“Hip hop is not the problem. The reality is the problem of the situation. This is our music. This is us expressing ourselves. Instead of adding to the violence in the streets, we’re going in the recording booth and talking about the situation, and hoping these kids can find some type of influence from it in a positive manner.”—Kendrick Lamar
They just don’t make ‘em like Kendrick anymore. The West Coast rapper was recently awarded the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Music for his album Damn, becoming the first non-classical or jazz artist to ever receive the award. This feels like poetic justice for a man who rose above the world of gang violence in which he was raised in Compton, California, USA—the hometown of N.W.A., Tupac, and countless other hip-hop legends—and became an activist for peace and self-expression in Black communities across America. Here are 39 facts that shed light on a brilliant artist who refuses to be taken out of his element.
39. Mom’s Kitchen
Some rappers go to clubs for inspiration. Others go on vacation in Paris. Kendrick? He goes to the place where he ate most of his meals growing up: his momma’s kitchen. He stated in a 2017 interview with Dave Chappelle that he penned most of his 2012 breakout album in his mom’s kitchen.
38. Universal Story
In his 2017 chat with comedian Dave Chappelle for Interview magazine, Kendrick pointed out, “I can go around the world and hear people recite those lyrics, and understand the story, even though they’re not from the same area I grew up in…. It’s fascinating to me how far an idea can go.”
37. Straight A’s
Kendrick didn’t necessarily prioritize school over his rapping, but he was still a very successful student, getting straight As throughout most of high school. He later paid it forward to his cohort by inviting students from his alma mater to the Grammys.
36. Turn in Your Homework
“School was pretty fun for me,” the rapper said in a 2015 BBC 6 interview. He recalled a poetry assignment in high school that he forgot about until the last minute, and then rushed to finish it 10 minutes before class started. According to Kendrick, he still got an A. “I knew when it was time to press the button…and get the grade,” he said.
35. A Cool $40 Million
Kendrick’s publishing deal with Warner/Chappell Music expires in 2018, and that means the rapper and his management company, Top Dawg Entertainment, are looking at offers from publishers who want to buy the rights to both Kendrick’s back catalogue and his forthcoming music. The price range? Up to $40 million, a large percentage of which would go directly to K.Dot.
You didn’t really think Kendrick Lamar was predictable enough to use his real name for his music, did you? To be fair, Kendrick didn’t change it much—he just cut off his last name, and used his middle name, “Lamar,” instead. The full name he was given at birth? “Kendrick Lamar Duckworth.” Yep, you read that right.
The track “Duckworth,” a reference to Kendrick’s real last name, is the 14th and final entry on Damn, and it’s a fitting conclusion to a record that is all about struggling with one’s identity.
32. Big Fan
When Kendrick collaborated with J. Cole on the track “HiiiPower,” he sat through 25 stages of mixing because he was so enraptured by the producer’s talent. “His production is crazy, man. The first time we locked in, he played about 10 beats. I wanted 11 of ‘em,” he said.
31. Cleaning up
Good thing Kendrick is so humble, because he was an unstoppable force at the 2018 Grammy Awards. Beginning with a stunning performance that combined tracks from Damn into a medley, Kendrick later took home a total of five awards, including Best Rap Album and Best Rap Song for “Humble.”
30. High School Sweetheart
“Loyalty, loyalty, loyalty,” he rapped on Damn, and Kendrick is loyal to the core. There’s no better proof than the fact that he is still in a relationship with Whitney Alford, his girlfriend from their high school days.
In a 2015 interview with Power 105.1’s “The Breakfast Club,” Kendrick stated of his long-time girlfriend:“I wouldn’t even call her my girl. That’s my best friend. I don’t even like the term that society has put out into the world as far as being a companion. She’s somebody I can tell my fears to.”
28. Watching Some Legends
With so many rappers making their names in Compton, it’s not unusual to see a music video being filmed on the streets. In an interview for the Grammys, Kendrick revealed that as a boy growing up in Compton, he saw Dr. Dre and Tupac shooting the video for their single “California Love.”
