it.

We were talking about your parent’s house parties and that obviously informed you of the word “audacity.” What kind of conversations were you overhearing at these parties?
I remember the first time I actually understood gangbanging, I was in kindergarten. We was having a house party and my uncle’s in there, they was Compton Crips, and my uncle was like “Cuz” this and “Cuz” that and “Yeah, cuz. I had the blue this on. The blue, everything.” I’m like, “What is cuz? I know he keeps saying blue.”

The next week, when I went back to school there was an older kid, he was probably like in second grade, who was like, “You know what a Crip and Blood is?” He obviously knew. I wasn’t sure but I was like, “Yeah a Crip is blue and a Blood is red.” He was like, “Yeah! How you know that?” I was like, “Because my uncles was talking about it the other night.”

As a kid, you don’t know, you felt like you just learned something, even though they talking about some scandalous shit. I flipped that and turned it into a positive. A question somebody gave me and I knew the answer to it, made me feel good. [Laughs.] I’ll never forget that.

I took that feeling of knowing into the feeling of knowing Europe, the feeling of knowing Australia, the feeling of knowing New York. It makes me feel good, learning and growing. It’s priceless. For better for worse, I know my characteristics and my flaws. I’m happy because something I didn’t know 10 years ago, like how much I hate this or why I act like this, I realize now like, “I do act this way, I do get this from my pops and from my moms, I need to try to work on that.” It made me feel good about myself to know that I’m not stagnant. That’s one thing I hate to be, somebody that’s just stuck.

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Switching gears, I wanted to ask about ScHoolboy Q. He was frustrated with his album saying, “I wish TDE had stayed independent, Interscope made me make these radio singles.” How did you avoid that fate because it seems you had creative control?
Yeah, that really comes from the mixtape game. I put out Kendrick Lamar EP, OD, and Section.80. I was a little bit ahead of Q as far as my mixtape materials which gave me an extra boost because these are independent tapes that had a following behind it. That gave me a little bit more leeway as far as having full creative control. Top Dawg himself said, “Boom, we got this right here. We don’t need a supervisor on the creativity. Let this man work and do what it do.”

By the time my album came out and it was successful, I think it puts a little bit more pressure on the person coming behind you. I won’t say necessarily Q was made or forced to do whatever “singles.” I think it was just the simple fact of having the responsibility of him wanting the smash of “Swimming Pools,” “Kill My Vibe,” “Poetic Justice”—which is all smoke and mirrors because the force that drove those songs was actually the people who are for that album as a whole.

I could be wrong, I could be right, but I think he started realizing that I like the outcome of the album. I think he told his story. I think he brought back the feeling of gangster rap.

It’s weird that it ended up being that way because you guys all killed it in 2012. And then you sold so well too, it seems like that would’ve brought you guys more creative control. Especially at Interscope where it was like, “We let Kendrick do what he wanted and it worked out perfect.” But they wouldn’t do that for ScHoolboy?
Well I wouldn’t actually say it was ScHoolboy’s fault. I’d say from my personal opinion, it was just timing. It’s the hardest thing for me making my album, you have deadlines. You have to get things done and that balancing that with your creativity and timing. But what’s said is said and what’s done is done. I think the album is a great reflection of who he was and the next album will even better.

You mention release dates. It seems Ab-Soul was frustrated at one point tweeting about leaking his album and about it being on the shelf.
Yeah I caught wind of that kind of late so I wouldn’t know. I don’t have the devices on my phone to actually look at all the Twitter and see what he actually said. But I gotta holla at him about that shit. [Laughs.]. I’m kind of detached from the whole social networks. I’ll talk to him. But I heard it through the camp his frustrations. I think it comes from having a smash and he ain’t put out a project in a while and he know he’s got that material. It’s all about timing.

Going into this new album, the word pressure comes up a lot. Is there less pressure now or is there more?
It’s like less pressure. I wasn’t really too fond of that word the first time on the first album. A lot of people was throwing that word in the air but I know if I just continue to do what I love to do and what I’ve been doing since day one, then whether you accept it or not, I know that it’s good music at the end of the day. I should go with a straight mind forward and continue to do what you do, don’t let that word get tossed around too many times.

