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Good Kid, M.A.A.D City

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Build a Brand as Powerful as Kendrick Lamar


Let’s get one thing straight from the start: your brand is about you. It’s about you or your company. It’s about an image, recognition, flavor.

For Kendrick Lamar, his brand was forged on the foundation of truth. He was true to his origins, his being, and his heritage and remains that way to this day. It’s one of the reasons his name is almost synonymous with excellence, not just within the music industry but in music videos and as he branches out into other realms of business ventures. 

Understanding Who He Is

One of the keys to keep in mind when building your brand is to remember what it’s all about. Kendrick Lamar was born into poverty, the son of a gang member in Compton, a part of Los Angeles. Living on welfare and in public housing, Kendrick didn’t know anything about life in the ‘burbs, what it meant to have plenty, or to ever feel comfortable just strolling down the streets.

Even amidst that rough backdrop of his childhood, Kendrick had a passion and it was conveyed through music. He was fortunate at eight years of age to witness two of his idols -Tupac Shakur and Dr. Dre- film the music video for their hit single, “California Love.” It was a pivotal moment in his young life and would go on to shape the man he’d become.

As a young child growing up in the tough neighborhoods of Compton, he stood out among his peers as he excelled in school. While many of his friends and classmates focused on other activities or merely surviving another day ‘on the streets,’ he maintained straight A’s.

By the time he was 16, Kendrick released his first single and the road to entrepreneurship began. His original pseudonym was K-Dot and he started establishing his personal brand, garnering strong local recognition for an upcoming hip hop and rap artist and especially for his lyrical mastery.

Staying True

It’s sometimes believed that consumers are fickle, that they’ll follow whoever or whatever, so long as it’s popular for the moment. In this digital age, in the hustle to rise or remain relevant, too many artists compromise who they are, what they were, or try to be something they’re not.

Such wasn’t the case for Kendrick Lamar; he remained true to who he is and was, from the very beginning of his budding career and to this day, holding 13 Grammy awards and even the Pulitzer Prize for music.

Public opinion is a powerful force that can sway young, eager minds to begin sliding down a path leading away from their authentic nature. At the same time, though, it’s often necessary to make adjustments, shift, and reinvent oneself to determine where they can best use their talents and make the greatest impact on the world.

Kendrick has always rapped about poverty, the violence that surrounded his life, and a world riddled in corruption. This was where he grew up. This has always been about his roots, experiences, and even his doubts and fears. That has never changed.

Like so many other artists -rap, hip hop, rock, etc.- whose lifestyles change, who begin chasing after the wrong crowd, the ‘flavor of the month’ fans, and who ultimately scrape, claw, and tear for a while to remain relevant before flickering into obscurity or irrelevance, Kendrick has stuck to who he truly is and that has made a world of difference in his career.

Shifting Left When Everyone Else Goes Right

When Lamar was enjoying phenomenal success, collecting more and more Grammy awards, and became the first rapper to ever win the coveted Pulitzer Prize for music, he continued to shrug off convention when he believed in something strong enough.

He released his untitled unmastered album in 2016 as a surprise to many fans. It was raw. It was unmastered. It was unexpected. While other artists may cringe at the thought of releasing unpolished work to their fans, Kendrick embraced the opportunity.

He innovated. He stood courageously on the precipice of what many of his contemporaries and perhaps even his managers and advisors suggested he avoid. The resulting release was raw, pure, and gave his avid fan base another glimpse into the man who had taken the music world by storm.

Humility Is Foundational

Never forget, when you’re aiming to build a brand, it’s important to remain humble. There are countless examples of men and women who took their fame, their success, and their wealth and stood on it like bastions of perfection.

Over time, most of them have fallen, being relegated to the waste bins of history’s ‘has beens.’ Not Kendrick. Despite all the success and money he’s earned, he remains humble.

Entrepreneurs needs to keep this in mind, even (and especially) when you begin finding success in whatever industry you conquer.

Doing Good Brings Great Reward

Some people, when they begin enjoying monetary wealth and entrepreneurial success, seek to donate money and do good within social causes because they assume it will bring them more attention, more media coverage, and can act as a solid marketing device.

When you’re building a brand, doing good will always reward you, no matter your internal motivators. However, genuine altruism brings along with these acts of kindness benefits that stretch far beyond the news footage, media coverage, or invites to special functions and events.

Philanthropy offers entrepreneurs great potential in not only impacting the world (even just the small world within your own community to start) and garnering greater attention for the brand you’re building.

Kendrick is a powerful example of an artist who has built a brand around his music and his name, who has been diligent about protecting that image and remaining true to who he is at his core. There are certainly plenty of examples of highly successful businesspeople who needed to adjust, make changes, and keep searching for the pulse of their target audience, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

When you’re building your brand there will be successes and failures. When you want to establish yourself for the long haul, though, learn from the mistakes, incorporate those lessons into the core of your brand, and remain humble. These simple lessons are provided in real life form by the 13-time Grammy Award winner and Pulitzer Prizing winning musician Kendrick Lamar.

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