Peter Yang/Variety
11.21.2017

Kendrick Lamar Covers Variety’s Hitmakers Issue

King Kendrick reigns in the rain on the cover of Variety’s November 2017 “Hitmakers” issue.

Photographed by Peter Yang, Lamar has a contemplative glare on the cover. Inside, he is just as introspective, delving into his career and ability to deliver such critically-lauded concept albums. Naming DMX’s It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot, 2Pac’s Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory, and Notorious B.I.G.’s Life After Death, Kung Fu Kenny speaks on being an album artist.

“I just come from that era,” he said. “I don’t look at these albums like just music; it sounds like an actual film. To me, you need a big, grand production when you listen to these songs. You don’t necessarily just hear the music — you see it. You hear the stories; you hear the interludes; you hear the hooks and how different things intertwine. I always carry some type of conceptual idea inside my music, whether it’s a big concept or it’s so subtle you can’t even tell until you get to 20 listens. It’s such a huge deal to this day, seeing if an artist can still pull it off. Because there’s not too many artists who give you that in a way that feels authentic, where you say, ‘OK, this person really sat down and thought through this idea.'”

Kendrick Lamar

That perspective has evolved from his earlier days as K-Dot. “When I stopped going by K-Dot, I think that was the moment where I really found my voice,” he explained. “Early, early on, I really wanted to be signed. And that was a mistake, because it pushes you two steps backwards when you have this concept of ‘OK, I’ve got to make these three [commercial] songs in order to get out into the world and be heard.’ So there were two or three years where I wanted to be signed so badly that I’m making these same two or three repetitive demo kinds of records, and I’m hindering my growth. The world could have got Kendrick Lamar two or three years earlier if I’d stuck to the script and continued to develop.”

Upon the magazine’s release, Kendrick was honored at the inaugural Variety Hitmakers event over the weekend, earning the first-ever Hitmaker of the Year award. “I’ve been doing this for a long time, since I was 13, 14 years old,” Lamar said. “To hone in the title of a hitmaker means a lot because we put a lot of time and a lot of effort.”

In a behind-the-scenes video that was released to accompany this article, K-Dot opens up about his favorite movie (Get Out) and the last show he binge-watched (“Stranger Things”). He even reveals his dream collaborators (Sade and Anita Baker).

Elsewhere in the Variety cover story, which reveals that Lamar has donated $1.5 million to Compton’s school district, K-Dot speaks about DAMN., his evolution, and his creative process. Read additional quotes from the article below.

On America: “America will survive once it recognizes the position it’s in, and the trials that it’s facing. Once people stop being nonchalant to it and recognize it, that’s when. When it’s not something that’s just swept under the rug because we’re the quote-unquote ‘greatest country in the world.'”

On DAMN.: “I think the more people talk about it, the more it becomes fascinating, and you can have a debate about it. It’s all healthy because it’s talking about the music. As long as I keep knowing how much to give, giving just enough, and being able to pull back and leave the audience to interpret it, I think [the music] will stay intact.”

On Creative Process: “For me, prior to me recording, it’s 70% me just formulating ideas in my mind and 30% just collecting sounds and making sounds, prior to me actually getting in the studio. Then it’s about figuring out which angle I’m going to attack it from and how the listener is going to perceive it. These are the ideas you’re constantly, constantly thinking about, and it’s not really about going to instrumentals and bringing on beats [from producers], because I feel my greatest knack is for taking cohesive ideas and putting them on wax. So it starts with me first, with my thoughts.”

On Evolution: “In my early years, I was just all about the raps. I didn’t care about nothing else. But when you get into the world of songwriting, and making material that’s universal, you gotta be hands on and know the different sounds and frequencies, what makes people move, what melodies stick with you, taking the higher octaves and the lower octaves and learning how to intertwine that in a certain frequency, how to manipulate sound to your advantage.”

On Performing: “You only get that confidence from doing a lot of shows, from being in front of crowds where they ain’t doing shit but just looking at you. I can’t deny it if I’m at a festival of 50,000 people looking at me and my shit is trash, but with 20 people, you gotta look them right in the face, and they’re gonna throw shit at you, they’ll just do whatever. It’s trial and error to get over that and build up that confidence, and having enough confidence that the views I put out there are gonna convey on the stage.”