22 Things You Didn't Know About Kendrick Lamar

Few things are undebatable when it comes to discussing hip-hop, but one of the genre’s absolute certainties is that Kendrick Lamar is one of the greatest rappers working today. This still-young millennium has featured plenty of rappers who couldn’t quite meet the commercial and critical hype. But like a teenage LeBron James, Kendrick Lamar is one of the first MCs of his age cohort who actually exceeded the expectations that had been building since his breakthrough, 2010’s Overly Dedicated. His major label debut good kid, m.A.A.d city is considered a classic, and his multiple RIAA plaques, Grammy wins, top slots on album of the year lists, and Pulitzer Prize since then demonstrate that he’s yet to fall off.

Kendrick Lamar is perhaps most significant because he’s one of the few rappers who’s consistently shown that commercial success and traditional lyrical ability don’t have to be mutually exclusive. The biggest example of that ability is his most recent album DAMN, which combined stadium-filling mainstream ambition with intense introspection and some evergreen catchphrases (“What happens on Earth stays on Earth!” is tattoo-able). Lamar’s current mainstream dominance has been built upon over a decade of hard work: He’s been releasing mixtapes since he was 16 years old, years before he became the potential top-five-dead-or-alive he is today.

Hip-hop heads are continuing to look forward to how he’ll top DAMN, the first hip-hop album ever to earn a Pulitzer Prize. But even though he’s given so much of himself in the booth, there are still some facts about him that may surprise even the most astute follower. Here are 22 things you didn't know about Kendrick Lamar, including what he considers to be his worst song and that time he was signed to Def Jam.

His family referred to him as “Man Man”

Kendrick has had a lot of nicknames throughout his life, but one name that stuck with family is “Man Man.” He says his family used the name in order to toughen him up. “From what my family tells me, I carried myself as a man – that’s why they called me ‘Man Man,’” he told Rolling Stone. “It put a stigma on the idea of me reacting as a kid sometimes – I would hurt myself and they would expect me not to cry. That put a lot of responsibility on me, got me ready for the responsibility my fans put upon me.” As a result, Kendrick said he “ended up getting tough skin, too, even with criticism.” 

He always requests Polo socks on his rider.

Kendrick can now add his name to the list of celebrities who make unusual requests on their tour riders. In addition to asking for his favorite Fruity Pebbles cereal and Hennessy while he is on tour, Kendrick also likes to keep his feet warm with a very specific brand of socks. “When people ask for my rider, they think I’m crazy: Fruity Pebbles, baked chicken, bottle of Hennessy, and some Polo socks,” he told Interview magazine. “As an artist, you can have some crazy stuff on there. But when I go backstage, I like to put some fresh socks on. My grandma always told me, ‘You ain’t got to take a shower for four days, but put some fresh socks on and you’ll feel better about yourself.’”

Kendrick Lamar and Dr. Dre attended the same high school.

Compton’s Centennial High School boasts Kendrick and Dr. Dre as some of its notable alumni, alongside NBA player Aaron Afflalo, rapper Big Fase 100 (the Game’s older brother), and NFL Hall of Famer Larry Allen.

He rapped in a cypher with Charles Hamilton.

Lamar was a virtual unknown at Hot 97's Who’s Next showcase at SOB’s in 2009 when he got caught up rapping against Charles Hamilton, who was considered quite the prodigy at the time. Day one Kendrick fans would recognize his verse from C4’s “West Coast Wu Tang” and his Funkmaster Flex “Who Shot Ya?” freestyle. The former and future Interscope signees would see their public standings switch within months: Hamilton’s career spiraled due to undiagnosed bipolar disorder and public controversies (including working with the late J. Dilla in a “strictly paranormal relationship”), while Kendrick Lamar became, well, Kendrick Lamar.

He remembers showing an interest in expanding his vocabulary in the first grade.

