When it was announced that Kendrick Lamar was playing Bumbershoot this year, I first thought, "Oh cool, Kendrick Lamar." But then I mulled it over for 30 more seconds and remembered, "Wait, I don't think I actually know who that is." I mean, I'd heard the name—he was on that A$AP Rocky "Fuckin' Problems" song, and his depressive, alcoholic "Swimming Pools (Drank)" hit rang a KUBE 93 bell, but how did I not know more about who this extremely famous, high-profile (he's worked with Snoop Dogg, Drake, RZA, Dr. Dre, etc.), 26-year-old "best-new-everything-award-winning" rapper was?
Scoff all you want, scoff police, but I can reasonably get down with radio-topping, empty-calorie pop/hiphop/R&B/is-there-really-even-a-defining-genre-with-this-stuff-anymore music like I can get down with eating kale every day and then just inhaling an entire box of fruit snacks. The point is, I'm not too proud to tell you that I'm fairly aware of what's cycling the vapid-hits radio, for better or worse. Which brings us to Kendrick Lamar Duckworth (actual last name, I'm serious).
I listened to the singles and the popular stuff, to the old albums and the weirder stuff. I looked at his photos and read his Wikipedia page, and I still didn't know who Kendrick Lamar is. I attempted to immerse myself in all things Lamar—his peculiar accent and grizzled old-man voice, his choppy alliteration, his above-average lyrics, his liberal application of Martian/helium-goose vocal effects, his complex stories—but it just didn't take. I went away with this: Kendrick Lamar is good but not mind-blowing—some of his tracks are neat ("Backseat Freestyle," "Rigamortis"), others are extremely boring ("Bitch, Don't Kill My Vibe," "Chapter Six"). Hmmm...
Then, in the middle of my quest, the internet exploded. Kendrick Lamar rapped a verse on a Big Sean song that informed fellow rappers that he was going to murder them with his raps until the world ceased to remember that other rappers existed. UH-OH. At the time of my typing this, Lamar is enjoying a calculated controversial spotlight, complete with Oh-no-he-didn't Twitter beef, because he did what rappers and famous people do: He claimed to be the best, because, uh, it's easy. I'M THE FUCKING BEST! See?
I came to the conclusion that the only people I could turn to were the people this stuff is made for: the teens. More specifically, the teens at the mall. On a beautiful, bright Seattle Sunday, I made the voyage to Southcenter Mall in Tukwila, where I spent four and a half hours asking teens and young adults about Kendrick Lamar. Here's what they had to say.
Photo by Lelah Maupin
Zachary was at the Zumiez store—he was extremely friendly and tall.
Who is Kendrick Lamar?
He's cool. He's cool for rap. I'm not much of a rap fan, but if I were to listen to rap, I'd listen to him because he's—most of the time—rapping about stuff that's important and actually exists, instead of just money and girls.
What does he rap about that actually exists?
Um, he raps about where he's from, what he's lived through. He occasionally will rap about girls and cars, but even when he does that, he does it a lot better than anyone else.
What kind of music do you listen to?
Classic rock. My favorite band is Rush.
Alex works at Journeys Kidz and is therefore nicknamed "Baby Feet" by other mall workers.
I was wondering if you know anything about Kendrick Lamar.
I know a little bit.
What do you know? Do you like him?
I don't mind Kendrick Lamar. He's got some really catchy songs that'll get stuck in my head, but other than that... it's not really my genre of music.
What is your genre of music?
Everything, kinda, but that.
Everything but hiphop?
Well I like classic hiphop. I like the classic stuff. Uh, hold on, I gotta go grab some shoes.
[While Alex grabs some shoes for a tiny child, her coworker at Journeys Kidz tells me, "You know, he was just here. Kendrick Lamar was just here a few months ago. Here at the mall. Well, maybe it was more like a year ago, but he did an appearance." Coworker declines an interview, Alex comes back.]
So did you know Kendrick Lamar is playing Bumbershoot this year?
I did. Unfortunately, I do know that because I can't go. I can't get the time off. I snuck in last year, though! It was pretty great.
What is your favorite band right now?
Um... I've been listening to more stuff that's in the EDM spectrum. Daft Punk's new album came out, so I've been glued to that. Glued to that. Um, Warm Weather's been out. Also, a lot of classic '80s rock.
Carl works at Hot Topic and was very excited about the pixelated Minecraft foam swords and torches the store carries.
Do you like Kendrick Lamar?
No. I'm more a fan of, like, spoken-word rap rather than that average stuff.
So what's your favorite music right now?
Oh yeah, what kind?
I've been listening to a lot of Whirr and Nothing. I've really been into My Bloody Valentine.
Oh cool, do you like their new album?
They have a new album?! Is that why they're coming here? Whoa, that's awesome! Thanks for telling me!
I'm totally going to listen to that.
BIANCA, 17; MOLLY, 17
Bianca and Molly were browsing the neon racks at Wet Seal while Taylor Swift's "22" blasted through the tinny speakers.
Tell me how you feel about Kendrick Lamar.
Bianca: I HATE Kendrick Lamar. He's annoying, his voice is very annoying—he has, like, multiple voices, and I think they're all annoying. His duck voice is stupid, very stupid.
What do you think his worst song is?
Bianca: Well, I guess I like "Swimming Pools." [Laughs] I actually do like that one. Uhh, I don't know which one I hate the most.
What about you, Molly?
Molly: I don't mind him. I wouldn't pick to listen to him, but if it's on the radio, I don't mind it.
What's your favorite band?
Molly: Um, I listen to more country. So just, like, more of that.
Molly: Any country. I don't know, like Luke Bryan.
What about you, Bianca?
Bianca: I listen to... what do I listen too, uh, I listen to Ellie Goulding and Lana Del Rey. That's mostly what I listen to.
Thanks, where are y'all from?
Bianca: We're from Sammamish!
John was hanging out at a pop-up shop called The Cool, chatting with the friendly dudes behind the counter (who insisted he wear the bucket hat in the photo).
How do you feel about Kendrick Lamar?
He's good. Great.
What's your favorite song? What do you like about him?
That's a hard one. Most of the stuff off Section.80 is probably my favorite. The song "A.D.H.D." and uuumm, I don't know, good kid, m.A.A.d city was pretty good, and that really blew up the radio—I think that's what really gave him a bunch of buzz. He deserves a lot of respect, though, because he can defend himself, even now. I mean, look at the song he just put out.
Oh yeah, that verse.
[John's friend pipes in, "That verse was dope."] Yeah. Good verses, good beats, good team—he's set for it.
What else do you listen to?
I listen to everything. [Friend interjects, "Yung Lean, you better tell her Yung Lean!"] Yung Lean, Sad Boys, the xx, Bon Iver, Kanye, Chance the Rapper, Tech N9ne—weird people, okay people, popular people...
Are you going to Bumbershoot?
I might just go for Saturday because of Dave B—he went to the same high school as me, so I might go for that one day just to support the homie. That's the only reason I want to go.
Hanna was shopping at Forever 21 with her sister.
What do you think about Kendrick Lamar?
I think he's a good rapper.
Do you have a favorite song?
"Swimming Pools," I guess?
What other kind of music do you listen to?
Just pretty much anything. Hiphop, R&B stuff.
What's your least favorite kind of music?
I don't like jazz. Probably jazz.
Where are you from?
This article has been updated since its original publication.