Snoop Dogg has announced the impending arrival of the rapper's latest album Neva Left.
"Throughout the years, I’ve had my hands in a lot of different projects, but music has always remained at my core. This album reflects every phase of me throughout my career," Snoop Dogg said in a statement. "I'm excited for ya'll to hear this new project that highlights the evolution of the Dogg."
The cover art for Neva Left, due out May 19th, features a classic photo of Doggystyle-era Snoop standing next to a sign for California's Route 187. The shot was photographed by Chi Modu.
Fans who preorder the 16-track album will receive an instant download of the rapper's "Mount Kushmore," the LP's first single featuring Redman, Method Man and Cypress Hill's B-Real.
"When I sat down to gather my thoughts about my label mate, my homie and my brother – there's one thought that kept coming back to me. Tupac, the actual HUMAN BEING," the rapper said at the Brooklyn ceremony.
"And while many remember him now as some kind of thugged out super hero. Tupac knew he wasonly human. And he represented this through his music like no one before. It's a fact he never shied away from. He wore it like a badge of honor."
Fans of the Story So Far— it’s time to get excited. Producer Sam Pura posted a photo on Instagram saying he’s in the studio with the band, working on album number four.
“Me and @thestorysofarca are going to be best friends with this console and studio for the next 4 weeks!!!” he says.
Pura, who has worked with the band on the last three records, explains that they are taking the recording up north, rather than at his California-based Panda Studios.
“It's the 4th record. It's time for a scenery and vibe change. We've made every record at Panda. It's our home and so close to home it's almost too convenient,” Pura says in reply to user @walker.atkinson_.
“So with this we have no distractions or commutes. Just fully immersed and committed to this for the next 4 weeks.”
He also tagged producer Garth "GGGarth" Richardson, Canada-based The Farm Studios and recording engineer Karl Dicaire, who are all likely having a part in the new record.
The Story So Far's self-titled was released back in 2015. Their debut record, Under Soil And Dirt, was released in 2011, and What You Don't See was released in 2013.
Ten months after Chance the Rapper took Chicago-area fans on a fantastic voyage into his Magnificent Coloring World, the rapper will host a second event this weekend at an undisclosed Windy City location.
'Coloring Book' rapper turns Chicago-area brewery into celebration of childhood
"I'm only sending invites to the folks who know all the words," Chance the Rapper tweeted Thursday of the event. "Check your emails tmw AM."
On Friday, Chicago-area fans began receiving emails from SoundCloud notifying them of their invitation to Magnificent Coloring World 2. The streaming service selected worthy fans by identifying "0.001% of Chance's listening fan base," since the rapper's Coloring World was a digital-only release.
No other details regarding Magnificent Coloring World 2 were revealed, although Chance the Rapper remarked on Twitter, "I'm praying that I could get just one person from @netflix to come to Chicago for the next two days."
In May 2016, a week after Chance dropped his Best Rap Album Grammy-winningColoring Book, the rapper transformed Chicago's Goose Island Brewery into a Willy Wonka-esque carnival complete with an oversized chessboard, a test-your-strength hammer, Connect 4 and a football toss."
While Magnificent Coloring World presented fans with a bonanza for the senses, it didn't actually provide a Chance the Rapper performance as the event instead featured Coloring Book played over the brewery's sound system.
When Blink-182 was nominated for best rock album at the 2017 Grammy Awards, it capped off one of the most improbable comebacks in recent music memory. The year before, they had a dramatic public split with guitarist Tom DeLonge and brought in Alkaline Trio's Matt Skiba to honor the dates they’d committed to playing.
Even Mark Hoppus can’t believe how big Blink were in 2016. “As long as Blink has been around and with all the drama we have a number one album, we have the biggest tour of our career and we have a Grammy nomination. It’s insane to me.”
Hoppus and drummer Travis Barker may have been surprised by the band’s incredible 2016, but others in the industry were not. Perry LaVoisne, SVP of North American Touring at Live Nation, attributes the band’s touring success in 2016 to “great songs and the band’s commitment and connection to their fans.”
The band’s longtime agent, Darryl Eaton at CAA, concurs. “Mark and Travis are also super connected to their fans, these guys are Twitter and Instagram monsters. And I think they’ve managed to stay connected with their fans throughout time and we really used that too to help reach everybody from the get-go.”
He agrees with LaVoisne as well: It starts with the songs. “They write great songs. The appeal of Blink-182 throughout history is that they’re incredible songwriters,” Eaton says. “They make music that people want to listen to, and a big part, which got us super enthusiastic too, was how great a record they made on this album cycle.”
With the Grammy nod kicking off the band’s 2017, they have a lot of big plans, starting with, in the words of LaVoisne, “Getting them back on the road.”
The band will have a wealth of new material to draw on with a deluxe edition of California on the way. And the touring will start in January with some intimate shows in California, where the band will play the 2016 album named after its home state in its entirety. Billboard spoke with Hoppus and Barker about their unlikely 2016 and the big plans for 2017.
Talk about what the Grammy nomination to cap off the year meant to you guys.
Mark Hoppus: It is a great feeling to be nominated for a Grammy. It’s something I never envisioned was even possible and to have that happen at the end of this year is a huge honor, so gratifying, so amazing. Two weeks later I want to tell everybody on the street that we got nominated.
Travis Barker: It’s unbelievable. It’s not even something we could have dreamed of. Years ago I was very OK with just being able to play the Grammys with other artists. That was a big achievement, I remember after I played with Eminem, Drake and Lil Wayne on the Grammys, I was like, “OK, I can die now.” Probably the most amazing thing to ever happen to me. Then for this, for the band I’ve played in for almost the last 20 years to get nominated, just being nominated I feel like we’ve won, it doesn’t matter if we win. It’s just awesome.