How far along are you?
I don’t want to say I’m far along. I’m just getting the ideas down and knowing what I want to say next.

I hear that for good kid you had a bunch of songs but when you looked at it you said, “Oh shit this connects to this” and you ended up making this concept album.
Somewhat but I knew what I wanted to talk about. It’s not a shot in the dark. I know what I want to say and I’m going to say it. If I got to say it in 10 tracks or 12 tracks, I’m going to say it.

I was talking to Punch and he was like you’re “shadowboxing.” That’s why we did the shoot the way it was, it’s you looking in the mirror because you’re only being compared to yourself.
Which is a dope shoot and a dope idea and concept. Having the words and consumed with so many thoughts and trying to figure out.

All these voices in your head and all the ideas, it’s so hard to pin it down. What happens in that moment?
With me having so many thoughts, decision making is one of the biggest things as an artist. The moment that you decide what you’re going to do, what you’re going to talk about, and what verse you’re going to lay, that’s when everything opens up free. When I’m just going around scatterbrained with all these ideas, I can do that for years and never drop nothing. [Laughs.]. But the moment [Snaps] I’m going to focus on this today. That takes a little weight off my shoulders to be creative.

Do you ever have a moment where it sets in like, “Oh shit. I have to follow up this classic album”?
I try not to have those moments, man.

But have you had those moments?
I haven’t had it because I don’t really journey back on the past. Everything is forward with me. So really my initial mindstate is what I’m going to do now, where I’ma stay now rather than trying to follow up or “make it something better than the last” because if I’m focused on the last it’s just going to be like the last.

If I keep focusing on, “I need to make something better than good kid,” it’s going to be just that and that’s not challenging yourself. I always want to challenge myself to the point where everything is excluded but what’s happening at the moment.

I know it takes you a while to internalize what’s happening to you to put it into a record. As you become more famous, for most other artists, the story becomes focused more and more on them as you become further removed from the center. Is it hard for you to internalize what’s happening to you lately?
That’s a tricky question. I couldn’t tell you that I think I’ve mastered it. [Laughs.].

Do you think you got it down?
Yeah, man. I analyze a lot of things, whether it’s now, it’s past or present. I really try to mediate different aspects of where I’m at now and where I was at then and still make it a connected idea. One of my biggest points of who I am is I’m probably the most rational about certain things. I think that helps me a lot when we creating.

If I keep focusing on, “I need to make something better than good kid,” it’s going to be just that and that’s not challenging yourself.

You had such an acclaimed album. When you’re creating now, who do you turn to when you’re unsure about something?
That’s a great question. The first thing that pops in my head was the first time I actually got super nervous about my debut album coming out. I was unsure about myself and where I went with it. I wasn’t always secure, you always have some type of doubt in your head. I remember being on the tour bus and I was going back and forth on the text with Pharrell and I was just basically telling him, “Man, you think they gon’ get it? You think they going to get it?” And he told me, “Man don’t ever doubt yourself again. Always be aware but don’t ever mistake your first mind, your input of where your heart is at.”

That was a time where I was mistaking where my heart was at, after the album was complete. So when you have great mentors like him, Dr. Dre, Top Dawg, it makes it a little bit easier so you don’t go too far left where the artist gets to doubting and thinking of other wild shit rather than just focusing on what you came to do.

You mention Dre, obviously he was the executive producer the last time around and now he’s busy making billions of dollars. Is he involved this time around?
Dr. Dre is always involved. He’s somebody I can always go in the studio and just vibe with, ask questions about different frequencies, about how snares hit, about how drums is hitting. When you into music, you into all of that. I’m always asking questions so the fact that I can just pick up my phone and ask him anything that I want at any given time about this business, or just in life in general, that’s a plus with me because that’s a very wise man.

