Lauded by figures from Barack Obama to Prince, Kendrick Lamar is everyone’s darling. A rare breed of musician, the rapper is many things to many people—an articulate critic of racial oppression, a good boy with a gritty upbringing, a threatening master of street knowledge, a sophisticated jazz aficionado, a Billboard chart-topper. Hell, it was Lamar’s unique sound that inspired David Bowie to bust out the atonal sax on his final offering, Darkstar. Out to promote DAMN., the follow-up to Grammy-winning To Pimp a Butterfly, Lamar will play Rogers Arena on Wednesday (August 2) to a doubtless diverse crowd.
Cereal killer. On his 2012 track “Cartoon and Cereal” (which was never released on an album but can be found on YouTube), Lamar reminisces about being a (presumably good) kid, watching Animaniacs and eating Apple Jacks while the adults around him get caught up in gang activity and drive-by shootings. As it turns out, the rapper never lost his taste for sugary cereals. In a video posted by pop-culture mag Complex, Lamar—in between bites of Fruity Pebbles—makes his disdain for good-for-you breakfast foods very clear. “None of that bullshit-ass Cheerios with the no sugar,” he scoffs. “What’s all the healthy shit? Raisin Bran? Stop talkin’ to me! Don’t talk to me about no fuckin’ Raisin Bran, dog. Wheaties? Stop it. Don’t talk to me. You pick that up in the aisle and walk on me, I’m liable to punch you in your face if you was my cousin. All my shit got sugar.” Lamar’s dentist seems unlikely to close up shop any time soon.
Straight into Compton. The born-and-bred Compton boy’s family ended up in the city by accident. In 1984, three years before Lamar was born, Kenny Duckworth—the rapper’s father-to-be—was allegedly caught up with the notorious street gang called the Gangster Disciples. After his wife gave him an ultimatum, the pair got on a train from Chicago to California, aiming to go to San Bernadino. “My Auntie Tina was in Compton. She got ‘em a hotel until they got on their feet, and my mom got a job at McDonald’s,” Lamar told Rolling Stone. After spending three years sleeping in their car, motels, or the local park, the pair managed to save enough money for their first apartment, and gave birth to the rapper. Their new home wasn’t the perfect family environment, however. Lamar figured out at a young age that his father was still working the streets to provide for the trio, and a number of his mom’s brothers were Compton Crips. So when the rapper proclaims “Everybody gon’ respect the shooter” on the track “Money Trees”, he knows what he’s talking about.
Making America great again. You know who you can thank for the fact that Donald J. Trump is currently sitting in the White House? Kendrick Lamar, that’s who. The rapper has been vocal about the fact that he has zero interest in voting, which gives him something in common with the 90 million other eligible American voters who never showed up at the polls in 2016. (For his admittedly somewhat confusing rationale for keeping away from the voting booth, go to the 44-second mark in the YouTube clip below.) Lamar believes that presidents don’t have the power to do anything, and that therefore people would be better off following his own personal philosophy, which goes something like this: “So basically, do what you do, do good with your people and live your life because what’s going on isn’t really in our hands.” Like all people that can’t bother getting off their ass on voting day, that’s not stopping him from complaining about the government. On “The Heart Part 4”, Lamar takes aim at the controversial Electoral College system that helped secure Trump’s win. Lyrics include “Electorial votes look like memorial votes / But America’s truth ain’t ignorin’ the votes / It’s blasphemy, how many gon’ blast for me?” If only, Kendrick, you and swaths of the 90 million other eligible voters hadn’t been busy checking Twitter last November.
Forgot about Dre? Lamar’s story repeatedly intertwines with legendary producer Dr Dre’s. At nine years old, Kendrick was on the set for the video shoot of Tupac and Dre’s “California Love”, and, after being hoisted on his father’s shoulders to watch the passing cars, the youngster was inspired to pursue rap music. Next, the budding performer attended Centennial High School in Compton—Dre’s own Alma Mata—where he was, incidentally, a straight-A student. The pair eventually met for the first time after the producer checked out Lamar’s gritty “Ignorance is Bliss” on YouTube, and invited him to his studio for a session. The encounter led to the recording of the song “Compton” on the first day that they connected, and a record deal with Dre’s label Aftermath Entertainment. The rest, as they say, is history.
Just sayin’ no. Having grown up in home where partying was pretty much a way of life, Lamar has some strong views on the subject of drugs and alcohol. The rapper’s official line is that he stays away from both, that bolstered by profiles in high-wattage publications like GQ, where a 2013 article by Steve Marsh argued that Lamar’s approach to life and his career is almost “monastic”. For the curious, Marsh wrote: “Kendrick doesn’t smoke weed or drink booze. In the time I spent with him, I never witnessed anyone roll even the thinnest spider leg of a jay.” No one’s saying that Lamar has spent his entire time on this earth living a life that makes straight-edge pioneer Ian Mackaye look like Charles Bukowski crossed with Sid Vicious. (See the video below at 5:53 for footage of him loaded in Las Vegas back in 2008 when he was known as K-Dot.) Still, he appears to have taken early advice from his father to heart, namely that booze and dope are both part of a slippery slope that leads to life on the street corner. So if you’re looking for someone to sing the praises of Ace of Spades champagne or no seeds, no stems, no sticks sticky icky icky, better reach for the Jay Z or Snoop Dogg.