News & Opinion | June 30, 2018 5:00 am

What Drives Hit-Maker and Award-Winner Kendrick Lamar?

The poet laureate of hip-hop headlines this summer's blockbuster Top Dawg Entertainment tour.

kendrick lamar
Recording Artist Kendrick Lamar performs before a game between the New York Knicks and Cleveland Cavaliers on October 30, 2014 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Tony Morrison/NBAE via Getty Images)
NBAE/Getty Images

Kendrick Lamar, who won this year’s Pulitzer Prize for music, has sold more than 17.8 million albums, been nominated for 29 Grammys, and won 12. He’s been described as the poet laureate of hip-hop because both he and his work is perceptive, philosophical, unapologetic and fearless. He is an innovative storyteller and his body of work, which is archived in the library at Harvard University, has been compared to both James Joyce and James Baldwin. Vanity Fair, in their new cover-story profile of the artist, says Lamar writes about being young, black, poor, and gifted in America with “a candid self-awareness of who he is, where he’s from, and where he’s been.” So how does he do it?

“You can get put in an environment that can bring down your integrity and your fight,” he told Vanity Fair. “What gives me an advantage in my upbringing is the duality of seeing one of the most beautiful moments of me being 6 years old, to the most tragic moment of being 13 or 14, and make that connection so the person [listening] can really see the conflict. It was a mindf–k, for sure. I would wake up one morning, and it would be cartoons and cereal and walking back from school. And at 4 P.M., we’d be having a house party ‘til 11 P.M. . .. and people [were] shooting each other outside the door. That was my lifestyle. And it’s not only mine; it’s so many other individuals’. And I wanted to tell that story.”