Text by Sarah Osei Photography by David Nana Opoku Ansah 13 May 2022, album release day
…“Distinguishing between Kendrick and Kendrick Lamar. I’m still learning the balance of that.
Because I’m so invested in who I am outside of being famous, sometimes that’s all I know,” he pauses mid- thought. “I’ve always been a person that really didn’t dive too headfirst into wanting and needing attention. I mean, we all love attention, but for me, I don’t necessarily adore it. I use it when I want to communicate something,” he explains. “The person that people see now is the person that I’ve always been. For me, the privacy thing has never been an issue that I had to carry out with full intention. It’s just who I am. If I feel I have to remove myself, I just remove myself. I won’t complain about it. I won’t cause a big blow-up or a big stir and let the world know that the walls are closing in. Being able to be aware [of myself emotionally] and be able to eventually grow— emotionally mature to that level, it may take more time than the next man. That’s why I never point fingers when artists are not capable of upholding themselves in that type of stressful position because some people grow different and it takes time especially…when who they are and who they want to be sometimes gets distorted. For me, it’s all about being aware of how I’m feeling. If it is too much, let me remove myself for a couple of years.”
About five years, to be more specific. But Kendrick’s been watching. Never engaging, just watching. “People ask me, ‘Man, you’ve never been on social media, you really hate it?’ Bro, I don’t really know how to use it like that to be 100% real with you,” he admits with a laugh. “I got friends, family, my team, they send me things, so I got good sentiments on what’s going on.” For those who have waited in the space between self removal and new release, it felt as though Kendrick Lamar released D.A.M.N., his fourth studio album, in April of 2017, then floated about scarcely for only as long as it took to complete obligatory promotional commitments, secure a Grammy for Best Rap Album of the Year, and visit Columbia University in New York, to accept the Pulitzer Prize for Music—the first time an artist received the award for work outside the genres of classical music and jazz. After this brief period of public life, Kendrick returned to a private one and we waited.
My first conscious encounter with adulation of a rap legend was as a kid, visiting my uncle’s phone shop in the Ghanaian capital, where he mournfully displayed a picture of Tupac – not dissimilar from the one watching over Kendrick in Jamestown. That’s when the trotros (minivans that popularly operate as shared taxis) displaying their love for the deceased rapper like tattoos, alongside Jesus stickers and scripture started to make sense. Then in high school in Kumasi, my hometown five hours inland from Accra, when my proudest thing to wear when I could ditch my school uniform was an oversized Tupac tee. That was around the same time we’d pore over mixtapes at the lunch table and argue about hip-hop like we were the greatest rap critics. And when one name started to dominate our lunchtime debates: Kendrick Lamar. In time, the words we’d overzealously used as kids—“legend” and “greatest of all time”—came true.
We watched the story unfold from afar: a multitalented innovator coming into his greatness. It felt like it was our story. I think many people around the world feel this claim to Kendrick Lamar—it goes something like what I’d tell my parents when my high school hip-hop banter didn’t translate: “he’s our Tupac.” Over the years, since his name first invaded our constant conversation, Kendrick became a vehicle for something greater. A poet, a revolutionary, a prophet. When the world was burning or we had to take a strong hard look at ourselves, he served as our reliable witness. The chosen one who could put our feelings into words. Album after album, he took on this messianic duty, quietly accepting that it was his cross to bear. “You just got to be real and be true to yourself about what you want. Do you want that attention? Do you want that type of notoriety? Do you want that type of headache? Can you deal with it? For me, I knew as an artist when I signed up for it, this is what comes with it. And me being a realist and holding myself accountable to that, it never really frustrated me when things got a little bit out of control because ultimately, I knew that I would be able to balance it because of who I am.” And, when the pressure became too great, Kendrick quietly tucked himself away. Out of sight but never out of mind. After Kendrick collected the awards bestowed on him for DAMN., we mostly only saw him work. We got glimpses of him on tour, or in song, sparingly lending his voice to other artists and projects. But, no new solo work. Eventually, Kendrick became so scarce that ‘Where’s new music?’ turned into ‘Did Kendrick retire?’
Then suddenly, a period of reflection and preparation came to an end: an album was announced via a blog post, a solitary Instagram image was posted, a song was released, a video was dropped, an album cover was shared. Kendrick, still out of sight, finally had something to say. So what’s he doing, playing soccer at the Tupac mural one moment? Playing FIFA with local kids the next? The whole world is looking for the man, he is reemerging. And, he’s in Jamestown?…
Read the full story in CITIZEN Issue 002: Fantasy, available for pre-order now.