Joe Pugliese/Billboard

Kendrick Lamar & Top Dawg Cover Billboard’s ‘Hip-Hop Power Players’ Issue

Kendrick Lamar and Top Dawg Entertainment CEO Anthony “Top Dawg” Tiffith share the cover of Billboard’s “Hip-Hop Power Players” issue.

Photographed by Joe Pugliese, King Kendrick and Top discuss their “like father and son” relationship in the mag, which also finds Lamar explaining the label’s ethos. “The thing with TDE,” he says, “is it was all ours — an independent deal from the jump. I came in at 16 years old, so it’s all I know…It’s a family type of environment. It’s not just all about making money every day.”

Kung Fu Kenny also opens up about how Top’s studio changed his life as a young man in Compton. “The summer I came over there, everyone was getting murdered and shit,” he said. “There was a real war with my section and, like, two neighborhoods down the block. Compton [Calif.] is small, so ni**as be warring on corners. By the grace of God, we found the studio.”

According to Top, this was by design, meant to help kids like Kendrick and Jay Rock avoid problems on the streets. “Growing up in the era of the gangsta shit, a lot of my friends were getting killed, a lot of friends were in the pen, I got shot,” said Tiffith. “When I got with the [TDE artists], it was up to me to show them ­something different — to lock them in my studio and make them build a bond as brothers, and struggle a little bit. I had the money to do whatever I wanted, but they weren’t going to appreciate shit if I just handed it off to them. So they were rushing to McDonald’s to look at what’s on the dollar menu, or going to get a River Boat special from Louisiana Fried Chicken. But I was showing them family life because my family lives in this house, too.”

Up next, the label is set to take on a new chapter, according to Top. “People really don’t know that Kendrick owns a percentage of TDE,” he said. “The movie, the TV shit that we’re working on, Kendrick’s going to be executive producer on whatever we do.”

TDE Co-Presidents Dave Free and Terrence “Punch” Henderson also appear on the “Power Players” list, alongside the likes of OVO’s Drake and Oliver El-Khatib, 300’s CEO/co-founder Kevin Liles, and Ear Drummers CEO Mike WiLL Made-It.

Read additional quotes from the interview below.

Lamar on good kid, m.A.A.d. city: “Yeah, we did good kid about three, four times before the world got to it. New songs, new ­everything. I wanted to tell that story, but I had to execute it. My whole thing is about execution. The songs can be great, the hooks can be great, but if it’s not executed well, then it’s not a great album.”

Tiffith on Suge Knight Comparisons: “Have you seen any of his qualities in me? You’re not seeing me go crazy, beating on anybody, arrested every week. If they were talking about success, I would’ve been cool with that because he had great success. But they judge us brothers like that. They put us all in the same box.”

Lamar on TDE Bond: “Being a fan of groups and labels, you hear stories of motherfuckers fighting, this one jealous of the other. Those cats never had brotherhood from the jump. I still can look in [ScHoolboy] Q’s eyes, and he can still look in my eyes, like, ‘N–a, I know.’ Or Rock. I know what we did to get here. No matter how far we get, we’ll always have that bond, period.”

Lamar on “Duckworth”: “Yeah. It’s a story that we both knew. But I think he was kind of blown away by the fact that it was executed within three, four minutes. I didn’t approach it right the first two times. And I knew these were my three favorite [9th Wonder] beats. I just wrote, wrote, wrote until the idea finally came.”