Who would be your dream Grammy collaboration?
Hoppus: In dream land, with the people who are nominated, I’d probably say it’d be awesome to do a song with Chainsmokers and Halsey. It’d be fun to do something with Twenty One Pilots, it’d be cool to do something with Weezer. I’m down with whatever. Maybe A Tribe Called Quest would be fun, on the record it’d really be fun to do “Bored to Death.” It was the song that was kind of our statement song for what this record and what this Blink-182 was all about.
Barker: Last year I played with Robin Thicke, Pitbull and Joe Perry at the Grammys. I would’ve never dreamed of that collaboration and it was fun. I feel like Chainsmokers have had such a big year, I just played the AMAs with Chainsmokers. If they’re up for Grammys or nominated, I could see that being a cool collaboration.
Did you see early on how people were responding to the new music?
Hoppus: Yeah, we started touring before the album came out. We had a single that came out, we leaked another song, leaked another song. I think that by the time that the album actually hit there were three songs out and we had already kind of started touring. And people were asking for more and more new songs. With a brand-new record, typically people still want to hear mostly old stuff and maybe one or two songs from a new album, but on this tour specifically, people were asking every single show for more and more new songs. So by the end of the tour we were playing probably about almost half of the album as part of the tour.
Barker: I think that’s the biggest compliment and reassurance is we’d play our set and people would be screaming and it’d be something like, “Play more new shit.” People are even calling out, “Play ‘California,’” “Play ‘Sober,’” naming songs off the new album. Usually people, even me, I’m guilty, when I go see someone I’m like, “I want them to play this record or stuff from this album.” That was when we really knew that we won and made an incredible album, when fans that had been with us for years and years came out on this tour and would request more new material.
The timing was right, though, where you hit that sweet spot of older and younger fans converging as Blink fans. Did you pick up on that before the record at all?
Hoppus: Yeah, over the last couple of years and on this tour there is exactly that convergence where people have been coming to Blink shows for decades and there are people who are coming out and it’s their first show that they’ve ever gone to. And you have parents bringing their kids, you have older brothers and sisters bringing their younger brothers and sisters and it’s this very cool collection of humans. It’s awesome. The front row still looks the same as it did when we first started.
Barker: It was everyone from 12-year-old kids to people in their 20s, 30s, 40s, even 50s. It was people that grew up on it and now were there with their younger brother or, in some cases, their kids, and were turning them on to Blink. That’s something we never even dreamed of and it’s just incredible. I feel like this genre of music has eternal youth, it feels like it never gets old and people, whether it’s ones in their 40s or 50s that have been a fan for 20 years and still listen to this genre of music, but it can still be relatable to their kids or younger brothers or sisters.
Are there bands whom you really admire for the way they’ve grown over the years and developed that fan base that is cross-generational?
Hoppus: I think of bands like the Beatles, but all their success, from when they first started until they broke up, was only like eight or ten years. But I always admired the way they evolved and changed even in that short amount of time. I think you’re always trying to change and better yourself and try different stuff. I love the Rolling Stones, I love their staying power, I love U2 and their staying power, I love Neil Diamond and his staying power. All these acts, like Bruce Springsteen, have started off and stayed true to themselves and also changed what they were and keep pushing, I totally admire that.
With the success you’ve had touring in 2016 how would you like to see it grow next year?
Hoppus: I’d love to, and we’re planning on doing this, go over to Europe and do a lot of European tours, playing festivals over there. We’re not gonna be at Reading and Leeds this year, but ideally we’d play Reading and Leeds or Glastonbury and continue…everything that we’re doing is exactly what I dream to do. Like we’re in the studio these past couple of weeks working on new music for the deluxe edition, planning for tours, playing shows, bringing the music we’ve done for the past year everywhere we possibly can.
Can you give us a preview of the studio music you’ve done the last couple of weeks?
Hoppus: It’s almost, it’s more than a whole other record, it’s a double album at this point and it’s more of an extension of what we did in the studio earlier. Some of the songs were songs that we did not put on the first album, but are great songs. And some are brand new that we just wrote last week, a lot of high-energy songs, punk rock, some more ballad-y songs, a little more electronic experimentation, it’s a good mix. It’s not a collection of throwaway songs, it’s like a whole other album.
Barker: We’re working on the deluxe album and I got in a conversation with [producer John] Feldmann this morning. I was like, “Dude, we got a problem, the deluxe album might even be better than California.” It’s a good problem to have, but, oh shit, it’s incredible. It’s kind of like a mind f--- because it should almost be a new album. But it just goes to show how natural and organic things are happening and how fun this process has been because it’s not hard to go write great songs and make fun music that we love creating and listening to. And the results are great. The deluxe album will be neck-and-neck with California. It’s in no way fillers.
Are there songs you are particularly excited to play?
Barker: Yeah, there are like four songs that didn’t make the album that we’re putting on there. But then there are brand-new songs like “Wildfire” and “Parking Lot” and “Misery” that are all so f---ing strong, man. It’s amazing. We started writing maybe a week and a half ago and I think we have 14 songs. It’s a good problem to have. I’m really excited about this deluxe edition. It’s gonna be incredible.
Hoppus: There’s a song called “Misery” that we just wrote and a song called “Wildfire” that are both pretty high-energy, anthemic, huge choruses, I think will go over really well.
You just headlined KROQ Almost Acoustic Christmas. Looking back on the year in alternative radio, what is the state of rock these days?
Barker: For me, two of the headliners, us and Green Day, both rooted in punk rock, it’s outstanding, it’s f---ing awesome. It was a little weird for me when rock music was folky for the last couple of years. It wasn’t rock and roll to me, so seeing Acoustic Christmas this year, it just seemed like it had more balls and was a little bit more dangerous and more fun and more exciting.
