Kendrick Lamar’s “Work Hard!” Success Principles

Kendrick Lamar’s “Work Hard!” Success Principles

In today’s article, let’s have a little fun: 

Back in 2011, a young music industry photographer named David Black was tasked with taking pictures of a relatively unknown Compton rapper named Kendrick Lamar

On the wall of the make-shift garage studio Kendrick was recording in… 

There was a piece of paper placed up with five success principles, written in Lamar’s own hand

Let’s list the five principles Kendrick Lamar wrote for himself in 2011 during the recording of his now instant classic, good kid, m.A.A.d city

…And analyze how Kendrick used them, and how YOU can use them to better build your brand using Kendrick Lamar’s “work hard” mindset! 

Our YouTube Training on Kendrick Lamar’s “Work Hard” Mindset!

50 Cent’s Influence on Kendrick Lamar’s Work Hard Mentality

Before we even get into the actual motivation tips, I want to point out something for you: 

The rapper who gets mentioned the most in Kendrick’s success rules is none other than 50 Cent.

I think the first thing to take away from this is that although in many ways Kendrick is sonically the farthest thing away from 50 Cent we can think of…

…Lamar is not afraid to pull inspirations from him in both work rate, song structure, and mindset. 

One of the biggest mistakes young “lyrically-minded” artists make is to write off a more street or “gangsta” rapper because they feel like they can’t learn anything from them.

Additionally, a lot of more underground or backpack rappers seem to believe that the 50 Cent’s and the Lil’ Wayne’s of the world are somehow mindless gun-toting poison to the game…

…Rather than identifying specific PIECES of street rapper’s success they can pull from. 

King Kunta is also on the record as being one of Lil’ Wayne’s biggest celebrity fans.

The major takeaway here is not to let differences in target demographic stop you from picking up gems from a major street rapper…

…Or on the opposite side, not learning from a lyrical MC if you’re doing music for the hood.

With that being said, let’s get into Kendrick Lamar’s work hard success principles… 

Kendrick Motivation #1 – Charisma / Personality / Swagger 

Kendrick Lamar Work Hard #1

“Call it what you like, but without it you’re just a human reading off of a paper. Believe it or not, 50 being shot in his mouth area gave him more style and personality from the straight forward, aggressive style he had during his Columbia days. It instantly stood out when his attorney played the his demo in the summer of ’02”

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Kendrick’s Personality Keeps Him Balanced

This first thing that should stand out for us in this Kendrick Lamar work hard mindset is that he puts “style” and finesse at a premium.

While being considered one of the greatest lyricists of all time and a true master of technical writing proficiency as a rapper…

…He has also always showed a taste for making his raps have flair and “sauce”. 

For you as an artist – especially if you tend towards more of the “lyrical miracle” style of Hip-Hop – you should NEVER discount the importance of developing that “magnetic personality” on the mic that will draw the audience in.

One of the most impressive feats Kendrick Lamar has been ever pulled off was the ability to say lyrically respected while also commercially successful. 

From day one, it was clear King Kenny know that having a bit of swagger in his songs would help accentuate his introspective lyrics.

Kendrick Is A Student of the Music AND The Business

Kendrick realizes there are two components to the music business… 

MUSIC and BUSINESS.

So even in success principle #1, he is already referencing the history of 50 Cent’s signing allegiances…

…With 50’s first major label deal being with Columbia. 

Furthermore, it would seem that Kendrick has been on the edges of the industry from a very young age, as his reference to knowing 50’s then-lawyer would put Kendrick at around age 14 or 15 when he heard that demo! 

Kendrick Motivation #2 – Substance 

Kendrick Lamar Work Hard #2

“The ability to move people through words is a gift like nothing else. Add the right backdrop to that gift and you’ve got a winner. 50 Cent’s “Many Men” is a prime example of a street rapper taking audiences into the inner psyche of the stress that comes from living the life of a street cat.”

It’s quite interesting that for all of the artists Kendrick Lamar could connect with “substance”… he again, chooses 50 Cent.

50, while considered one of the most SUCCESSFUL (in terms of sales and power) rappers of all-time…

…Is perhaps underrated in terms of his ability to paint a picture with substance.

(It should be noted that when Kendrick wrote these articles in 2011, 50 Cent was considered past his prime by many in the industry, and “Many Men” itself was over seven years old…)

In any case this advice shows that Kendrick sees that one of the main components of “substance”…

…is taking your fans into your INNER world as much as talking about a topic that is RELEVANT too them.

We can consider songs like, “Da Art of Peer Pressure” and “A.D.H.D” as examples of the substantive palette Kendrick was developing at the time.

Kendrick Motivation #3 – Lyrics

Kendrick Lamar Work Hard #3

“I believe MCs make great artists (Biggie, Eminem, Jay-Z, Big Pun). It’s just a matter off knowing the advantages and disadvantages of being a wordsmith in a climate where dumbing down is widely embraced. When I got Em’s demo in ’97, he not only exhibited the qualities of a top notch, battle-ridden wordsmith, he knew how to use them without boring the listener. He now uses that ability to make some of the greatest records (“Lose Yourself”, “The Way I Am”, “Stan”) ever record by an MC.”

In this tip we have an in-depth discussion by Kendrick on the merits of Eminem

A few other key name drops include rappers who have all tasted both critical and commercial accolades: The Notorious B.I.G., Jay-Z, and Big Pun.

Is in any surprise to use that Kendrick Lamar is one of the only artists in his generation to garner the same praise?

