And no one — not even his iconic leader — has countered his stance. “Dre allowed me to do just that, you know, go out there and create my album because he has that much respect, belief and faith in me,” Lamar says about Dre’s influence on his project. “I don’t feel pressure. This is the same music I’ve been doing for years, everybody just catching up now. So, the world is late.”
Late and restless.
Like Dre, Lamar grew up in L.A.’s toughest district, though he remains relatively unscathed from his childhood. His parents moved to Compton from Chicago before the emcee was born, and true to many in South Central, poverty became the biggest hurdle for his family. Nevertheless, the rapper did well in school, and found inspiration in the alternatives around him. In fact, as a boy, the emcee was fortunate enough to observe 2Pac in action on the music video set of “California Love” with Dre.
“When I was a kid, they was in Compton,” Lamar remembers. “I lived in Compton most of my life, so when you live in that neck of the woods, we gotta come out. My pops, he seen it, picked me up, and we was out there.” The influence from that day and from Pac’s work still resonates for Lamar, who says the late rapper’s legacy pushes him to be an “innovator.”
“His music you know, it speaks for itself, and [now] I can say what I wanna say on records just because he did it the best…I wanna continue that,” Lamar observes, adding that his plans are consistent. “Basically be myself, and get inspired by what inspires me, which is life and family, you know? And not be stuck into the stereotypical things and be confined by that.”
So far, the strategy has proven potent, taking the young artist from a life of steady struggle to red carpets, world traveling and incessant press demands making him an enigma before he’s even put out a major label work.
Plus, his friends came on board for the ride. Along with Lamar, Dre also signed the rapper’s collective, Black Hippy, to the label, a crew of unabashed, beat-centric rappers featuring himself, Ab-Soul, Schoolboy Q, and Jay Rock. It’s a feat Lamar believes stems from originality alone. “Our music spoke for itself, it wasn’t like nothing [Dre] had heard at the actual time, and that’s how we’re going to continue to do it,” he says, though no definite date has been set for a group collaborative album. “Right now, we just want to snap every individual artist and get them off the ground first. We want to make it the right timing when we feel everybody really wants it, and needs it.”
The rapper’s confidence and pride fall in tangent with his humility, and as a character in music, he recognizes the strength of his alliances. With everyone from legends to wishful thinkers looking towards him for encouragement, he can’t help but feel pretty damn good.“These people I looked up to – individuals, people I studied – they all recognize that I’m a student of the game and that’s the best feeling in the world,” Lamar remarks. “It allows me to keep going.”
Follow Courtney Garcia on Twitter at @courtgarcia