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Kendrick Lamar Duckworth (born June 17, 1987) is an American rapper from Compton, California. Lamar embarked on his musical career as a teenager under the moniker K-Dot, released a mixtape which garnered local attention and led to his signing with Carson-based independent record label Top Dawg Entertainment (TDE). Lamar began to gain major recognition in 2010 after his first retail release, Overly Dedicated. The following year, he released Section.80, his first independent album, exclusively through iTunes. The album included Lamar's debut single, "HiiiPoWeR". By that time, Lamar had amassed a large internet following and had already worked with several prominent artists in the hip hop industry, including The Game, Snoop Dogg, and Busta Rhymes.
Lamar secured a recording contract with Aftermath and Interscope Records in 2012. His major-label debut album, good kid, m.A.A.d city, was released in October 2012 to universal acclaim. The record contained the top 40 singles "Swimming Pools (Drank)", "Bitch, Don't Kill My Vibe", and "Poetic Justice". Upon its release, the album debuted at number two on the U.S. Billboard 200 chart and was later certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). In early 2013, MTV named Lamar the No. 1 "Hottest MC in the Game" on their annual list.
In 2015, Lamar released his third studio album To Pimp a Butterfly, incorporating elements of free jazz, spoken word poetry, and funk in the hip hop record – it debuted atop the charts in the U.S. and the UK. The album was preceded by its lead single "i", which earned him his first two Grammy Awards at the 2015 ceremony. Later that year, Taylor Swift and Lamar's collaboration "Bad Blood" reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100. Lamar has received a number of accolades, including seven Grammy Awards. Apart from his solo career, Lamar is also known as a member of the West Coast hip hop supergroup Black Hippy, alongside his TDE labelmates and fellow South Los Angeles-based rappers Ab-Soul, Jay Rock and Schoolboy Q.
1987–2009: Early life and career beginnings
Kendrick Lamar Duckworth was born on June 17, 1987 in Compton, California, to parents from Chicago, Illinois. His birth name was given to him by his mother in honor of singer Eddie Kendricks. In 1995, at the age of eight, Lamar witnessed his idols, Tupac Shakur and Dr. Dre, film the music video for their hit single "California Love", which later proved to be a very significant moment in his life. As a teenager, Lamar attended Centennial High School in Compton, where he was a straight-A student.
In 2003, at the age of 16, Lamar released his first full-length project, a mixtape titled Youngest Head Nigga in Charge (Hub City Threat: Minor of the Year), under the pseudonym K-Dot. The mixtape was released under Konkrete Jungle Muzik and garnered local recognition for Lamar. The mixtape led to Lamar securing a recording contract with Top Dawg Entertainment (TDE), a newly founded indie record label, based in Carson, California. He began recording material with the label and subsequently released a 26 track mixtape two years later, titled Training Day (2005). Throughout 2006 and 2007, Lamar would appear alongside other up-and-coming West Coast rappers, such as Jay Rock and Ya Boy, as opening acts for veteran West Coast rapper The Game. Under the moniker K-Dot, Lamar was also featured on The Game's songs "The Cypha" and "Cali Niggaz".
In 2008, Lamar was prominently featured throughout the music video for Jay Rock's commercial debut single, "All My Life (In the Ghetto)", which features American hip hop superstar Lil Wayne and was backed by Warner Bros. Records. Lamar garnered further recognition after a video of a live performance of a Charles Hamilton show surfaced, in which Hamilton battled fellow rappers who were in the audience. Lamar did not hesitate and began rapping a verse over the instrumental to Miilkbone's "Keep It Real", which would later appear on a track titled "West Coast Wu-Tang".
After receiving a co-sign from Lil Wayne, Lamar released his third mixtape in 2009, titled C4, which was heavily themed around Wayne's Tha Carter III LP. Soon after, Lamar decided to drop K-Dot as his stage name and go by his birth name. He subsequently released a self-titled extended play in late 2009. That same year, Lamar formed Black Hippy, a hip hop supergroup, with his TDE label-mates: Jay Rock, Ab-Soul and Schoolboy Q.
