Two years after earning his first (and instantly iconic) cover, Kendrick Lamar graces the latest issue of Rolling Stone. Speaking with Brian Hiatt during his DAMN. tour, K. Dot delves into a wide range of topics including Drake, Donald Trump and his definition of a wack artist. The Compton rapper also puts the ghostwriting debate to bed once and for all: “I cannot call myself the best rapper if I have a ghostwriter. If you’re saying you’re a different type of artist and you don’t really care about the art form of being the best rapper, then so be it. Make great music. But the title, it won’t be there.” The King has spoken.
Other than a few lyrics, you’ve been quiet about Donald Trump. Why?
I mean, it’s like beating a dead horse. We already know what it is. Are we gonna keep talking about it or are we gonna take action? You just get to a point where you’re tired of talking about it. It weighs you down and it drains your energy when you’re speaking about something or someone that’s completely ridiculous. So, on and off the album, I took it upon myself to take action in my own community. On the record, I made an action to not speak about what’s going on in the world or the places they put us in. Speak on self; reflection of self first. That’s where the initial change will start from.
On “ELEMENT.” you make that funny distinction between “black artists and wack artists.” What, to you, defines a wack artist?
I love that question. How would I define a wack artist? A wack artist uses other people’s music for their approval. We’re talking about someone that is scared to make their own voice, chases somebody else’s success and their thing, but runs away from their own thing. That’s what keeps the game watered-down. Everybody’s not going to be able to be a Kendrick Lamar. I’m not telling you to rap like me. Be you. Simple as that. I watch a lot of good artists go down like that because you’re so focused on what numbers this guy has done, and it dampers your own creativity. Which ultimately dampers the listener, because at the end of the day, it’s not for us. It’s for the person driving to their 9-to-5 that don’t feel like they wanna go to work that morning.
[On “HUMBLE.”], who are you talking to in the chorus – yourself?
Definitely. It’s the ego. When you look at the song titles on this album, these are all my emotions and all my self-expressions of who I am. That’s why I did a song like that, where I just don’t give a fuck, or I’m telling the listener, “You can’t fuck with me.” But ultimately, I’m looking in the mirror.
Have you recorded songs where you’re like, “That sounds like a Number One hit, but it’s corny – I’m never putting that out”?
For sure. I’ve done stuff just freestyling shit on a mic and it could be a possible smash, but just for the sake of my brand and where I want it to go, sometimes you’ve gotta look for the long run, rather than what’s right in front of you.
What’s your favorite Drake song?
Favorite Drake song [chuckles]. I got a lot of favorite Drake songs. Can’t name one off the back. … He has plenty.
A lot of people think that lyrical virtuosity, having bars, isn’t as valued in hip-hop as it once was. Do you agree?
I made my mark at a right point in time, man – 2011 and 2012, it was just that window where fans wanted to hear lyricism. You could probably step in the game today with lyricism. But it may not be as respected, because the times have changed so dramatically.
You have a Number One record, which means, on some level, you’re a pop artist.
It gets tricky because you can have that one big record, but you can still have that integrity at the same time. Not many can do it … wink-wink [laughs]. Still have them raps going crazy on that album and have a Number One record, wink-wink. Call it whatever you want to call it. As long as the artist remains true to the craft of hip-hop and the culture of it, it is what it is.