Biography: Kendrick Lamar

The life and times of Compton's rap king


Name: Kendrick Lamar Duckworth

Born: June 17, 1987

Hometown: Compton, CA

Random Facts:

  • Kendrick Lamar stuttered as a child. He began to put his energy into music to communicate his thoughts.

  • Kendrick Lamar was born Kendrick Lamar Duckworth. He rapped under the name K.Dot during his career’s early days. He went back to Kendrick Lamar in 2010.

  • Lamar, Jay Rock, Ab-Soul, and Schoolboy Q formed a rap collective called Black Hippy.

  • His second album, good kid, m.A.A.d. city, originally contained a collaboration with Lady Gaga. It was eventually trashed after the two experienced "creative differences."

The Trilogy:

On the first day of its accidental one-week premature release, Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly set a new global record for streams on Spotify: 9.6 million. Reviews and reactions soon began pouring in from major news publications, tweets, and independent bloggers alike. The album even found itself the subject of several Fox News segments, which largely condemned Kendrick’s message as doing “more damage to young African-Americans than racism.”

Despite the album’s mostly reverential, sometimes negative, but nearly always strongly opinionated reactions, the general consensus by Lamar’s fanbase was that To Pimp a Butterfly neatly wrapped up a legendary album trilogy.

The first in this trilogy was Section .80, released exclusively on iTunes from Top Dawg Entertainment on July 2, 2011.

The album, with the help of GLC, Colin Munroe, Schoolboy Q, Ab-Soul and the late singer-songwriter Alori Joh,  highlighted themes that defined the lives of children growing up in the ‘80’s, such as Reagan’s policies, the crack epidemic, and overmedication.

Section .80 was followed by the mainstream success of good Kid, M.A.A.D City, produced by TDE and Aftermath, and distributed by Interscope in 2012.

It soon rose to the 2nd spot in the Billboard 200 during its debut week, making it the best-selling debut from a male artist that year. Unlike Section .80, which focused on big-picture concepts, the album presented itself as a singular lyrical movie that focused on Lamar’s day-to-day experiences growing up.

Musical roots:

When Lamar was born in Compton, California in 1987, his parents had recently relocated from Chicago. Though Lamar grew up around the rise of the West Coast crack trade and accompanying violence, he remained a top-scoring student in school who penned countless stories and poems before he began writing lyrics and handing out mixtapes. When he was 16, he released a mixtape called “The Youngest Head N*** in Charge,” which caught the attention of Top Dawg Entertainment in 2004. He was signed that year. He went on to release Training Day in 2005 and C4  in 2009. During these projects, he formed a collaboration with Jay Rock, Ab-Soul, and Schoolboy Q called Black Hippy. After the debut of Section .80, Lamar was dubbed “The New King of the West Coast” by one of his musical idols, Dr. Dre, as well as Snoop Dogg and Game. He was then taken under the wing of Dre and signed to Aftermath Records before releasing GKMC.

New meets old:

Perhaps what sets Kendrick’s style apart from other rappers most is his ability to both innovate and throw back-- to gain new commercial success and maintain respect from old-school rappers, to combine original flows with vintage funk and jazz samples, to draw attention to contemporary struggles by reviving the energy of 90’s conscious rap.

Kendrick in his own words:


On reviving rap's revolutionary energy

If my edge is dull, my sword is dull and I don’t want to fight another guy whose sword is dull. If you’ve got two steel swords going back and forth…what’s gonna happen? Both of them are going to get sharper.”

On the psychology underlying street culture--what he describes as "the most interesting story"

"At first, I was scared to show fear because you can never be sure how people will perceive you.

But I dared myself to do that, to stand out."