With cuffing season well underway, it is simply a matter of time before people are wrapped in blankets, coats and scarves for the oncoming winter. So, GQ Magazine outsourced Kendrick Lamar to be the face of its holiday issue, donning him in the latest (read: expensive) furs and jackets.
They also paired him with the legendary Rick Rubin at his nigh-mythical Shangri-La Studios in Malibu, CA for an interview that, as it turned out, was the very first time the two had ever met. In their lengthy conversation, Kendrick speaks on the artists that have inspired his jazzy sonics, the Pharrell beat he sat on for a half-year, how Eminem (who just dropped the whirlwinding “Campaign Speech“) plays into everything, and more.
Some choice quotes:
Rick: When did jazz find its way into your world?
Kendrick: It’s a trip, because I was in the studio one day, and my guy Terrace Martin noticed something about the type of sounds that I was picking. He was like, Man, a lot of the chords that you pick are jazz-influenced. You don’t understand: You a jazz musician by default. And that just opened me up. And he just started breaking down everything, the science, going back to Miles, Herbie Hancock.
When making music, do you ever consider the audience at all, or is it more just self-expression?
I used to consider the listener. But now I’m in a space where if I’m not inspired, I can’t really do the music. I can’t feel it. I put in enough hours to be able to pen a hundred-bar verse on the spot at any given moment. But for me to actually feel an idea, it has to come from me. And a lot of times, I have to block out different needs and wants just for my own selfish reasons. But at the end of the day, it comes out where, whether you like it or not, you know it comes from a real place. It’s gonna feel unapologetic, uncompromising, and it’s gonna feel me.
When you wrote [“Alright”], did you have that in mind? Did you think of it as a protest song?
No. You know what? I was sitting on that record for about six months. The beat’s Pharrell. And between my guy Sam Taylor and Pharrell, they would always be like, Did you do it? When you gonna do it? I knew it was a great record—I just was trying to find the space to approach it. I mean, the beat sounds fun, but there’s something else inside of them chords that Pharrell put down that feels like—it can be more of a statement rather than a tune. So with Pharrell and Sam asking me—Am I gonna rock on it? When I’m gonna rock on it?—it put the pressure on me to challenge myself. To actually think and focus on something that could be a staple in hip-hop. And eventually, I came across it. Eventually, I found the right words. You know, it was a lot going on, and still, to this day, it’s a lot going on. And I wanted to approach it as more uplifting—but aggressive. Not playing the victim, but still having that We strong, you know?
It’s really interesting now, with what’s going on in hip-hop. It’s almost like you’re a throwback to when lyrics mattered. So much of hip-hop today is about vibe and swag and personality, and less about words. And it sometimes sounds like even the MC doesn’t know what he’s saying on a lot of today’s records. So it’s interesting to hear the sort of clarity and depth that you go into lyrically.
The clarity, I got my clarity just studying Eminem when I was a kid. How I got in the studio was all just curiosity. I had a love for the music, but it was curiosity. The day I heard The Marshall Mathers LP, I was just like, How does that work? What is he doing? How is he putting his words together like that? What’s the track under that? An ad-lib? What is that? And then, Why don’t you go in the studio and see? So I do that. Then it became, How’s his words cutting through the beat like that? What is he doing that I’m not doing, now that I’m into it? His time is impeccable. When he wants to fall off the beat, it’s impeccable. These are things that, through experience and time, I had to learn.
Their entire conversation can be seen below.