The Trials of Kendrick Lamar
Lamar’s parents moved here from Chicago in 1984, three years before Kendrick was born. His dad, Kenny Duckworth, was reportedly running with a South Side street gang called the Gangster Disciples, so his mom, Paula Oliver, issued an ultimatum. “She said, ‘I can’t fuck with you if you ain’t trying to better yourself,’ ” Lamar recounts. “‘We can’t be in the streets forever.’ ” They stuffed their clothes into two black garbage bags and boarded a train to California with $500. “They were going to go to San Bernardino,” Lamar says. “But my Auntie Tina was in Compton. She got ’em a hotel until they got on their feet, and my mom got a job at McDonald’s.” For the first couple of years, they slept in their car or motels, or in the park when it was hot enough. “Eventually, they saved enough money to get their first apartment, and that’s when they had me.”
Lamar has a lot of good memories of Compton as a kid: riding bikes, doing back flips off friends’ roofs, sneaking into the living room during his parents’ house parties. (“I’d catch him in the middle of the dance floor with his shirt off,” his mom says. “Like, ‘What the . . . ? Get back in that room!’ ”) Then there’s one of his earliest memories — the afternoon of April 29th, 1992, the first day of the South Central riots.
Kendrick was four. “I remember riding with my pops down Bullis Road, and looking out the window and seeing motherfuckers just running,” he says. “I can see smoke. We stop, and my pops goes into the Auto-Zone and comes out rolling four tires. I know he didn’t buy them. I’m like, ‘What’s going on?’ ” (Says Kenny, “We were all taking stuff. That’s the way it was in the riots!”)
“Then we get to the house,” Lamar continues, “and him and my uncles are like, ‘We fixing to get this, we fixing to get that. We fixing to get all this shit!’ I’m thinking they’re robbing. There’s some real mayhem going on in L.A. Then, as time progresses, I’m watching the news, hearing about Rodney King and all this. I said to my mom, ‘So the police beat up a black man, and now everybody’s mad? OK. I get it now.’ ”
We’ve been sitting on the patio a while when Lamar sees someone he knows at the bus stop. “Matt Jeezy! What up, bro?” Matt Jeezy nods. “That’s my boy,” Lamar says. “He’s part of the inner circle.” Lamar has a few friends like this, guys he’s known all his life. But often he’d rather be by himself.