SXSW 2013: Is Kendrick Lamar’s next move into R&B;?

Kendrick Lamar said at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, that he would like to work with D'Angelo.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

AUSTIN, Texas -- Could the follow-up to Kendrick Lamar’s breakthrough major label debut, “good kid, m.A.A.d city,” have a heavy R&B; focus?

Lamar dodged questions Thursday at the South by Southwest Music Festival and Conference about his future recordings, but he did make it clear whom he wants to be collaborating with in the studio -- and they’re not his peers in hip-hop. (Spotify will be streaming Lamar’s performance tonight at 8 p.m. Central time.)

At the top of Lamar’s co-writing wish list is the experimental and elusive D'Angelo, who has long been working on a new album with Roots drummer Questlove. Some of the others on Lamar’s dream team won’t be any easier to pin down, as he also cited smooth R&B; master Sade, who operates at about a decade-an-album pace.


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Yet in a casual, freewheeling late afternoon conversation, Lamar further clarified his intentions not to produce, discussed longevity in hip-hop and touched on some business issues. If it had been up to him, for instance, Lamar said he would have delayed “good kid” further to get more licenses cleared, and he confessed that navigating social media was not his forte.

“Cartoon & Cereal,” an earlier Lamar track destined for “good kid,” is a trippy tune that puts images of innocence next to violence, and largely deals with Lamar’s loss of the former. Or, perhaps more precise, how cartoons and cereal weren’t quite the same escape for him as they were for other children.

“I feel like that song is so dramatic that it probably would have been the last song on the album, but I didn’t know about the business side of getting samples cleared,” Lamar said. “This is one of my favorite records. We were down the last week and there was no time to clear it and now I couldn’t use it. That frustrated me. That drove me crazy. I wanted that song on there so bad. I wanted to push the album back. That still hurts me to this day.”

The song is a regular of Lamar’s live sets and is readily available online, but the 25-year-old has had other struggles. He confessed having spent a lot of time thinking about how the life-span for most hip-hop artists in the mainstream is not much longer than five years. That’s partly why he isn’t a big presence on Twitter. Lamar also spoke about the power of holding back and maintaining some mystery.

“Social media is so important these days,” Lamar said. “It can make or break you. All press ain’t good press. In today’s world, you can send out a tweet of being frustrated, and somebody will take it out of context. The next thing you know, they think you feel a certain way about gay marriage or politics or whatever. It can really make or break you.

“Me, personally, I try not to indulge too much into it. It’s addictive. If you get into that Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, you’re on it all day. You can post all these tweets but at the end of the day, you forget to pay your light note.”

It’s likely that Lamar won’t have trouble with any bills in the near future. His album has sold more than 778,000 copies in the U.S., according to Nielsen SoundScan, and he has already hinted at a Jay-Z collaboration. He said he won’t be spreading himself too thin, as his focus is on perfecting his rap skills rather than learning any other trades such as production.

“I’m not trying to take anyone’s passion or credit for what they deserve,” Lamar said, adding that he’s “serious about this rapping thing. Dead serious.” He said he had too much “respect for the culture” to think he could just go from rapping to producing and vice versa without sacrificing some facet of his work.

As for what’s next for the Compton-raised artist, Lamar guaranteed only that there won’t be a vacation. For one, he’d simply like to explore more of Los Angeles.

“I’m 25, and Compton is really a bubble. When I say I’ve been in there 23 [years], I really have been in there 23,” he said. “When they talk about Beverly Hills and things like that, and the Hollywood sign, I still haven’t been there to this day. That’s real talk. When I say we stayed in Compton, we didn’t go out. Probably to Long Beach. That’s it.”


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