Social media gives the illusion of accessibility and proximity to celebrities, but 28-year-old Kendrick Lamar has maintained the mystique of the celebs of yesteryear.
The Grammy-winning rapper rarely tweets, rarely posts to Instagram, manages to keep his private life private and rarely grants interviews, choosing to instead pour it all into the music. When he does let us peek inside his genius mind, hip-hop fans pay attention because we know it may be a while before it happens again.
As we count down to Lamar's headlining appearance at ESSENCE Festival, held June 30-July 3 in New Orleans, we compiled some of the best quotes from his interviews since blowing up after his 2012's good kid, m.A.A.d city.
1. On having money now
“I always thought money was something just to make me happy. But I've learned that I feel better being able to help my folks, 'cause we never had nothing. So just to see them excited about my career is more of a blessing than me actually having it for myself. My folks ain't graduated from high school or nothing like that, so we always had to struggle in the family—and I come from a big family. But as far as me handling this, it's a weird feeling because it's like a blur right now. I think my worst problem is actually living in the moment and understanding everything that's going on. I feel like I'm in my own bubble.”
—Interview magazine, May 2013
2. On there being no excuse for artists not to speak out
“No, there’s no excuse,” he says. “It’s really just about integrity. We all like to have fun. I like to have fun, too. But where do you stop and say, ‘You know what? There’s actually some real shit going on out there that people can relate to more than any singalong I can bring to the table.’”
—The Guardian, September 2014
3. On remaining his pre-fame self
“You can actually go to my classmates and make the calls and do the background check. Everything that’s in my music is who I am, ya know? That’s why you will never hear any bogus thing about my character...You can talk to these people, and I talk to them, and they still see the same person. It makes them feel relieved to know that I still know the times when I was struggling. Them classmates, they know the deal.”
—Hip Hop Wired, December 2014
4. On his craft
"I pride myself on writing now rather than rapping," he says. "My passion is bringing storylines around and constructing a full body of work, rather than just a 16-bar verse."
—Billboard, January 2015
5. On maintaing his sanity
“When I was on that tour bus and things are happening back home in my city and my family that I can’t do nothing about—it’s out of my control, I could only put it in God’s hands—I couldn’t understand that. That can draw a thin line between you having your sanity and losing it. This is how artists deteriorate if you don’t catch yourself.”
—MTV, April 2015
6. On being tempted
“Everything that we glorified in the hood—smoking, drinking, women, violence—was at my feet times 10. All of it’s there. In the neighborhood we wanted to have power, and with success comes power. That is temptation at its highest.”
—The Guardian, June 2015
7. On being conflicted in his music
“I think my music is always conflicted, and I think it’s why people relate to it...What I put in my music is where I wanna be, where I hope to be, but the reality is I’m still a product of the environment.”
—Clique, June 2015
8. On leaving the hood
“You gotta be a stupid motherf----r, man, to have success and still wanna hang on the block,” he says. “I don’t give a fuck who you are, you dumb. You playing with fire, and you haven’t accepted change.”
—NME, July 2015
9. On adjusting to fame
"You can have the platinum album, but when you still feel like you haven't quite found your place in the world—it kind of gives a crazy offset," Lamar says. "When you go inside these places—no matter how much money you have, no matter how much success—when you still feel like you're not comfortable, where's the feeling in that?"
—NPR, December 2015
10. On backlash against “Blacker the Berry”
“It's not me pointing at my community; it's me pointing at myself," Lamar says. "I don't talk about these things if I haven't lived them, and I've hurt people in my life. It's something I still have to think about when I sleep at night. The message I'm sending to myself: 'I can't change the world until I change myself first.'”
NPR, December 2015
11. On the prison system
“It's not only caging us in the prisons, but up here [points to head] as well. Making us feel like there's no hope. And when you feel like there's no hope, there's not gonna be no action, not in a positive light. So you're gonna always be institutionalized and they’ll always make you feel like you can't better yourself, you can't do nothing greater for yourself...Forever locked up.”
—Noisey, March 2016