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Kendrick Lamar
Pulitzer2018-portraits-kendrick-lamar.jpg
Lamar at the 2018 Pulitzer Prize Awards Ceremony
Born
Kendrick Lamar Duckworth

(1987-06-17) June 17, 1987 (age 36)
Other names
  • K.Dot
  • Oklama
Education Centennial High School
Occupation
  • Rapper
  • singer
  • songwriter
  • record producer
  • filmmaker
Years active 2003–present
Organization PGLang
Works
  • Discography
  • songs recorded
  • videography
Partner(s) Whitney Alford
Children 2
Relatives
Awards Full list
Musical career
Genres
Labels

Kendrick Lamar Duckworth (born June 17, 1987) is an American rapper and songwriter. Known for his progressive musical styles and socially conscious songwriting, he is often considered one of the most influential hip hop artists of his generation. Born and raised in Compton, California, Lamar began his career as a teenager performing under the stage name K.Dot. He quickly garnered local attention which led to him signing a recording contract with Top Dawg Entertainment (TDE) in 2005.

Early life

Kendrick Lamar Duckworth was born in Compton, California on June 17, 1987, the son of a couple from Chicago. Although not in a gang himself, he grew up around gang members; with his closest friends being Westside Piru Bloods and his father, Kenny Duckworth, being a Gangster Disciple. His first name was given to him by his mother, Paula Oliver, in honor of singer-songwriter Eddie Kendricks of The Temptations. He grew up on welfare and in Section 8 housing.

In 1995, at the age of eight, Lamar witnessed Tupac Shakur and Dr. Dre film the music video for their single "California Love", which proved to be a significant moment in his life. As a child, he attended McNair Elementary and Vanguard Learning Center in the Compton Unified School District. He has admitted to being quiet and shy in school, his mother confirming he was a "loner" until the age of seven. Lamar was further educated at Centennial High School, where he graduated from in 2005 as a straight A student.

Career

KendrickLive
Lamar performing in Toronto in 2011

In 2003, at the age of 16, Lamar released his first mixtape under the pseudonym K.Dot. The mixtape was released under Konkrete Jungle Muzik and garnered local recognition for Lamar. The mixtape led to Lamar securing a recording contract with Top Dawg Entertainment (TDE), a newly founded independent record label based in Carson, California. He began recording material with the label and subsequently released a 26-track mixtape two years later, titled Training Day (2005).

Throughout 2006 and 2007, Lamar would appear alongside other up-and-coming West Coast rappers, such as Jay Rock and Ya Boy, as opening acts for veteran West Coast rapper The Game.

After becoming a founding member of the hip hop supergroup Black Hippy, Lamar dropped his stage name and started using his first and middle names professionally. In 2011, he released his debut studio album Section.80, a conscious hip hop record. The album was met with positive reviews and included his debut single "HiiiiPower". In 2012, Lamar secured a record deal with Dr. Dre’s Aftermath Entertainment, under the aegis of Interscope Records, and released his second studio album Good Kid, M.A.A.D City. The West Coast and gangsta rap influenced album garnered widespread critical recognition and commercial success, while including the singles "Swimming Pools (Drank)" and "Backseat Freestyle".

Kendrick Lamar Pitchfork 2012
Lamar performing at the 2012 Pitchfork Music Festival
Kendrick-lamar-1360479601
Lamar performing in 2013

Lamar's major-label debut, good kid, m.A.A.d city, was released on October 22, 2012. The album debuted at number two in the US, selling 242,100 copies in its first week. Later that year, Fuse TV listed Lamar's single, "Backseat Freestyle" among the top 40 songs of 2012. In a few months' time, the album was certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). HipHopDX named Lamar "Emcee of the Year" for their 2012 Year-End honors.

On October 15, 2013, Lamar won five awards at the BET Hip Hop Awards, including Album of the Year and Lyricist of the Year (the latter of which he had also won the year before). In November 2013, he was named GQ's "Rapper of the Year," and was featured on the cover of the magazine's "Men of the Year" issue.

