Kendrick Lamar Talks Kanye West’s Controversial Comments, the N-Word, & His Pulitzer Prize

Kendrick Lamar has been chosen to grace the cover of Vanity Fair‘s August 2018 issue. Alongside the spread photographed by the legendary Annie Leibovitz, Lamar sat down with Lisa Robinson for an extensive interview.

Pulitzer Prize–winning “poet laureate of hip-hop” @KendrickLamar has made history with his music. Lisa Robinson takes an intimate look at what drives Compton’s favorite son in V.F.’s August cover story (link in bio). Photograph by Annie Leibovitz.

A post shared by Vanity Fair (@vanityfair) on Jun 28, 2018 at 4:12am PDT

During the conversation, Kendrick touched on everything from growing up in Compton, to Kanye West‘s controversial comments on Trump and slavery, the use of the n-word, his Pulitzer Prize, TDE‘s Championship tour, and much more.

Below, we’ve highlighted the standout excerpts from Vanity Fair‘s piece on K. Dot, which you can read in-full here.

On balancing success and celebrity with extreme work ethic:

“You can get put in an environment that can bring down your integrity and your fight. What gives me an advantage in my upbringing is the duality of seeing one of the most beautiful moments of me being 6 years old, to the most tragic moment of being 13 or 14, and make that connection so the person [listening] can really see the conflict. It was a mindfuck, for sure. I would wake up one morning, and it would be cartoons and cereal and walking back from school. And at 4 P.M., we’d be having a house party ‘til 11 P.M. . .. and people [were] shooting each other outside the door. That was my lifestyle. And it’s not only mine; it’s so many other individuals’. And I wanted to tell that story.”

On getting serious about music at the age of 16:

“I was recording in Dave [Free]’s garage, and Dave said he had to get my music to Top [Anthony “Top Dawg” Tiffith], who was getting into the music business. The first day in the [vocal] booth, Top said, ‘Let me see if this is really you,’ and I was just freestyling, rapping whatever came into my head, sweating for two hours.”

On having a mother and father in the home:

“It makes a huge difference. It shows you loyalty. When I look around at my classmates and my friends, they all lived with their grandparents. To have a mother and a father in your household—this showed me immediately that anything is possible.”

On leaving Chicago and moving to Compton:

“Mom had to go to McDonald’s to get hired [there]; my father had to find friends, and it was a whole gang culture. . .. They were learning, and they did the best they could do as far as protecting me. But they loved to indulge in that fast lifestyle . . . the partying and everything that comes with it.”

On being pushed by his parents:

“My mother encouraged me to dream—she was very proud of my efforts. My third-grade teacher came up to my mother once at a parent-teacher meeting and she said, ‘Your son used a word that I was totally amazed by—he said audacity.’ Even then, it gave me an advantage in life, to be able to take information, listen to it, and take a perspective without judging it and do my own research. The duality was that my father was more like ‘OK, good, now do it again.’ There never was a super-embrace—and it gave me an understanding of being critiqued. Almost like ‘I know you can do it better, so I’m not gonna show you how great you are already.’ It was a manipulation that worked in my favor later in life; by the time I was being critiqued, there was nothing you could tell me, because I know it’s not my best anyway.” I ask if growing up he had read a lot of books. “I read the dictionary.”

On the violence he raps about in good kid, m.A.A.d city:

“That was our world. I remember when good kid came out, the people I grew up with couldn’t understand how we made that translate through music. They literally cried tears of joy when they listened to it—because these are people who have been shunned out of society. But I know the kinds of hearts they have; they’re great individuals. And for me to tell my story, which is their story as well, they feel that someone has compassion for us, someone does see us further than just killers or drug dealers. We were just kids.”

“I’ll put it this way: I’ve seen my own blood shed, and I’ve been the cause of other people shedding their blood as well. There was a split second when I felt what my homeboys were feeling—like I don’t give a fuck anymore—and that’s when I knew something else had to happen.”

On being the spokesperson for a neighborhood that goes far beyond Compton:

“I put that responsibility on myself. I knew from jump that I thought a little bit different, people respected me, and if I let myself down, I’d be letting my guys down. Fast-forward to 2018, I’m in a position where these guys have 10, 15, 20 years in prison, but I can go in there—and I do—and tell them that when they get out, you have a job. And my word stands.”

On his Piru (aka Bloods) neighborhood in Compton:

“I have compassion for, and more understanding rather than frustration with my homies, because I know it’s not 100 percent their fault. When I look at how society has shaped our communities, it’s been generations passed down of putting people in cages to battle each other.”

“I had three or four years of success and celebrity, but I can’t get rid of the 20 years of being with my homies, and knowing what they go through. I can’t throw that away. I know a lot of people who could—I’ve seen it—like ‘Fuck you, I’ve got money now, I’m outta here, I don’t give a fuck about none of y’all.’ But that was something I couldn’t deal with. I had to sit back and analyze it and [figure out] other ways I could impact these people without physically trying to bring the whole hood inside a hotel.”