Do you it's a response to the current political climate?
Barker: Yeah, it’s gonna spark a lot of great music. It’s gonna be how the ‘80s were, there’s tons of great music coming out 'cause of the nature of our country. And, at the same time, we’re not much of a political band. There were bands like Public Enemy in hip-hop, they were really standing for something, they had a political message that most hip-hop bands didn’t have. So I think it’s definitely gonna spark something through a lot of different genres of music, particularly punk rock, rock and roll and hip-hop. Hopefully that will bring the edge and aggression of rock you felt was missing.
Barker: Absolutely, it’s nice right now. I can turn on KROQ, obviously I love when Blink-182 has an album out, but Green Day has a new album out and Rancid is recording an album right now and I just love hearing our genre of music and bands still moving the airwaves with their music, it makes me happy. I love that, I’d much rather listen to that than some of the other stuff that’s existed for the last couple of years.
Three days after the release of 'DAMN.,' the Compton rapper took the stage of Coachella and claimed his throne.
Sometimes the most obvious and predictable answer is the right one: Kendrick Lamar is the best rapper alive. If there was any conflict, it was amicably resolved sometime around 11 PM on a Sunday night on the main stage at America's biggest festival in this apocalyptic year of our lord(e), 2017.
The "best rapper alive" isn't a lifetime title. As Biggie explained and tragically embodied, your reign on the top can be short like leprechauns. The position can be vacant for years, as it was in the window between Wayne and Kendrick. Influence and popularity are important but only part of the equation. Streaming numbers, packed pop up shops, and charisma can only take you so far. You can't win the Electoral College but lose the popular vote. You can be YG, arguably the best album artist of your generation, but so regionally specific that your music gets mangled in translation. You can be Young Thug, bending the English language and esoteric rhythms to your supervillainous will, but unable to convince closed minded conservatives that you're doing anything but mumbling.
This is a matter of souls and minds, virtuosic skill and marrow-splitting substance, the ability to summon that supernatural condition that wherever you're performing is the heartbeat of the universe and everything else is irrelevant. It's when you're able to chant, "This What God Feel Like" from your new song, "GOD." and induce chills in the crowd, who nod their heads in stunned disbelief, and silently understand this is as close as anyone is going to get tonight.
Kendrick Lamar did it last night. If you were there, you barely need elaboration. You caught Kobe swishing 20-foot fadeaways in '09, corkscrewing his body from three defenders. You watched Babe Ruth call his shot or at least Reggie Jackson hitting three bombs in a World Series Game. You caught Hendrix in his guitar-torching prime and the other HNDRXX smashing "Mask Off" again. This is hyperbole. I know. Nothing special is really like anything else and I'm all too aware that there is no glory in the hyperventilating recap. I'm just telling you what I saw, and I am sure what I saw. In an era where it feels like nothing matters, Kendrick managed to do something that felt like it mattered.
This wasn't Woodstock or even Monterey Pop. This is a festival owned by AEG, awash in Becky's and Braden's, so many snaps and selfies that if you stretched them all out in a digital vapor trail it would reach so far that you actually could get God on the phone. But give them credit. "DNA" bumped from the car of a Mexican dude in a burnt maroon Mustang as I walked in. My Uber driver, a dreadlocked guy named Sheldon, had it blasting as I entered the car. On these fields built for polo, that obsolete sport of the wealthy and indolent, I stood next to four blonde girls with designer sunglasses, enough concealer and glitter to disregard Kendrick's "No Make Up," and skirts as small as scarves. They knew every word, deep cuts, singles, and those from the three-day old Damn. So did everyone else around me.
This was a hometown crowd transplanted deep in the desert led by a diminutive king from the CPT, subverting both expectations and his audience. It was brilliant because almost everyone else here desperately tried to give the crowd what they wanted; Kendrick, aloof but amiable, gave them what they didn't even know they needed.
The Coachella headlining performance is one of those rigged Raiders of the Lost Ark traps, especially for rappers. You can play it safe and lean on surprise guests and the hits, reticent to let your star power command the gargantuan audience. This can be extremely fun, but it often devolves into the "Super Happy Fun Hour." It's what Dre and Snoop did—an excellent performance marred by a necrophiliac Hologram that stole the headlines. You can be Drake and arrogantly assume the burden of carrying the entire spectacle. He eschewed creative visuals or a proper stage set up and instead relied on a fireworks display, swiftly aging hits, and an impromptu tongue tsunami with Madonna. When it was over, they had to peel him off the pavement like Wile E. Coyote flattened by an anvil.
Kendrick ducked the falling debris and came out blasting with the best Coachella headlining set since Prince. He didn't bring out Morris Day and the Time, but Travis Scott ("Goosebumps,") Future ("Mask Off,") and Schoolboy Q ("That Part") weren't a shabby second place, and I'm still betting Dre appears next weekend). It was the best rap show since Yeezus. He performed with the confidence of a man walking into a bank with only a finger in his pocket and walking out with a treasury's worth of racks and precious metals.
If there's been a knock on Kendrick, it's that he can come off humorless on record (also known as Nasir Jones Syndrome). It ultimately doesn't matter; no one read Les Miserables for the jokes. But there's a part of me that agrees with something Paul Thomas Anderson once said in an interview: everything should be occasionally funny. It's the natural yin and yang, a light and dark duality. Few did it better than early Eminem, one of Kendrick's most salient influences. A bleak dirge like "Rock Bottom" balanced by the goofy whimsy like "As the World Turns." Until now, Kendrick could make you levitate, but he couldn't do levity.
