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Kendrick Lamar in New York: A Day in the Life

L.A. MC soundchecks at 30 Rock, hits platinum and shops for shoes

Kendrick Lamar

Jessica Lehrman

Kendrick Lamar is currently hip-hop’s golden child. After signing to Dr. Dre’s Aftermath imprint, touring the country with Drake and A$AP Rocky, releasing the critically acclaimed insta-classic Good Kid, m.A.A.d City and scoring his first platinum single with "Swimming Pools," Kendrick should be kicking his feet up. But the 25-year-old MC has spent the last decade gearing up for his moment, and he isn’t showing any signs of slowing down. On "The Art of Peer Pressure," Kendrick harmonizes his mother’s words of warning: "One day it’s gon’ burn you out." But for now, the flame’s still burning bright through the January winter, ya bish. Rolling Stone hopped in the passenger seat with the young King of Compton to get a glimpse of his daily grind, and bounced through television tapings, studio sessions, shopping sprees, and radio spots – experiencing firsthand the life of a great artist and good kid. 

By Matthew Trammell

Kendrick Lamar

Jessica Lehrman

Golden Child

If Kendrick is tired, he won’t admit it. He and label rep Archie Davis are sitting in the lobby of the Empire Hotel, gearing up for a full day of album promo on a numbingly frigid Thursday morning in New York City. A Grande and an iPad are 9 a.m. essentials after three hours of sleep. 

Kendrick Lamar

Jessica Lehrman

Heading to 30 Rock

A driver arrives promptly at 11:15 a.m. and the crew packs into an all-black Navigator to head to NBC Studios at 30 Rock. An occasional yawn breaks the silence as Kendrick mentally prepares for the trek that lies ahead.

 

Kendrick Lamar

Jessica Lehrman

NBC Studios

Kendrick, Archie, DJ/engineer Ali and manager Dave Free crack jokes as they stream into NBC Studios. Their bodyguard never leaves Kendrick’s side. "Don’t fuck with him" is the flat warning offered during introductions. 

Kendrick Lamar

Jessica Lehrman

Security Check

We’re escorted through the lobby, check in with security and head toward the elevator. This will be Kendrick’s first appearance on Saturday Night Live. Today, they’re running through "Swimming Pools (Drank)" and "Poetic Justice" to sound check and camera block. 

Kendrick Lamar

Jessica Lehrman

K. Dot

Hearing the team crack jokes and toss around thick L.A. slang, one can’t help but picture the joyrides in Mama Lamar’s white van that are chronicled throughout the album. Kendrick is still "K. Dot" in this small circle. "We did the album in the same studio we did all them mixtapes, with the same people," he explains. "No matter what people tell me, I still gotta work like it’s only a few kids in Compton hearing me."

Kendrick Lamar

Jessica Lehrman

Walls Of ‘SNL’

Autographed photos of past SNL guests line the walls throughout the studio. "Man, what do I have to do to get one of those?" Kendrick asks. "I think you’re doing it now," our photographer Jessie answers. 

Kendrick Lamar

Jessica Lehrman

Inside the Greenroom

The AirPort struggle is real as Dave scrambles to find a decent WiFi connection in the greenroom. They’re trying to download footage of Kendrick on tour as well as in the studio with Dr. Dre, to no avail. "We need to get these visuals out there," Dave laments. "People need to see him doing this shit."

Kendrick Lamar

Jessica Lehrman

Poetic Justice

Ali has the "Poetic Justice" instrumental on infinite loop as he scrubs the ad-libs of any profanity so it’s suitable for TV. Kendrick’s "HiiiPower" beanie isn’t out yet, and he’s tight-lipped about TDE’s upcoming line of apparel. He does, however, offer to buy my Jordan Vs from me, but it’s too cold outside to walk home in socks. 

Kendrick Lamar

Jessica Lehrman

Get Paid

"Are we all done with those payment forms?" an NBC rep asks as he walks in. "Yup, we ready to get paid right now!" a crewmember quips as Kendrick signs the dotted line on a binder full of restaurant menus. They order food and it arrives minutes before we've got to leave. 

Kendrick Lamar

Jessica Lehrman

Platinum

Besides his first 'SNL' appearance, today marks another milestone: Kendrick’s first single, "Swimming Pools (Drank)," has gone platinum, signifying a million copies sold. I ask when the plaque’s arriving, and he and Ali crack up. "Man, I ain’t seeing that no time soon. You win them awards and they don’t send ‘em for months." He smirks. "Fuck around and forgot you won the shit."

Kendrick Lamar

Jessica Lehrman

Rehearsal Time

We aren’t allowed to shoot Kendrick’s rehearsal (NBC policy). When we try to sneak a peak, an Interscope rep asks politely, "Would you guys mind going back to the greenroom and waiting?" We mind, but oblige anyway. FYI, The SNL soundstage looks much bigger on TV.