Lamar received a total of seven Grammy nominations at the 56th Annual Grammy Awards (2014), including Best New Artist, Album of the Year, and Best Rap Song, but did not win in any category.

A visit to South Africa inspired Lamar’s jazz-flavored third studio album, which was released in 2015. It received universal acclaim and became his first number-one album on the Billboard 200.

Kendrick Lamar Yeezus
Lamar performing "Money Trees" during the Yeezus Tour

On May 17, 2015, Lamar featured on the official remix of American singer-songwriter Taylor Swift's song "Bad Blood", as well as appearing in the music video. The original song is in Swift's fifth studio album 1989. The single reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100 and the music video won them a Grammy Award for Best Music Video and a MTV Video Music Award for Video of the Year.

Lamar experimented with R&B, pop and psychedelic soul in his fourth studio album. It spawned his first solo number-one single "Humble" and became the first non-classical and non-jazz work to be awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Music.

On March 4, 2016, Lamar released a compilation album Untitled Unmastered, containing eight untitled tracks. The compilation album debuted atop the US Billboard 200.

Kendrick 2015
Lamar at the Hollywood Palladium during a pre-Grammy concert in 2015

Following a four-year hiatus, Lamar released his minimalist fifth studio album Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers (2022), which served as his swan song from TDE. He has directed and produced several music videos and films with his creative partner Dave Free, with whom he founded the creative collective PGLang.

Having sold over 70 million records in the United States alone, all of Lamar’s studio albums have been certified platinum or higher by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). He has received numerous accolades throughout his career, including 14 Grammy Awards, a Primetime Emmy Award, two American Music Awards, six Billboard Music Awards, 11 MTV Video Music Awards, a Brit Award, and a nomination for an Academy Award. He was named MTV’s Hottest MC in the Game in 2012. In 2015, Lamar received the California State Senate’s Generational Icon Award. He has been featured in listicles such as the Time 100 and Forbes 30 Under 30. Three of his studio albums were included on Rolling Stone’s 2020 ranking of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.

Artistry

Influences

Lamar cites Tupac Shakur as his biggest influence, noting that he has impacted his music and everyday life. He has stated that Shakur, the Notorious B.I.G., Jay-Z, Nas and Eminem are his top five favorite rappers.

Musical style and rapping technique

Lamar's musical style is known to be "anti-flamboyant, interior and complex." His work is generally categorized as progressive rap due to his contributions of broadening the genre's audience to reach mainstream listeners. He's stated in an interview that "You really can't categorize my music, it's human music."

Songwriting

Lamar's songwriting is often based on his personal life. Lamar's writing often contain political and social commentary centered around African American life and culture, exploring themes of racism, black empowerment and social injustice. It has been compared to a State of the Union address by The Guardian. Jacob Uitti of American Songwriter notes, "For as much as he is a musician and a lyricist and an emcee, Lamar is also a playwright, a novelist, a short story author. He’s literary within the art form of music."

Other ventures

Acting and filmmaking

Kendrick Lamar 3 F.I.B. 2016 (cropped)
Lamar in 2016 performing at Festival Internacional de Benicàssim

Lamar began his filmmaking career by writing the music video for his song "Ignorance Is Bliss". He made his directorial debut with the music video for "Backseat Freestyle". Since then, he has directed several of his music videos alongside his creative partner Dave Free under the collective name The Little Homies. In 2014, Lamar produced and was featured in M.A.A.D, a short film inspired by his second studio album Good Kid, M.A.A.D City. In December 2015, he co-directed, edited and starred in the short film God Is Gangsta. He began executive producing music videos in 2020 with Baby Keem's "Hooligan". In January 2022, Lamar and Free announced that they will be producing an untitled comedy film with South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker.

In July 2018, Lamar made his acting debut in the fifth season of the Starz drama series Power. His casting stemmed from his friendship with rapper 50 Cent, who stars in and executive produces the series. Lamar wanted to portray a character that did not resemble his musical persona, and drew inspiration from various people he knew when growing up in Compton. He also compared his acting preparation to his songwriting, saying that he prefers to "always have that open space to evolve". Lamar's performance was praised by critics and viewers, and earned him an NAACP Image Award nomination for Outstanding Guest Performance in a Comedy or Drama Series.

