Off the Stage Series - Kendrick Lamar: The Man That Makes Compton Stand Up
“I wish somebody would look in our neighborhood knowing that it’s already a situation, mentally, where it’s f#&ed up. What happened to [Michael Brown] should’ve never happened. Never. But when we don’t have respect for ourselves, how do we expect them to respect us? It starts from within. Don’t start with just a rally, don’t start from looting — it starts from within.” - Kendrick Lamar
We at M|!D, admire what an artist does off the stage as much as on stage, so we are thrilled to announce our series Off the Stage, which highlights artists philanthropic efforts. We are very proud to kick off the series with Kendrick Lamar.
We are sure you all know that talent alone does not guarantee success in the music industry. Here is a quick formula for you: talent + tenacity + good team + patience= success. You must have a stubborn drive to succeed, and your team has to be crazy enough to follow you anywhere because they believe in you. We see this with Kendrick Lamar and Top Dawg Entertainment (TDE). Lamar, the musician, and TDE, founder and co-presidents, Anthony "Top Dawg" Tiffith, Dave "Miyatola" Free, and Terrence "Punch" Henderson are in partnership gold. Lamar is in a space where he can rap how he wants, sample the kind of tracks that he wants, and arrange his sound just the way he wants. And his label is right by his side. They stand by him. "As an entity as far as TDE we make our own rules first. That’s been since day one. We had that knack to put out [the music] they way we want to." He said in an interview with the Breakfast Club. "I always go back to having a good team because I know lot of artists are not fortunate to be in this position. Fortunately, I have [a team] like Dave Free and Top Dawg, and Punch. [They tell me to] do what you do and say what you gotta say rather than making it just about a number."
Call it a gut feeling, intuition, or good ole’ luck, this partnership is one that every musician should look for in a label.
From day one, Lamar unashamedly carried Compton on his back. Dubbed as the King of the West Coast, Lamar, is a bit more cool, calm, and collected than his predecessors. He’s jazz and blues yet, streetwise with bruise all while being the first Compton rapper to have the key to the city in his back pocket.
At 16-years-old he shared his fresh perspective of the streets in his first full-length mixtape, "Youngest Head Nigga in Charge (Hub City Threat: Minor of the Year)", under the nickname K-Dot. That mixtape got the attention of TDE’s Top Dawg, who at the time was mostly managing producers, immediately secured a recording contract with Lamar. Top Dawg, talks about signing Lamar after being impressed with his delivery:
"When he first came to the studio… I put him in the booth and put this double time beat on, trying to throw him off. He went in there and started going off! So I’m trying to play like I’m not paying attention,” He said in Vibe Interview. “He notices I’m not moving and starts going crazy. So I look up, and I’m like, “God damn. He’s a monster.” So the next day I had a contract for him."
With Lamar getting signed to TDE, and the "Youngest Head Nigga in Charge" getting love from the streets, he released other mixtapes such as, Training Day and C4, and he also released various singles with other talented emcees. But it wasn't until Kendrick released his mixtape, "Overly Dedicated" that got him into Billboard chart territory.
TDE is truly the force behind Kendrick. Over the next six years, the Carson, California-based indie record label began to get recognition after releasing exceptional, critically acclaimed albums by Lamar such as "Section.80," "good kid, m.A.A.d city," "To Pimp a Butterfly," and "untitled unmastered." Not only that, their roster of other talented artists such as his fellow labelmates and Bandmates of Black Hippy, Schoolboy Q, Jay Rock, Ab-soul, as well as various other artist keeps TDE a well-oiled machine.
At the time of publishing this article, the discography of Top Dawg Entertainment consists of 12 studio albums, three EPs, 19 mixtapes, 21 singles and 81 music videos. Overall, the record label has sold more than three million records in the US alone. Source
So, How did TDE do this? How are they so successful?
TDE collaborates with major labels such as Interscope Records and Aftermath Entertainment on joint venture deals. Aftermath and Interscope provides the finances, marketing and promotions, and distribution. Because TDE is connected to Aftermath, Lamar is mentored by Dr. Dre who was also one of the producers of good kid madd city. .
TDE exclusively has creative control over their own music. Though they collaborate with many producers, TDE's in-house production team, Digi+Phonics is always a part of Lamar's work in some form or fashion. They help maintain his musical integrity.