Here he demonstrates how much of a premium up-and-coming artists should put on making practicing the tight-rope act of making a catchy, commercially viable track…

…AND still having serious substance (like in tip #2). All of the Eminem songs listed here bear this concept out.

For yourself as a lyricist, one of the most important keys is having a rousing chorus and a banging beat.

In the case of both “Lose Yourself” and “The Way I Am”, Eminem lays his substantive bars over a bed of hard, in-your-face thumping rhythms…

…And throws an UNFORGETTABLE chorus on there to boot. 

You can think of Kendrick Lamar’s later work with songs like “Loyalty” and “Alright” as examples of great, bouncing production mixing with relevant topical lyrics.

Kendrick Motivation #4 – Uniqueness 

Kendrick Lamar Work Hard #4

“Whether it’s perspective or style, I look for something tat’s going to stand out from the rest of the pack and eventually appeal on a coast to coast level. I found Bobby Creekwater; a Southern MC going toe to toe with a respected East Coast MC, without sacrificing his Southern swagger. It instantly showed me that he could appeal with two different factions of the Hip-Hop audience.” 

Let’s start with a bit about Bobby Creekwater:

Now I can’t lie, I had a to do a little research on him because his name didn’t ring a bell off of the top of my head.

Once I looked him up online, I do vaguely remember he was signed to Shady Records for a time, and even appeared on the Shady compilation “The Re-Up” in 2006.

True to form, his style is a mix of swagger-based TI-like charisma and lyrical reflection that is akin to an Andre 3000

(Needless to say he is from Atlanta)

In any case, I think this tip really again shows how much of a student of the game Kendrick is. 

While most of his motivation comes from major household name artists like 50, Eminem, and Jay-Z

…He is not afraid to pull his influences from his peers and the artists around him.

Really think about the humility to takes to do that, especially when you are busy making what would soon become one of the most celebrated albums of the decade in good kid, m.A.A.d city!

For you as an artist, this is a great reminder to not be afraid to take influences from the rappers around you…

…Study your peers just as much as your idols, even if they’re not a “household name” just yet.

Kendrick Motivation #5 – Work Ethics

Kendrick Lamar Work Hard #5

“The current top 5 didn’t get there off mere talent. You match talent with drive and a rapper’s probability of being a long term brand increased daily. Take away 50’s ability to make great songs and you still have one of the hardest working human beings I’ve ever encountered, from taking pictures with fans to showing up places on time, his work ethic is a major part of why he’s one of the most successful artists ever.” 

Our last Kendrick work hard motivation tip yet again references Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson. 

Kendrick Lamar Work Hard Secret: Show Up On Time

I think the most interesting portion of this point is that Kendrick makes a point to reference actually SHOWING UP ON TIME to events.

This might be the least “swaggy” thing any rapper could pinpoint and yet it pays serious dividends to an artist career. 

An emphasis on professionalism as part of your work ethic is something we don’t hear enough from our favorite artists, and yet here we have Kendrick himself telling us point blank…

…Showing up on time is CRUCIAL to success.

In your case, that means when you have a studio session or a business meeting…

GET THERE EARLY.

This will demonstrate to the other party that you take your career seriously… 

…EVEN more seriously than they do.

…And then, they will want to give you money! 🙂 

Kendrick Lamar's Work Hard Smile
“I’m laughing if you ain’t on time, homey!”

Conclusion

Let’s review the five Kendrick Lamar “work hard” mindsets we’ve learned today: 

Kendrick Motivation #1 – Charisma / Personality / Swagger

“Call it what you like, but without it you’re just a human reading off of a paper. Believe it or not, 50 being shot in his mouth area gave him more style and personality from the straight forward, aggressive style he had during his Columbia days. It instantly stood out when his attorney played the his demo in the summer of ’02”

Kendrick Motivation #2 – Substance 

“The ability to move people through words is a gift like nothing else. Add the right backdrop to that gift and you’ve got a winner. 50 Cent’s “Many Men” is a prime example of a street rapper taking audiences into the inner psyche of the stress that comes from living the life of a street cat.”

Kendrick Motivation #3 – Lyrics

“I believe MCs make great artists (Biggie, Eminem, Jay-Z, Big Pun). It’s just a matter off knowing the advantages and disadvantages of being a wordsmith in a climate where dumbing down is widely embraced. When I got Em’s demo in ’97, he not only exhibited the qualities of a top notch, battle-ridden wordsmith, he knew how to use them without boring the listener. He now uses that ability to make some of the greatest records (“Lose Yourself”, “The Way I Am”, “Stan”) ever record by an MC.”

Kendrick Motivation #4 – Uniqueness

“Whether it’s perspective or style, I look for something tat’s going to stand out from the rest of the pack and eventually appeal on a coast to coast level. I found Bobby Creekwater; a Southern MC going toe to toe with a respected East Coast MC, without sacrificing his Southern swagger. It instantly showed me that he could appeal with two different factions of the Hip-Hop audience.”

Kendrick Motivation #5 – Work Ethics

“The current top 5 didn’t get there off mere talent. You match talent with drive and a rapper’s probability of being a long term brand increased daily. Take away 50’s ability to make great songs and you still have one of the hardest working human beings I’ve ever encountered, from taking pictures with fans to showing up places on time, his work ethic is a major part of why he’s one of the most successful artists ever.”



Comment below: 

What are YOUR personal five success principles you’ve learned that helped your career? 

Drew Morisey, @drewmorisey on Instagram and Twitter

9 thoughts on “Kendrick Lamar’s “Work Hard!” Success Principles

  1. Man I remember watching an old top dawg ent interview and when they walked in the studio they had this on the wall and I could never make out what is said clearly. Good post man

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