This biographical article is part of JAZZ.FM91’s supplementary research component to expand on The Journey to Jazz and Human Rights documentary podcast series. Click here to find out more.
Kendrick Lamar Duckworth was born on June 17, 1987, in Compton, Calif. His parents had moved to Compton from Chicago to escape the city’s gang culture, although Lamar’s father had been associated with the notorious Gangster Disciples gang. As the 1980s crack trade and West Coast gang presence increased, Lamar grew up around precarious street activity, but he seemed more influenced than harmed by it. He was a good student who enjoyed writing stories and poems, and eventually, lyrics.
Lamar’s family was directly touched by the violence of the streets, yet he remained thoughtful and observant. He adopted the stage name “K-Dot” and began performing his lyrics as a rapper. In 2003, at age 16, he circulated a mixtape called Youngest Head Nigga in Charge, which drew a lot of interest in his native Southern California and beyond. In 2010, Lamar switched from “K-Dot” to his own name and dropped his fourth mixtape, Overly Dedicated. That same year, Lamar released his first full-length independent album under Top Dawg Entertainment.
Lamar continued writing music and lyrics, and he toured and collaborated with more popular recording artists such as Young Jeezy, The Game, Talib Kweli, Busta Rhymes and Lil Wayne. Dr. Dre, one of hip-hop’s most respected and influential producers, took the young artist under his wing, becoming his mentor in both music and business. By 2012, Lamar’s highly anticipated major-label debut album, good kid, m.A.A.d city, was released to wide acclaim. In 2015, Lamar released his next album, To Pimp a Butterfly, featuring artists like Bilal, Snoop Dogg and Pharrell Williams. The album was another highly acclaimed outing “known for its funk-laden mix of bravura, community politics and vulnerability.” Several of the songs on the record are politically charged, commenting on the social status of Black Americans today, and keeping in tune with the Black Lives Matter movement. The album went on to receive a whopping 11 Grammy nominations. Lamar continues to compose incredible music today, with his last major album being DAMN. in 2017.