2010–11: Overly Dedicated and Section.80
Throughout 2010, Lamar toured with Tech N9ne and Jay Rock on The Independent Grind tour. On September 14, 2010, he released the visuals for "P&P 1.5", a song taken from Overly Dedicated, featuring his Black Hippy cohort Ab-Soul. On the same date, Lamar released Overly Dedicated to digital retailers under Top Dawg Entertainment, and later on September 23, released it for free online. The project fared well enough to enter the United States Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart, where it peaked at number 72.
The highly acclaimed mixtape includes a song titled "Ignorance Is Bliss", in which Lamar highlights gangsta rap and street crime, but ends each verse with "ignorance is bliss", giving the message "we know not what we do;" it was this song specifically that made hip hop producer Dr. Dre want to work with Lamar after seeing the music video on YouTube. This led to Lamar working with Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg on Dre's often-delayed Detox album, as well as speculation of Lamar signing to Dr. Dre's record label, Aftermath Entertainment. In December 2010, Complex magazine spotlighted Lamar in an edition of their "Indie Intro" series.
In January 2011, Lamar stated his next project was 90% finished. In early 2011, Lamar was included in XXL's annual Top 10 Freshman Class, and was featured on the cover alongside fellow up-and-coming rappers Cyhi the Prynce, Meek Mill, Mac Miller, Yelawolf and Big K.R.I.T., among others. On April 11, 2011, Lamar announced the title of his next full-length project to be Section.80, and the following day the first single "HiiiPoWeR" was released, the concept of which was to further explain the HiiiPoWeR movement. The song was produced by fellow American rapper J. Cole, marking their first of many collaborations to come.
On the topic of whether his next project would be an album or a mixtape, Lamar answered: "I treat every project like it's an album anyway. It's not going to be nothing leftover. I never do nothing like that. These are my leftover songs you all can have them. I'm going to put my best out. My best effort. I'm trying to look for an album in 2012." In June 2011, Lamar released "Ronald Reagan Era (His Evils)", a cut from Section.80, featuring Wu-Tang Clan leader RZA. On July 2, 2011, Lamar released Section.80, his first independent album, to critical acclaim. The album features guest appearances from GLC, Colin Munroe, Schoolboy Q, and Ab-Soul, while the production was handled by Top Dawg in-house production team Digi+Phonics as well as Wyldfyer, Terrace Martin and J. Cole. Section.80 went on to sell 5,300 digital copies in its first abbreviated week, without any television or radio coverage and received mostly positive reviews.
In August 2011, while performing at a West Los Angeles concert, Lamar was dubbed the "New King of the West Coast" by Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre and Game. On August 24, 2011, Lamar released the music video for the popular Section.80 track, "A.D.H.D". The video was directed by Vashtie Kola who had this to say of the video: "Inspired by "A.D.H.D"s dark beat and melancholy lyrics which explore a generation in conflict, we find Kendrick Lamar in a video that illustrates the songs[sic] universal and age-old theme of apathetic youth. Shot in New York City during the sweltering July Summer heat, "A.D.H.D" is the third video to be released from Kendrick Lamar's album Section.80." In October 2011, Lamar appeared alongside fellow American rappers B.o.B, Tech N9ne, MGK, and Big K.R.I.T., in a cypher at the BET Hip Hop Awards. Also in October, Lamar partnered with Windows Phone, and crafted an original song with producer Nosaj Thing entitled "Cloud 10", to promote Microsoft's new product. During 2011, Lamar appeared on several high-profile albums including Game's The R.E.D. Album, Tech N9ne's All 6's and 7's, 9th Wonder's The Wonder Years and Canadian recording artist Drake's Grammy Award-winning Take Care, which featured Lamar on a solo track.
2012–13: good kid, m.A.A.d city and controversies
On February 15, 2012, a song by Lamar titled "Cartoon & Cereal", featuring fellow American rapper Gunplay, was leaked online. Lamar later revealed that the track was for his major-label debut studio album and that he had plans to shoot a video for it. Although the song would later be ranked #2 in Complex's Best 50 Songs of 2012 list, it would ultimately fail to appear on Lamar's debut. In February 2012, it was announced that Fader had enlisted both Kendrick Lamar and Detroit-based rapper Danny Brown, to appear on the cover of the magazine's Spring Style issue. In February, Lamar also embarked on Drake's Club Paradise Tour, opening along with fellow American rappers, ASAP Rocky and 2 Chainz.
