"I'm making music that represents my generation, their struggle," Kendrick Lamar told Billboard.com's The Juice before hitting the stage in NYC on Wednesday (Aug. 31).
Lamar's refreshing style of storytelling has an uncanny way of connecting with his fans. This was evident when the majority of the 21 songs in Lamar's set were taken over by his fans in a bonafide rap-a-long.
Amongst the 400-plus at SOBs were industry insiders, including writers from MTV, Village Voice and VIBE, as well as radio personality Angela Yee and music executive, Kevin Liles. Blogger of YouHeardThatNew.com, LowKey hosted.
Lamar had everyone's arms in the air from the start of his set ("The Heart Pt. 2") to its closing ("HiiiPower"), sharing childhood stories of the two most influential people in his life, his parents. "My father gave me the balance I needed. I put that same balance in my music," Lamar told The Juice. "[It's] the balance of knowing the gang culture from my cousins, uncles, and pops. And at the same time, my mother and father gave me the idea of being a dreamer. They taught me the world is bigger than Compton and to go out and explore it. That made me an individual. I actually know who I am, where I come from, and what I got to do to represent and connect people."
As the line twirled around the corner of SOBs, Lamar sat down with Billboard.com's The Juice to share details on the recording process behind "Section.80," his highly praised current project, and his upcoming album.
The Juice: "Section.80" has gotten great responses. How does it feel?
Kendrick Lamar: It feels good to know that I went in with a concept in mind to talk about my generation and that everybody caught on to it so fast and understood where I was coming from. The fact some have crowned it as one of the best albums so far is great. It's not the fact that they gave me the recognition but that they understand "Section.80." There's a message in there for my generation. They got it and fast!
What's the story of the man behind "Section.80"?
I'm a good kid in a mad city. When you think of Compton, you think of the stigma of gangs and gang culture. That's something I've been around my whole life. I was always that one individual in my neighborhood who was always trying to escape the influences rather than being oblivious to it. But, I also had my head bumped a few times to finally know what I was doing. The only thing that separates me from my friends in jail is the fact I had a father. He gave me the balance I needed. I put that same balance in my music -- the balance of knowing the gang culture from my cousins, uncles, and pops. And at the same time, my mother and father gave me the idea of being a dreamer. They taught me the world is bigger than Compton and to go out and explore it. That made me an individual. I actually know who I am, where I come from, and what I got to do to represent and connect people.
Was there something that happened in your life that made you make such a personal album?
One of the things that really sparked the idea was a memory I had of a close friend of mine, being 17 years old, turning 18 next year, and getting 25 to life for a violent crime. He had no guidance and was caught in that negative stigma of our generation that don't care about anything and don't listen to anybody. He was so young and his life is almost completely gone, it's like he missed the whole world. Just the fact that's gone from him at such a tender age shows me that we have a lot to go as far as listening and being able to critique ourselves as individuals. That's what "Section 80" represents. [It's] that particular moment [in which] I thought back to the pain I felt when one of my friends was about to be gone for a minute. That's the creation process going into the studio, thinking about those emotions.
What were some of your thoughts after "Section.80" came out?
My favorite rappers like Jay[-Z], Kanye [West], Nas they're in a whole different space now. They were once in the space we were at as kids but now they're in[to] money, so they can't really relate to the average 18-year-old getting out of high school [that's] trying to figure what he's about to do with his life. Getting fucked up, going to parties, and just being carefree -- "ADHD" basically. I can relate to it because I was in school a few years back and I know what it feels like to be in that space where you're a rebel not listening to your parents, not listening to the world because you're confused. When I go to these neighborhoods in Compton, people tell me, 'you did something that not only represents you but it represents all of us. Thank you for making this music that represents me, that represents my struggle.' That feels good to me.
Considering who you've been working with lately (Dr. Dre, J. Cole and others) and what people are saying, do you feel pressured or stressed on the music you're currently working on?
No I don't because I've held a lot of subjects and topics in for a bigger purpose, for my debut album. I always said "Section 80" was just a warm-up for the story I'm trying to tell. "Section 80" was more about the people, my debut album will be more about me. I know what I have to do and what I have to talk about, so there's really no pressure.
What goes through your head when you're recording?
Making sure it's as organic as possible. I don't really like to force things. If it don't come then and there I'll leave it alone and hopefully it comes back [whether it's] two hours later or a day later. Whether it's a feel good record, sad, down, or whatever it is, you're going to relate to it. The story of Kendrick Lamar is the story of a good kid in a mad city. It's about a boy trying to figure out the world. My records don't come off preachy, they come off as [me] trying to find answers. Maybe me and the listener can give each other answers and try to figure it out together.
Do you think about making a hit when recording?
I really don't think of hits. What I think of are melodies. I think melody is the the drive for all records, period -- whether it's a hit, a cliché "underground" record, or a cliché mainstream record. I can talk about whatever I want as long as it has melody. That's something I learned by being in a household with parents [that] played gangsta music and oldies. I went back and listened to the Isley Brothers and Al Green and figured out what really captivated their sound. It was the melody. So if it turns out to be a hit record then so be it.
What are you currently working on?
I'm actually working on my debut album. My debut album is really going into depth of who Kendrick Lamar is -- this kid who had run-ins with negativity in Compton. Everybody wants to know the story of how I was able to be in this city my whole life and come out with a positive mind set. For good and for bad, I'm going to talk about it all, in depth.
We're also trying to get [more] visuals done for "Section.80." I know a lot of people want to see the visuals behind the concept, [I'm] thinking "The Spiteful Chant," "Ronald Reagan Era" and especially "Keisha's Song." We'll be warming [them] up for the next month or so. They're in the works right now just going through the editing process.