Kendrick Lamar graces the cover of a new issue of GQ. For its accompanying cover story, the magazine had renowned producer Rick Rubin (Beastie Boys, Kanye West, Frank Ocean) interview the Compton MC at Rubin’s own Shangri La studios in Malibu.
The two — who, surprisingly, had never met until that day — talked music influences, meditation practices, the lengthy creative process behind To Pimp A Butterfly anthem “Alright”, and what new ideas King Kendrick has been kicking around for the next album. After striking up an obvious chemistry over the course of their one-hour discussion, they decided to hit the studio together that very same afternoon.
Below, check out the video of their interview (including a couple of brief minutes of Kendrick recording at Shangri La), followed by choice excerpts from the interview. Head to GQ for more quotes, some of which have been annotated by Eminem and Herbie Hancock.
After hearing the first album, when the second album came, it was completely unexpected. Like, nobody was expecting you to make that.
“I knew from the jump that it was gonna be a challenge for my listeners’ ear. But if I’m challenging myself in the studio, I want to challenge you as well. I just went full-fledged with it, man. We built everything from scratch.”
When you say unapologetic, has there ever been anything that comes up that you feel like, I don’t want to say that on a record?
“That’s a great question. I always said to myself, if I said it on a record, I never retract my statements. Because it’s my self-expression, and you can have your opinions on it, you can feel a certain type of way, but it’s how I feel. And I can’t contradict that at all.”
Do you have any idea of the direction that’s coming next, as far as writing goes, or is it too soon?
“It’s soon. I have ideas, though. I have ideas and I have a certain approach. But I wanna see what it manifests. I wanna put all the paint on the wall and see where that goes. Maybe you can help me with that.”
When you wrote it [“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?”