In March 2012, MTV announced that Lamar had signed a deal with Interscope Records and Aftermath Entertainment, marking the end of his career as an independent artist. Under the new deal, Lamar's projects, including his album good kid, m.A.A.d city, would be jointly released via Top Dawg, Aftermath, and Interscope. Also in March, Lamar appeared on Last Call with Carson Daly, where he spoke on Dr. Dre and his hometown of Compton, California. On April 2, 2012, Lamar premiered his commercial debut single "The Recipe", on Big Boy's Neighborhood at Power 106. The song, which serves as the first single from his good kid, m.A.A.d city, was released for digital download the following day. The song was produced by West Coast producer Scoop DeVille and features vocals from his mentor Dr. Dre, who also mixed the record.
On May 14, 2012, J. Cole again spoke on his collaborative effort with Lamar. In an interview with Bootleg Kev, Cole stated: "I just started working with Kendrick the other day. We got it in, finally, again. We got maybe four or five [songs] together." On May 21, Lamar made his 106 & Park debut alongside Ace Hood, joining Birdman and Mack Maine on stage to perform "B Boyz". Lamar also talked about his style and sound, Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg, and his upcoming collaborative LP with J. Cole. On the same date, Lamar released "War Is My Love", an original song written and recorded for the video game Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Future Soldier, for which he appeared in a mini promotional clip earlier that month.
On July 31, 2012, Top Dawg, Aftermath, and Interscope serviced "Swimming Pools (Drank)" as the lead single from Lamar's debut album. The song's music video, directed by Jerome D, premiered on August 3, 2012, on 106 & Park. The song peaked at number 17 on the Billboard Hot 100 in its thirteenth week of gradually climbing up the chart. On August 15, 2012, singer Lady Gaga announced via Twitter that both had recorded a song titled "PartyNauseous" for his debut album. However, Gaga withdrew from participation in the last moment, citing that it was due to artistic differences and has nothing to do with Lamar. On August 17, 2012, Lamar released a song titled "Westside, Right on Time", featuring Southern rapper Young Jeezy. The song was released as part of the "Top Dawg Entertainment Fam Appreciation Week". During 2012, Lamar also toured with the rest of Black Hippy and MMG rapper, Stalley, on BET's Music Matters Tour.
Lamar's major-label debut, good kid, m.A.A.d city, was released on October 22, 2012. The album was met with critical acclaim and debuted at number two in the U.S., selling 242,100 copies in its first week. Later that year, Fuse TV listed Lamar's single, "Backseat Freestyle" among the top 40 songs of 2012. In a few months' time, the album was certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). HipHopDX named Lamar "Emcee of the Year" for their 2012 Year-End honors. In November, after Cole posted pictures of himself and Lamar working in the studio, the latter revealed that the two are still working on a project, but an exact release date wasn't given for the joint album: "We are going to drop that out the sky though. I don't want to give dates. I'm just going to let it fall" in an interview with the LA Leakers.
On January 26, 2013, Lamar performed the album's first singles "Swimming Pools (Drank)" and "Poetic Justice" on NBC's sketch comedy and variety show, Saturday Night Live. In the same episode, Lamar also appeared alongside guest host Adam Levine and comedy band The Lonely Island, in an SNL Digital Short, which spawned the single "YOLO". On February 22, 2013, Lamar released the video for "Poetic Justice", the Janet Jackson-sampling collaboration with Canadian rapper Drake. On February 26, Lamar performed "Poetic Justice" on the Late Show with David Letterman. Just nine months after its release, good kid, m.A.A.d city was certified platinum by the RIAA, Lamar's first platinum certification.
In August 2013, Lamar's verse on the Big Sean track "Control", made waves across the hip-hop industry. In the verse, Lamar vows to lyrically "murder" every other up-and-coming rapper, namely J. Cole, Big K.R.I.T., Wale, Pusha T, Meek Mill, ASAP Rocky, Drake, Big Sean, Jay Electronica, Tyler, The Creator and Mac Miller. During the song, Lamar also calls himself the "King of New York", which caused controversy among several New York-based rappers. Many New York rappers, including Papoose, The Mad Rapper, Mickey Factz, JR Writer, Mysonne, Joell Ortiz and more, took offense to this. Furthermore, fellow American rappers such as Meek Mill, Lupe Fiasco, Cassidy, Joe Budden, King L, Bizarre and B.o.B, among many others, released a response or diss track, within a week. In the days following the track's release, Lamar's Twitter account saw a 510% increase in followers.
