Kendrick Lamar Breaks Down 'DAMN.' in Zane Lowe Interview
The wide-ranging Q&A with host Zane Lowe touched on Kung Fu Kenny’s many influences, including Tupac, Jay Z, and Eminem. It also addressed K-Dot’s relationship with President Barack Obama, and his frustrations over President Donald Trump. But the bulk of the conversation centered around his latest work, DAMN.
“It’s an album about my own self-discipline,” he said. “That’s my favorite word this past year, discipline and obedience, and how to control your own emotions and how to even speak that truth on a record, to expose yourself even more, to have that closer connection with another human, and have them relate to it.
“It’s not easy telling your truths,” he added. “Things that you fear from when you were seven, 17, and even a couple of years ago. But I know, at the end of the day, that the music is not for me. It’s for somebody else that’s going through a fucked up day to listen to and progress in their lives. That’s the reason why I always choose to have that dynamic, being selfless in the whole situation.”
Watch the interview and read highlights from the conversation below.
On DAMN.: “Prior to me going to record the record, everything is 80 percent premeditated first before I actually put the words over a reference or go in a studio and lay down vocals. Everything for me is about execution. I can go in with a thousand ideas but if I’m not executing it right, it doesn’t feel home to me.”
On cryptic messages: “I like to put a lot of different things, wordplay, and messages in my music because I want it to live further than two weeks, further than the attention span of how we all was as kids. We take it, we listen to it, and we move on. But I want it to live for the next 20 years. You have to listen to it over and over and over again to fully understand the direction and message I put in there, the execution of it.. I want you to do that. I want to challenge the way you think and the way you take in music.”
On influences: “When I listened to Jay Z coming up as a kid, when I listened to Eminem, [2Pac], there was things I couldn’t understand. But as years progressed, and I go back and listen to it again, and I’ve learned and I’ve grown, and I’ve matured, these things blew me away, when I found out what they was talking about, and how certain things connected to other albums, stories that they told growing up in they communities, their whole perspective of it. Doing that, I love to have that same type of impact on my listener.”
On “DNA.”: “There’s three types of themes in that record. It’s me recognizing the world around me, me recognizing the lifestyle that I’ve grown to see and indulge in from time to time. From a famous perspective, to coming to grips with the idea of knowing who Man-Man was as a 7-year-old boy and figuring out who they see as Kendrick Lamar. Taking all these different aspects and personalities from my own perspective, from me, from my soul, and putting them in my record.”
On God: “I always felt like [God] used me as a vessel, whether to show my flaws, whether to show my intellect, to show my pain, to show my hurt, to share my stories, to share his message, all across the board. That’s always been a vessel. I can say the nastiest thing on a record, but I still feel like that’s a vessel. You need to hear that, because I can’t sugarcoat the reality of what’s going on out here. I can’t sugarcoat the reality of my imperfections.”
On Fox News criticism: “I thought it was a clickbait. Anybody that knows me knows that I represent my people and the culture the right way so to try to attack my character and make it a stunt, I wasn’t for it.”
On Kid Capri: “I wanted it to feel like just the raw elements of hip-hop, whether I’m using 808s or boom-bap drums, the idea of Kid Capri…The initial thought was having [Kid Capri] on some real trap 808 shit. Something I’ve never heard from him. I got in the studio and had him do a thousand takes. He’s the greatest to ever even do it. He knocked them shits out.”
On Rihanna: “I’ve always wanted to work with Rihanna. I love everything about her, her artistry, how she represents women to not only be themselves but to express themselves the way she expresses herself through music and how she carries herself. I love everything about her, so I always wanted to work with her. I did the record and immediately, her name popped up. Reached out, we locked in a studio, and made it happen.”
On “LOVE.”: “My guy Zac. The guy singing on the record. We was in the studio vibing and he’s playing track after track after track. This dude is an amazing talent. I’ve always loved to have fresh ears and present fresh talent to the world because it’s so much good shit out there. You gotta always make sure that people are able to hear it. A lot of shit don’t get heard that’s great. He’s one of the guys. So, he’s playing this record, this beat, and these drums, and it just feels like euphoria, immediately. We knocked it out probably the next day…I heard the beat and immediately, I just go back to this space of being a teen and you’re just now figuring out what is the concept of actually further being attracted to someone, but actually loving someone, feeling that type of love, getting your heartbroken, going back to that space and the simple idea, the simple concept of love, that feeling amongst all the other madness on the album.”
On “XXX.”: “[The song] is the idea of complete chaos and madness. That’s what I got from it. Organized madness. Controlled madness. Us trying to control this madness.”
On President Obama: “What I took from that experience was, the idea of knowing that it takes more…It’s gonna take more than just an 8-year idea or 4-year idea of change. Being a younger adult when he was elected, I got the idea that shit was gonna [change] 360 like that. Having a conversation with him, him sitting me down, he said change don’t start while I’m here. It starts once we leave the space that we’re in. That was the idea. Subconsciously, that goes into the idea of me self-evaluating my own personal thoughts, the way I think, and what I’ma take from this, meaning do when I go outside of this building. That was the experience. That’s something I always hold dear, the idea that in the moment in time, I have to think further than this year or last year. Gotta prep yourself for the next decade of what you’re going to do that’s going to result in changing an idea or the thoughts that we have consumed for so many years.”
On President Trump: “I have a lot of records [about his election]. Definitely. Heavily. Easily. Just off of pure frustration, off the simple wow factor of what’s going on. Simple as that. I have these records and it’s certain things that are in these songs that I may pull pieces from, to make sure that it’s covered to where I feel better about it, that the listener knows, or that he knows…I wanted self-evaluation and discipline [on this album] because what’s going on now, we’re not focusing on him. We’re focusing on self. You see different nationalities and cultures and standing up for themselves. That’s a pure reflection of this record, prior to it even coming out. Now, we see we can’t control what’s going on out there. It’s a whole ‘nother power that be. So what we can do now is we can start coming together and figuring out our own problems and solutions. I believe and know that this is what this album reflects.”
On “DUCKWORTH.”: “About a year after I met Top Dawg — I met him when I was 16 — my pops came to the studio after I’ve been locked in with him for a minute and we had a relationship now. Bring my pops through. He heard I was dealing with Top Dawg, but my pops don’t personally know him as Top Dawg. The industry know him as Top Dawg. Before he was Top Dawg, he was another name. When he walked in the room and he seen that Top Dawg was this guy, he flipped. Still to this day. They laugh and they laugh and they trip out and they tell that same story over and over to each other. Have I been waiting [to tell the story]? It was just the right time. Top himself didn’t know I was going to do it or even execute it in that fashion…I remember playing it for him and he flipped because further than the song, when you really can hear, the world hear your life in words that are so true to you and that affected your life in one decision, it really makes you sit back and cherish the moment. That’s something that we all did, playing the record. Look where we’re at! We’re recording music for the world to hear, taking care of our families, and we’re blessed. But listen to these words. This is what happened. This is real life. This is amazing. Since a kid, I always said to myself bro, anything is possible. It always comes around tenfold 100 percent confirmation. That story is confirmation.”