Kendrick Lamar Chats with Rick Rubin about Making 'Alright', Studying Eminem for 'GQ Style'

Paola Kudacki exclusively for GQ Style
Kendrick Lamar on the cover of GQ Style.

Two geniuses connect for GQ Style's holiday issue. Gracing the cover and rocking "winter's richest coats," rap king Kendrick Lamar also sat down with prolific producer Rick Rubin to discuss creating the protest anthem "Alright," studying Eminem's rhymes as a teen and carving out 30 minutes a day for meditation. The conversation also included Genius annotations from Eminem, Herbie Hancock and activist DeRay Mckesson. 

During the insightful Q&A, the two formed such a bond (it was their first time meeting) that they walked right into Rubin's Shangri La Studios in Malibu and began recording. 

Rummage through the highlights below.

On incorporating jazz into his sound:

"It's a trip, because I was in the studio one day, and my guy Terrace Martin noticed something about the type of sounds that I was picking. He was like, 'Man, a lot of the chords that you pick are jazz-influenced. You don't understand: You a jazz musician by default.' And that just opened me up. And he just started breaking down everything, the science, going back to Miles, Herbie Hancock."

On "Alright" becoming a protest song:

You know what? I was sitting on that record for about six months. The beat's Pharrell. And between my guy Sam Taylor and Pharrell, they would always be like, 'Did you do it? When you gonna do it?' I knew it was a great record—I just was trying to find the space to approach it. I mean, the beat sounds fun, but there's something else inside of them chords that Pharrell put down that feels like—it can be more of a statement rather than a tune. So with Pharrell and Sam asking me—'Am I gonna rock on it? When I'm gonna rock on it?'—it put the pressure on me to challenge myself. To actually think and focus on something that could be a staple in hip-hop. And eventually, I came across it. Eventually, I found the right words. You know, it was a lot going on, and still, to this day, it's a lot going on. And I wanted to approach it as more uplifting—but aggressive. Not playing the victim, but still having that We strong, you know?

On sitting on the "Alright" beat for six months: 

I didn't have any words. P knew that that record was special. Sam knew that the record was special. They probably knew it before I even had a clue. So I'm glad that they put that pressure on me to challenge myself. 'Cause sometimes, as a writer, you can have that writer's block. And when you like a sound or an instrumental, you want to approach it the right way. So you sit on it. ... I remember hitting P on a text like, Man, I got the lyrics. And typing the lyrics to him. He's like, That's it.

On practicing meditation daily: 

I have to have at least 30 minutes to myself. If it's not on the daily, every other day, to just sit back, close my eyes, and absorb what's going on. You know, the space that I'm in. When you in music—and everybody knows this—the years are always cut in half, because you always have something to do. We in the studio for four months, that go by. Now you gotta go on the road for five months, that go by. Next thing you know, five years going by and you 29 years old. You know? So I have to find a way to understand the space that I'm in and how I'm feeling at the moment. 'Cause if I don't, it's gonna zoom. I know. I feel it. And I'm sure you know what I'm talking about. It just goes and then you miss out on your moment because you're so in the moment you didn't know the moment was going on, if that makes sense.

 

 

On studying Eminem's raps:

The clarity, I got my clarity just studying Eminem when I was a kid. How I got in the studio was all just curiosity. I had a love for the music, but it was curiosity. The day I heard The Marshall Mathers LP, I was just like, 'How does that work? What is he doing? How is he putting his words together like that? What's the track under that? An ad-lib? What is that?' And then, 'Why don't you go in the studio and see?' So I do that. Then it became, 'How's his words cutting through the beat like that? What is he doing that I'm not doing, now that I'm into it?' His time is impeccable. When he wants to fall off the beat, it's impeccable. These are things that, through experience and time, I had to learn.

On the concept for his next project:

It's soon. I have ideas, though. I have ideas and I have a certain approach. But I wanna see what it manifests. I wanna put all the paint on the wall and see where that goes. Maybe you can help me with that.

Read the full interview here