On the use of the n-word:

“Let me put it to you in its simplest form. I’ve been on this earth for 30 years, and there’s been so many things a Caucasian person said I couldn’t do. Get good credit. Buy a house in an urban city. So many things—’you can’t do that’—whether it’s from afar or close up. So if I say this is my word, let me have this one word, please let me have that word.”

On how he writes:

“‘Execution’ is my favorite word. I spend 80 percent of my time thinking about how I’m going to execute, and that might be a whole year of constantly jotting down ideas, figuring out how I’m going to convey these words to a person to connect to it. What is this word that means this, how did it get here and why did it go there and how can I bring it back there? Then, the lyrics are easy.”

On how he delivers so many syllables and words in one line:

“It comes from my love of hip-hop. Eminem is probably one of the best wordsmiths ever. There’s a whole list of why, but just bending words. . . . The Marshall Mathers LP changed my life. My other favorite word is ‘discipline.’ Discipline gives me all my unvarnished strength and makes me curious about how disciplined I can be.”

On being introverted:

“I like to be alone a lot. I need that. It’s that duality: I can go in front of a crowd of 100,000 people and express myself, then go back, be alone, and collect my thoughts all over again.”

On being rich and black in America and not “acting a fool”:

“We’ve got to get to the root of never having these things. I look back to when I was 16 years old and thought, What would I do with a million dollars? I’m gonna buy this, I’m gonna buy that . . . Then I thought that me doing that is actually hurting people I’m responsible for. I’m the first in my family to have this kind of success, so I took it upon myself to wisely navigate this success, because I wanted them to be successful, too.”

On being broke but not broken:

“I felt that for sure. Because the times we had to wait for food stamps every month, or we’d run out of food and had to wait for welfare to kick in, or walk to the County building—it wasn’t about the County building; it was about the walk to the building. Because if we didn’t have that County building to walk to, I wouldn’t have built that bond with my mother, or my father, to see that this is a family. What Chuck D says resonates so much with me, because we were broke, but we had us.”

On if he wants to start a family:

“This is the constant question, because I’m obsessed with my craft and what I’m doing. I know what I’m chasing for my life, even though I don’t know what it is. But it’s an urge that’s in my every day. That urge to make an ultimate connection with words to man. And I don’t feel I’ve done that yet.”

On the TDE Championship tour:

“To have our own tour, our own artists. The model was Motown, Bad Boy, Roc-A-Fella, Def Jam, Aftermath.”

On the NFL and National Anthem protests:

“I’m less enthused. It’s enraging; I think what Kap [Colin Kaepernick] is doing is honest, and it’s not just his truth, it’s our truth.”

On calling himself “the greatest rapper alive”:

“I owned up to a lot of hours of just listening and studying and throwing thousands of pieces of paper away that were garbage. Hours of Top saying, ‘Nah, that ain’t it, you’re better than that,’ or me saying, ‘Nah, that ain’t shit.’”

On winning the Pulitzer Prize:

“It was one of those things I heard about in school, but I never thought I’d be a part of it. [When I heard I got it], I thought, to be recognized in an academic world . . . whoa, this thing really can take me above and beyond. It’s one of those things that should have happened with hip-hop a long time ago. It took a long time for people to embrace us—people outside of our community, our culture—to see this not just as vocal lyrics, but to see that this is really pain, this is really hurt, this is really true stories of our lives on wax. And now, for it to get the recognition that it deserves as a true art form, that’s not only great for myself, but it makes me feel good about hip-hop in general. Writers like Tupac, Jay Z, Rakim, Eminem, Q-Tip, Big Daddy Kane, Snoop . . . It lets me know that people are actually listening further than I expected. When I looked up at that man on the podium today, I just had countless pictures in my mind of my mother putting me in suits to go to school. Suit and tie, from the dollar store, from thrift shops, when I was a kid.”

On visiting the White House:

“My mother wore a black-and-brown dress; she made sure to wear her best. It [took me back] to talking to my grandma, when she was alive, and I was always thinking what it would be like if we had a black president. She had some hope . . .”

On Kanye West’s statements about Trump and slavery:

“He has his own perspective, and he’s on this whole agree to disagree thing, and I would have this conversation with him personally if I want to.”

On the self-doubt he’s written about:

“I never thought about it like that. That’s a question I’m going to ask myself tonight. Maybe it’s that fear . . . a lot of artists have a fear of success, they can’t handle it; some people need drugs to escape. For me, I need the microphone—that’s how I release it. And just figuring out a new life. Maybe thinking that I’m doing something wrong, or that I’m a little bit different or gifted. It’s the same thing as not wanting to accept compliments. Just wanting to work harder.”

On what’s next:

“I don’t know. And that’s the most fun part, the most beautiful part.”

In other music news, we sat down with G.O.O.D. Music rapper Valee to discuss Chicago, working with Kanye and Pusha T, his personal style, and more.

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