Major Labels must rely on successful indie labels and artists to maintain their viability in an unpredictable musical climate. At the same time, indie labels need major labels for their status and clout. Since Lamar has mass exposure, due to his affiliation with major labels, he has furthered his career in the other ventures such as fashion, such as his partnership with Reebok for the Ventilators.
Lamar mentioned the key to success in an Glamour interview: “One time, when I was shopping my demo to labels, they kept telling me to follow this or that trend on the radio. My mentor Top Dawg, who signed me when I was 16, and Punch [president of Top Dawg Entertainment] said, Maybe it's time to stop following what the labels want you to do, because obviously it's not working; we're not signed yet.' That moment kind of defined what music I wanted to make. To me, music is really about people—who they are, not what we see on the exterior."
To Pimp a Butterfly was major and very timely. With cases of police brutality and killings, such as Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, Freddie Gray, Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and many other, singles such as "Alright", put a musical voice to the Black Lives Matter movement, making Lamar’s influence reach across a national and global scale. However, sometimes, being the voice of underprivileged youth has led to a few misunderstandings.
In November 2013, Lamar was crowned GQ Magazine's Man of the Year. After reading the accompanying article, Tiffith was infuriated and called out the article's writer, Steve Marsh, for his "racial overtones" in the piece and pulled Lamar from performing at GQ's annual Man of the Year Party. Top Dawg believed that the piece did not advance west coast rap as a whole.
In the article, Marsh described Top Dawg Entertainment as “baby Death Row” and Tiffith as “TDE’s Suge Knight.” He said Lamar and his labelmates as “have a seriousness of purpose, a rigorous discipline that can feel slightly monastic at times. Kendrick doesn't smoke weed or drink booze. In the time I spent with him, I never witnessed anyone roll even the thinnest spider leg of a jay, nor did I see Kendrick so much as glance at the many, many girls around him.”
Tiffith said in a statement that the article seemed to focus on drama. He said, “Marsh’s story was more focused on what most people would see as drama or bs. To say he was “surprised at our discipline” is completely disrespectful. Instead of putting emphasis on the good that TDE has done for west coast music, and for hip hop as a whole, he spoke on what most people would consider whats wrong with Hip Hop music. Furthermore, Kendrick deserved to be accurately documented. The racial overtones, immediately reminded everyone of a time in hip-hop that was destroyed by violence, resulting in the loss of two of our biggest stars.”Source
GQ defended the article. GQ’s Editor-In-Chief Jim Nelson responded to Tiffith's statement on the magazine's website stating: “Kendrick Lamar is one of the most talented new musicians to arrive on the scene in years. That’s the reason we chose to celebrate him…I’m not sure how you can spin that into a bad thing… We were mystified and sorely disappointed by Top Dawg’s decision to pull him at the last minute from the performance he had promised to give. The real shame is that people were deprived of the joy of seeing Kendrick perform live. I’m still a huge fan.”
Despite the downfalls, Lamar, Compton's ambassador, wants his music to continue to elevate not only the locals, but beyond Compton's perimeters.
“[Being] From Compton I could have easily came out and said, ‘I did this, I did that, I done killed a whole bunch of niggas.' Just given off the fact where I’m from. But that ain't me, I rather talk about my reality. I’d rather talk about something a little bit more deeper than that. The reasons and the problems and the solutions behind it." He told Noisey. "So When you hear these stories in good kid, madd city, when you hear these stories in to pimp a butterfly, it’s a little bit deeper than just the music. It’s kats out here really trying to do something and really trying to spark the idea of positivity in the community. They want to do something different, but they can’t because you are in an environment where you just got to adapt. What happens is it invites people in to get another perspective. It brings a whole another side of the world to Compton. In this backyard right here and say, these are actually people."
Of course with hard work comes rewards. At the publishing of this article, Lamar has a total of 40 awards under his belt; 7 of them are Grammys. He also received the California State Senate's Generational Icon Award and the Mayor of Compton, Aja Brown, presented Lamar with the key to the city, for "representing Compton's evolution, embodying the New Vision for Compton." He is also an undercover Philanthropist. He often donates money to his alma mater, Centennial High School, and Compton-based non-profit organizations.
Lamar said, “Being from the City of Compton and knowing the parks that I played at and the neighborhoods, I always thought how great the opportunity would be to give back to my community off of what I do in music." Source