On September 6, 2013, American recording artist and record producer Kanye West announced he would be headlining his first solo tour in five years, in support of his sixth album Yeezus (2013), with Kendrick Lamar accompanying him on tour. The Yeezus Tour began in October. In October, it was also revealed that Lamar would be featured on Eminem's eighth studio album The Marshall Mathers LP 2. On October 15, 2013, Lamar won five awards at the BET Hip Hop Awards, including Album of the Year and Lyricist of the Year (the latter of which he had also won the year before). At the award show, Lamar performed "Money Trees", and was also featured in a cypher alongside his Top Dawg label-mates Jay Rock, Schoolboy Q, Isaiah Rashad, and Ab-Soul. During an October 2013 interview with XXL, Lamar revealed that following The Yeezus Tour, he would begin to start working on his next album.
In November 2013, he was named GQ's "Rapper of the Year," and was featured on the cover of the magazine's "Men of the Year" issue. During the interview, he stated that he would begin recording his second major-label studio album in January 2014. Following the issue's release, TDE's CEO Anthony "Top Dawg" Tiffith pulled Kendrick Lamar from performing at GQ's party that accompanies the issue, calling out writer Steve Marsh's profile, "Kendrick Lamar: Rapper of the Year," for its "racial overtones." GQ editor-in-chief Jim Nelson responded with the following statement: "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, wrote an incredibly positive article declaring him the next King of Rap, and gave him our highest honor: putting him on the cover of our Men of the Year issue. I'm not sure how you can spin that into a bad thing, and I encourage anyone interested to read the story and see for themselves."
Lamar received a total of seven Grammy nominations at the 56th Annual Grammy Awards (2014), including Best New Artist, Album of the Year, and Best Rap Song, but did not win in any category. Many publications felt that The Recording Academy snubbed Lamar, as well as Seattle-based rapper Macklemore, who won Best Rap Album – category for which Lamar was also nominated. At the ceremony, Lamar performed "M.A.A.D City" and a remix of "Radioactive" in a mash-up with American rock band Imagine Dragons at the awards ceremony. The remix was again performed by Lamar and the band on February 1, 2014, during the airing of Saturday Night Live, marking Lamar's second appearance on the show.
2014–present: To Pimp a Butterfly
In an interview with Billboard in February 2014, Lamar stated he was planning to put out a new album the next September. During the same interview, which also included Schoolboy Q, Anthony "Top Dawg" Tiffith, and Dave Free, the possibility of a debut effort from the Black Hippy collective appearing in 2014 was announced. On July 31, 2014, it was announced that Lamar would premiere his short film m.A.A.d at Sundance's inaugural NEXT Fest in Los Angeles on August 9. The film is inspired by good kid, m.A.A.d city, and was directed by Kahlil Joseph, who had previously worked with Lamar on the Yeezus Tour.
On September 23, 2014, Lamar released "i" as the first single from his third album. On November 15, 2014, Lamar once again appeared on Saturday Night Live as the musical guest, where he performed "i" and "Pay For It", appearing alongside Jay Rock. Through his appearance, with blackout contacts and his braids partly out, Lamar paid homage to New York-based rapper Method Man, whose debut album Tical celebrated its 20th anniversary that day. In December 2014, it was announced that Lamar had started a partnership with sportswear brand Reebok. On December 17, 2014, Lamar debuted a new untitled song on one of the final episodes of The Colbert Report.
In early 2015, Lamar won Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song for his song "i" at the 57th Annual Grammy Awards. On February 9, 2015, he released his third album's second single, titled "The Blacker the Berry". Originally expected to be released on March 23, 2015, his new album To Pimp a Butterfly was released a week early on March 16, 2015. The album debuted atop the U.S. Billboard 200 chart selling 324,000 copies in its first week, and established Spotify's global first-day streaming record (9.6 million).