Kendrick Lamar

Jessica Lehrman

Shopping Break

After a quick recording session at Premier Studios, Kendrick and Co. hit Barneys to kill some time until the interviews scheduled for that evening. The elevator’s packed tight, and shoppers’ reactions to the crew of young black males in the high-end store range from curious ogling to stark avoidance.

Kendrick Lamar

Jessica Lehrman

Shopping with K. Dot

"You can’t shop with K. Dot," Dave Free says as Kendrick eyes a pair of $900 Margiela combat boots. "If I go shop with him, I’ll try to do what he do. If he spend five racks, I’ll probably spend two. He gon’ see me try something on and be like 'You gotta get em!' If I’m alone I’m only spending like $250."

Kendrick Lamar

Jessica Lehrman

Shopping Trip

A few coats catch Kendrick’s eye, no doubt due to the 12-degree wind-chill that’s gripped our m.A.A.d city. The crew fawns over Rik Owens, Goyard, YSL, and other chic rapper-friendly brands, but their haul is light. 

Kendrick Lamar

Jessica Lehrman

Lucky Dollar

Kendrick settles on two pairs of all-black Margielas, and a label rep signs the receipts. The rapper keeps a lucky dollar in his left shoe, and it nearly escapes once or twice while changing kicks. 

Kendrick Lamar

Jessica Lehrman

Barneys

There are a few semi-hidden passageways in Barneys that lead to discreet sections frequented by folks who would rather shop in private. The floors aren’t mapped out in any discernable pattern, and a wrong step can leave you staring at $3,000 purses when searching for raw denim. We got lost a few times trying to make our way back out, but a fellow patron was kind enough to point us toward this escalator and on our way.

Kendrick Lamar

Jessica Lehrman

Sirius XM

After a quick cypher with Hot 97’s Funkmaster Flex, in which Kendrick lit the city and internets on fire with freestyles over "Keep It Thoro" and "Nas Is Like," we jet to a 10 p.m. session at Sirius XM.  DJ Envy is unable to make it to his show this week, and his understudy DJ Steel fills in for an on-air interview. Off the mic, Steel admits jitters and Kendrick offers reassurance: "Do your thing, man. Now’s your shot. Everything happens for a reason."

Kendrick Lamar

Jessica Lehrman

P.A.P.I

Veteran New York rapper P.A.P.I (formally known as Noreaga of the duo CNN) arrives in the studio as Kendrick’s segment wraps, and the two snap some Instagram flicks in post-generational, post-regional solidarity. "It’s weird, we get a lot of love in N.Y., almost more than L.A. I think we sold more over here than in L.A.,” he mulled earlier in the lobby, and the proof lay bare.

Kendrick Lamar

Jessica Lehrman

Kendrick and DJ Steel

Kendrick and DJ Steel get a few flicks after their interview. It’s been a 14-hour day, and he still maintains the pensively chill demeanor we’d met that morning at the hotel. "I used to think once you got in the industry everything would be laid out for you," he says. "But once you’re here you gotta go ten times harder. Once you’re in, you gotta stay in."

Kendrick Lamar

Jessica Lehrman

Sirius XM’s Photobooth

The many faces of Kendrick Lamar as captured by Sirius XM’s photobooth. Despite his semi-stoic demeanor, the MC is a cut-up with his boys. They plugged through the day, freestyling over cuts from GKMC, mad-libbing jokes about each other’s outfits, bank statements, mothers – anything that fit into a bar was fair game.

Kendrick Lamar

Jessica Lehrman

Laugh it Off

Things get a little giddy as the evening settles in. Kendrick dodges a winking question about his relationship with Lady Gaga, laughing off the notion that the two got close during sessions for his album. "She’s just a good friend, man. She’s a great person and amazing artist."

Kendrick Lamar

Jessica Lehrman

Sirius XM Studios

Sirius XM studios are large glass boxes that resemble a museum exhibit or laboratory. The feeling is only amplified by the trio of photographers who circle around Kendrick, snapping photos throughout his segment. But he’s a good sport, and sticks around afterward to pose in front of the Sirius backdrop. 

Kendrick Lamar

Jessica Lehrman

Poetic Justice Preview

As we leave the Sirius XM studio, Dave Free surprises Kendrick with a preview of the "Poetic Justice" video, streaming on his iPhone. The two were in Toronto last week filming Drake’s segment, and Kendrick is ecstatic to see the first cut – he’s been hinting at a large visual component to GKMC for some time, and this clip has the same black and white grain as the recently released "Backseat Freestyle" video. It’s a fitting pick-me-up; after a long day of performing, the rapper can finally get back to creating.

In This Article: Kendrick Lamar

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