You can argue a lot of things about the current state of hip hop and R&B, but one thing you can’t argue is this. Kendrick Lamar and Miguel are the princes of their respective genres at the moment, and everything they touch turns to gold. The editors over at VIBE magazine know this too, hence them calling up Miguel and K. Dot to cover their ‘Big Lists’ Issue.
First off, congrats on being dubbed musical geniuses of the current generation. Had you two met before the shoot?
MIGUEL: I never met Kendrick before this.
KENDRICK LAMAR: Even though we’re both from L.A., we never met.
MIGUEL: [Laughs] He’s just joking around. We got to work before and chopped it up for a quick second. As much as I love the fact that we get to be on the cover, it’s cool when it’s people that you really fuck with and you’re a fan of.
KENDRICK: Definitely, and it makes it easier when we do get back into the studio together. Because in the last couple of years I’ve [learned] you can’t really jump in a studio with everybody ’cause the energy is not there. To vibe with someone on a personal level makes the music sound so much better.
Kaleidoscope Dream and good kid, m.A.A.d city are both masterpieces, but was there anything you didn’t get to do that you have in mind for next go-round?
MIGUEL: There’s definitely a feature or two that I wish I could have had the time to put on there, but overall, I set out to create an album that sounded like what makes me love music. Next time around, I intend on pushing the boundaries. Just traveling, you start having conversations with new people, seeing new things, hearing new music and finding new things that inspire you. Naturally those things make their way into my music. I can’t tell you exactly what the next album would sound like, but it’s gonna be different from this one. Just like this one was different from the last. That’s just a way of documenting my fucking life.
KENDRICK: Yeah, I agree. I think it’s just a feature thing. The idea was to have Nas on “Sing About Me.”
MIGUEL: That would’ve been ill.
KENDRICK: I never got a chance to reach out to him. I was so wrapped up in getting the music done and samples cleared and mastered. I didn’t wanna rush the process; I actually wanted to sit in the studio and vibe with him. [It was] the only thing that I had a vision for that I sought out to accomplish, but in due time. God willing, for sure.
What did you envision him adding to that song?
KENDRICK: It was really one of those things where I just wanted to go into the studio and play him the record and whatever inspiration he had drawn from it, I’d just have him there, and he’d just go. He’s a genius. The record is self-explanatory, but he may have heard something different that might take it to the next level. That’s what makes a great feature and a collab for me, somebody that could take the song to the next level. He would’ve done just that. It’s a great record now, but to have his expertise on it would have been crazy.
Eminem could’ve been another great collabo. It sounds like you pay homage to him toward the end of “Backseat Freestyle.”
KENDRICK: You could listen to my whole album and see that it pays homage in my cadence and my flow. But at the same time, it’s still me. When I have that aggression in the record like that, that’s tricks that I learned being in that studio and dedicating myself. Being a student. Eminem was definitely a sought-out player that I always respected and looked up to.
MIGUEL: Not necessarily, and it’s only because I don’t measure my success up to the next individual. That’s not the gauge for me. I have so much respect for him and the amount of creativity that he has. I’m humbled that he knows my story and is rooting for me as much as I’m rooting for him. I do look at it as a benchmark saying, “Okay, you are moving forward as an artist, this is a blessing, this is a new level for you.” I’m a firm believer that we have to be the best people that we can be as individuals; it’d be a sin to measure ourselves up otherwise.
When it’s all said and done, what do you want to accomplish?
MIGUEL: Kendrick is poised to be the next staple in hip-hop and I certainly intend on becoming that for R&B, working my ass off and taking risks.
KENDRICK: Definitely. The biggest goal is to say, “Damn, we did it.” Think about Jay-Z and R. Kelly and everything they accomplished. I don’t know if they’re on talking terms now, but I’m sure they’d say, “Damn, we did it,” 20 years down the line. That’s the ultimate high—to accomplish what you sought after, just like those two did.
You’re both carrying the torch as the leaders of the new generation. How do you define musical genius?
KENDRICK: Somebody that don’t really have any boundaries, that’s not confined to the traditional structure of a song or traditional sounds. When you listen to “Adorn,” it feels like he’s not even trying to structure a radio joint. He just felt the music, felt the instrumentation and wrote the track.
MIGUEL: Good looks, bro. My favorite artists always took whatever they loved out of music and made it their own. It was their take on it. Kendrick is one of those people where I can hear Ice Cube’s first two albums’ influence. I get the street edge, but then I hear like the poetic player, smoothness, creativity and smart street savvy of Andre onAquemini. That juxtaposition is what I hear in Kendrick, but it’s his own take. If you listen to my shit, you’re gonna hear Prince, Marvin Gaye, Led Zeppelin or a little bit of the Beatles. That’s where I’m pulling from.
Some of the most genius artists have thrived when taking chances and innovating. How important is that? Does that set up for the inevitable dud?
KENDRICK: That’s the chance you gotta take. Who knew when Jay-Z sampled Annie that it would blow up? That could’ve been a disaster; you wouldn’t even be speaking about Jay-Z right now. But that was a chance he was willing to take. 808s & Heartbreak could’ve ruined Kanye, but he did it so smooth and different, it just felt right. And that’s one of his greatest albums. He wasn’t really rapping on it, but that was a chance he took to be ahead of the game. Those are genius minds. And that’s good for the culture of hip-hop, to know that we have people in the game before us that are willing to explore. It gives me a little more confidence in what I’m doing when I think back on all the emcees that have done that.
Read the entire interview over at vibe.com