You talk about snares and stuff, I remember that Beats By Dre ad you guys did together and you talked about the drums.
That’s very true. That’s real time in the studio right there.

Is that a real song?
Yeah. It is a real song.

Is that going to be on the album?
Probably not. [Laughs.]. We’ve got some material.

You and Dre you mean?
Yeah, we’ve got some good stuff. But yeah, sessions like that, being in the studio and him being the master at frequencies and sounds, I’m always curious, so when I feel like something is not right but I can’t find the actual definition or the proper word for it, I turn to him and he tells me exactly what it is. That’s just a great marriage.

The thing that makes an album like this so difficult is that you have an enormous amount of success but none of it matters because you’re basically as good as your last record.
That’s so true. Punch just told me that. That stuck with me forever. You always have to be willing to challenge yourself and not focus on what have you done. What are you doing now? I’m saying, that’s just a regular quote from people that used to sell dope back in the day.

You always hear the story, “I had this many chickens. I was getting this for this for a key back then and it was on.” They always talking about the past. You look at them now and it’s like, “Where’s that same drive that you had back then to what you doing now today?” So, I don’t want to become that person reflecting on what has been done. What I’m doing now is the question.

I was talking to your manager Dave Free yesterday and he was saying something funny. He was like, people go to the club like “Aw, I’m trying to go out dancing.” Like, no motherfucker you’re looking for bitches, that’s why you went to the club. Like Dre in the studio all day because he’s looking for that hit. What are you looking for?
When I’m in the studio I’m looking for creativity I haven’t matched yet. Not creativity that I’ve done and I know I can do 100,000 times. I’m looking for creativity I haven’t matched yet, a feeling I haven’t felt. It’s a high, man. It’s a drug. When you look at people like Jay Z, Nas, Dr. Dre, these people are established in their life and their grandkids is going to be eating forever but they love music and they love their high and that’s something that I understand because you always want that feeling of creativity.

I love that you bring up Nas. That Illmatic comparison keeps coming up. It’s tough because you made this great thing and people keep weighing it against that. Are you afraid of that Illmatic curse?
Nah I’m not afraid of it. This is not me doing this, man. This is truly a blessing from a higher power and as long as I understand that there’s really no limitations to what I can do. I’ve looked at it like that for a long time.

Being a kid I always flirted with that idea, but now that I’m actually here I can really understand that concept. I can’t take credit for what I do and how I put the words together. It’s really not me, it’s really God’s gift. Curses and all that stuff, it’s beyond me. I know what I came from. I’m here for it. It unfolds as the years go by and people will understand.

With good kid, I know you planned the cover and the title for years in advance. Do you have album art in mind for this album? Do you have a title?
I’m flirting with ideas. Like, I said once the decision making is done then boom. That’s when everything else opens up.

It’s definitely not United States of A.L.A.R.M.? [Laughs.]
No! [Laughs.] You know what? That was so clever, too. That is a nice title, I don’t know what it’s about but it sounds clean. [Laughs.] And it got the acronym. I was like, “Okay!” Somebody playing hardball. Salute to them.

This is truly a blessing from a higher power and as long as I understand that there’s really no limitations to what I can do. I’ve looked at it like that for a long time.

I wanted to ask you too about the Grammys. I know you and Macklemore are cool but his wins and apology ended up being the story.
Yeah. Macklemore’s my partner. I talked to him before the Grammys. I actually been in a cool with bro prior to the Grammys so it wasn’t really a huge deal for me. I don’t take too much stuff seriously to the heart like that. But I know that it’s hype to the media world. It is what it is. We move on. I don’t really dabble too much in the negativity of it. He did what he did and he deserve the accolades that he have. That’s still my partner regardless. He’s a good dude.

What Macklemore’s wins brought to the forefront was that there’s more and more white artists who don’t come up without the traditional black gatekeepers but become huge stars. Scarface said it in an interview last year where he was talking about the history of rock 'n' roll, the history of jazz, and how it started as a black art and eventually got whitewashed. Do you fear that rap might become white washed and appropriated?
White washed and appropriated? Nah. I don’t fear that. One thing you can’t erase is struggle. A lot of hip-hop artists, they’re coming from a struggle so they’re always going to be able to talk what they’ve been through or what they know because that’s in their heart.

