Pulitzer Prize winner Kendrick Lamar Duckworth is on the cover of the August issue of Vanity Fair. We are still in the early days of new editor-in-chief Radhika Jones’s tenure. You may remember Radhika from her fox-print tights and this episode of Show Your Work. In her editor’s letter, Radhika gushes over Kendrick’s “power and poetry” and writes that she is “thrilled” to have him as the feature subject.
In Radhika’s letter and in the piece written by Lisa Robinson, it is clear that we are in the post-Pulitzer phase of Kendrick’s career. It wasn’t too long ago that a publication like Vanity Fair wouldn’t put a rapper from Compton on its cover. A quick search tells me that Jay-Z is the only other hip-hop artist to grace the magazine’s cover solo in its 105-year history. Now, Kendrick Lamar is the kind of artist publications can’t ignore. He’s the artist that projects his new nickname, "Pulitzer Kenny”, on a big screen in Madison Square Garden. He has been accepted by the academic elite. That has significance.
For the first time since Kendrick became "Pulitzer Kenny”, he’s talking at length about what it means to him.
"I thought, to be recognized in an academic world . . . whoa, this thing really can take me above and beyond. It’s one of those things that should have happened with hip-hop a long time ago. It took a long time for people to embrace us — people outside of our community, our culture — to see this not just as vocal lyrics, but to see that this is really pain, this is really hurt, this is really true stories of our lives on wax.”
Kendrick’s story is detailed in full in Vanity Fair’s 5,000 word feature. It covers everything you already know about Kendrick if you’re a fan but it also gives new insight into the inner workings of that beautiful brain of his. There’s good work porn in the piece when Kendrick describes his two favourite words relating to his process: “Execution” and “discipline.”
Kendrick on execution:
“I spend 80 percent of my time thinking about how I’m going to execute, and that might be a whole year of constantly jotting down ideas, figuring out how I’m going to convey these words to a person to connect to it. What is this word that means this, how did it get here and why did it go there and how can I bring it back there? Then, the lyrics are easy.”
You could apply that method to any style of writing. It’s in stark contrast to Biggie, Jay or Lil Wayne who famously take pride in pseudo-freestyling everything and not writing anything down.
Kendrick on discipline:
“Discipline gives me all my unvarnished strength and makes me curious about how disciplined I can be.”
Here’s SZA with a little bit more on Kendrick’s discipline:
“He’s really committed. He takes his natural aptitude and jacks that sh-t up to like 50,000. For you to be that naturally talented already and still want to be better is weird, inspiring, and beautiful.”
She’s right that Kendrick has enough talent in the cuticle of his left pinky finger to just coast on that, especially now that he’s won pretty much every award an artist can (f-ck the Grammys.) Kendrick and SZA may even be on their way to Oscar gold for “All The Stars” from the Black Panther soundtrack. Kendrick Lamar might win an Oscar and a Pulitzer in the same year (technically the Oscars will be in 2019 but close enough). I am so irrationally happy for him I could scream.
So I don’t want to sully this piece about Kendrick by bringing up the dumb sh-t Kanye West has said but Kendrick is asked by Vanity Fair about Kanye and everyone else really seems to care so here’s his diplomatic answer:
“He has his own perspective, and he’s on this whole agree to disagree thing, and I would have this conversation with him personally if I want to.”
Kendrick is very good at that. He answered the question but he gave us nothing – nothing that tears down Kanye or creates a negative headline. He basically said, “whatever I’m going to say about this, I’m going to say it to Kanye’s face.” Kendrick and Kanye have toured together. They’re not strangers. This was the most respectful answer Kendrick could give while also subtly letting us know that he disagrees with Kanye. Well played.
The other headline-grabbing thing Kendrick says to Lisa Robinson is about the N-word. He responds to shutting down a white fan for saying the word on stage at one of his concerts. Kendrick reiterates what I wrote about the incident earlier this month.
“Let me put it to you in its simplest form. I’ve been on this earth for 30 years, and there’s been so many things a Caucasian person said I couldn’t do. Get good credit. Buy a house in an urban city. So many things — ’you can’t do that’ — whether it’s from afar or close up. So if I say this is my word, let me have this one word, please let me have that word.”
PREACH. Once more for the people in the back.
Kendrick’s entire profile with Vanity Fair is impressive because of his uncanny ability to distill seemingly complex issues into modestly brilliant soundbites like above but he’s also able to get through an expansive, LONG feature without giving away anything too personal. Like how he politely declines to talk about his fiancé:
“I want something that’s just for me.”
Kendrick is an introvert who just loves his art. He’s got the biggest names in his genre (Eminem and Chuck D), in basketball (LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, DeMar Derozan) and in literature (TONI MORRISON) singing his praises to one of the most high profile magazines in the world. The most celebrated artist of this generation is a rapper. I’m going to hold onto this one good thing when everything else feels like sh-t. At least we have Pulitzer Kenny.
Click here to read “The Gospel According to Kendrick Lamar” in Vanity Fair.