When hip-hop fans were first introduced to Kendrick Lamar, one thing was immediately very clear — he wasn’t the kind of rapper the industry was used to seeing.
In an essay he penned for the winter 2014 issue of XXL Magazine, Lamar revealed just how unique of a hip-hop star he really is.
Most rappers who see widespread success are alternating between a fixed set of three topics.
Money. Sex. Violence.
In all fairness, some hip-hop stars like Drake, J. Cole and Kanye West definitely ventured outside that box, but even they never seemed to be quite as humble and downright intriguing as Lamar has been in recent years.
While many of hip-hop’s heavy hitters are dwelling inside multimillion-dollar mansions and refuse to leave the house without thousands of dollars of jewelry on, Lamar explained that the money, the fame the lights and all the other superficial things that followed his successful break into the rap industry just never meant that much to him.
In fact, he wrote that he views money as nothing more than a means for survival.
“What I do is for a greater purpose and we all need money and things like that to survive, but the energy around some of these spaces, it can draw you into a crazy place,” he wrote. “And I’ve seen and heard some of the greats go out because of it. And I’m saying this right now to let everyone know, it’s real and you have to be mentally steady 100% in order to keep doing it at a high level and still maintain your sanity.”
Lamar also explained that while most rappers are excited about meeting beautiful women, his most memorable encounters have been with fans, particularly fans who claim the rapper rescued them from a dark place.
“I can’t make a song like ‘i’ without being in that dark place. ‘i’ comes from going overseas, going to New York, being in L.A. and hearing kids saying, ‘Kendrick, I was gonna kill myself last week. Section.80, good kid, m.A.A.d city saved my life.’ Or ‘I was gonna kill myself tonight until I came to your show.’ “
Lamar said he always believed his young fans when they told him this and they often showed him marks on their wrists that were evidence of self-harming.
Saving these young fans from a tragic end is an important part of what Lamar does, but he also admits that it can be extremely scary at times.
“That’s when I learned that while I’m making music for myself, drawing from my own experiences and conflictions and battles within myself, this teenager listens to every word I say,” he continued. “And that’s spooky.”
“Spooky” but something that comes with the territory of being one of today’s biggest hip-hop stars.
“I think one of my biggest battles within myself is embracing leadership,” he wrote. “You always grow up and you hate the term ‘role model.’ You would say, ‘I don’t wanna be a role model. I don’t want none of that.’ But in actuality, you are the biggest role model. It’s impossible to fight the title of role model.”
In fact, he said he purposefully avoids the word and considers it a blessing that he doesn’t really understand how famous he really is.
“I think one of my biggest assets is not knowing how famous I am,” the essay continued. “Or even excluding the word, I hate the word ‘famous.’ I’m aware of it. I know people treat me different because of it.”
Lamar said that fame leaves people detached from the “real world” and said that “balance” is key to learning how to live with the idea of being famous.
The lengthy work goes on to discuss Lamar’s views on faith, being able to provide for his family, what he feels his purpose in music is, living as a recluse and so much more.
It’s a piece filled with humility and insightful messages about the hip-hop industry, but there may not be too many surprises in the article for Lamar fans.
It certainly provides a deeper assessment of the artist and allows fans to get to know Lamar on a deeper level, but it’s also a mirror of the many messages he has always embraced in his music.
According to Lamar, it’s only natural that things would happen that way because his music is a piece of himself.
“This is more than just music for me,” he writes. “This is actually a piece of me. I’m obsessed with it. And that’s how I take it. When I make my music, it comes from a genuine space where I’m already spreading myself wide to the world.”