27. Mortal Man
“My dad put me on his shoulders,” Kendrick recalled of the Dre and Tupac video shoot in his interview for the Grammys. “There they was, Dr. Dre and Tupac, right there in a white Bentley.” He went on to become a close collaborator with Dr. Dre, and would pen a tribute to Tupac.
26. Hip-Hop Religion
Along with his collaborators in the Black Hippy Collective, he began promoting a hip-hop movement in his track “HiiiPoWeR,” which was heavily themed around social consciousness and activism. The rapper elaborated that the movement, which is a response to the “madness” of contemporary America, started in Los Angeles but was “spreading like wildfire” across the USA.
Kendrick explained that the three i’s in “HiiiPoWeR” are symbolic of the three main values of the movement: heart, honor, and respect.
Kendrick reflected, looking back on his experience of seeing Dre and Tupac shooting their music video, “There was destiny in that moment… whether I knew it or not, subconsciously, that experience led me towards what I’m doing right now.”
23. I Know You!
Years later, when Kendrick signed a deal with Dr. Dre to work together on Good Kid, M.A.A.D City, he shared his treasured memory with the legendary producer. It turned out Dre remembered the exact moment too.
22. Born Again
It’s no secret that Kendrick holds Christian beliefs, as his faith shows up frequently in his lyrics, and he even revealed in an interview with Complex that he was baptized during a live performance in 2013. “I got a greater purpose,” he said. “God put something in my heart to get across and that’s what I’m going to focus on, using my voice as an instrument and doing what needs to be done.”
21. The Sincerest Form of Flattery
Not everyone was a fan of his costume when he dressed up as Jesus one Halloween, posting a photo of the getup on Instagram. Kendrick, however, defended his choice, saying, “If I want to idolize somebody, I’m not going to do a scary monster. I’m not gonna do another artist or a human being—I’m gonna idolize the Master, who I feel is the Master, and try to walk in His light.”
20. Gang Ties
The rapper has been outspoken in his belief that gang violence in America destroys the lives of young people who are born into it, and he can personally attest to that. His father is known to have been a member of the Gangster Disciples, and it is rumored that his extended family is connected to the Bloods gang. Much of Good Kid, M.A.A.D City is about Kendrick’s experience of being dragged into joining a gang.
19. A Glimpse Into His Childhood
Kendrick is seen throwing up gang signs on the cover of his bestselling album Good Kid, M.A.A.D City, and that’s a pretty shocking image given that he’s only a baby in the photograph. “We got photo books full of pictures like that,” he told Spin. “I was in that atmosphere every day until my teenage years. It’s still so vivid to me. This picture shows how far I really come.”
Kendrick tried out a couple of different monikers when he was first releasing mixtapes, one of which was his teenage nickname “K.Dot.”
17. Getting Real
Speaking to Hard Knock TV in 2011, Kendrick explained that he felt the name “K.Dot” was a distraction from the vulnerability he wanted to show in his music. “The name change was just me basically developing myself,” he told Hard Knock TV. “When people heard the name K.Dot, they were like, ‘The kid is dope, he can rap; but who is he?’ That went on for years—just another kid in the streets that can rap good, right? So I was like, ‘Y’know what? I want people to know who I am as a person and what I represent.’”
16. King of West Coast Hip-Hop
At a concert in 2011, after performing his song “Michael Jordan,” Kendrick was joined onstage by rappers Snoop Dogg and The Game, who spoke directly to the crowd to make an announcement. They proceeded to dub Kendrick the new King of West-Coast Hip-Hop, with Game shouting, “The torch has been passed!”
15. Black Hippy
Kendrick has been affiliated with the West Coast collective Black Hippy, whose members include Schoolboy Q, Jay Rock, and Ab-Soul, since the beginning of his career. They have released a number of collaborative tracks together, and recently announced a 2018 joint tour, “The Championship Tour.”
14. Vice City
In 2015, the Black Hippies got together to record the Jay Rock single “Vice City.” Kendrick features prominently in the music video, shot in a monochrome inside a barnhouse, with exotic dancers grabbing from all sides to get a piece of the world-famous rapper.
13. Call Out
You may remember the 2012 track “Control,” where Kendrick issued a challenge to a whole series of rappers including J. Cole, Drake, and Big Sean himself to step it up and set a higher benchmark for hip-hop. Is it bad manners to criticize the rapper who hosted you on his track? Kendrick certainly didn’t think so.