Kendrick's new stage show deftly redresses the criticism from jump with a three-part mini-film, "The Legend of Kung Fu Kenny: The Way the Glow." An absurd parody of a 70s Shaw Brothers flick, it recast Kendrick as the closest analog to the RZA if he could rap as well as Raekwon—a reminder that one of his early classics was "West Coast Wu-Tang," where he ransacked the "Tearz" beat. He called himself "the black turtle," an obvious nod to race, a less obvious one to his role as the underdog, the slow and steady one who won the race.
On a blue background read the phrase, "Kung Fu Kenny Studied The Mothafuckin' Greats." An emphasis on the years of solitary practice, decrypting rhyme schemes, and throat-slitting freestyle cyphers. He spit with the fervor and dazzling technicality of a Zen master. Kendrick is the best because he comes from the tradition and reveres it, but refuses to be dogmatic. It's experimental music with mass appeal. He knows where he's from better than anyone else, and understands how to make music that stresses that specificity without overlooking the universal themes of spirituality, the zealotry of the converted, and the myriad obstacles constantly capable of knocking you off your path. Halle Berry or hallelujah isn't always an obvious choice (although maybe it is –did you see that tweet about snacks?).
Like the familiar voice of a Five Boroughs deity, the booming trill of Kid Capri introduced him. This is the "new Kung Fu Kenny." Then came the garbled voice over, "Ain't Nobody Praying For Me." Next, a blast of smoke and Kendrick stalking out in an all-black Japanese Roshi costume rapping "DNA" like he was the scientist who cracked the code. He later changed into an all-white one. The crowd made noise like the earth being split by an asteroid.
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The burger joint, Tam's, sits at the corner of Rosecrans and Central, a famous local spot recently made infamous when Suge Knight allegedly ran over two men with his truck in the parking lot, killing one of them. "Homey died right here," G-Weed says, pointing to a dark spot on the asphalt. "That security camera caught everything. They're building a case."
Lamar grew up just six blocks from here, in a little blue three-bedroom house at 1612 137th St. Across the street is the Louisiana Fried Chicken where he used to get the three-piece meal with fries and lemonade; over there is the Rite Aid where he walked to buy milk for his little brothers. Tam's was another hangout. "This is where I seen my second murder, actually," he says. "Eight years old, walking home from McNair Elementary. Dude was in the drive-thru ordering his food, and homey ran up, boom boom — smoked him." He saw his first murder at age five, a teenage drug dealer gunned down outside Lamar's apartment building. "After that," he says, "you just get numb to it."
It's almost noon, but Lamar is just starting his day — having spent a late night in the studio scrambling to finish his new album, To Pimp a Butterfly, which has to be done in five days. He's dressed casually in a gray hoodie, maroon sweatpants, and white socks with black slides, but recognizable enough that an old lady in line decides to tease him while complaining about the heat inside. "Y'all need to put the air conditioner on," she calls to the manager. "Kendrick Lamar is here!"
Lamar may be a two-time Grammy winner with a platinum debut executive-produced by Dr. Dre, and with fans from Kanye West to Taylor Swift. But here at Tam's, he's also Kendrick Duckworth, Paula and Kenny's son. Inside, a middle-aged woman who just left church comes up and gives him a hug, and he buys lunch for a cart-toting lady he knows to be a harmless crack addict. ("She used to chase us with sticks and stuff," he says.) Outside, an old man in a motorized wheelchair scoots over to introduce himself. He says he moved here in 1951, when Compton was still majority-white. "Back in the day, we had the baddest cars in L.A.," he says. "I just wanted you to know where you came from. It's a hell of a neighborhood."
On his breakthrough album, 2012's good kid, m.A.A.d City, Lamar made his name by chronicling this neighborhood, vividly evoking a specific place (this same stretch of Rosecrans) and a specific time (in the summer of 2004, between 10th and 11th grade). It was a concept album about adolescence, told with cinematic precision through the eyes of someone young enough to recall every detail (as in: "Me and my niggas four deep in a white Toyota/A quarter tank of gas, one pistol, one orange soda").
Lamar's parents moved here from Chicago in 1984, three years before Kendrick was born. His dad, Kenny Duckworth, was reportedly running with a South Side street gang called the Gangster Disciples, so his mom, Paula Oliver, issued an ultimatum. "She said, 'I can'tfudge with you if you ain't trying to better yourself,' " Lamar recounts. "'We can't be in the streets forever.' " They stuffed their clothes into two black garbage bags and boarded a train to California with $500. "They were going to go to San Bernardino," Lamar says. "But my Auntie Tina was in Compton. She got 'em a hotel until they got on their feet, and my mom got a job at McDonald's." For the first couple of years, they slept in their car or motels, or in the park when it was hot enough. "Eventually, they saved enough money to get their first apartment, and that's when they had me."
Lamar has a lot of good memories of Compton as a kid: riding bikes, doing back flips off friends' roofs, sneaking into the living room during his parents' house parties. ("I'd catch him in the middle of the dance floor with his shirt off," his mom says. "Like, 'What the . . . ? Get back in that room!' ") Then there's one of his earliest memories — the afternoon of April 29th, 1992, the first day of the South Central riots.
Kendrick was four. "I remember riding with my pops down Bullis Road, and looking out the window and seeing motherfuckers just running," he says. "I can see smoke. We stop, and my pops goes into the Auto-Zone and comes out rolling four tires. I know he didn't buy them. I'm like, 'What's going on?' " (Says Kenny, "We were all taking stuff. That's the way it was in the riots!")
