Kendrick Lamar Talks Relationship With Kobe, Importance of Music Videos & Passing the Torch

Kendrick Lamar
Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for American Express

Kendrick Lamar performs onstage at the at the NBA on TNT American Express Road Show Stage at LA Live on Feb. 16, 2018 in Los Angeles.

For the last few days, basketball savants and avid hip-hop listeners have been living in bliss because of NBA All-Star Weekend. Packed with high-profile celebrities including LeBron James, Kevin Hart, Future and more, Los Angeles has been the hot spot  to party and celebrate this President's Day Weekend.

While everyone continues to revel at the sight of the Staples Center and the city's biggest attractions, one West Coast artist is relishing the moment to the fullest. After nabbing five Grammys last month and watching his ambitious masterpiece Black Panther: The Album gain acclaim -- and possibly a No. 1 slot on the Billboard 200 -- Kendrick Lamar is all smiles after demolishing his 45-minute set at LA LIVE's Microsoft Square Friday night (Feb. 16).

Fans gushed at the sight of K. Dot, whose riveting performance came through his partnership with American Express. The proceeds from the show were donated to Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Los Angeles, bolstering the importance of his performance. 

With the West Coast sitting comfortably at his fingertips, in a matter of six years, Lamar's unflinching approach has earned him rap immortality. So, for the 30-year-old, to see the NBA return to the West Coast for All-Star Weekend during his apex is an amazing feeling.

Billboard chatted with Lamar about All-Star Weekend happening in his backyard, if he'd ever consider playing in the NBA Celebrity Game, his relationship with Kobe Bryant and his thoughts on one day passing the throne to a new artist. 

Billboard: How did your collaboration with American Express come about? 

Kendrick Lamar: Man, I don't know how it came about. I think my credit got good, or something. [Laughs.] 

You must be looking at the 780's and 790's.

Yeah, I think that's how it happened or something. [Laughs.] They weren't messing with me when I was 16, 17 years old.

You need to tell me how to boost my credit, if that's the case. 

You need to tell me, too. [Laughs]

This is the first time in seven years that the NBA brought All-Star Weekend back to LA. How does it feel to have the festivities return back to Cali?

It's a good feeling, man. We got legends here from Kobe to Magic to just a whole conglomerate of the sports atmosphere and our die-hard fans. From hip-hop and in sports, it all makes sense at the end of the day why they would come back here.

Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images
Kobe Bryant arrives at the arena greeting Kendrick Lamar before his jersey retirement ceremony on Dec. 18, 2017 at Staples Center in Los Angeles.

You bring up Kobe and you guys have a great friendship. Talk about the parallels between you two and the special dynamic in that relationship. 

I think from afar, we both have this willpower of finding our how far we can max our potential in what we can do. I think once you have that curiosity, it'll keep you challenged, it'll keep you motivated and it'll keep you elevated. That's what he's done with his career, he maxed it out to this fullest on the court. Now, he's off the court and he's finding a whole new love for something, and he'll continue with that concept and that same idea. I think that's what we share the most. 

The celebrity game happened on Friday (Feb. 16) and Quavo dropped a cool 19 points. So I'm curious, if you got the phone call from NBA commissioner Adam Silver asking you to suit up, what would you do? 

You know, there's a reason why I've been playing the background for so long. You know, every dog has his day. My whole thing is that I don't rush the process, and when I wanna show the world that it's not just in the booth [I can dominate], it's on the court, too, then I will be ready to display it. 

So hypothetically, if you can give me your stat-line, what would it be? 

I'm not even going to do that, I wanna show [my skills]. Yeah, I'm not going to give you no numbers, or nothing. [Laughs]

You've become a music video savant at this juncture of your career. At what point did the music video aspect become so crucial to your brand?

I think from the jump it's always been crucial to me. You know, just being a kid watching BET, I'd be on the phone with Dave -- you know my partner that does the videos with me -- and we'd be watching Missy Elliott videos back in high school, and Busta Rhymes videos. They were always big inspirations.

So by the time we got to the point where we can mass produce visuals on that level, we said to each other "We all in," and that we've been waiting for this moment. So, I think it's something that always inspired us to do it, just being a student and always appreciating somebody being willing to put full impact and full ideas not only into the songs, but when you're watching the songs. 

Especially for the "All The Stars" video.

Definitely, shout out to Dave Meyers, too. I mean, even the videos that I'm talking about we were watching back in the day, they were all his videos. Talking about Missy Elliot and things like that. Dave Meyers is that guy. He did "LOYALTY." and the "HUMBLE." video.

You pretty much have the keys to the West Coast, the keys to TDE, and now, essentially, the rap game. How have you managed to not fumble knowing that you have those responsibilities on your plate?

It's really always having love for it, and really having fun with it. I think the moment when I'm not having fun with it, and getting into the studio and -- you know, going back to the Kobe similarities -- maxing out on the full potential, that's when the fumbling happens. Before that even happens, I'd pass it down and give it to another young boy that has that same passion that can carry that [throne]. But right now, I feel good. I'll let y'all know when the final years is coming up, when I'm like, "OK. This kid is it. He's from the city. He's it. He got it."

That's like when Game, Dre and Snoop passed you that King of the West Coast crown a couple years ago during a concert. You'd be open and willing to doing the same thing? 

Oh, definitely. If we see the same excitement that you see in yourself in somebody else, that's the key to evolving and giving [back] in terms of hip-hop. Same way they did it to me, I'd do to someone else.