When Kendrick Lamar was just eight years old, his life changed forever. He was a kid from Compton who grew up with big dreams, and one day his wildest fantasy lay in front of him when he saw N.W.A. founding member Dr Dre filming the video for ‘California Love’ with Tupac Shakur. From that day on, Kendrick knew what he wanted to do with his life.
For kids like Kendrick, N.W.A. represented hope and showed that it was possible to make it out of Compton. Back then, Lamar was greeted with nothing but grey around him until one day when he witnessed a seminal moment in hip-hop history. This day acted as a life-affirming act in young Kendrick’s life, as Dre passed the baton on and inadvertently showed some Californian love to his community.
Dre has always remained royalty to his native Compton. If it wasn’t for Dre’s generosity to the area in 1995, when the king of the castle returned to film a music video, then the sonic landscape today could look significantly different. Although Lamar was only a child when he saw Dre film the video for ‘Californian Love’ — when N.W.A. were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2016, he was a fitting choice to install the group into music’s most exclusive group.
Considering he is a Compton native, and like everybody else in the area, N.W.A. were his heroes. Despite the fact they split up while Lamar was still in nappies, they were still the ones who smashed down the barriers that made his career even feasible.
His speech was powerful, and every word comes straight from the heart. Lamar carefully goes through every group member and explains why they all inhabit a special place in his heart. “Doc Dre! Dr Dre! The scientist! The perfectionist,” he says when he gets to Dre. “The producer extraordinaire. My mentor, you dig what I’m saying? This dude here taught me a lot as far as never being satisfied with the work you do, on and off the record. Whether I’m on the mic, whether I’m out in life, in general, always taught me that.
“Number two, make sure you take care of your music and your family each and every single day. I never forget the words, you dig what I’m saying? Since the first day meeting me, you always gave me the energy, saying ‘Superstar!’ You never called me Kendrick Lamar. So that gave me the belief in what I was doing, and also gave me the energy of knowing I was doing it right, and then I became. I appreciate you for that, every time.”
“With that being said, not only on a personal level, when I met Dre, it was way before I actually met him personally, it was on the music, you get what I’m saying? So let me say this. Dre has provided N.W.A with unapologetic production made on high-level soundtracks for hardcore lyrics. You could never press play without having an extra pair of Kenwood speaker,” he passionately added.
Kendrick finished his speech by beautifully summarising what the term gangster means to him and how N.W.A. were misunderstood at the time for being ‘too gangster’. All pioneers in whatever field are met by befuddlement from the masses, and it was no different for Compton’s finest as Lamar told the Cleveland crowd.
“Being gangster symbolises a hustle that you can change your reality. The true meaning of gangster, being able to show what it takes to be the world’s biggest music group. Being gangster is forming iconic labels: Ruthless Records, Death Row, Aftermath Records. Being gangster is breaking out to become a movie star, a movie producer, and having your own son play you as a retrospect to your career, Straight Outta Compton. Being gangster changed the way people listened to music.
He continued: “Being so obsessed with sound that you create your own headphones and force people and fans around the world to listen to deep, intricate sounds the way you outta hear, you dig? Being gangster is partnering with the biggest tech companies and launching groundbreaking music on a whole other platform. So now after 30 years of being heard, being gangster is being inducted into Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Ladies and gentleman, without further ado, my good homies, N.W.A! What’s up!”
The speech needs to be watched in its entirety to understand the weight of how much the N.W.A. means to Kendrick. Without having these people from the same background as him going onto greatness, Lamar felt a kinship to them that spurred him on to believe anything is possible. In 20 years time, Kendrick will undoubtedly be placed in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame alongside his heroes and inspire a generation of talent in the same way N.W.A. did.