“I couldn’t tell you what type of sound or where I’ma be in the next five years as far as music,” he says. “It’s a big difference from the next project compared to the last. And that’s what happened with this album. Going back to the neighborhood and going to different spots, chilling with my homeboys, put me back in that same space where we used to be, bringing back them thoughts, reminiscing how I was feeling. I put myself right back in that mode and I got inspired by that. So this album won’t sound like Section.80. Completely nothing like it.
“With this album, I really wanna shed a different light and reasoning behind the history of my city,” he continues. “And that comes with my own personal story, a story that’s never really been told. You think of Compton, all you think about is street credibility, gang violence, of course—and that’s something that’ll probably always be in my music. But there’s another side that hasn’t been told: the times when the kid that’s trying to escape that influence, trying his best to escape that influence, has always been pulled back in because of circumstances that be.”
“With this album, I really wanna shed a different light and reasoning behind the history of my city, and that comes with my own personal story, a story that’s never really been told.”
Ten years ago, inspired by 50 Cent’s mixtape takeover, Kendrick, who was then going by the stage name K.Dot, took to studying his rap heroes on an analytical level, breaking down their traits and attributes in a scientific manner—2Pac, Eminem, Jay-Z, Lil Wayne, Nas, The Notorious B.I.G. “Whoever he listened to, he absorbed a lot of their style,” recalls Dave Free, Kendrick’s manager. Dave grew up in Gardena, next door to Compton, and went by the name of DJ Dave as a teen. He’d heard Kendrick’s reputation before meeting him, but was taken aback when he heard him rap. “For him to be so young and have that confidence, you would have thought he had been in the rap game for years. You could tell he was way further ahead than everybody.”
In 2003, the two recorded what would eventually become Kendrick’s first mixtape, Youngest Head Nigga in Charge, in Dave’s mom’s garage and handed out copies at their respective high schools. The CD, which has not been available to the public since, made its way to Anthony “Top Dawg” Tiffith, from Nickerson Gardens Projects in Watts, who had built a recording studio in Carson a few years back and launched a label, Top Dawg Ent. “In the city—in Compton, Watts, L.A., Carson— we look at Top Dawg as a nigga in the industry,” Kendrick says, “the only nigga in the music industry that was close, that we could touch.” Dave knew Tiffith’s son, Moosa, and had been imploring him to set up a meeting. Tiffith, who kept his ear to the ground, already had one in mind. “I actually had his mixtape,” Tiffith says. “He didn’t know I had it, though. Dave was hunting me down to try to put me in contact with him, but I already had his shit. I’m looking for them, too. And when they get there, I don’t tell them I got the tape or none of that shit.”
“The moment I walked in, he was like, ‘Let me see if this is really you rapping on here,’” Kendrick recalls. Tiffith sent Kendrick in the booth, threw on a double-time beat and basically ignored him as he rapped for the better part of the next two hours. “That’s kinda how I work,” says Tiffith. “A lot of cats come in with a lot of confidence. But when they get there, I want them to really go hard and win me over. By me shining the dude on, it just made him rap harder. He just really started spitting like crazy and that’s what really sold me.”
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