"Then we get to the house," Lamar continues, "and him and my uncles are like, 'We fixing to get this, we fixing to get that. We fixing to get all this shit!' I'm thinking they're robbing. There's some real mayhem going on in L.A. Then, as time progresses, I'm watching the news, hearing about Rodney King and all this. I said to my mom, 'So the police beat up a black man, and now everybody's mad? OK. I get it now.' "
We've been sitting on the patio a while when Lamar sees someone he knows at the bus stop. "Matt Jeezy! What up, bro?" Matt Jeezy nods. "That's my boy," Lamar says. "He's part of the inner circle." Lamar has a few friends like this, guys he's known all his life. But often he'd rather be by himself.
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"He was always a loner," Kendrick's mom says. Lamar agrees: "I was always in the corner of the room watching." He has two little brothers and one younger sister, but until he was seven, he was an only child. He was so precocious his parents nicknamed him Man-Man. "I grew up fast as fuck," he says. "My moms used to walk me home from school — we didn't have no car — and we'd talk from the county building to the welfare office." "He would ask me questions about Section 8 and the Housing Authority, so I'd explain it to him," his mom says. "I was keeping it real."
The Duckworths survived on welfare and food stamps, and Paula did hair for $20 a head. His dad had a job at KFC, but at a certain point, says Lamar, "I realized his work schedule wasn't really adding up." It wasn't until later that he suspected Kenny was probably making money off the streets. "They wanted to keep me innocent," Lamar says now. "I love them for that." To this day, he and his dad have never discussed it. "I don't know what type of demons he has," Lamar says, "but I don't wanna bring them shits up." (Says Kenny, "I don't want to talk about that bad time. But I did what I had to do.")
There's a famous story from Tom Petty's childhood in which a 10-year-old Tom sees Elvis shooting a movie near his hometown in Florida, takes one look at the white Cadillac and the girls, and decides to become a rock star on the spot. Lamar has a similar story — only for him it's sitting on his dad's shoulders outside the Compton Swap Meet, age eight, watching Dr. Dre and 2Pac shoot a video for "California Love." "I want to say they were in a white Bentley," Lamar says. (It was actually black.) "These motorcycle cops trying to conduct traffic but one almost scraped the car, and Pac stood up on the passenger seat, like, 'Yo, what the fuck!' " He laughs. "Yelling at the police, just like on his motherfucking songs. He gave us what we wanted."
Being a rapper was far from preordained for Lamar. As late as middle school, he had a noticeable stutter. "Just certain words," he says. "It came when I was excited or in trouble." He loved basketball — he was short, but quick — and dreamed of making it to the NBA. But in seventh grade, an English teacher named Mr. Inge turned him on to poetry — rhymes, metaphors, double-entendres — and Lamar fell in love. "You could put all your feelings down on a sheet of paper, and they'd make sense to you," he says. "I liked that."
At home, Lamar started writing nonstop. "We used to wonder what he was doing with all that paper," his dad says. "I thought he was doing homework! I didn't know he was writing lyrics." "I had never heard him say profanity before," says his mom. "Then I found his little rap lyrics, and it was all 'Eff you.' 'D-i-c-k.' I'm like, 'Oh, my God! Kendrick's a cusser!' "
An A student, Lamar flirted with the idea of going to college. "I could have went. I should have went." (He still might: "It's always in the back of my mind. It's not too late.") But by the time he was in high school, he was running with a bad crowd. This is the crew he raps about on good kid, m.A.A.d City — the ones doing robberies, home invasions, running from the cops.
Once his mom found a bloody hospital gown, from a trip he took to the ER with "one of his little homeys who got smoked." Another time she found him curled up crying in the front yard. She thought he was sad because his grandmother had just died: "I didn't know somebody had shot at him." One night, the police knocked on their door and said he was involved in an incident in their neighborhood, and his parents, in a bout of tough love, kicked him out for two days. "And that's a scary thing," Lamar says, "because you might not come back."
After a couple of hours, the mood on Rosecrans starts to shift. An ambulance roars by, sirens blaring. In the middle of the street, a homeless man is shouting at passing cars. Lamar starts to grow uneasy, his eyes glancing at the corners. I ask if everything's OK. "It's the temperature," he says. "It's, uh, raising a little bit." A few minutes later, one of his friends — who's been cruising back and forth on his bicycle all afternoon, "patrolling the perimeter" — calls out, "Rollers!" and a few seconds later, two L.A. County sheriff cruisers round the corner. "There they go," Lamar says, as they hit their lights and take off.
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As a teenager, "the majority of my interactions with police were not good," Lamar says. "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," he says, nodding toward the street. "Right there by that bus stop. Even if he's not a good kid, that don't give you the right to slam a minor on the ground, or pull a pistol on him."
Lamar says he's had police pull guns on him on two occasions. The first was when he was 17, cruising around Compton with his friend Moose. He says a cop spotted their flashy green Camaro and pulled them over, and when Moose couldn't find his license fast enough, the cop pulled a gun. "He literally put the beam on my boy's head," Lamar recalls. "I remember driving off in silence, feeling violated, and him being so angry a tear dropped from his eye." The story of the second time is murkier: Lamar won't say what he and his friends were up to, only that a cop drew his gun and they ran. "We was in the wrong," he admits. "But we just kids. It's not worth pulling your gun out over. Especially when we running away."
Friends of his weren't so lucky. Just after midnight on June 13th, 2007, officers from the LAPD's Southeast Division responded to a domestic-violence call on East 120th Street, about five minutes from Lamar's house. There they found his good friend D.T. allegedly holding a 10-inch knife. According to police, D.T. charged, and an officer opened fire, killing him. "It never really quite added up," Lamar says. "But here's the crazy thing. Normally when we find out somebody got killed, the first thing we say is 'Who did it? Where we gotta go?' It's a gang altercation. But this time it was the police — the biggest gang in California. You'll never win against them."
