The Pulitzer Prize Award-winning rapper Kendrick Lamar is a genius.
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For as much as he is a musician and a lyricist and an emcee, Lamar is also a playwright, a novelist, a short story author. He’s literary within the art form of music.
With seminal albums like Damn and Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers, the 35-year-old Compton, California-born Lamar has proven time and again that he’s at the top of the proverbial pyramid of modern music.
But what does the artist have to say about the world outside of his work? What are his thoughts on life and love and his craft?
Without further ado, here are the top 40 Kendrick Lamar quotes.
1. “I always felt like there was a certain standard of music that I had to do from the beginning, even when I didn’t have the recognition that I have now.”
2. “From the moment I started writing raps, I was always aware of the pressure. I always wanted to live up to how huge Snoop got, how huge Dre got, and how huge Pac got. I was always aware.”
3. “My passion is bringing storylines around and constructing a full body of work rather than just a 16-bar verse.”
4. “You can have the platinum album. But, you know, when you still feel like you haven’t quite found your place in the world, it kind of gives a crazy offset.”
5. “The way people look at me these days—that’s the same way I looked at President Obama before I met him. We tend to forget that people who’ve attained a certain position are human.”
6. “My parents were fairly young in the city of Compton. So the things that they played—you know, that was the hip crowd. So I was being exposed to all these ideas, from Big Daddy Kane to Eazy-E to the Bay Area—Too Short, E-40—you know, back to Marvin Gaye and the Isley Brothers.”
7. “My folks ain’t graduated from high school or nothing like that, so we always had to struggle in the family—and I come from a big family.”
8. “Before finding music, I didn’t have too many aspirations. I wanted to hang out, make a little money from whatever I had to do.”
9. “When I’m in the studio, I’m looking for creativity I haven’t matched yet, a feeling I haven’t felt. It’s a high.”
10. “This is the thing about hip-hop music and where people get it most misconstrued: It’s all hip-hop. You can’t say that just what I do is hip-hop because hip-hop is all energies. James Brown can get on the track and mumble all day. But guess what? You felt his soul on those records.”
11. “I think that’s why I put my energy into making music. That’s how I get my thoughts out, instead of being crazy all the time.”
12. “My moms always told me, ‘How long you gonna play the victim?’ I can say I’m mad and I hate everything, but nothing really changes until I change myself.”
13. “I learned when I look in the mirror and tell my story, that I should be myself and not peep whatever everybody is doing.”
14. “My whole thing is to inspire, to better people, to better myself forever in this thing that we call rap, this thing that we call hip hop.”
15. “Me, as a person, I grow. I’m like a chameleon. That is a gift and a curse for me. But more so a gift, because it never puts me in a box.”
16. “I look at where I’m at today and realize that most of my success is owed to the mentors that was in my life.”
17. “I got a greater purpose. God put something in my heart to get across, and that’s what I’m going to focus on, using my voice as an instrument and doing what needs to be done.”
18. “When I talk to kids, I’m really listening. When I do that, we have a little bit of a bigger connection than me being Kendrick Lamar and you being a student. It’s almost like we’re friends. Because a friend listens.”
19. “Being acknowledged for your work is always a great accomplishment, whether it’s people in my city, kids in the street, all the way up to the Grammys.”
20. “I had to come from something, come from a place that was negative and positive but the majority of it is a negative place.”
21. “The majority of my interactions with police were not good. There were a few good ones who were actually protecting the community. But then you have ones from the Valley. They never met me in their life, but since I’m a kid in basketball shorts and a white T-shirt, they wanna slam me on the hood of the car. Sixteen years old.”
22. “Temptation is just the feeling that you’re the most independent person on planet Earth. That you know everything. That’s something that we all go through as a kid. Now, this lifestyle that I’m in, the same thing exists! But it’s 10 times worse because everything is at my disposal. When you’re in the limelight, you can get anything you want.”
23. “People are used to music that justifies street culture but something that’s not touched on is why these kids act the way they act, live the way they live.”
24. “I’m just writing, writing, writing. I keep these tablets on me until I’m inspired to go back in and make the music. I never take a break from my pen, because I pride myself on that.”
25. “I’ve got an extra-specific story about Dr. Dre. I saw him when I was 9 years old in Compton—him and Tupac. They were shooting the second ‘California Love’ video. My pops had seen him and ran back to the house and got me, put me on his neck, and we stood there watching Dre and Pac in a Bentley.”
26. “I don’t really believe in the type of pressure that people are wanting to put on the type of music that I make.”
27. “It’s easy to forget who you are.”
28. “People have to go through trials and tribulations to get where they at. Do your thing—continue to rock it—because obviously, God wants you here.”
29. “The hardest thing for—not only an artist but for anybody to do is look themselves in the mirror and acknowledge, you know, their own flaws and fears and imperfections and put them out there in the open for people to relate to it.
30. “I like to let things breathe.”
31. “I don’t want to be something that just comes and goes.”
31. “I’ve been called a recluse. There’s definitely truth in that. I like to spend time alone.”
32. “As long as my music is real, it’s no limit to how many ears I can grab.”
33. “At first, I was scared to show fear because you can never be sure how people will perceive you. But I dared myself to do that, to stand out. Now I’ll talk about being beaten up or robbed or making a stupid decision because of a girl or whatever.”
34. “God to me is love.”
35. “I think my vice would be outdoing myself.”
36. “The best thing is to always keep honest people around, because when you have a bunch of yes men around that know that you’re making a mistake but let you go on with it, that’s when it ruins your mind state as an artist.”
37. “As a kid from Compton, you can get all the success in the world and still question your worth.”
38. “In all my days of schooling, from preschool all the way up to 12th grade, there was not one white person in my class. Literally zero.”
39. “Black and brown pride have been taught in my household for a long time.”
40. “If my edge is dull, my sword is dull, and I don’t want to fight another guy whose sword is dull. If you’ve got two steel swords going back and forth hitting each other, what’s gonna happen? Both of them are going to get sharper. Everybody that’s in the industry has lost their edge.”
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