ATLANTA — When Kendrick Lamar submitted the initial version of his new album, good kid, m.A.A.d city, the rapper planned on heading back to the studio to record more songs for it. Dr. Dre thought otherwise for his protege.
“When I brought it back to him, he said, ‘You know what, you’re done,’” Lamar recalled in a phone interview Wednesday night. “‘This is a classic for your generation and time, and we’re going to put this out now.’”
It seems that Dr. Dre made the right call. Lamar made a splash with his major label release, debuting at No. 2 on Billboard’s Top 200 albums chart this week behind Taylor Swift’s million-seller Red.
Lamar’s album sold 241,000 units and topped both the R&B/Hip-Hop and rap albums charts. The album also generated 2.8 million streams through Spotify, the second highest first-week output so far this year behind Mumford & Son’s Babel.
Not bad for the 25-year-old Lamar, a relatively new rapper who didn’t have a big hit heading into his major label debut. This week his single, Swimming Pools (Drank), jumped 23 spots to No. 32 on the Hot 100 chart and No. 5 on both the R&B/Hip-Hop and rap songs charts, respectively.
He also scored major buzz with the release of last year’s critically lauded independent album, Setion.80.
The Los Angeles-based rapper said he felt confident his album would produce solid numbers because of the strong fan base built through grassroots efforts. He said his label, Top Dawg Entertainment, led the way, marketing his music through “word of mouth” and the Internet before Interscope Records stepped in.
“It was really just everybody catching up,” he said. “I’m sure half of the industry probably thought an underground artist or a person with content and substance would probably not see numbers like that.”
He said his mentor, Dr. Dre, gave him the freedom to breathe artistically while recording the new album.
He said his intent was to put together a cohesive record that maintained a flow from track to track instead of trying to produce hit singles.
Critics certainly felt he displayed that on the album, which earned raved reviews. On the songs, Lamar tells several stories that were intertwined through skits about his upbringing in Compton, the gritty city southeast of downtown Los Angeles.
“Songs are going to come, regardless,” Lamar said. “Whether it’s a radio joint or a hit record, it’s going to come regardless…
“My initial goal is to make an album the same way Tupac (Shakur) did, the same way Jay-Z did, the same way Big (Notorious B.I.G.) did. I’m taking it back to the essence of that.”