On an otherwise positive song called "HiiiPower," from his 2011 mixtape Section.80, Lamar rapped, "I got my finger on the motherfucking pistol/Aim it at a pig, Charlotte's Web is going to miss you." It's an unsettling line, especially coming from a rapper who often subverts gangster tropes but rarely trafficks in them. "I was angry," he says. "To be someone with a good heart, and to still be harassed as a kid . . . it took a toll on me. Soon you're just saying, 'Fuck everything.' That line was me getting those frustrations out. And I'm glad I could get them out with a pen and a paper."
About three years ago, Lamar was flipping through the channels on his tour bus when he saw on the news a report that a 16-year-old named Trayvon Martin had been shot to death in a Florida subdivision. "It just put a whole new anger inside me," Lamar says. "It made me remember how I felt. Being harassed, my partners being killed." He grabbed a pen and started writing, and within an hour, he had rough verses for a new song, "The Blacker the Berry":
Coming from the bottom of mankind
My hair is nappy, my dick is big
My nose is round and wide
You hate me, don't you?
You hate my people
Your plan is to terminate my culture. . . ."
But as Lamar wrote, he also started thinking about his own time in the streets, and "all the wrong I've done." So he started writing a new verse, in which he turned the microscope on himself. How can he criticize America for killing young black men, he asks, when young black men are often just as good at it? As the song's narrator put it, "Why did I weep when Trayvon Martin was in the street/When gangbanging make me kill a nigga blacker than me?/Hypocrite."
When it was finally released last month, the song sparked a rash of think pieces, with some listeners saying Lamar was ignoring the real problem: the systemic racism that created the conditions for black-on-black crime in the first place. Coupled with a recent Billboard interview in which Lamar seemed to suggest that some of the responsibility for preventing killings like that of Michael Brown lay with black people themselves, some fans thought he sounded like a right-wing apologist. The rapper Azealia Banks called his comments "the dumbest shit I've ever heard a black man say."
Lamar says he's not an idiot. "I know the history," he says. "I'm not talking about that. I'm talking from a personal standpoint. I'm talking about gangbanging."
He grew up surrounded by gangs. Some of his close friends were West Side Pirus, a local Blood affiliate, and his mom says her brothers were Compton Crips. One of his uncles did a 15-year stretch for robbery, and another is locked up now for the same; his Uncle Tony, meanwhile, was shot in the head at a burger stand when Kendrick was a boy. But Lamar says he was taught that change starts from within. "My moms always told me: 'How long you gonna play the victim?' " he says. "I can say I'm mad and I hate everything, but nothing really changes until I change myself. So no matter how much bullshit we've been through as a community, I'm strong enough to say fuck that, and acknowledge myself and my own struggles."
When Lamar released the new album's first single, "i," last September, many fans weren't sure what to make of it. A blast of pop positivity that samples an Isley Brothers hit recently heard soundtracking a Swiffer commercial, it felt like an odd move for Lamar, who's known for more complex fare. People called it corny, mocked its feel-good, "Happy"-style chorus ("I love myself!"). "I know people might think that means I'm conceited or something," Lamar says. "No. It means I'm depressed."
Lamar is sitting in the Santa Monica recording studio where he made much of his new album, dressed in a charcoal sweatsuit and Reeboks. His baseball cap is pulled low over his sprouting braids, and he speaks softly and thoughtfully, with long pauses between sentences.
"I've woken up in the morning and felt like shit," he says. "Feeling guilty. Feeling angry. Feeling regretful. As a kid from Compton, you can get all the success in the world and still question your worth."
Lamar says he intended "i" as a "Keep Ya Head Up"-style message for his friends in the penitentiary. But he also wrote it for himself, to ward off dark thoughts. "My partner Jason Estrada told me, 'If you don't attack it, it will attack you,' " Lamar says. "If you sit around moping, feeling sad and stagnant, it's gonna eat you alive. I had to make that record. It's a reminder. It makes me feel good."
Lamar also points out that the fans who scratched their heads at "i" had yet to hear "u" — its counterpoint on the album. " 'i' is the answer to 'u,' " he says. The latter is four and a half minutes of devastating honesty, with Lamar almost sobbing over a discordant beat, berating himself about his lack of confidence and calling himself "a fucking failure." It's the sound of a man staring into the mirror and hating what he sees, punctuated by a self-aware hook: "Loving you is complicated."
"That was one of the hardest songs I had to write," he says. "There's some very dark moments in there. All my insecurities and selfishness and letdowns. That shit is depressing as a motherfucker.
"But it helps, though," he says. "It helps."
Lamar has documented his inner struggles before, most notably on "Swimming Pools," from good kid, which explores his past troubles with alcohol and his family's history of addiction. But once he got successful, he says, things got more difficult, not less. One of his biggest issues was self-esteem — accepting that he deserved to be where he was. And some of that came from his discomfort around white people.
"I was intrigued that somebody other than myself can articulate [it] almost better than I can"
"I'm going to be 100 percent real with you," Lamar says. "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." Before he started touring, he had barely left Compton; when he finally did, the culture shock threw him. "Imagine only discovering that when you're 25," Lamar says. "You're around people you don't know how to communicate with. You don't speak the same lingo. It brings confusion and insecurity. Questioning how did I get here, what am I doing? That was a cycle I had to break quick. But at the same time, you're excited, because you're in a different environment. The world keeps going outside the neighborhood."
The week good kid was released, Lamar began keeping a diary. "It really came from conversations I had with Dre," he says. "Hearing him tell stories about all these moments, and how it went by like that" — he snaps. "I didn't want to forget how I was feeling when my album dropped, or when I went back to Compton."