12. Topping the Charts
Kendrick’s 2016 release untitled unmastered was a compilation of song ideas that hadn’t made it to full production on To Pimp A Butterfly. But Kendrick’s starpower and the quality of the music were enough to propel the demo tape to the number one spot on the US Billboard 200.
11. Father Figure
Growing up in Compton, Kendrick benefitted from having his dad around to dissuade him from getting involved in the gang activity that so many of his peers were involved in.
10. Sweet Temptation
The rapper revealed in a 2013 interview with Arsenio Hall that his mother named him after The Temptations’ cooing lead singer Eddie Kendricks. She dropped the “s” from his last name to come up with the first name “Kendrick.”
9. Not Ignorant Any More
When Kendrick was still an emerging rapper, Dr. Dre saw the video for his track “Ignorance is Bliss.” Dre was impressed and asked him to come in and record featured verses on his then-upcoming album Detox.
8. Prank Call
Kendrick revealed in a 2012 interview that his studio engineer was the first one to be contacted by Dr. Dre, who asked to speak to Kendrick himself. He was on tour at the time with Jay Rock. “My engineer called and said [Dr. Dre] was looking for me. We thought it was fake and whatnot,” he recalled.
7. Good Meal?
Later, Kendrick elaborated on his first call with Dr. Dre. Specifically, he was sitting in a Chili’s restaurant. “I’ll never forget it,” he told Howard Stern in a 2017 interview. “We got a call like, ‘Yo, Dr. Dre likes your music.’ And it was like, ‘Who the f**k is this?’ We hung up. We might have blown it right there, but another call came in from somebody else, and then another from someone else. They were trying to reach out to figure out [which management company] I was with.”
6. Secret Meaning
The “M.A.A.D” in the title of his second album, Good Kid, M.A.A.D City, is an acronym for something that happened to him when he was a teenager. He said in an interview that the acronym is actually a reference to a traumatic experience when he was at a party and accidentally smoked pot that someone had laced with the drug PCP, better known as “angel dust.” As he explained,“The basic standout meaning is ‘my angel’s on angel dust.’ It’s in the album. It’s in the story. It was just me getting my hands on the wrong thing at the wrong time, being oblivious to it.”
5. Bad Trip
Because of his bad experiences, Kendrick has stated that he does not drink or use drugs. “That’s the reason why I don’t smoke,” he said. “That was me. I got laced. The reason I don’t smoke.” Since then, he has tried to spread the message to young people that they do not need drugs to live a happy life. He feels hip-hop artists are not only hurting young people by rapping about drugs, they are also being just plain boring. “You have certain artists portraying [drug use as cool]… and it gives off the wrong [message]. And it becomes kinda corny after a while. It’s really about keeping hip-hop original and pushing away the corniness in it.”
4. Cereal Killer
Kendrick isn’t just your everyday fan of sugar cereal; he’s a regular aficionado. In a Youtube video posted by Complex, Kendrick straight-up ranted about the different sugar cereals he eats, and went into detail about exactly how they should be eaten. His favorite cereal? The Flintstones-themed Fruity Pebbles.
3. Just Right
The rapper revealed in his video demonstration for Complex that he lets his cereal sit soaking up the milk for around a minute before eating it. Why? He likes it “sixty percent soft, and the other forty crunchy.”
2. An Insult to Breakfast Food
Kendrick made his views clear during his rant on cereal while speaking to Complex. “Don’t talk to me about no f***ing Raisin Bran, dawg. Wheaties?! Stop it. You pick that up in the aisle when you’re walking with me and I’m liable to punch you in the face.”
1. Remembering His Roots
Damn‘s final track, “Duckworth,” tells the true story of how Kendrick’s father, Kenny “Ducky” Duckworth, avoided being robbed by producer Anthony “Top Dawg” Tiffith back when Kendrick was still a kid, and when Top Dawg was still an active gang member—Ducky would give Tiffith extra biscuits to stay on his good side. Much later, Top Dawg would sign the young Kendrick Lamar to a recording contract that is still in effect today. Kendrick’s success propelled the tiny indie label to worldwide fame.