Kendrick’s interest in vocabulary and its use in poetry and literature dates back to his early years in elementary school. According to the rapper, he used to pick up new words by listening to conversations between his adult family members. “My first-grade teacher flipped out because I wrote the word ‘audacity’ in a story,” he told Complex in a 2014 cover story. “I knew the word only because I heard my auntie and uncles arguing, saying, ‘You got the audacity to take my motherfucking drink and pour it out?!’ I learned all my words like that, so when I went to school it was in my head.”

He thinks "B*tch I’m In The Club" is his worst song.

C4's “Bitch I’m In The Club” sorely sticks out as a young artist’s attempt at a Lil Wayne impersonation. Kendrick agrees, and slammed the track during a 2017 interview with Big Boy. “I just know the level of reach that I was doing when I wrote the record,” he said. “From what was playing on the radio to what was on TV.”

He says religion helped him steer away from a destructive path.

Kendrick credits his Christian faith for helping him change his life around. After witnessing a lot of death and violence as a child, he began to feel hopeless and jaded. “I’ve seen my own blood shed, and I’ve been the cause of other people shedding their blood as well,” he told Vanity Fair in 2018. It was until he reached a low point in his teens that he realized something needed to change. “There was a split second when I felt what my homeboys were feeling—like I don’t give a fuck anymore—and that’s when I knew something else had to happen.” He eventually turned to his faith, receiving two baptisms, one at the age of 16, and the other in his 20s.

He was originally signed to Def Jam.

Kendrick Lamar was signed to the legendary label in 2006, when it was run by Jay-Z. “I don’t think even Jay remember that. This was when I was like first turned 17,” he explained to MTV’s Hip Hop POV. “And I remember coming out here for a meeting and I was too excited man. And all I remember was Jay walking in the room, ‘Yo, what’s up?’ And walked back to the elevator and we was like ‘Damn, that’s Jay.’ So he doubles back, goes back to his office next door and he’s playing my music. Put me in the studio and that was just one of those situations where I wasn’t ready.”

Though the deal didn’t work out, there weren’t any hard feelings between Jay and Kendrick. The two would link up on the “Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe” remix in 2013.

Kendrick changed his name from “K-Dot” because he felt it was a distraction.

Kendrick Lamar went by K-Dot from 2003 to 2009, but reverted back to his birth name for the sake of artistic intimacy. “The name change was just me basically developing myself,” he said to Hard Knock TV. “When people heard the name K-Dot, they were like, ‘The kid is dope, he can rap; but who is he?’ That went on for years—just another kid in the streets that can rap good, right? So I was like, ‘Y’know what? I want people to know who I am as a person and what I represent.’”

He was named after The Temptations’ Eddie Kendricks.

Kendrick’s parents had soul music playing around the house during his formative years, so naturally he became familiar with The Temptations. But his ties with the legendary Motown group go back to before he could even talk: Kendrick told Arsenio Hall in 2013 that his first name is an ode to late Temptations co-founder Eddie Kendricks.

He was on the set of Tupac and Dr. Dre’s “California Love.”

Lamar was only 8 years old when he sat on his father’s shoulders to witness the taping of the iconic video, which was shot at Compton’s Swap Meet. He’s been open about how much of an impact the scene had on his formative years. "Subconsciously, it sparked something," he once said. "I always kept thinking about that moment." Lamar went on to shoot “King Kunta” at the Compton Swap Meet.

Do not offer him Raisin Bran.

Kendrick has broken down his love of Fruity Pebbles and how exactly they ought to be prepared (60 percent soggy/40 percent crunchy) before. He isn’t particularly fond of Raisin Bran or Wheaties, though. “Don’t talk to me about no fucking Raisin Bran,” he told Complex in a 2012 interview. “Wheaties? Stop it. You pick that up in the aisle walking with me and I might be liable to punch you in the face if you were my cousin.” In Raisin Bran’s defense, the high-fiber, low-fat flakes are good for sustained weight loss.

You can catch a young K-Dot in an early Jay Rock video.

Before Cornrow Kenny came into being, Kendrick Lamar was just an eager twenty-something popping up on his labelmate’s video. The 2008 “All My Life (In the Ghetto)” video features appearances from Lamar, fellow TDE member Ab-Soul, and song feature Lil Wayne.

Nick Young is his cousin.