Lamar ended up filling multiple notebooks. "There's a lot of weird shit in there," he says. "Lot of drawings, visuals." Whereas good kid was an exercise in millennial nostalgia, To Pimp a Butterfly is firmly in the present. It's his take on what it means to be young and black in America today — and more specifically, what it means to be Kendrick Lamar, navigating success, expectation and his own self-doubt.
Musically, the album — at least the half that he's comfortable sharing so far — is adventurous, borrowing from free jazz and 1970s funk. Lamar says he listened to a lot of Miles Davis and Parliament. His producer Mark "Sounwave" Spears, who's known Lamar since he was 16, says, "Every producer I've ever met was sending me stuff — but there was a one-in-a-million chance you could send us a beat that actually fit what we were doing." Ali says Lamar works synesthetically — "He talks in colors all the time: 'Make it sound purple.' 'Make it sound light green.' "
But of all the album's colors, the most prominent is black. There are allusions to the entire sweep of African-American history, from the diaspora to the cotton fields to the Harlem renaissance to Obama. "Mortal Man" (inspired in part by a 2014 trip to South Africa) name-checks leaders from Mandela to MLK all the way back to Moses. On "King Kunta," a stomping blast of James Brown funk, he imagines himself as the titular slave from Roots, shouting the punchline "Everybody wanna cut the legs off him!/Black man taking no losses!"
Hanging over it all, of course, are the tragedies of the past three years: Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice. Says Sounwave, "To me, the album is perfect for right now. If the world was happy, maybe we'd give you a happy album. But right now, we are not happy."
Lamar – who calls the album "fearful, honest and unapologetic" – is coy about what the title means. "Just putting the word 'pimp' next to 'butterfly' . . . " he says, then laughs. "It's a trip. That's something that will be a phrase forever. It'll be taught in college courses — I truly believe that." I ask if he's the pimp or the butterfly, and he just smiles. "I could be both," he says.
On the last day of February, Lamar and two dozen loved ones are gathered at a $6 million mansion in Calabasas, for a surprise birthday party for Sounwave. The estate belongs to "Top Dawg" Tiffeth, part of a group of properties so exclusive they're protected by two security gates, the second presumably to keep out the riff-raff inhabiting the mansions inside the first. NBA star Paul Pierce lives across the street, and multiple Kardashians live around the block. "There's probably a million dollars in this driveway," says Lamar's tour manager, a friendly dude named ret-One, as he surveys the Audis, Benzes and Range Rovers out front.
Real life will tell you different, but to let rap lists tell it an artist peaks in his late teens or early 20s. Most MC's debut albums are praised as their classics, even retroactively, while fans spend the rest of their careers pleading for them to return to their glory days. Nas has had a phenomenal career, but he still hasn't topped Illmatic. Jay Z wasn't popular until 1998, but his 1996 debut Reasonable Doubt is seen as his undisputed best. And no matter how much he pushes the boundaries of hip-hop, many fans want "the old Kanye."
But on a Tuesday afternoon, more than five years after Big Sean's major label debut, it seems like his best days are ahead of him. He's in New York City, where he's playing his new album, I Decided., at a listening party for friends, family and industry folks. A few days before, Sean threw a similar party in his hometown of Detroit; a day or two later, he hosted one in Los Angeles. And the next weekend, he'll open up a series of pop-up shops around the country to sell merchandise for the record. A crowd of a couple hundred has already been drinking and socializing for an hour or two before Sean emerges, wearing a hoodie and t-shirt from his new collection of merch, a navy Detroit Tigers fitted cap (a signature for most Detroiters and Michiganders), multiple chains and shiny rings on most of his fingers. He lingers for a bit, gives longtime radio personality Sway Calloway an embrace and shares a few words with him before heading to the front of the stage to address his supporters. Throughout the next hour, Sean will stand on a bench to see the audience while mouthing along to all the lyrics — his own and those of his guests, Eminem and Migos — in a makeshift performance. Celebrities like Kelly Rowland and actress Lala Anthony will make their way to the front to congratulate Sean between songs.
"N**** from Detroit, like myself — a black boy from Detroit — to make it this far, man, it's truly unheard of. I can't wait to share this album," he says. "This is my most meaningful album. This album means the most to me right now."
It's not just the standard lip service for a new record. Nearly a decade ago, Big Sean was seen as a novelty sidekick act at best, a weak artist at worst. Now he wants to be seen as a thinker. Not just as a talented rapper, or even as someone with a personal story to share, but someone who can come up with creative ideas, offer insight that listeners can use in their lives and provide commentary on the real world. And after years of hard work, people are beginning to value what he has to say: I Decided. sold and streamed 151,000 album-equivalent units in its first week, debuting at No. 1 on the Billboard 200. The album's "Bounce Back" peaked at No. 6 on the Billboard 100, his highest-charting single to date. And Jay Z, the head of Roc Nation, which manages Sean, gave him the ultimate rap honors: a Roc-A-Fella chain, from Jay's storied rap dynasty during the late-1990s and 2000s.
It sounds like a good deal, but Sean has dealt with a lot to get here. For every hit song or memorable moment he's had since signing with Kanye West's G.O.O.D. Music/Def Jam imprint in 2007, there's been another loss: delays of his debut album's release date; failed attempts at following others' hit-making formulas; dropping an album that he admittedly wasn't confident in; bashing from critics and naysayers who credited his successes to more popular guests, or claimed that he'll never live up to the likes of Drake, Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole. But for each L, Sean has bounced back. It took him nearly ten years, a lot of mistakes and incremental improvements, but he finally "cracked the code," as he told Apple Music's Zane Lowe last January. After placing so much trust in industry folks, everything began to come together when he learned to trust himself.
