Kendrick Lamar Talks Rap, Religion and the Reagan Era

Last year's Overly Dedicated positioned Kendrick Lamar as one of California's most promising rappers, displaying a knack for showboaty and shifting lyricism with a boom-bap heart. But even that show of technical ambition couldn't have prepared listeners for his recently released Section 80, which reveals Kendrick as a more methodical artist. He puts the weight of his entire generation on his shoulders, lamenting the struggles of ‘80s and ‘90s babies while still finding some time to flash his skills. Hive recently spoke with the man fellow Comptonite Dr. Dre is calling a collaborator. While he was sworn to secrecy about his involvement in the Doctor's mythical Detox project, he was quite open about growing up in Compton, the motivations behind Section 80 and how he’d like major labels to pursue him.

What was it like growing up in Compton?

It was tough. I speak from the standpoint of a young boy trying to escape the negative influences, whether it's gang violence or police brutality. That's something I had to deal with my whole life. Everybody around me was influenced by that, from my family to my closest friends. I tried my best to maneuver in and out of that negative world but it was tough, man. I bumped my head a few times. I always say the only thing that separated me from being locked up or dead like the rest of my homeboys is the fact that I had a pops to tell me the ins and outs and give me the game. He wasn't perfect but he was always there. It was tough but I found a positive life that kept me away from [the streets] and that was music. That was the only thing that kept me involved in something positive.

Does your father appreciate your music?

Aw yeah, he's been listening to my music since I started rapping. He can't believe it really. I used to hide my rhyming papers, I didn't even want to let them know I had bars and was rapping and shit. I was doing a whole lot of fucking cursing. They knew I was cursing but once they'd seen that paper they was like, "Yeah, you got a filthy ass mouth." So I was hiding that shit. But my pops is a G. My mom's even crazier too, she love my shit. She play it all day and brag to her homegirls and everything.

Let’s talk about Section 80. It’s a pretty dark record!

That's just the space I'm in now. I wanted to speak on the people that are growing up in the world today. [As] a generation I feel like we're all lost at some point and time in our lives and I just wanted to talk about that.

Do you think that sense of being lost is specific to your generation?

There’s a negative vibe right from the jump when you talk about [kids who were born in] the Ronald Reagan era, we was just corrupted from the jump. When I say "Section 80," I just speak on anything that starts from the ‘80s on up. It's always been a negative stigma as far as we don't have no sense, we don't have no morals, we just unruly and we do what we want. It just started from word of mouth and then it actually turned into that.

How do you think that changes? Is it something that can be turned around?

It's gonna take a hell of a lot of time, [but] it starts with us, period. It starts with me, it starts with you. One by one. That alone takes a lot of time and self restraint from the evils of the world. It won't be tomorrow, I know that.

I noticed there's a religious tone throughout, like on "Kush Vs. Corinthians." Did you have a very religious upbringing?

I wouldn't say I'm the most religious person, neither were both of my parents. I always do quote-unquote religious songs or whatever you want to call them from the standpoint where I'm trying to find answers. That's the space I speak from and a lot of people can relate because they feel the same way. [I'm] not a person that's putting it in your head -- "believe this, believe this, believe this." I'm going through something, I'm a sinner and I'm trying to figure myself out. It never sounds preachy. It sounds like a person who's really confused by what the world has put upon him.

It seems like that sort of confusion is a generational thing as well.

Exactly. I think that's why a lot of people be receptive to it. I can't read the bible front and back, in and out; I'm still searching and trying to find myself just like everybody else. I'm not just speaking for me, I'm speaking for thousands of people.

Being that you have all this buzz, was there any pressure to try and capitalize by making more radio friendly music this time out?

No. I'm capable of doing that, but I'm in such a creative space that I'm not actually feeling like there's pressure to do those types of records.

Now you're completely indie, correct?

Yep. Top Dawg Entertainment.

Are you comfortable staying there or are you shopping major deals?

No, we're not shopping nothing yet. We're getting offers but we really want to let people know that we're able to stand on our own two before we do any type of major situation. That'll put us in the space where the major labels have to jump aboard to what we was already doing instead of us being confined to their rules and their strategies. Most of the time [that] don't work because it takes away from the artist.

Are you tired about people asking about the Dr. Dre shout-out yet?

No, I'm not tired of it. It's an accomplishment, I'm blessed for a West Coast legend that I always looked up to acknowledge my work. But what I don't want people to misunderstand is that you're hearing Kendrick Lamar's name because Dr. Dre said it. This is something I've been building from the ground up since I was sixteen. I've been putting out music, and in order for him to even say my name he had to hear the music first, the same [way] everybody else did.

Do you have any Detox secrets you can reveal?

Aw, no, I can't reveal no Detox secrets! He gon' be mad at me. Just know the shit is classic. It's fucking incredible.

Really? Because the singles haven't inspired much hope.

Right yeah, I see the people saying that but they won't be disappointed once they hear the album.

Section 80 is out now on Top Dawg Entertainment.