Can K. Dot save hip-hop...
By Datwon Thomas
Bold dreams, a tremendous gift and a grounded sense of self lay the ideal foundation for any talent on the verge of superstar status. Enter Kendrick Lamar, hip-hop’s latest golden child, ready and able to change the game by not changing at all.
Three years ago Kendrick Lamar Duckworth had never traveled outside of the US. Two critically acclaimed independent albums, five Grammy nominations, and countless international shows later 26-year-old Lamar is a man of the world.
Despite his limited time on mainstream media’s radar, Lamar’s footing in the rap game is by no means of toddler status. Best described as a dude from but not of, the ’hood, as a youth, Lamar walked the streets of Compton daily only to return to a two-parent household. There, his flair for creative writing was cultivated and morphed into a penchant for penning lyrics. By 15, Lamar was a raw lyricist that needed guidance to hone his talent. The rapper linked up with high school friend, now music executive, Dave Free, who introduced him to a burgeoning Carson, California-based independent record label, Top Dawg Entertainment. Named after CEO and music producer, Anthony “Top Dawg” Tiffith, and operated by Tiffith’s cousin Terrence “Punch” Henderson, TDE embraced the outspoken, contemplative prodigy and set the wheels in motion.
Lamar’s 10-year-grind to the top is an ode to living as a pure artist who speaks from the soul, as opposed to today’s insta-digital, social networking, overnight flash-in-the pan types. When building the career of the next hip-hop star, many don’t think of the impact they can have culturally, let alone globally. Making a hit song is usually the focus, dictated by the label’s statistics on what content “should” be financially lucrative. TDE took another approach.
In Lamar’s case, being independent first and building a solid fan base with tracks like “Ignorance Is Bliss,” “A.D.H.D.,” and “Hii Power,” gave him the freedom to rap from the heart, not a corporate account. His first two indie albums, Overly Dedicated (2010) and Section.80 (2011) didn’t boast tremendous sales— in fact the former was available for free online. They did however start a movement. And those who preferred storytelling over just hot hooks or blaring beats followed. Soon this swagged-up Compton kid had executives from Interscope Records, and iconic producer Andre ‘Dr. Dre’ Young, who signed him, head nodding to a new tune.
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