Billboard just unveiled the cover for their 2017 Hip-Hop Power Players issue and who else could land the front page, other than Kendrick Lamar and TDE CEO Anthony “Top Dawg” Tiffith.
For the cover story, the two discuss Top’s early days on the streets, Kendrick’s hunger, the inner working of Top Dawg Entertainment, the story of “DUCKWORTH,” and more.
“The thing with TDE,” says Lamar, “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.”
Peep the cover and check a few choice quotes below. The full story can be read here.
Top, how did you encourage creativity in your artists early on?
“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. 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.”
Kendrick, what was your goal recording the early mixtapes and The Kendrick Lamar EP?
“That shit was like boot camp. Getting in there and learning how to rap, put words together, freestyles and bars and shit. As time progresses, you develop. I remember coming to Top like, ‘Hey, I want to change to my real name [from K.Dot].’ He’s like, ‘Man, that shit sounds hard.’ He was with it. ‘Man, that shit sounds like a cologne.’
(“That was the first thing that came to mind,” Top adds.)
“Like, that sounds like cologne — we can sell that shit! I’m thinking, ‘What’s the [musical] approach?’ It’s got to be real, it’s got to be my story. It’s got to be some shit that not only I feel, but everybody else can feel. That was the initial idea: I’m going to give a small piece of my backstory before my debut album. Because good kid was already prepped.
“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.”
Top, on “DUCKWORTH”
“I got a phone call from my momma: ‘What’s going on?’ I said, ‘Nothing.’ She said, ‘Your brother just told me Kendrick called me a crackhead!’ [All laugh.] She was just fucking with me. That’s a story I told [Lamar] probably 10 years ago, and we hadn’t talked about it since. When Kendrick first came around, I didn’t know who his pops was, but I saw him when we went to the swap meet one time. He was security, so he had a big-ass gun, longer than his leg. When we got back in the car, [I started] telling Kendrick all my struggles growing up. But he just kept all that shit locked in his head for, like, 10 or 11 years. And when I came and he played that shit, it touched me like a motherfucker.”
How would you two define your relationship?
“I trust his judgment, he trusts mine,” Top says. “Some shit I’m tripping on, he might call me and change my whole mind about it.”
“You don’t get too many people like him this side of the neighborhood,” Kendrick adds. “A lot of motherfuckers want you to see them down just like them. Or don’t want you to come up like them. If it weren’t for him, I’d probably be sitting around with this motherfucking money and face and platform and not doing shit because I didn’t have the proper guidance to know exactly what to do and how to inspire the next kid.”
On top of Kendrick and Top, TDE co-presidents Dave Free and Terrence “Punch” Henderson also spoke on the early days, the evolution and the future. The most interesting tidbit came when they spoke on one of Top and Kendrick’s first interactions…
“He probably won’t admit it, but Top didn’t get Kendrick early on,” Punch says. “That’s why I think my relationship to Kendrick was so interesting: I got what he was doing.”
“The first meeting [with Top] was Kendrick saying, ‘I’m ill,’ and Top saying, ‘All right, prove it,’ Free adds. “Kendrick got into the booth and rapped for an hour straight.”