Kendrick Lamar by Gozamos (CC BY-SA 2.0)

“The best thing is to always keep honest people around, because when you have a bunch of yes men around that know that you’re making a mistake but let you go on with it, that’s when it ruins your mind state as an artist.”

Having grown up with the so-called “gangsta rap” of the early 1990s, I look to today’s hip hop culture with a certain level of derision. A lot of it is worthless drivel about popping bottles, getting turnt, and looking fly. There’s nothing wrong with that, per se, but I remember when hip hop still had a powerful message to tell… and a political role to play. The recent Straight Outta Compton movie reminds us of all that.

Thankfully, not all of today’s hip hop is so superficial and meaningless. You have incredible artists like Lupe Fiasco who offer profound insights meant to make you think. Another prime example is Kendrick Lamar, the 28-year-old rapper from the tough streets of Compton. Maybe one of the bigger reasons why I like this guy is that his primary influences include Tupac Shakur, Nas, Mobb Deep and Eminem. Again, these are all rappers who had stories to tell and questions to ask.

The life of an artist is rife with struggle. You want to pay homage and feel inspired by those who came before you, but you also want to express your own unique creativity. You want to remain true to yourself, but you also seek the validation of those around you. And when it comes to the professional context, you want to be marketable and profitable without sacrificing your integrity.

Perhaps this becomes even more challenging after you’ve achieved a certain level of success. Many people suddenly want to ride on your coattails and your desire to be liked gets the better of you. You run the risk of surrounding yourself by yes men, as Kendrick Lamar describes above, and this can stunt your artistry. The truth is that different opinions are a good thing and all of your ideas and creations deserve a certain level of scrutiny.

I don’t claim to be as insightful or creative as Kendrick Lamar, nor am I anywhere near as successful as he is. Even so, I do view myself as something of an artist with the work that I do and I welcome any constructive criticism I may receive. It’s the only way I can develop my artistry, so to speak, and get that much closer to realizing my potential.

Aside: If you haven’t listened to “The Blacker The Berry” yet, you really should. I had that song on repeat for weeks after it came out.