Kendrick Lamar Meets Rick Rubin and They Have an Epic Conversation
(By Will Welch 10.20.16 for GQ Style)
Here’s where Kendrick Lamar stands as 2016 comes to a close:
He is currently the best rapper alive. He has busted his way into the conversation about the top five MCs of all time, dead or alive. He is eliciting comparisons to musicians beyond the borders of rap. Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder: strident artists who shook up the culture and awakened the consciousness of their day.
Kendrick's kept a pretty low profile in 2016. Yet his 2015 album, To Pimp a Butterfly—a multi-layered LP that unfurls slowly over many, many listens—is still percolating, especially as the single “Alright” continues to be the unofficial anthem of nationwide police-brutality protests and the subject of countless online think pieces and hot takes.
In March of this year, Kendrick also dropped a surprise album called Untitled Unmastered. It's really a compilation—a loose gathering of perfectly unpolished songs, death-defying rap verses, and improvised vamps from the sessions that birthed Butterfly. (Side note: We might have LeBron James to thank, at least in part, for the album. After Kendrick performed an untitled track at the Grammys, James tweeted at the CEO of Kendrick's label, Anthony "Top Dawg" Tiffith, imploring him to release the music.)
Untitled held fans over for a while, but we’re starting to get antsy. So the big question right now isn't where Kendrick belongs in the firmament—it's where he's taking us next. To tease that out, we asked venerable producer and noted genius-whisperer Rick Rubin to interview Kendrick at Rubin’s own Shangri La studios in Malibu. The two had never previously met. They spoke on the lawn of Shangri La for an hour. Then they walked directly into the studio and started recording new music.