Last week, Kendrick Lamar dropped “Damn.,” the highly anticipated follow up to his epic 2015 album, “To Pimp a Butterfly.” It’s an emotional work, a tale of personal struggle set against the backdrop of a hostile America.
The hype around Lamar built to a climax on Easter Sunday, when Lamar closed out weekend one of the Coachella Music Festival with a powerful performance that folded in material from the new album. The buzz wasn’t dying out as we all crawled back to work this week, stuffed with chocolate, peeps and, perhaps, a sense of religious renewal, but Lamar gave us another jolt anyway. On Tuesday, he debuted the video for the album’s new single “DNA,” which finds him squaring off against actor Don Cheadle with furious intensity in an interrogation room.
Suffice it to say, Kendrick Lamar is killing the game right now.
Over the weekend, discussion of the album dominated the ATX hip-hop Facebook sphere, and at one point, the conversation shifted from critical reaction to hindsight-sharpened reminiscence.
Back in 2011, well over a year before he dropped the career-exploding statement album, “Good Kid/Maad City,” Lamar worked the streets during the South by Southwest Music Festival as a small-time rap hustler like any other. He played second fiddle to fellow Top Dawg Entertainment artist Jay Rock, who hip-hop heads had pegged as one of that year’s big breakouts.
At a blockbuster showcase with a lineup of soon-to-be stars that included Big Krit, Mac Miller and the Cool Kids, local rapper Dominican Jay of the League of Extraordinary Gz talked to Lamar, but he was just working an angle.
“I got Kendrick’s number, talking to him for a little bit with only intentions on using him to get closer to J. Rock, to get a feature from J. Rock,” he said in a Facebook post. “With K.dot so hungry, cool and humble saying J.Rock was $8000 but he’d do it for $2000. Little did we know a few years later he’d grow to be bigger than J.Rock and everyone on that bill.”
Eric Morgan, who raps as Master of Self in the excellent Killeen/Austin-based rap duo Crew 54, was similarly dismissive of Lamar that year. He caught him freestyling on one of Donald Glover’s early performances as Childish Gambino at a SXSW showcase at Red 7.
“I remember not being a fan of Kendrick or Glover, music wise. I thought (Glover) was going to do stand up and was disgusted when he started rapping,” he said on Facebook this weekend. (Side note: I was also at that show and was similarly annoyed at Glover for not being funny. I referred to Childish Gambino as Glover’s “angsty rap side project.”)
But for some reason, Morgan, who’s also a filmmaker, decided to shoot a video of Glover and Lamar freestyling.
“I still see that video being shared to this date,” he said.
One person who understood Lamar’s potential even back then was Reggie Coby, another LOEGz member, whose soulful, Southern singing is ATX hip-hop’s most lethal secret weapon. He spotted Lamar on the sidelines before the Glover set.
“I had a beat CD. I had to give it to him. So I walked over and introduced myself and told him I knew who he was,” he said on Facebook. “I told him I loved him music and I had beats. I told him I thought he was one of the good guys and we were rooting for him.”
Lamar’s response wasn’t quite what he hoped for.
“He looked at me like I was an alien. At first my feelings were hurt but I realized already he was one of the greats then… He took my CD and dapped me up, but never called,” Coby said. “I got it. It wasn’t my best. I was proud. He had standards. I needed to go harder.”
Years later, Dominican Jay, whose most recent solo album “Reality Raps” was one of my favorites of 2016, is going harder than ever. But he’s left to shake his head at his Kendrick Lamar feature that never was.
“He was like, ‘Get my number down. Man, text me right now so I can lock you in,'” he said. “LOL. He was serious about getting his feature $…If only…”