In a new interview with Variety‘s Andrew Barker, Compton rapper Kendrick Lamar credits much of his success in the rap world to his label and their independent ethos. He says that he and label president Anthony “Top Dawg” Tiffith still sit down to plan out his albums and musical direction, which he also notes are usually 70% percent done before he ever hits the studio.
“We still sit down together and discuss everything from the music on — we’re still an independent company, we still move like that,” he says. “For me, I’m fortunate enough to have never had no beef with a major label. I hear about other artists; there are tons of those stories. But me and Top have always had this understanding about how we was gonna get in the door, how we was gonna formulate our music and handle our business at the same time.”
Kendrick also points out how having a set musical direction allows him to pursue the wider musical vision that has marked his creative output to this point and given the world dense, original gems like To Pimp A Butterfly and DAMN. “I don’t look at these albums like just music,” he explains. “It sounds like an actual film. To me, you need a big, grand production when you listen to these songs. You don’t necessarily just hear the music — you see it.”
This is what allows him to execute his more cerebral artistic visions, rather than simply chasing hits to cash a check. As he puts it: “What is a hit record?… Nobody can really justify which one it is, because I’ve heard hundreds of records from inside the neighborhood that were quote-unquote ‘hit records’ and never stood a day outside the community.”