A 23-year-old rapper from Compton, California is hoping to make the city better through his angry, yet poetic words.
Growing up is hard enough without worrying about being shot while walking the streets of your neighborhood. It was a reality for Kendrick Lamar, who, at 23 years old, is sharing his story of keeping an upbeat attitude in an often dark place.
Lamar was born and raised in Compton, California, a city where violence, drugs, and gang activity are the norm. But Lamar is working to make it better. He’s found his voice as a hip-hop artist, and people are beginning to listen. Eminem’s manager, Paul Rosenburg, first took notice of Lamar late last year. He tipped off Eminem's mentor Dr. Dre, who gave Lamar a shout out while on a Los Angeles radio station. Now things are moving fast. This past January Lamar had his first sold-out show at the Key Club in Los Angeles. Dr. Dre has included him on his much anticipated release Detox. Equally impressive, Lamar has landed on the cover of one of music’s most respected magazines, XXL. The industry is watching.
Lamar tells me he began singing about his city, the struggles, and the survival at the age of 13. Now years later, he has nearly 300 songs, and must narrow it down to 12 for an upcoming album release. His song titles—"The Hard Part 2," "Cut You Off," "Average Joe," "Faith"—all carry a message. Whether he's trying to battle negativity, or mourning the senseless loss of his uncle to prison, Lamar sings with a raw, honest, and sometimes angry voice. Many of his lyrics come from what he's seen and experienced growing up in Compton. His parents, who are still married, moved to Los Angeles from Chicago in the 1970s. Lamar admits the tight relationship with his dad likely saved his life, and gave him security to fall back on when he pushed the edges and lost focus. While there has been a big drop in homicides in the city of Compton in the last few years (due, some say, to better communication between police and residents), Lamar believes it still has long way to go; calling himself "a good kid in a mad city."
Lamar and I walked the streets of Compton, visiting the Social Services building where he and his family once collected welfare. We drove by his family's first apartment, a building where he says he saw drug deals go down on a daily basis. We even stopped by his high school, a place he admits he actually misses. I also wanted to see Lamar in the studio. When we arrived, we found a dark, disheveled room in the back of a small house. It has been his place to record for years, and while it is not perfect by any means, sort of like the city of Compton, Kendrick Lamar hopes to help change that with his music.
Videographer and editor: Carlos Cortes