Kendrick Lamar Admits He Stalled His Career by Trying to Chase Hits

Kendrick goes deep in a new interview, discussing his creative process and the "mistake" of worrying about a record deal too early in his career.

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The guy who better win Album of the Year at next year's Grammys is gracing the cover of Variety's special Hitmakers issue. In an accompanying pair of interviews, that guy—Kendrick Lamar—discussed his idea of what constitutes a so-called "hit record," the importance of the album format, his creative process, his growth as an artist, and his fruitful relationship with Mike Will Made-It.

"Is it the amount of streams or the amount of sales or the amount of spins on the radio?" Lamar asked of what makes a "hit record" click. "Nobody can really justify which one it is, because I've heard hundreds of records from inside the neighborhood that were quote-unquote 'hit records' and never stood a day outside the community."

Using his own "Alright" as an example, which he said was probably "the biggest record in the world" at one point, Lamar explained that a hit shouldn't necessarily be determined by stats and charts. "You might not have heard it on the radio all day, but you're seeing it in the streets, you're seeing it on the news, and you're seeing it in communities, and people felt it," he said.

How @kendricklamar became the defining hip-hop artist of his generation (COVER STORY)

— Variety (@Variety) November 21, 2017

Lamar, explaining his creative process, said his breakthrough creative moment came when he decided to pull back from the traditional idea of chasing hit records and commercial acceptance. That meant dropping the K-Dot moniker. "Early, early on, I really wanted to be signed," he said. "And that was a mistake, because it pushes you two steps backwards when you have this concept of 'OK, I've got to make these three [commercial] songs in order to get out into the world and be heard.' So there were two or three years where I wanted to be signed so badly that I'm making these same two or three repetitive demo kinds of records, and I'm hindering my growth."

He added that we could have gotten the Kendrick we know now "two or three years earlier" if he'd learned this lesson sooner.

The process going into a new project now, Lamar said, consists of 70 percent formulating ideas and 30 percent collecting sounds. "Then it's about figuring out which angle I'm going to attack it from and how the listener is going to perceive it," he said, noting that his greatest skill is "taking cohesive ideas and putting them on wax." Read Lamar's full interview with Varietyright here.


In a separate video interview, Lamar was hit with a series of inquiries ranging from his most recent binge-watch (Stranger Things, of course) to his current favorite movie (Get Out). Check out that discussion, which also sees Lamar naming his favorite verse and revealing his go-to 2Pac album, in the video up top.

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