I don’t think it’ll ever get to a point where we’re totally compromising ourselves 100%, you know? Maybe 10%, 20%. [Laughs.] At least I don’t feel that way. I have my trust and my faith in all this always. They true to themselves in what they doing and you know you hear that with the artists today.

There was a thing about him winning. I definitely felt like him winning was an example of white privilege, but him Instagramming that text was a really weird move.
Yeah, he probably didn’t need to Instagram the text. That’s my personal opinion. Obviously I got the text. [I’m like,] “Don’t have any hardship over it.” Keep it moving like that. If he kept it personal that would’ve been all the way cool. I ain’t feel he had to do that but what’s done is done. I’m sure he’s over that and the whole scrutiny behind it and he’s going to continue to make good music.

Getting back to the music, when do things come into focus for you? I know with good kid, things sort of crystallized at the end. With the skits for example, it wasn’t planned until the end until like, “Wait, we need to add skits to kind of make this hold together.”
I always flirted with the idea in the back of my head with the skits because I grew up with the West Coast music. They always had skits, whether it’s with the phone, funny, serious in-depth skits. I just figured there’s nothing’s new under the sun and I felt like it was the perfect timing to bring that feel back into the game.

A lot of kids today may not know an Ice Cube album or a Snoop album or a Dre album, they may not be familiar with actual skits so I almost reinvented it for the new generation and showed all the older cats my age that I’m bringing that element back in the game. I don’t take credit for it for doing it the first time but I do feel proud for actually attempting to do something I love in this, put together a full conceptual album.

One of the things with Dre was he came out with the G Funk sound. He had a certain aesthetic that became his sound and it’s true for a lot of artists; Kanye had soul samples, Rick Ross has the big “B.M.F.” sound. What is the Kendrick Lamar sound?
I think that develops. I couldn’t give you an answer right now. The more I do music and really dabble into the “niche” I’ll be able to explain the answer better. But right now, I usually just do the music off feeling. It’s not a niche or a sound, I do it from the heart. It’s obviously a trick there but I probably won’t tell you.

What is the trick?
Of course it’s all feeling but it’s another side of things that I probably couldn’t tell you. But yeah, it works.

Okay. You know, before we were talking about the muse visiting. When does the muse visit for you?
It’s really on a daily. I talk to kids the same way I talk to older people that’s 80-years-old. A little kid come over here right now have a full conversation with him because I know he know something that I probably don’t know or I’ve forgotten about. That’s inspiration right there. Just life in general.

This whole conversation right here is inspiration. I may not know it now, but it may spark something in my brain that adds to a whole other idea of creativity. People can grab inspiration anywhere if they really want it.

Wrapping things up, in a broad sense, what do you want people to take from your music?
I’ll narrow it down to one word. [Long pause]. I flirt with the idea of just self. It all comes back to self. Being able to express yourself. Period. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to do music. You can be inspired from me expressing myself through whatever you like to do.

I think with my first album I did a lot of that and when I went out to different cities and states and I went overseas, kids always come up to me saying, “Thank you for allowing me to be me because you influence me and I follow you and I follow your music. I follow your moves and if you’re doing it, I know I can do it, too.”

So if anything you take from it, it would be self. Don’t be afraid of who you are and what you have become or what you have not become. Being able to tackle that and looking in the mirror and say, “This is me and I will continue to be inspired by Kendrick Lamar’s music.”

Last question: Are you still the King of New York?
[Laughs.] Aww, man. The idea has been so drawn out. I feel B.I.G. will always be the king of New York, and Jay. But I don’t like breaking down my lines for nobody, man. [Laughs.] I just let the world run with it, yo. No explanations. While you digest it, I’m in the cut writing a new one. That’s how it go. That’s K-Dot.

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