“It was right before [Tupac] died – I was 8 at the time,” says Kendrick Lamar, recalling his first brush with Dr. Dre, who was shooting an initial video for 1995 hit “California Love” with Tupac at the Compton Swap Meet down the road from Lamar’s childhood home.

“Nobody was there at first, but in the time my father came back it was pandemonium, so he put me on his shoulders and squeezed me through, and I was right there, dazed.”

At 26 years old, it is Kendrick Lamar’s turn to perform for dazed crowds. His 2012 major label debut, Good Kid, M.A.A.d City, cemented his arrival as hip-hop’s next superstar, selling 242,000 copies in its first week. The record, released on Dr. Dre’s Aftermath Entertainment and Lamar’s long-time parent label Top Dawg Entertainment, reached the top of Billboard’s Rap and R&B/Hip-Hop charts, earning certified platinum status and a spot on every “best-of” year-end album list in the process.

In the past year, Lamar pulled in $9 million, about $4 million of which came from touring, FORBES estimates. Swaggering across the stage at Brooklyn’s Williamsburg Waterfront this September, Lamar led a live band in front of 6,000 concert-goers with the aplomb of a seasoned frontman. Offstage and in person, Lamar is as poetic as his verses. Thoughtful and soft-spoken, he is a natural storyteller, as heard on Good Kid, M.A.A.d City, which follows the narrative of a teenage Lamar growing up in crime-riddled Compton.

“It’s just a privilege and honor to be with the people I’ve studied for years.” – Kendrick Lamar

Dre’s influence has exercised itself in Lamar’s home pride and sound, as well as his emphasis on craftsmanship. Considering the ongoing wait for Dr. Dre’s much-anticipated final album, it’s unsurprising Lamar has learned to “never rush.”

“I always want to perfect and challenge myself,” Lamar explained. “I’ve seen him in the studio, and knowing how critical his ear is, it makes me want to take my time with it.”

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Forbes’ Cash Kings 2013: #3 Dr Dre #12 Eminem #14 Kendrick Lamar #19 50 Cent