After releasing two of the best R&B and Hip Hop albums of 2012 respectively, Miguel and Kendrick Lamar wouldn’t seem cocky if they assumed they have their fields covered.
The two L.A. artists land on the cover of Vibe’s 2013 “Big List” Issue.
Check out an excerpt of their cover story written by John Kennedy and their photo shoot with Steven Geomillion and Dennis Leupold below.
VIBE: 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 f*** 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.
What was your first impression of each other’s music?
KENDRICK: First time I heard Miguel, it was a video actually. What was the first video on BET?
MIGUEL: If it was the one with J. Cole, then that’s “All I Want Is You.”
KENDRICK: It was the joint before that, early in the game. Whatever it was, it was dope. Something new, something fresh. When I found out that he’s from the town, that made him even more official ’cause we don’t get too many vocalists getting light and love on the actual talent.
MIGUEL: I gotta say that Section.80 tape was it. What I liked most is the perspective. There’s a song where Kendrick is like—I’m gonna f*ck up the lyrics—How do you talk about money, religion and street life all at the same time. I know I f*cked it up, Kendrick. My bad, bro.
KENDRICK: Nah, you good. Exactly. That’s it.
MIGUEL: I just like that it’s an honest perspective. Sometimes you listen to MCs and you’re like, This s*** sounds cool, the verse and the cadence or whatever, but when you look at the artist, it just doesn’t translate. I don’t get that from Kendrick. Younger artists, we’re all striving to be ourselves. He’s one of the best examples of that.
KENDRICK: Likewise. As far as Miguel, one thing I said these past couple of years, from an R&B perspective, I always felt like it’s been missing the depth of actually telling a story. Everything on the radio has been cliché. But when you get a body of work like Miguel’s, you hear actual intricate details and lines where it’s not just saying, Come here girl, blah blah blah.
KENDRICK: You’re hearing the steps to get there. And that’s the part of R&B that’s been missing for a long time. To actually hear somebody new doing it and taking pride in such intricate details that make the song that much better, it makes you wanna ride to it all day. I come from that world of oldies and gangster rap. My pops probably played more R&B and vocalists in the house than gangster rap, so I always listened for lyrics and the s*** that make the women feel good. Once they like it, you know the dudes gon’ follow it right after, so you gotta be up on your s***.
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 s***, 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.
What’s the biggest risk you’ve taken artistically? One that went over surprisingly well and one that might’ve gone over people’s heads?
MIGUEL: Sh*t, well this whole album—overall it doesn’t sound like any other R&B album that’s been put out in the past decade. The only album I would say sounds as alternative would be A Beautiful World by Robin Thicke, and that was like 2003. Since then, I haven’t heard a commercial album sound as alternative as this one. Including those psychedelic influences for R&B was a huge risk. I honestly was nervous to put it out. I remember having a conversation with Mark, my A&R, like, “Man, I don’t know if they’re gonna get this sh*t. It may be bad.” And he was like, “I love the album.” And I love it, too; I’ll be proud of it when I’m 80, because I know what I was going through when I was writing, producing and creating it. It’s really cool to get attention from outlets that never really paid attention to me or my music before this album. On the opposite end, risks that I didn’t even know I was taking—I look back on photos [from All I Want Is You] and the way I was dressed is not something I’d do again. If anything, when you do take risks, you become either more confident because you’re going to be criticized and speculated, and those conversations are gonna cross you and you’re either sure of yourself and what you believe in or you’re torn down.
KENDRICK: I definitely agree. Making good kid, m.A.A.d city was a risk in itself. The idea of a concept record has been lost for a long time—will that translate to 16-year-old kids in high school rather than the super energetic joint on the radio? I definitely had that in the back of my mind when I was creating this album. But having that thought process gave me confidence in knowing that ain’t nothin’ new under the sun. By me doing this, it can be fresh and something new to the kids that are not used to a record that has skits intertwined within the songs and a whole album breakdown. Overall, what I talk about in my music is another huge risk. When you think of the West Coast, you immediately think of crazy-type street credibility. To come from that place but not glorify it is a challenge in itself.