What Kendrick Lamar Can Teach You About Creating Art and Finding Your Hassle

by Andre Gonsalves

With Kendrick’s new album To Pimp A Butterfly blessing our ears a week earlier and me listening to it on and off over the last 24 hours, what struck me most about it is how Kendrick Lamar is “overly dedicated” to his art. What do I mean by this? And how can this help you?

Here’s a guy whose on a major label (Interscope), known for breaking some of the biggest rappers, people like Tupac, Eminem, Dr. Dre and 50 Cent. Rappers who have all had huge radio singles. He has access to all the top producers in the world. But what I noticed about this album is that their are no obvious singles on here. Why?

Can’t Kendrick make a banger? Of course. But what he’s doing is not trying to create the radio or club single if it compromises the overall concept of the project. A lot of musicians wont take this approach when they create because they want to make an album full of “popular” or what they perceive as their popular songs so that they can get popular and their career can continue. It’s a simple equation most of us internalize: make hits and you get to keep playing the game. But I think this approach is actually counter productive because you can’t make a popular song before it becomes popular. Duh! So what do you make?

What should you focus on? I think every artist has to pick what their goals are for their project and then stick to it for dear life. Don’t get sidetracked by the Dj Mustard sounding beat, if your project doesn’t call for it. Once you make something that is out of the scope of that project you either scrap the song or scrap the project and create a new one with the new songs as the new goal posts. Make sense?

The point is have a vision. That is something that artists like Kendrick Lamar, Kanye West and J. Cole have. But it’s not just enough to have a vision you must have discipline to execute it. A phrase that’s been bouncing in my head these last few weeks, which admittedly I haven’t been able to articulate fully goes something like, “In order to get what you want, you have to do the things your competition would deem a hassle.” It’s a hassle not striving to make a radio hit and instead creating a narrative album that isn’t just singles but a complete body of work.

Just like you can’t get a movie by watching one scene, you can’t get a Kendrick Lamar album by one song.  And sure their maybe some obvious problems with this approach but that’s the point. It would be a hassle for the majority of artists to create this way, but that’s also what makes it so valuable. So go find your hassle. 



Andre is the head audio engineer at ADG Mastering, which he helped found in 2012. For the last 10 years, he has made it his mission to empower aspiring artists and musicians from around the world. You can see more of Andre's writings on our Blog.

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