Yes, Swaggy P and Kendrick Lamar are related. Young was surprised about this, too. “Actually, I just found out through my dad,” he told Complex in 2012. “I knew him when he was little, but I hadn’t seen him in a while and now it’s like ‘Damn, I didn’t know that’s my cousin and I ain't seen him in forever.’ That’s big time.”

DMX’s 'It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot' inspired Kendrick Lamar to be a rapper.

Lamar is one of the many who were blown away by DMX’s classic debut. “That’s the first album that got me writing,” he told Complex. “I wrote my first lyrics to that album actually, about 13-14. I was going into eighth grade, seventh grade going into eighth grade maybe. I just got inspired and I started writing, so that will always be one of my favorite albums…. That album inspired me to be a rapper.”

He made a whole mixtape based off 'Tha Carter III.'

Like a lot of us, Kendrick Lamar was a huge Lil Wayne fan during the rapper’s mid-to-late-’00s prime. C4, released six months after Weezy’s commercial peak Tha Carter III, featured Lamar rhyming over the album’s beats. Even the mixtape’s cover pays homage. C4 would be his last release under the alias K-Dot; Overly Dedicated, his breakthrough, came the next year.

He believes 'DAMN' is his best album.

Though To Pimp a Butterfly has a wider musical and historical scope, Kendrick Lamar revealed to Big Boy that he thinks Damn, his most recent, is his best work. He ranked good kid, m.A.A.d. City in second place, followed by To Pimp a Butterfly and Section.80. Lamar also told i-D that he thinks “Fear” has his best verses.

He describes himself as an introvert.

Kendrick describes himself as an introvert when he’s not in “artist mode.” “I like to be alone a lot. I need that” he told Vanity Fair. While he said he likes his alone time to collect his thoughts, he understands how to step outside of his comfort zone when he needs to. “It’s that duality,” he explained. “I can go in front of a crowd of 100,000 people and express myself, then go back, be alone, and collect my thoughts all over again.”

He feels like he found his voice once he changed his stage name from K-Dot to Kendrick Lamar.

Most fans know that Kendrick used to perform under the stage name K-Dot when he was first breaking into the industry. He released several mixtapes under the moniker, including Konkrete Jungle Muzik, before switching to his birth name in 2009. Kendrick credits his name-change to helping him find his voice and style as an artist. “When I stopped going by K-Dot, I think that was the moment where I really found my voice,” he explained to Variety in 2017.  “Early, early on, I really wanted to be signed. And that was a mistake, because it pushes you two steps backwards when you have this concept of ‘OK, I’ve got to make these three [commercial] songs in order to get out into the world and be heard.’ So there were two or three years where I wanted to be signed so badly that I’m making these same two or three repetitive demo kinds of records, and I’m hindering my growth. The world could have got Kendrick Lamar two or three years earlier if I’d stuck to the script and continued to develop.”

The original title for 'DAMN' was 'What Happens on Earth Stays on Earth.'

Kendrick later decided against it due to its length. Instead, DJ Kid Capri pops up multiple times on Damn to shout the phrase, which expresses one of the album’s core themes—the impermanence of inner turmoil.

Taylor Swift helped Kendrick Lamar get his first No. 1.

Although “Humble” is his first No. 1 as the lead artist, Lamar previously made his first overall visit in 2015 for being featured on Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood” remix. The idea of hip-hop’s Chosen One joining forces with the pop queen rubbed many rap heads the wrong way, but Kendrick explained himself to Howard Stern in 2017: “With this particular record, it was me just vibing and catching her lyrics,” Lamar said. “I didn’t want to get into her head too crazy. I just wanted to have my own inspiration and see where it took it.”

He comes from a large family, and they’re not all from Compton.

Kendrick Lamar comes from a huge extended family. In an early interview, the rapper revealed that he has over 15 aunts and uncles on both his mother and father’s side, who also have children of their own. He also noted that they come from all over the country. “My mom’s got 14 brothers and sisters, my pop’s got 10. They started in Chicago and came to L.A.,” he said.

Via Complex Music