DAMN. is an album that shouldn't be as triumphant as it sounds, coming out as it does during… well let's just keep things positive and call it the "the return of history." And it isn't all that chest-beating anyways, as Kendrick Lamar spends much of the LP reflecting on himself, his flaws, and his achievements, taking stock of where he's at and where he's come from to get there. In a new, lengthy interview with Zane Lowe conducted over the first weekend of this year's Coachella, Kendrick discusses this lyrical focus and how it reacts to the rise of Trump.
I wanted more self-evaluation and discipline because what's going on now, we're not focusing on him. Whats going on now… we focusing on self. You see real different nationalities and cultures are coming together and actually standing up for themselves and I think that's a pure reflection of this record prior to this even happening, prior to even coming out. We say "okay, we can't control…"–now we see we can control what's going on out there. It was 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 home solutions.
According to a transcript of the conversation provided to Noisey by Apple Music, "self-discipline" is the best way to describe DAMN., and is also Kendrick's "favourite word." He also emphasizes the element of connection in his songs. "…the music not for me," he says, "is for somebody else that's going through a fucked up day to listen to and progress in their lives." On DAMN.'s longevity, he states, "We take it and listen to it and move on, but I want it to live for the next 20 years." Watch the video of the full interview below.
On his influences, Eminem and Jay Z:
My boy Dave will tell you I was in his garage and you all my ad-libs sounded like Jay Z. My words, my flow. Him, Eminem, and I grew up off Pac, being from Compton. But Jay Z, I wanted to have the conversational type of word play and aspect of things. Whether I'm engaging in a story or I'm just having fun, it just felt like he was natural and he was fluent with it.
On feeling that he's the greatest rapper alive:
I'm so passionate about hip-hop. I don't know what era everybody else comes from but I listened. We play house parties, bro, every night. I love it to a point that I can't even describe it. When I heard these artists say they're the best, coming up, I'm not doing it to have a good song or one good wrap or good hook or good bridge. I want to keep doing it every time, period. And to do it every time, you have to challenge yourself and you have to confirm to yourself, not anybody else, confirm to yourself that you're the best, period. No one can take that away from me, period. That's my drive and that's my hunger, I will always have. At this point right now, the years and the time and the effort and the knowledge and history I've done on the culture and the game I've gotten from those before me and the respect I have for them. I want to hold myself high on that same pedestal 10, 15 years from now.
On the legacy of To Pimp a Butterfly:
It was something that I wanted to shed light on. What was going on in my community, what was going on around the world, what was going on with my people. I always feel the need to approach it in the aspect where I'm not only thinking about right now, this record has to live and teach the same way Talib, the same way Jay, the same Common, the same way Ice Cube taught us back in '91. I went back fifteen years later and I've learned from it. This album has to teach, not only in these times but for the future. To understand our history, what we was going through in 2010, 2012, 2014, 2015 and you can go back and apply that knowledge with whatever's going on in the future. That right there is going to help the next individual, the next Kendrick Lamar, the next kid on the corner to make whatever situation they're in, a better situation. Not only for them self but for those around them. The success of that record didn't come from the accolades or the awards, for me came from people going out there and singing "Alright" in the middle or these streets and taking pride and dignity into where they come from and where they want to go and expressing them self.
I've always had that. We are all spiritual beings and thats something that I can't ever run from. The music. Now when I say it is a weapon going back to that line you referenced, I always felt like God used me as a vessel. Period. Whether to show my flaws, whether to show my intellect to show my pain show my hurt to share my stories to share his message all across the board. You know that's me personally that's always been a vessel you know I could say the nastiest thing on record. Period. But I still feel like that's a vessel you need to hear that because I can't sugarcoat the reality of my imperfections. Period. So when you hear certain things and certain things you may not like, [that] you may have discomfort from, it's out of my hands. These words they're not just made up words you know and when I say I sit and I live with them and I really zone into them these are ideas that are coming way beyond me and that's just how I feel about it since day one.
On his relationship with Barack Obama:
What I took from that experience was the idea of knowing that it's going to take more than the eight year idea or four year idea of change. A lot of times being a kid when he was elected, not a kid just a younger adult, we get the idea - well I got the idea that shit was going to do a 360 like that. So me have a conversation with him and him sitting me down, he says 'changed doesn't start while I'm here, it starts once we leave the space that we're in.' That was the idea. Subconsciously that goes that idea of me self evaluating my own personal thoughts the way I think and what I would take from this meeting when I go outside the building. So that was the experience. That's something I will always hold dear just the idea of knowing that in the moment of time I have to think further the this year or last year. Got to prep yourself for the next decade of what you want to do that's going to result to change an idea or thoughts that we have consumed for so many years.
And finally, on fan's Easter theories about new music:
There's things. A lot of times, people that listen to my music, they're really good. Really, really, really good. I be mind-blown. I be blown away.
Elsewhere, the rapper confirms the origin story he tells on "DUCKWORTH." ("It was just the right time [to tell it]. Top himself didn't know I was going to do it or even execute it in that fashion, to be the last song or to be anywhere") and how Eminem still influences his worldplay ("It's all acrobatic. That excites me when I hear other people do it, it gives me a drive and hunger"). Listen to the interview now on Beats 1.
Phil is a Noisey staff writer. He's on Twitter.