Business and fashion

Lamar owns a percentage of his former record label Top Dawg Entertainment. In December 2014, he was announced as a brand ambassador for sportswear brand Reebok, and designed six sneakers with the company. After ending his ambassadorship with Reebok in 2017, Lamar began a partnership with Nike and collaborated on five sneakers. In 2022, he collaborated with Converse on two sneakers.

Impact

Kendrick Lamar- The DAMN. Tour @ TD Garden (Boston, MA) (36059988466)
Lamar on The Damn Tour in 2017

Lamar's work has earned universal acclaim from music critics, industry peers, and cultural figures. He has been named by numerous media outlets as one of the most influential artists of the 2010s, with Billboard listing him as one of the greatest rappers of all time. He has been credited by NPR Music with the revival of jazz rap, which waned after the 1990s. Writing for Esquire UK, editor Olivia Ovended opined, "Even if you're not overly familiar with Lamar's back catalogue, his influence in music is everywhere, from the West Coast hip-hop now being made by Anderson .Paak. to the trap of Gucci Mane. He is—and we'll brook no argument here—the greatest rapper making music today." The New Yorker journalist Carrie Battan considered him "California's biggest hip-hop artist since the nineteen-nineties." Lamar has been branded as the "New King of Hip Hop" numerous times by media outlets. Steve Batlin of Forbes writes that although he "may or may not be the greatest rapper alive right now", he's "certainly in the very short lists of artists in the conversation." Lamar frequently refers to himself as the "Greatest Rapper Alive" and has once declared himself the "King of New York".

His music was also used during protests following the 2016 United States presidential election. According to American studies and media scholar William Hoynes, Lamar's progressive rap music places him in a long line of African-American artists and activists who "worked both inside and outside of the mainstream to advance a counterculture that opposes the racist stereotypes being propagated in white-owned media and culture". History.com considered Lamar's Pulitzer Prize win as "a sign of the American cultural elite's recognition of hip-hop as a legitimate artistic medium." NPR Music writer Marcus J. Moore noticed Lamar's rap-jazz aesthetic present on his repertoire, "he's at the vanguard of this movement, proving that he too is a rule breaker, just like Miles, Herbie, Coltrane, Glasper and Hargove, who all took bold creative risks to push jazz into uncharted territory," and stated that Lamar is introducing jazz to a generation "who might only know it through their parents' old record collections." Esquire US writer Matt Miller opined about the rapper's videography in 2017, crediting Lamar for "reviving" the music video as "a powerful form" of social commentary, citing as examples "Alright" and "Humble".

Multiple artists have cited his work as an inspiration, including Khalid, Roddy Ricch, Christine and the Queens, Jhené Aiko, Cordae, Car Seat Headrest and Dua Lipa. Madonna praised Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers as "history making" and "mind-bogglingly brilliant". Pharrell Williams called Lamar "one of the greatest writers of our times", explaining that he "knows how to be very disciplined with a subject matter, he knows that stickiness is important, and he knows that it has to feel great." Lorde described him as "the most popular and influential artist in modern music".

Achievements

KENDRICK LAMAR Grandoozy 2018 (44346900965)
Lamar performing at Grandoozy in September 2018

Lamar has won fourteen Grammy Awards. At the 57th Grammy Awards in 2015, his single "i" earned him his first two wins: Best Rap Song and Best Rap Performance. At the 58th Grammy Awards, Lamar led the list of nominations with 11 mentions, passing Eminem and Kanye West as the rapper with the most nominations in a single night, and second overall behind Michael Jackson and Babyface, who hold the record of 12 nominations. Lamar was the most-awarded artist at the ceremony. Three of his albums were featured on Rolling Stone's industry-voted list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time in 2020. In 2018, Lamar the first non-jazz or classical artist to receive the Pulitzer Prize for Music. In collecting his award on May 30, 2018, new Pulitzer administrator Dana Canedy, the first woman and African American to lead the organization, told him: "Congratulations, looks like we're both making history this year." In 2019, he was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Song for "All the Stars". At the 74th Primetime Emmy Awards, he won Outstanding Variety Special (Live) for the Super Bowl LVI halftime show.

