Rap royalty unites as iconic producer Rick Rubin interviews King Kendrick Lamar.
The Q&A went down as part of GQ Style‘s first-ever Holiday issue. Cornrow Kenny dons a serious glare and a $3,000 Michael Kors fur coat on the cover, relaxing at Rubin’s famed Shangri La Studios in Malibu where Kanye West and Bob Dylan have recorded.
Of course the topic of collaborating came up during the interview as Kendrick opened up about his next album. ”It’s soon,” he said. “I have ideas, though. I have ideas and I have a certain approach. But I wanna see what it manifests. I wanna put all the paint on the wall and see where that goes. Maybe you can help me with that.”
What was Rubin’s response? “I’m down.”
Following the interview, they hit the studio to start recording new music. Watch their interview and check out highlights from the conversation below.
On the sequel to To Pimp a Butterfly: “That was me then…Not to say that it wouldn’t be continuous. It’ll always have some type of DNA in my music. But me, as a person, I grow. I’m like a chameleon. You know? That is a gift and a curse for me. But more so a gift, because it never puts me in a box. And my ability to express and still make the connection wherever I go, that is my high point. That’s something I pride myself off of.”
On “Alright”: “I was sitting on that record for about six months. The beat’s Pharrell. And between my guy Sam Taylor and Pharrell, they would always be like, ‘Did you do it? When you gonna do it?’ I knew it was a great record—I just was trying to find the space to approach it. I mean, the beat sounds fun, but there’s something else inside of them chords that Pharrell put down that feels like—it can be more of a statement rather than a tune. So with Pharrell and Sam asking me–Am I gonna rock on it? When I’m gonna rock on it?—it put the pressure on me to challenge myself. To actually think and focus on something that could be a staple in hip-hop. And eventually, I came across it. Eventually, I found the right words. You know, it was a lot going on, and still, to this day, it’s a lot going on. And I wanted to approach it as more uplifting–but aggressive. Not playing the victim, but still having that We strong, you know?”
On studying Eminem: “The clarity, I got my clarity just studying Eminem when I was a kid. How I got in the studio was all just curiosity. I had a love for the music, but it was curiosity. The day I heard The Marshall Mathers LP, I was just like, How does that work? What is he doing? How is he putting his words together like that? What’s the track under that? An ad-lib? What is that? And then, Why don’t you go in the studio and see? So I do that. Then it became, How’s his words cutting through the beat like that? What is he doing that I’m not doing, now that I’m into it? His time is impeccable. When he wants to fall off the beat, it’s impeccable. These are things that, through experience and time, I had to learn.”
On his influences: “First off would have to be how I was raised. The environment. My father being a complete realist, just in the streets. And my mother being a dreamer. It starts there first, before I even heard any type of melody or lyric. That’s just DNA. It’s always the yin and the yang, the good versus the evil. And that pushed me toward the music that I love to listen to. You know, Tupac, Biggie, Jay. Your usual suspects. These were the people that was played in my household.”
On his parents’ musical taste: “My parents were fairly young in the city of Compton. So the things that they played–you know, that was the hip crowd. So I was being exposed to all these ideas, from Big Daddy Kane to Eazy-E to the Bay Area–Too Short, E-40–you know, back to Marvin Gaye and the Isley Brothers. This field of music just broadened my ideas to come. We never would’ve thought in a million years that I’d be doing it.”
On jazz: “It’s a trip, because I was in the studio one day, and my guy Terrace Martin noticed something about the type of sounds that I was picking. He was like, ‘Man, a lot of the chords that you pick are jazz-influenced. You don’t understand: You a jazz musician by default.’ And that just opened me up. And he just started breaking down everything, the science, going back to Miles, Herbie Hancock.”
On meditating: “I have to have at least 30 minutes to myself. If it’s not on the daily, every other day, to just sit back, close my eyes, and absorb what’s going on. You know, the space that I’m in. When you in music–and everybody knows this—the years are always cut in half, because you always have something to do. We in the studio for four months, that go by. Now you gotta go on the road for five months, that go by. Next thing you know, five years going by and you 29 years old. You know? So I have to find a way to understand the space that I’m in and how I’m feeling at the moment. ‘Cause if I don’t, it’s gonna zoom. I know. I feel it. And I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. It just goes and then you miss out on your moment because you’re so in the moment you didn’t know the moment was going on, if that makes sense.”