“We’ve been in Compton before. But the way that Kendrick did it was so different. . . . The album is crafted from front to back, the way each song ties into each other — to me that’s genius.” – Eminem
“Everybody just wants to have fun, be with the scene,” Kendrick Lamar said when NYTimes.com met in his cramped quarters inside the Barclays Center in Brooklyn last fall. “Certain people get backstage, people that you would never expect. . . . You ain’t with the media! You ain’t into music! You ain’t into sports! You’re just here.”
The rapper, now 27, had just finished his set as the opening act on this stretch of Kanye West’s Yeezus tour, and he was sitting low in an armchair in his trademark black hoodie surrounded by exactly those people.
In the world of hip-hop, Lamar is widely considered to be a future king. Last year, he was nominated for seven Grammys, four of them for his 2012 major-label debut, “good kid, m.A.A.d city,” which sold more than a million copies in the United States. His lyrical style and his background (Compton, Calif., born and raised) have shaped his reputation as the kind of old-school rapper you don’t see much anymore, a street poet who has earned the affection of hip-hop purists as well as younger listeners.
“He’s the first person in a long time that a lot of the old heads respect,” says the filmmaker and author Nelson George, one of the first journalists to write about rap music. “They see him as a real hip-hop M.C.”
“There’s a certain hunger that you can sense about Kendrick,” Eminem says. “He raps to be the best rapper in the world. He competitive-raps. That’s one of the things that’s going to drive his career. He’s going to be around for a long time.”
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