Kendrick Lamar: Killin' Rappers On Their Own Ish

kendrick lamar concert

Kendrick Lamar has made the most of his opportunities in 2011. After a co-sign from Dr. Dre late in 2010, the Compton native continued to build momentum in the new year, following up a March XXL Freshmen cover with July's critically-acclaimed album Section.80. Quickly, the Top Dawg Ent. rhymer became widely regarded as one of the game's elite lyricists, earning guest spots alongside rappers and exciting fans with each new verse. XXL already had K. Dot break down his impressive Take Care feature, but now, as the 24-year-old gets ready to headline XXL's NYC showcase tonight (December 19), he breaks down six of his most impressive guest spots since the release of Section.80. —As told to Adam Fleischer


Mack Maine and Birdman's “B Boyz” (with Ace Hood)

I was in Miami. I did a show in Miami and Mack Maine reached out and told me shoot through the studio. I really just came over there to kick it, say what's up, and bounce outta there. But Mack Maine, he's like, Shit, we puttin' this project out, you wanna hop on something? I was like, Fuck it, I rap. You put on some hard shit, I'm finna rock out to it. He put on the beat, and I just went it. He didn't play nobody's verses or nothin'. I just went in and did me. That's what I really do. I just do what I feel like at the moment. It ain't about peeling somebody off—because I'm gonna come with that mindstate anyway. Even if I don't hear you on a record, I'm gonna put my best on it, not because you put your best. I'm gonna do me, regardless, and go 100 percent with it. You're always judged off of the last thing that somebody hears you on—that's something Punch told me a long time ago. It doesn't matter how many dope records you had before; you're last one—that's what they're gonna remember you by.

I'm not really [nervous about going over heads]. I went through a whole lot of trial and error, as far as knowing what works for me and what people like to hear from me. Tracks like that, I don't want to be too complex. I just wanna have fun and throw a few words up in there that got some dope ass rhythm.

There's a lot of tricks to this shit I've been doing for a whole lot of years and been focusing on. I have a lot of shit in the bag. The same way Eminem, he got a lot of tricks and you wonder why you like it but you don't know why you like it; Jay-Z, you like it, but you don't know what makes you really like it. It's one of them things, where as an artist, you stay in that studio and you know what works for you and what you can perfect.


Game's “The City”

He just sent me the instrumental for that. I think I went and did a little bit too many bars. I don't know how many bars it was—maybe 20 bars; maybe four bars extra. When I got the instrumental, it felt like that's what the verse—if you hear it with the beat under it, it feel like a full verse. I think it was too many bars, so what he did, he chopped it up, made it a hook, but also kept my full verse at the end, which I thought was dope, just letting me kill it all the way through. I wasn't even writing that to be a hook. I like it with the verse too.


Casey Veggies's “Ridin' Roun Town (Remix)” (with C-San and Dom Kennedy)

Casey wanted me to hop on the remix. I did hear his verse. He sent his verse and had an open sixteen for me. I really just wanted to ride the beat on it. I'm not really sayin' nothing in there. Just having fun. Riding around. I gotta stick with the concept.

I was crackin' up when he said he had to hop back on for the last verse, after I went in. You gotta have that competitive spirit. That's what keeps the music at an all-time high. Much respect to Casey for even saying that on the record—it let's me know, shit, he's hungry just like me.

kendrick lamar murs

9th Wonder's “Enjoy” (with Murs and Warren G)

9th just sent me the instrumental. I did what I felt the beat wanted me to do on it. A lot of these times, nobody never really sends their verse in. I just do what I wanna do on it. Then it gives me a space to just do me and not be constricted by what somebody else has done on it. I didn't hear the finished version until it came out. I heard Murs and Warren G were on it and I was like, OK, that's dope. They came off hard, too.

kendrick lamar live

Smoke DZA's “Ball Game”

I did that in L.A. It was last minute. DZA had sent it through, and I had just enough time to hop on that muthafucka. He blessed me with that joint. He sent his verse, and when I heard the beat, it's just one of them feel good beats. Talking about ball game, game is over—do you. A lot of these verses don't be that intricate. And I rap. So if something's not that intricate, I'm gonna flip as many times and have fun with it. To me, that's the easiest thing to do: to not have a concept. I could probably write them type of verses in ten, fifteen minutes. Just off the practice I've put in over the years and knowing what to say. That's natural. That's some freestyle on the corner shit.

kendrick lamar girl

Omen's “The Look Of Lust”

This was probably the last intricate verse I did. That was one that was pretty dope. Where the song is about going through the temptations of a woman, and trying to fight them temptations. That was me sitting down and actually going with the concept—which I think is dope that he sent me a record like that. I heard his verse on there before I went in.