"I had to forgive myself, creatively, and forgive myself for not following my heart and following my instincts," Sean says during an interview over the phone. "Once I was able to forgive, I was able to move past and really boss up. I knew my full potential. Once you know your full potential and you realize it's not being executed, then that's what gave me so much drive to be better and do better."
The progression is a long way from where Sean stood in 2004, when he met Kanye West while 'Ye was in Detroit to promote his then-upcoming album Late Registration. In what's essentially a rap fairy tale, Sean rapped for Kanye on the spot after swindling his way into the radio station where he had rapped on-air for months. Sean, then a member of a rap duo called Sons of the Street, pitched himself for a record deal. After West signed him as a solo act, Sean spent time behind the scenes, meekly contributing to West's album Graduation while waiting his turn and aspiring to greatness himself.
"When I first got around [Kanye West and G.O.O.D. Music] I felt like I wasn't ready, honestly. I contributed what I could," he says. "Being around such talented people like that early on really gave me something to look up to and to shoot for.... I was lucky to have had the best rappers in the world and the best beat makers [around me], and it pushed me to be just as good as them."
After signing with G.O.O.D. Music, his career became an uphill battle of mixtapes, decent singles, and a decent 2011 debut called Finally Famous — far from the classic that legends are known for. He built a reputation as one of rap's better cameo artists, finding a way to make consistently memorable guest spots on songs like West's "Mercy" and "Clique," Drake's "All Me" and Meek Mill's "Burn." But to critics, he embodied everything they hated about new rap: too much goofing around, not enough substance; a nasal voice and facepalm-inducing punchlines. Just another glitzy, materialistic rapper with nothing to say. His 2012 mixtape Detroit showed substantial growth and landed on year-end lists, but his sophomore retail effort, Hall of Fame, failed to capitalizewithscattered highlights, ambitious ideas that were poorly executed, and formulaic attempts to cash in on trap sounds that were bubbling at the time.
In hindsight, Sean says that Detroitfocused on his own ideas while Hall of Fame gave too much credence to the advice of industry folks. He took a couple of months in 2014 to "work on getting my mind together," he says. He heeded book recommendations from his mother, built a home studio, and began meditating before recording sessions.
Dark Sky Paradise, which came out in February 2015, completed Sean's star transformation. The album's first portion takes off with an urgent string of radio hits and lyrical workouts, while the latter half showcases his introspective, personal side with odes to family and learning through trial and error.
"My perception changed of myself," he admits. "My whole career I felt like I put a lot of work in and it wasn't paying off the way I wanted it to. That was the first time I felt like, 'Finally man, something has to pay off.' I don't know if you should look at things like that, but it just was."
Sean has repeatedly referred to Dark Sky as the possible "blueprint" for his future albums, and I Decided. follows in the lineage. Aspiration, romance, hard work and family are still in the playbook. "Bounce Back" and "Moves" are the two lively, motivational singles, with the stellar Migos-assisted "Sacrifices" as a clear winner later in the album cycle. He squares up with Eminem's nonstop rhymes on "No Favors." His appreciation for family continues on "Inspire Me," which tenderly thanks his mother for her faith and support of him.
But for all the bases Big Sean returns to, he also takes on new challenges. I Decided. is his first concept album. The cover, as he has explained, depicts a current version of him next door to a younger version. Old Sean gives Young Sean bits of advice on skits throughout the album: "You going to let it ring forever? Answer that," he says when Sean is about to continue ignoring his mother's calls. "I don't think she's the one," he says about a previous girlfriend. On the refrain of the opening song, "Light," Sean muses on how black people have stayed resilient and beautiful despite slavery, opposition from police and systemic violence. On "Sunday Morning Jetpack," which sounds like it was inspired by Jay Z's "Momma Loves Me," Sean nostalgically recounts memories with friends and family growing up.
His DJ, Mo Beatz, is proud of the work Sean has done; it's been a long time coming. During the promo run for I Decided., Sean has appeared on Ellen and Saturday Night Live, two of the largest television platforms an artist can get these days. In March, he begins a nationwide tour. It's a big improvement from just a few years ago, Mo Beatz says.
"We would be on other people's tours, as opposed to having our own, which is long overdue," he says. It's true. Big Sean referred to himself as a co-headliner, but he was essentially a supporting act on J. Cole's Forest Hills Drive tour in 2015.
"It wasn't necessarily a low point, but it was more of a 'we could be more bossed up right now' situation," Mo Beatz says. "We weren't super new in the game at that point. We had been paying our dues; we'd been putting in work. We need to be on this path right here. Now, everything is as it should be. I feel like it's just been going up and up.... It's good to finally see he's getting a lot of the recognition he deserves."
As Sean rapped on "Detroit Vs. Everybody": "We've been laboring for years. I know it took much longer than nine months, but f*** it it's all in due time." Sean knows that other rappers have had their storied classic debuts, but he's fine with his shine coming later instead of earlier.
"With rap, you usually come out with your first album and that sets the tone. Usually it goes downhill for a lot of people. It's only a select few that keep progressing and keep upgrading, so it's cool to be a part of this low statistic," Sean says. "Honestly, I still don't feel like my full potential has been reached, and that is something I'm going to keep working towards."
It's the difference between claiming you're bound for the hall of fame, and taking the time to work your way there. Thankfully, it sounds like he's ready for the long haul.
Three weeks ago, Lady Gaga finally released the single “Perfect Illusion” from her long-awaited forthcoming fifth album. On Tuesday night the music video dropped.
Summer officially ends this week, and the new video will have you pining for its return already. It’s a frenetic, sun-kissed montage seemingly set somewhere in the American West: we see Gaga driving through a desert in the late afternoon, interspersed with gorgeous shots of an outdoor concert.
The video already had half a million views by midnight on Tuesday.