When Kendrick Lamar was just eight years old, his life changed forever. He was a kid from Compton, an uninspired child that saw nothing but grey around him until one day when he witnessed a seminal moment in hip-hop history that would act as a life-affirming act in young Kendrick’s life.
Dr Dre remains royalty in his native Compton. Back in 1995, he was an unstoppable hip-hop force and his collaboration with Tupac Shakur on the iconic ‘California Love’ only reaffirmed their geniuses. The original video for the track featured a scene in Dre’s hometown and Kendrick still vividly remembers the day that these two titans of hip-hop came for a victory lap in his neighbourhood. He remembers how utterly transfixed he was by their greatness and, at that moment, he knew that he was going to dedicate his life to following in their footsteps.
“I was about eight years old,” Kendrick later recalled to the Recording Academy. “They was shooting a video in my neighbourhood in Compton. My father see them, went two blocks down and got me, by the time he got me everybody was out there it was pandemonium, he put me on his shoulders and there they was, Dr Dre and Tupac right there.
“I think it was a white Bentley, that moment right there, whether I knew it or not, branched me off to what I’m doing now, it was already designed in destiny. Fifteen years later I meet Dr Dre, and I explained that story to him, and he remembered that same exact moment, and he remembers them kids that were out there, and I said Dre, I was one of the kids that were there, it’s a crazy feeling.”
On the 20th Anniversary of Tupac’s passing in 2016, Kendrick then shared a poignant letter about how this moment was one that he remains forever grateful for: “I was 8 yrs old when I first saw you. I couldn’t describe how I felt at that moment. So many emotions. Full of excitement. Full of joy and eagerness. 20 yrs later I understand exactly what that feeling was. INSPIRED,” Lamar wrote.
“The people that you touched on that small intersection changed lives forever. I told myself I wanted to be a voice for man one day. Whoever knew I was speaking out loud for u to listen. Thank you, K.L.”
There’s been a few instances in Kendrick’s career when he has paid homage to Tupac within his art. On his track, ‘Mortal Man’, from the seminal, To Pimp A Butterfly, Lamar samples an interview with Pac that he conducted with the Swedish radio station, P3, in November 1994.
However, Lamar’s most poignant tribute came when he shot the video for ‘King Kunta’ in the same part of Compton that Dre and Pac filmed the ‘California Love’ visuals all those years prior. This shoot cemented Kendrick’s place in Compton folklore. Perhaps, in another 20-years there’ll be another artist who will emerge that remembers being there to witness Lamar film the video that lit a fire in their belly, just like it did in an eight-year-old Lamar’s.