LISTEN TO THE KING
Brussels , 03/02/2013
I know this might look like I crossed one of my own lines and ended up in bed with a rapper that looks suspiciously familiar to Kendrick Lamar.
The individual who is looking in my modest Polaroid lens is indeed KENDRICK LAMAR, but about the sleeping part… if you know me a little bit, you would know I try to stay away from those type of clichés as much as possible, but don’t worry I’ll spill all the juicy details behind this Polaroid later on.
Are you familiar with Kendrick Lamar? I sure hope so.
KENDRICK LAMAR, in an earlier stadium of his career also know as K-DOT is a rapper or maybe I should say poet, hailing from Compton California, a city haunted by a pretty violent reputation, plagued with gang wars and to add bad to worse, hit by a heavy crack epidemic in the 1980’s. It’s the city from N.W.A and Dr Dre, artists who have put Compton on the map through their lyrics and meanwhile epic songs. Although murder rate has decreased in the last years, Compton still isn’t exactly a walk in the park, carrying the title of 8th most dangerous city in the United States. (according to FBI crime reports from 2010)
When Kendrick was 8 years old, he ended up visiting the set of Dr Dre & Tupac Shakur’s ‘California’ video set with his father. (Apparently this set was nòt the ‘mad max’ inspired setting we’re all familiar with, but a video setting on the street, that has never been used.) Kendrick’s father, a man who carried his own demons from a street life on his shoulders , warned his son that there is more in life than blocks, corners, repping streets colours and joining gangs.
Kendrick states that he doesn’t recall a lot from that day he visited the set of Dre & Tupac’s ‘California’ video, but believes it made a deep impact on him as a kid. A small decade later Kendrick dropped his first mixtape. That mixtape drew the attention of Top Dawg Entertainment , an independent record label located in L.A. , who took the then 16-year-old Kendrick under their wings and stood by him from one mixtape to the other, patiently waiting for him to grow into the artist Kendrick became today.
The first time I ever heard from Kendrick Lamar was when I read on Vashtie Kola’s blog (Vashtie is a New York video director and all round creative) that she directed a video for an upcoming artist called Kendrick Lamar. The video was for a track called A.D.H.D. and when the video officially came out I saw this relaxed but determinate looking cat, doing his thing for the camera in a remarkably modest way, performing a lyrical yet melancholic song with an ease that stood out.
It took me a few more months to download Section.80 the album that accompanied A.D.H.D. After a first quick listen I came to the realisation that Kendrick Lamar definitely stood out in flow, content, look and feel and I remember that I really loved the track ‘Blow My High’….
… but for some reason I left the album for what it was. I always went back to playing that single song without really exploring the rest of the album any deeper.
My focus channeled itself back to Kendrick Lamar when a song called ‘The Recipe’ hit the net.
You see, I’m a big Dr Dre fan and his Chronic album was probably one of the main sparks that lit up my love for hip hop so many years ago and I’ve been impatiently waiting for Dr Dre to release new music and all of a sudden this track called ‘The Recipe’ drops from the sky featuring Kendrick Lamar accompanied by a Dr. Dre sounding like he never left the game in the first place. I just adore that classic Cali hip hop vibe that the song was oozing. I missed that sound in music for a long time. Maybe it was out there somewhere, but it sure didn’t reach me.
When I read the story behind the track I learned Kendrick Lamar drew Dr Dre’s attention via a track called ‘Ignorance Is Bliss’. It got him the exclusive spot in the studio with Dr Dre and the opportunity to work with him on Dre’s long anticipated Detox album. (Is it éver going to come out?!)
I remember wondering what was so special about Kendrick that made Dr Dre choose for this specific artist to help him on his album ànd to offer him a spot as an artist represented by his Aftermath label, where Kendrick would join Eminem & 50 Cent.
Another few months later one of my readers tagged me on Facebook in what turned out to be the official album cover from Kendrick Lamar’s major label debut that got leaked on the net and it was like I was struck by lightning.