Lamar has received two honors in his hometown. On May 11, 2015, he received the California State Senate's Generational Icon Award from State Senator Isadore Hall III (DCompton) who represents California's 35th district. From the senate floor, Lamar told the legislature, "Being from the City of Compton and knowing the parks that I played at and the neighborhoods, I always thought how great the opportunity would be to give back to my community off of what I do in music." On February 13, 2016, Mayor of Compton, California Aja Brown presented Lamar with the key to the city, for "representing Compton's evolution, embodying the New Vision for Compton."

He appeared for the first time on the Time 100 list of most influential people in 2016. His debut major-label release, good kid, m.A.A.d city, was named one of "The 100 Best Debut Albums of All Time" by Rolling Stone. To ... a Butterfly was ranked by many publications as one of the best albums of the 2010s (decade), with The Independent placing it first. In 2015, Billboard included Lamar in "The 10 Greatest Rappers of All-Time." Complex magazine has ranked Lamar atop "The 20 Best Rappers in Their 20s" annual lists in 2013, 2015 and 2016. He has also won six Billboard Music Awards, seven BET Awards (including Album of the Year), and 25 BET Hip Hop Awards—the most for an artist.

Personal life

Kendrick Lamar Obama Janelle Monáe 2016
Lamar (left) at the 2016 White House Independence Day celebration with President Barack Obama (center) and singer Janelle Monáe (right)

While attending Centennial High School, Lamar began dating beautician Whitney Alford. In April 2015, during an interview with The Breakfast Club, Lamar revealed that they were engaged. The couple have two children together: daughter Uzi (born July 2019), and son Enoch. Lamar is an older cousin of fellow rapper Baby Keem, and a younger cousin of basketball player Nick Young. He is a notable fan of the Los Angeles Lakers, the Los Angeles Dodgers, and the Los Angeles Rams.

Lamar is a devout Christian, having converted following the death of a friend. He has been outspoken about his faith in his music and interviews. He has been baptized twice; first when he was 16 and again in 2013, which he announced during his opening set at Kanye West's The Yeezus Tour. Lamar has credited God for his fame and his "deliverance" from crime that often plagued Compton in the 1990s. He also believes his career is divinely inspired, saying in an interview with Complex in 2014, "I got a greater purpose, God put something in my heart to get across and that's what I'm going to focus on, using my voice as an instrument and doing what needs to be done."

In the lead up to the 2012 presidential election, Lamar stated, "I don't vote. I don't do no voting, I will keep it straight up real with you." He went on to say that voting was useless: "When I say the president can't even control the world, then you definitely know there's something else out there pushing the buttons. They could do whatever they want to do, we['re] all puppets." Several days before the election, he reversed his previous claim that he was not going to vote and said that he was voting for Barack Obama because Mitt Romney did not have a "good heart". Lamar later met Obama in January 2016 in promotion of Obama's My Brother's Keeper Challenge. Speaking about the meeting, Lamar said, "We tend to forget that people who've attained a certain position are human." Before the meeting, Obama said in an interview that his favorite song of 2015 was Lamar's "How Much a Dollar Cost".

Discography

Studio albums

  • Section.80 (2011)
  • Good Kid, M.A.A.D City (2012)
  • To... a Butterfly (2015)
  • Damn (2017)
  • Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers (2022)

Filmography

Film

Year Title Role Notes Ref.
2014 M.A.A.D Himself Short film; also producer
2015 God Is Gangsta Short film; also director and editor
2022 We Cry Together Boyfriend Short film; also director and executive producer
TBA Untitled film N/A Producer

Television

Year Title Role Notes Ref.
2013–14; 2022 Saturday Night Live Musical guest 3 episodes
2018 Power Laces Episode: "Happy Birthday"
2022 Super Bowl LVI Halftime Show Himself Television special


See also

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