Sitting in a heavily air-conditioned villa on the eastern coast of Puerto Rico, only several hundred yards away from the controlled mayhem of 1,862 partygoers, Kendrick Lamar adjusts his "i" cap and readies for our interview. Kendrick—only a few years deep into the rap game and already seen by many as sitting atop the genre's totem—is three hours from taking stage at a private island along with English singer Ellie Goulding and current EDM champ Calvin Harris to cap off BACARDI's "BACARDI Triangle" music travel adventure, a weekend of pool parties, mixology courses, and enviable Caribbean weather.
The Compton emcee is on the verge of releasing his second (and still untitled) album, and is under as much pressure as any rhymer in the game. His first effort, Good Kid m.A.A.d City, was regarded by almost everyone as a classic, and as such has propelled him to the type of heights where it appears the only place to go from here is down. The first single from the new project, "i", is a four-minute romp of positivity and self-love, and even with critics curling their lips at Kendrick's departure from the familiar, the song has served as chum in the water for hip hop fans. Moreover it has managed to escape the world of headphones and radio to become the official theme song of the NBA.
But as I sit only a few inches away from the current king of west coast rap, I remember that I'm not here to discuss his new album or his new single or who he called out in his "Control" verse. There will be plenty of time to appreciate the music later when I'm two-stepping and screaming lyrics with a stomach full of BACARDI Cuba Libres during the concert. I'm here to relieve him from the stress of answering repetitive questions about his music.
I'm here to talk sports.
Interview by Maurice Peebles (@tallmaurice)
I understand you’re a Lakers fan. What other teams, if any, are you a fan of?
Oh, if I had to say any other team I’d have to go with my childhood years of being the ultimate die-hard Bull fan.
Yeah. Simply because my parents are from Chicago. My father and my mother. I’m born '87 and this is around the time Jordan is bubbling. By the time I’m five or six this is all I know so I can give you STATS [Laughs]. At six-years-old just die-hard, you know? And still to this day I have that same love and respect and that energy. Seeing what D-Rose brings to the table and now that he’s well and killing, that excites me.
They’re not used to it, these new guys. But Kobe comes from that breed.
Favorite Bull besides Pippen and Jordan?
Um, Tony Kukoc? No. Steve Kerr.
I love Steve Kerr. Steve Kerr, bro. Its gotta be Steve Kerr because Steve Kerr–people don’t know the role of Steve Kerr and how clutch he was with the organization. This was somebody that I felt had some of the greatest chemistry with Jordan other than Pippen because he was the one handing the ball to him. He made a few clutch shots. The one with Utah, he made it top of the key and Jordan was a little off and he needed that in '96-'97.
That was a big play, everybody knows that one.
Obviously a big partnership with the NBA recently and your song “i”, how did that come about? Did your people reach out to them, did they come to you…?
Uh, I’m thinking they reached out to us as soon as the song dropped. I mean, it’s just one of them obvious records, you know? It has lots of energy and it represents from a sports perspective, NBA, even though I’m talking about something totally different, it probably represents confidence and being the best at what you do. These players in this game—you’re talking about LeBron, you’re talking about Kobe—they’re animals. They love what they do, they love themselves, they work hard–they physically work hard and abuse their bodies because they have that inner desire to win and that passion within.
You gotta love yourself to get to that level.
You got to.
You mention Kobe. There was a piece on ESPN last month that said the Lakers were having trouble getting free agents to come to L.A. because players don’t want to play with Kobe.
Do you have any opinion on that?
We can start with the ranking.
Yeah. Disrespectful. Flat out. [Laughs.] I can’t even think of 40 players, you know? For me it sounds like something personal, like a personal problem or situation. But they’re gonna say what they’re gonna say when it comes to Kobe. Personally, I think he has the mental stability to not only push himself but push the players that are around him. And a lot of times everybody’s always talking about he’s selfish and things like that–I don’t see it, personally. I feel like it’s almost misunderstood because of his will to win and his will to be a leader and carry the ball. But at the same time I know behind the scenes and on that bench he’s pushing these players to be the best. And sometimes that’s intimidating. I’ve heard–it’s almost a Jordan thing. Jordan is a ferocious cat he wasn’t a nice guy on that court. He cursed, he went at you, he antagonized you, he abused you physically and mentally. And I think it’s just a little bit intimidating when you get players like that.
People aren’t used to it.
They’re not used to it, these new guys. But Kobe comes from that breed. That Patrick Ewing breed that Charles Barkley breed. Guys were a lot more tough [according to] my father and my uncles and even from watching the games myself, so I think in today’s media world they take that and...maybe that’s just me being a Kobe fan but from my perspective I feel like it’s a little bit sensationalized.
There’s a lot of talk recently about L.A. getting an NFL team.
There’s a lot of talk about the Chargers or the Raiders or the Rams coming back, does that excite you at all? Are you an NFL fan at all?
They’ve mentioned it so many times… [Laughs.] so I’m kinda like on the fence. When it happens I will be excited but this is something I’ve heard for years. My father would say this.
If I can I’ll ask a little bit more serious question. Since you’re more of a cerebral rapper, do you feel like the aspirational goal of playing professional sports is a positive or a negative for young black men? Because it seems like for a lot of people the idea of playing professional sports is so prominent over other avenues that are also lucrative.
That is a great, great, great, great question. Nobody ever asked me this question before. I’ll put it to you this way; I’ll put it from my perspective of being a kid where I was wrong and where I was good. I think for a young black man looking at sports, we always looked at it from a perspective of, "We’re good, we’re naturally talented and naturally built to do this," but when you’re a kid you look at it almost as a material thing. Things that you can buy, things that you can have, because you know that these players make a lot of money.
So that motivates us a little bit more than actually embracing the talent and taking our education and putting it with the talent and figuring out ways we can make our lives better. This is what happens when you get more kids who want to be NBA players or football players because they feel the lifestyle, rather than actually knowing that they have a gift from God and utilizing it the correct way. So, with that being said, I think the more and more we teach the youth that sports—it’s a great thing to play sports and to own it—but don’t look at it from a standpoint where you’re gonna make a million dollars and spend it on this and that. Know that it’s a gift from God and don’t abuse it in a wrongful way. Take it and accept it and put other avenues and talents with it. Add your education and you’ll be better off.