Kendrick Lamar graced another cover of Rolling Stone this month, where “the greatest rapper alive” opened up about his personal and professional life. During the discussion, he shared his thoughts on ghostwriting, crossing over into the pop world, and working with U2 legend Bono. The 30-year-old also reflected on the recording process for DAMN.
Early in the interview, the Compton rapper explained his stance on ghostwriting. He believes that an artist can’t claim to be the best at their craft if it’s not them writing the words:
It depends on what arena you’re putting yourself in. I called myself the best rapper. 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.
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.
Although DAMN. wasn’t overtly political, Lamar briefly shared his thoughts on Donald Trump and explained why he doesn’t address the president in his music:
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.
Despite having a No. 1 record, Lamar said that switching lanes into pop territory is challenging:
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.
He also explained his decision to make DAMN. a more accessible album for all listeners:
The initial goal was to make a hybrid of my first two commercial albums. That was our total focus, how to do that sonically, lyrically, through melody – and it came out exactly how I heard it in my head. … It’s all pieces of me. My musicality has been driving me since I was four years old. It’s just pieces of me, man, and how I execute it is the ultimate challenge. Going from To Pimp a Butterfly to DAMN., that shit could have crashed and burned if it wasn’t executed right. So I had to be real careful on my subject matter and how I weave in and out of the topics, where it still organically feels like me.
Lamar revealed that his collaboration with Bono was a long time coming:
We had a [different] record we were supposed to be doing together. He sent it over, I laid some ideas to it, and we didn’t know where it was going. I just happened to have an album coming out, so I just asked him, like, ‘Yo, would you do me this honor of letting me use this record, use this idea that I want to put together because I’m hearing a certain type of 808, a certain drum to it.’ And he was open to it… Bono has so much wisdom and so much knowledge, in music and in life. Sitting on the phone with him, I could talk to him for hours. The things he’s doing around the world, of just helping people, is inspiring.
[Through laughter] No, I wasn’t aware of that, bro. That’s a great question. No! On the record, no. Which makes it even more funny now, for sure. That’s far beyond my concern. I have to stay away from that, for sure. That’s some real beef [laughs].
Everything that I say on that record is from his perspective. That’s always been my thing. Always listen to people’s history and their background. It may not be like mine, it may not be like yours. It was taking his perspective on the world and life as a people and putting it to where people can listen to it and make their own perspective from it, whether you agree or you don’t agree. That’s what I think music is for. It’s a mouthpiece.