Here I was doing my little Polaroid blog for almost 4 years now and Kendrick Lamar’s album cover for his first major label debut via Dr Dre’s Aftermath label was an old Polaroid that depicted 3 men sitting at a table with a little baby on one man’s lap staring straight into the camera. On the white part of the Polaroid was the handwritten title of the album, called ‘good kid, m.A.A.d city , a short film by Kendrick Lamar’.
(The m.A.A.d stands for both My Angry Adolescence Divided but also “My Angels on Angel Dust)
I immediately understood what he wanted to say with that cover.
A Polaroid picture is an instant moment in life captured on film, it’s pure, it’s honest, it’s real and it can say a lot in an effortless way. It sounds probably unbelievably stupid but I suddenly felt really connected to Kendrick Lamar as a person, just because of that album cover.
Thàt same album cover triggered me so hard it made me go straight back to Section.80 and made me re-discover tracks like Hiipower…
and Money Trees
…and when Good Kid, m.A.A.d City was officially released I immediately downloaded it and listened to it, but again I picked out a few tracks that I re-played over and over;
Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe
Swimming Pool (Drank))
…but I never really, like REALLY listened to the album in a whole.
Looking back I think it might have something to do with the fact that I was a bit distracted by too much trap, trill & swag music. Straight out party music, nothing to deep.
To come to the point, I think I didn’t go deeper into Kendrick Lamar his music because I forgot to actually LISTEN to music for a little while, which is a shame really, especially since I’m a storyteller myself and I didn’t make the time to listen to another storyteller and growing up as a kid in a city like Compton, Kendrick had a few interesting stories to share. The second part of his album title says ‘a short film by Kendrick Lamar’ for a reason. Kendrick tells his story so vividly it’s almost if his lyrics come visualize in front of you when you listen to his music.
Now. Let’s go to the story behind the Polaroids.
In 2013, two A Polaroid Story features will be published exclusively in THE WORD Magazine first and a more elaborate version on A Polaroid Story.Com later, a collaboration that I’m very happy about.
2013 kicked off great when it comes to artists coming my way and so it happened that I agreed with the team of The Word to try and feature Kendrick Lamar who was scheduled to perform in the Ancienne Belgique venue in Brussels in early February.
Now you probably think that getting an interview with Kendrick Lamar would be pretty easy for a respected magazine like The Word? Ha. I thought the exact same thing.
I mean, don’t get me wrong, I know a lot of hip hop artists don’t even bother to do some Belgian press when they hit Belgian soil, because the Belgian market is simply to tiny for them to waste any energy on this or that magazine.
But still, I was kinda surprised when I heard from my contact over at The Word that the feedback from Universal wasn’t looking good.
Anyway, I’m used to getting my content by myself so I was already preparing to do exactly so. So while doing my research and sending out some pitch mails to the general ‘info@xxxxx’ most labels & managements have but never answer to, I received an excellent tip from one of my readers from New York who goes by the name ‘Imagination Detonation’ who was so kind to send me an email address from someone in Kendrick’s close entourage.
I said it before, and I’ll say it again. I call my readers ‘troopers’ for a reason. They RIDE with me!
I send out another pitch mail with my requests to the mail address I was tipped about but again it remained silent. Honestly? I can’t even recall anybody responding to any of my mails over the last 4 years, but I also learned along the way that they are being read, so when I end up talking to the right person whenever I try to get an artist on Polaroid, I have a few steps ahead, because they already know who I am because of the email. It makes the process a tiny bit easier, so I keep doing it even though it feels completely useless since most of the time my mails remain unanswered.
So that’s why I think it was no coincidence that the day after I send my pitch mail, Universal suddenly allowed The Word magazine to have a 5 min moment with Kendrick Lamar.
The night before the concert I look at my Instagram feed and I notice that I’m followed by somebody from Kendricks entourage, more importantly, the person that I send my pitch mail to. It’s not a guarantee for a Polaroid, but it definitely means that they have read my mail and saw my work and keeping an eye on me, so that’s one step ahead…
I was granted 5 minutes with Kendrick Lamar. With a bit of luck and the right attitude I could make that into 10 to 15 minutes. I do this blog for a few years now, I had once 2 minutes with Mark Ronson and I ended up with the most extended interview in the history of this blog. I know if do my research, and prepare well I can get more out if it.
