Kendrick Lamar on Reebok, style and building a classic
At the beginning of the month, Crack received an invitation to 2022NQ in Manchester’s Northern Quarter for what was described as an “intimate event” with Kendrick Lamar, at which journalists could be granted an interview with the rapper in order to promote his affiliation with Reebok Classic.
Having released Crack’s number one album of 2015, recently followed it up with a collection of experimental outtakes and generally established himself as one of the most important artists of our generation, we were in no position to say no.
Having been introduced to the small room of journalists from the worlds of fashion and music, Kendrick – in a Q&A with BBC 1Xtra’s Dev – cited one his biggest fashion inspirations growing up as Cash Money’s Hot Boys – the quintessentially 90s group which broke Lil Wayne. He then declared himself an “animal” at ping-pong – we were in the confines of a table tennis bar, so it was appropriate fighting talk.
Later we were invited to speak with Kendrick one-on-one to talk about fashion and style. As a musical journalist clinging to the little knowledge of fashion I have, I went straight for a Lil Wayne question, asking him what it was about Hot Boys that he identified with growing up. “Their confidence and style. Period.” He said, thinking back to the OG aesthetics that built his style, “The fact that they were so confident when they spoke.”
Speaking to Kendrick one-on-one, it’s clear that he’s adopted a similar confidence himself. He speaks quietly, intimidatingly focused and totally polite despite my corny references to Looney Toon movies (keep reading). I asked him if he could pinpoint anything else which shaped his personal aesthetic, and he quickly listed off movies like He Got Game and White Men Can’t Jump – blockbusters that melded the worlds of sport and celebrity to create iconic looks. I agreed with his assessment and tentatively said, “Mine was probably Space Jam.” Thankfully, Kendrick caught the reference. “Space Jam! That was one of mine too! When you see your favourite entertainer wearing a certain type of shoe, it just makes you gravitate towards it.”
Having been flown half way across the world to celebrate the Reebok Classic, Kendrick clearly acknowledges that he now carries that kind of gravitational pull. During his visit, Kendrick found the time to spark a cypher session with some budding Mancuinan MCs – a clip that has since gone viral.
In light of his trip, I was interested to find out what he thought had changed in Compton’s style since his formative years. “Now you have kids who are little bit more open. When Hot Boys was out I was wearing tall t-shirts and size 38 jeans when I’m a 32. Kids are more open minded to expressing themselves now, they’ll wear some skinny jeans or some vintage jeans and they’ll feel comfortable within themselves without worrying about what others think of them. Kids are just more open-minded.”
He’s keen to reiterate that his collaborative efforts with Reebok overshadow the setups where rappers tag their name on a sneaker with no creative input. I – like many rap-nerd journalists in the room – tried to guide his answers back to the topic of music, but he seemed quietly determined for argue that the process is one in the same. He describes himself as “A person that holds no boundaries to what they do in terms of creating.” His motivations are the same too – “You want to do it for the kids that are out there and inspire them in the same way they inspire me.”
Before the publicists called time on our conversation, I asked Kendrick how he’d try and teach that creative spirit to a young person today. He did his best to answer. “It starts with the creativity first. You have to be true to the creativity, not true to anything else. I’ve seen everything else fall on deaf ears when you’re doing it for the wrong reasons. Once you have the knack just to create, you get something classic, something original. An original album, a classic album, a classic shoe. You just have to want to create it first and nothing else should be tripping you. It’s just creativity.”
We scuttled out of the ping-pong club and reconvened later that night at Manchester’s Granada Studios. Following a warm-up set from Bradley Zero and an introduction from Beats1 anchor Julie Adenuga, Kendrick bounded on to the stage and the competition winners pressed against the front of the stage went into orbit. He ran through tracks from To Pimp A Butterfly, but predominantly the stone-cold classics from good kid, m.A.A.d city.
While I was quietly hoping to see some of his newer material performed live, the joy of screaming “YAK! YAK! YAK! YAK!” in the building where they used to film Coronation Street was more than enough. He closed with Alright and leaving Manchester with a simple parting shot, “Until next time, be prepared”. Our all-too-brief meeting with the world’s most exciting rapper was over before it had even begun, but he’d left us with enough soundbites to hope that his next visit – shoe-related or otherwise – comes around quick.