On May 17, 2015, Lamar featured on the official remix of Taylor Swift's song "Bad Blood", as well as appearing in the music video. The single reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100. To Pimp a Butterfly produced other three singles with accompanying music videos, "King Kunta", "Alright" and "These Walls". The music video for "Alright" received four nominations at the 2015 MTV Video Music Awards, including Video of the Year and Best Male Video. The song "For Free? (Interlude)" also featured a music video, as did "u" with "For Sale" as part of the short film "God Is Gangsta". In October 2015, Lamar announced the Kunta's Groove Sessions Tour, which included eight shows in eight cities. In early 2016, Kanye West released the track "No More Parties in L.A." on his official SoundCloud, a collaboration featuring Lamar and produced by West and Madlib.
Lamar received 11 nominations at the 58th Grammy Awards, including Album of the Year, Song of the Year and Best Rap Album.
Lamar has stated that Tupac Shakur, The Notorious B.I.G., Jay Z, Nas, and Eminem are his top five favorite rappers. Tupac Shakur is his biggest influence, and has influenced not only his music, but his day-to-day lifestyle as well. In a September 2012 interview, Lamar stated Detroit-based rapper Eminem "influenced a lot of my style" and has since credited Eminem for his own aggression, on records such as "Backseat Freestyle". Lamar also gave Lil Wayne's work in Hot Boyz credit for influencing his style and praised his longevity. He has said that he also grew up listening to Rakim, Dr. Dre, and Tha Dogg Pound.
In a 2011 interview with Rolling Stone, Lamar mentioned Mos Def and Snoop Dogg, as rappers that he listened to and took influence from during his early years. He also cites Yonkers-based rapper DMX as an influence: "[DMX] really [got me started] on music," explained Lamar in an interview with Philadelphia's Power 99. "That first album [It's Dark and Hell Is Hot] is classic, [so he had an influence on me]." In January 2013, when asked to name three rappers that have played a role in his style, Lamar said: "It's probably more of a west coast influence. A little bit of Kurupt, Pac, with some of the content of Cube." In a November 2013 interview with GQ, when asked "The Four MC's That Made Kendrick Lamar?", he answered Tupac Shakur, Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg and Mobb Deep, namely Prodigy.
On the topic of his music genre, Lamar has said: "You really can't categorize my music, it's human music." Lamar's projects are usually concept albums. His third studio album, To Pimp a Butterfly, incorporates elements of funk, spoken word poetry and free jazz.
Lamar received a total of seven nominations at the 2014 Grammy Awards, including Album of the Year. A year later, at the 57th Grammy Awards, he won Best Rap Song and Best Rap Performance for his song "i". Lamar received his second Album of the Year nomination at the 58th Grammy Awards, also leading the list with 11 categories. For the latter, he went on to pass Eminem as the rapper with the most nominations in a single night, and second overall behind Michael Jackson, who holds the record of 12 nominations in 1984.
Lamar has received two civic honors. On May 11, 2015, he received the California State Senate's Generational Icon Award from State Senator Isadore Hall III (D–Compton) who represents California's 35th district. From the senate floor, Lamar told the legislature, "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." On February 13, 2016, Mayor of Compton, California Aja Brown presented Lamar with the key to the city, for "representing Compton's evolution, embodying the New Vision for Compton."
To Pimp a Butterfly was ranked by many publications, including Rolling Stone, as the best album of 2015. Producer Tony Visconti stated David Bowie's album Blackstar (2016) was influenced by Lamar's work, "we were listening to a lot of Kendrick Lamar [...] we loved the fact Kendrick was so open-minded and he didn't do a straight-up hip-hop record. He threw everything on there, and that's exactly what we wanted to do." Complex has ranked Lamar atop "The 20 Best Rappers in Their 20s" annual lists in 2013 and 2015.
In April 2015, he became engaged to his longtime girlfriend Whitney Alford. One of his cousins is Nick Young, who currently plays for the Los Angeles Lakers. Lamar is a Christian, and the introductory lines to his album Good Kid, M.A.A.D City include a form of the Sinner's Prayer. The rapper's song "i" discusses his Christian faith.