When I get to an artist independently I have much more means to play with. When I get to an artist via an official way like a label, everything is a lot less free and therefore a lot less interesting aswell, so then I always try to get an interview to make the encounter more rich even if they told me in advance an interview wouldn’t be possible.
So, I spend my entire weekend listening soaking myself into Kendrick’s music, reading tons of interviews, watching a shit load of videos and ended up with a dozen of questions I wanted to ask him. I tried not to think that it could be a waste of time, but if you have been reading my stories for a while now, you know I hate what-ifs and ìf I had the chance to interview Kendrick, I wasn’t planning on asking him about his favorite food or colour, ya bish. Meanwhile, my respect and admiration for Kendrick grew only stronger while doing the research.
Universal scheduled my meeting with Kendrick Lamar at 18h00. I was waiting outside in the rain for my friend, Leo Van Dijl who would assist me for this occasion and would provide the visual exhibits for this story. It was cold and rainy but that didn’t stop the die-hard K-Dot fans who were already queuing in front of the entrance, 3 hours before the concert was scheduled. The show was completely sold out.
While we were waiting, a 35 to 40 year old man approached me and asked me if I was also waiting for the Universal representative. I told him yes and asked him what medium he worked for. He worked for De Morgen, one of the bigger and better newspapers in Belgium. He asked me what medium I worked for and I answered him: “My own, it’s called A Polaroid Story.” He nodded polite but didn’t seem familiar with me or my work at all.
I suddenly received a text message from my contact at Universal telling me that there is a 20 minute delay in the interview schedule and that my 5 minutes would be reduced to 2 minutes and that the Polaroid would be taken in the tour bus.
When I receive texts like that, I just shrug. 2 minutes? We’ll see about that. And tour bus? Ok, it’s not ideal, but I’ve been in tour busses before and I know what I can expect. I immediately briefed my assistant Leo on the circumstances we probably had to work in which are; bad light and barely enough space for a decent photo angle. In that way he knows what to expect and he can already anticipate on getting the best results. It’s always a risk working with new people, since they might get starstruck or become intimidated and forget to take pictures or are not assertive enough to work in difficult circumstances or don’t behave appropriate but it looked like Leo had his game on lock.
The journalists from De Morgen gets the ok to go into the tour bus and I’m being instructed to wait in front of it. Behind me the row of Kendrick fans is getting longer and longer. Doors are only being opened for another hour and it’s freezing outside.
After approximately 15 minutes the tour bus opens and it’s my turn to go in. I passed the journalist from De Morgen on my way in the bus and he told me while raising his brows: “Good luck with him, he was laying down the entire time.”
Remember that I told you I did my research? Well, while doing so I read one interview and watched one video where Kendrick was indeed laying down in a bed or a sofa during the interview because he was tired, so I smiled to the journalist and answered him:
“Oh well, he has done that before so I’ll manage.” and I stepped inside the bus.
So the minute I got in the bus I went into showtime modus. I took off my jacket, and introduced myself to Kendrick’s tourmanager Retone who immediately said:” I did receive your email.”
Bingo. That’s one step ahead. I totally ignored the fact that Kendrick was laying down on the tour bus sofa, his head resting on a pillow and covered by a blanket and asked him how he was doing.
While I was grabbing my Polaroid cameras he told me he was sick. I asked him if his voice would be ok for the concert and Kendrick answered me that it was going to be fine, he was just not feeling to well.
I tried not to get distracted by the weird circumstances, reached down next to Kendrick and explained him what my blog is all about and showed him who I already featured.
When I asked him if it would be ok to take some Polaroids he said yes, but he wasn’t really planning on lifting himself up, so I told him ok, well, I’ll try to take pictures from the angle you are laying in, but then I’ll just have to come really close if that is ok?
I first did a little test shot.
