One of the hottest rappers in hip-hop — or the hottest, if you follow MTV lists — sat down for a one-on-one Q&A with Rap Radar’s Elliott Wilson Thursday to talk about the success of his major label debut good kid, , his team at Top Dawg Entertainment, and the difficulties of navigating the complex world of the music industry.
Since the release of in October — which debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200, selling 241,000 units its first week — Kendrick Lamar‘s star has been on a seemingly unassailable ascent, which has had both positive and negative ramifications for the 25-year-old Compton MC.
"I’m adapting. I enjoy the people but hate the politics of it," he said. "You gotta have a team that helps you maneuver through the bullsh–. And that’s TDE."
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Top Dawg also boasts Schoolboy Q, Ab-Soul and Jay Rock, and Lamar also discussed the inner workings of the group and their individual ambitions. "It wasn’t too long ago that we were at the dollar menu at McDonald’s," he said. "Three years ago. The fact that we started as independent artists gives us that balance… we know who were are, and we have the freedom to go out and explore [that] in music."
He also got a crash course in the mechanics behind clearing samples when he wasn’t able to put "Cartoons and Cereal," his collaboration with Gunplay, on , a track that he had considered placing as the last track on the album. "I didn’t know about the business side of clearing samples," he said. "It came down to the last weekend and there was no time. I wanted that record… it hurt me [to not include it]."
His quick rise in the minds of the public also took him around the world on Drake’s Club Paradise tour ("Compton is really a bubble… Berlin, Sweden — this is the type of stuff from history books"), but also gave him an insight into the fleeting nature of success in the music industry.
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"I once heard Puffy say a successful rap artist’s career is five years," he recalled. "That shook me up. There will come a point in time where you’re cold, and you may never get it back… I want that longevity."
While he said he is not currently working on a follow-up to the album, Lamar did shine a light on some of the artists he’d love to work with in the future, including R&B stalwarts D’Angelo and Erykah Badu. But in the meantime, he’s continuing to pop up with guest verses all over the place and not taking his career lightly.
"I don’t want to see a kid on the corner wake up the next day and say he’s a rapper," he said. "You’re messing with my craft. I’m serious about rapping."