It’s the end of an era. On May 13, Kendrick Lamar released his fifth studio album, Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers, his final project with independent record label Top Dawg Entertainment, which he originally signed to in 2004.
For many fans, Kendrick’s departure seemed sudden, but TDE president Terrence “Punch” Henderson Jr. tells Complex this was always part of the plan. “This is really just a natural progression. But as human beings, we are scared of change because change represents the unknown,” he explains. “This was the whole goal. This was the whole purpose. So the only emotion really is happiness and joy. We did it. We reached a certain level that nobody reached. He got the Pulitzer for his album. That was the first of contemporary music. We did all the awards, we touched all the people, we did all the community stuff. We had the hit records. We had the underground classics. That’s it. Job well done.”
Kendrick was the label’s marquee artist, but over the years, TDE has developed other mainstream stars, including SZA, Schoolboy Q, and Isaiah Rashad. The label is also actively cultivating new talent like Doechii, who signed to the label most recently in March, and Ray Vaughn, who signed in 2021. Punch says the goal is not to exactly duplicate the careers of artists like Kendrick, but to continue to “enhance” each artist on TDE’s roster to reach whatever goal they’re aspiring to.
As the label enters its next chapter, Punch reveals they are looking to expand into film and TV, and hints at a Top Dawg docuseries or film in the works. But TDE’s core goals of building a non-traditional, mainstream label with genuine artists is still at the forefront of everything they do. And as Punch reveals, the transition has been gradual—Kendrick’s new venture pgLang had already taken the lead on the rollout of his final album under TDE, Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers.
In addition to his work as president of TDE, Punch is also working on music of his own in A Room Full of Mirrors, a hip-hop collective he started. Just today, he put out a song called “Same Politics,” which you can hear on the group’s website.
As he enters a new chapter, Punch spoke with Complex about Kendrick Lamar’s historic success, TDE’s past and future, and more. The interview, lightly edited for clarity, is below.