After the color test shot, I took my Polaroid camera with my Black & White film, aimed my camera and was ready for round two. I had to try out some different angles to find the right pose, since he was laying down after all, but he didn’t mind my directions
After the shots were taken Kendrick said something like: “You’ll see, the shots will be legendary, this is a unique point of view and laughed.”
I felt that even though he was a bit sick, Kendrick was in good spirit and I decided to give it a shot and asked him and Retone that ìf they would be down for interview after the show, they could always contact me and gave them my card.
It was time to wrap everything up and to say my goodbyes and shake some hands.
Right before I left the bus Retone asked me if I had tickets to the concert. I said no and he replied that it would be taken care of. I didn’t have any tickets because I’m a legit queen when it comes to missing out on much wanted concert tickets and even though I had 5 minutes with Kendrick Lamar that wasn’t a guarantee to get in the venue so that was a very nice gesture from them.
Also, when I turned around and left, I heard Retone telling Kendrick in the back that my blog was really interesting and that I featured many big artists before him. It kinda made my day.
I think I spend approximately 10 minutes in the tour bus. That’s definitly more than 2 minutes right?
So with my name on the Kendrick Lamar list, me and Leo walked in the AB venue ready to see Kendrick Lamar perform.
We weren’t granted a photo pass, so again, we had to work with what we had and we tried to be as much front row as possible so we could at least grab some decent pictures to accompany this story.
Belgian artist COELY was responsible for the warm up:
Not much later and right on time Kendrick Lamar entered the stage supported by his DJ and warmly welcomed by the Belgian crowd.
He was wearing a Maison Martin Margiela cap and dressed very modest in a simple t-shirt and jeans.
I read in an online review after the concert that Kendrick Lamar his concert was ‘ok’ but not that special. I couldn’t disagree more actually.
His concert stood out in a ‘less is more’ kind of way. Kendrick Lamar doesn’t need fancy lights or 10 hype men yelling and running across the stage. All Kendrick Lamar needs is his mic and when the dj starts playing the beat he will deliver and tell his stories.
The Belgian crowd knew his lyrics by heart, immediately filling in the words for Kendrick when he was testing the crowd how much of a fan they really were.
I was very impressed by his performance honestly. He talked to the crowd from the heart and he engages with them when needed. He spits his lyrics instead of yelling them out in the mic. He doesn’t run and jump from left to right on the stage all the time, he takes time to stand still at different positions of the stage so people can actually look him in the eye. Kendrick Lamar is the living proof that hip hop concerts can be more than average, or ‘ok’.
He might have been sick that day but you definitely couldn’t tell and you could see that the energy of the crowd was charging him up like a battery.
When Kendrick left the stage his final words were something like:
“If one day this shit becomes bigger than me, I’ll remember to always come back here.”
I’m not sure if that was a ‘finale gimmick oneliner’ but I really wanted to believe what he said. Time will tell if he will come back to Belgium or not although I think he would be perfect for a festival. And trust me, I’m not a fan of hip hop artists on festivals, but I think Kendrick could handle it.
After the concert I noticed some chicks who were trying to get backstage, and persuade a security guard to let them in the backstage.
I wondered if I should do the same, then again I already had want I wanted. I had my Polaroids and that’s always the main goal. All the rest is icing on the cake. So sneaking in backstage, pushing for an interview didn’t seem appropriate at this point, especially since they already put me on the list and squeezed me in their schedule. I know when I need to back off.
I decided to wait 15 minutes to see if they would contact me for an interview. They didn’t. I truly believe it wasn’t meant to be to have the interview and that I needed to see him in concert first. I know I’ll have my time with him one day.
I walked out the venue as a bigger fan of Kendrick Lamar and realised I witnessed the rise of the new king of west coast rap.
I took the train home, pushed play on ‘m.A.A.d city’ …
The next day I received an email from Kendrick Lamar’s camp, telling me it was a bit too hectic after the show but that they are looking forward to read the feature…
I hope they like it.
Special thanks to LEO VAN DIJL for the additional pictures & Jack Sommer for the excellent tip that got me on the right track for this story. Also thanks to The Word Magazine & Universal for the efforts.