Kendrick Lamar cites Eminem as one of his biggest rap-style influences


I’m a big Kendrick Lamar fan even though I’m not his target audience. Like, I don’t get everything he says and I’m fine with that because I know that not every message has to be for me. Beyond Kendrick’s music, I enjoy his branding, I enjoy his hustle, and I enjoy that he had no issue with appearing on the cover of GQ Style in a wide variety of rather lovely clothing (apart from what looks like real fur). He probably agreed to this because GQ sent Rick Rubin to interview him, and the entire piece is a nice read, albeit not controversial in the least. You can read the full piece here. I expected Kendrick to talk at length about politics and such, but I guess he’s saving that for his next album. In the meantime, I enjoyed this part where he cites his biggest influence on his rap style: Eminem.

Rick Rubin: It’s really interesting now, with what’s going on in hip-hop. It’s almost like you’re a throwback to when lyrics mattered. So much of hip-hop today is about vibe and swag and personality, and less about words. And it sometimes sounds like even the MC doesn’t know what he’s saying on a lot of today’s records. So it’s interesting to hear the sort of clarity and depth that you go into lyrically.

Kendrick Lamar: The clarity, I got my clarity just studying Eminem when I was a kid. How I got in the studio was all just curiosity. I had a love for the music, but it was curiosity. The day I heard The Marshall Mathers LP, I was just like, How does that work? What is he doing? How is he putting his words together like that? What’s the track under that? An ad-lib? What is that? And then, Why don’t you go in the studio and see? So I do that. Then it became, How’s his words cutting through the beat like that? What is he doing that I’m not doing, now that I’m into it? His time is impeccable. When he wants to fall off the beat, it’s impeccable. These are things that, through experience and time, I had to learn.

[From GQ Style]

This is part of the appeal of Kendrick (for me): he doesn’t care if someone is like “Why in the world would you cite Eminem of all people.” Kendrick came of age musically when Eminem was doing his best work, and love or hate it, Eminem did influence a generation of rappers. And Kendrick recognizes Em’s game and says so. I love that. Speaking of recognizing game, Eminem returned the favor and complimented Kendrick, calling his work “genius” and his first album a “masterpiece.”


Photos courtesy of GQ Style.

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31 Responses to “Kendrick Lamar cites Eminem as one of his biggest rap-style influences”

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  1. Nicole says:

    I mean yea eminem did what a lot of people still can’t do today. The guy is talented so I’m not surprised when anyone lists him as an influence. Lyrically Em’s one of the best just like today Kendrick is one of the best.
    Eminem’s post about Kendrick was cool. Gotta love when people respect each other’s work

    • DeniseMich says:

      I like em and like Kendrick. I don’t own an album from either. But I totally understand Rick Rubin’s point about swag and lyrics. I don’t know what the hell Kanye is talking about on his last 2 albums and I don’t think Kanye knows either.

    • Mylène - Montréal says:

      AGREE !!!

  2. SunnyD says:

    I think Eminem has ALWAYS paid tribute to black culture and music as opposed to appropriation for profit. He worked from the bottom up and earned his spot . Musically, neither are my day to day tastes, but I respect them both as artists.

  3. Karla says:

    Eminem is an amazing rapper. I grew up listening to him and found him such a poet. The way that he raps is incredible. He tells stories, fits words together amazingly and has a distinctive voice as well as a story that he exorcises through his LPs. Definitely a huge influence to many a rapper.

  4. manda says:

    Em’s stuff was great in the late 90’s early 2000’s. His more recent stuff shows, like, no growth, IMO. Still bitching about his mom, still bitching about Kim. It sounds the same

  5. OSTONE says:

    Eminem will go down as one of the best rappers. Love both him and Kendrick.

  6. AG-UK says:

    I am not his target audience either but listen to him a lot.. I like old school hip hop but love how he fuses jazz with his hip hop. I saw a good documentary on Vice about him.

  7. Jess says:

    Em is one of the best. But there were equally good rappers in his time like Mos def and talib kwali for instance that didn’t get mainstream recognition. This isn’t to take anything away from Eminem but he was as the white rapper much more commercially sellable. I remember when I was a kid he was considered a teen idol alongside Justin timberlake and nsynch. That did not happen to black rappers. However good they were.

    • Hummos says:

      Jess, I respectfully disagree. I listened to all three growing up and appreciate each of them for different reasons. You can’t deny the sheer rage and hurt and violence that came through Ems songs. Mos def and kwali lacked that a little. And the whole teen idol thing is not something he chased, he openly mocked it

      • Hannah says:

        It’s a fact that he was the first white rapper that was any good and it worked in his favour and it was heavily marketed that way. That’s not his fault it’s the way of the world. It’s like elvis was a great singer but he was more popular because he was white even though he worked within an African American art form. This story is old as pop and rock music.

      • GreenieWeenie says:

        ^^No, nice try. The fact that he was white did not work in his favor. He had to establish credibility. And he did not appropriate black culture…he grew up in it. He was mentored by a black artist; he wasn’t marketed by white execs at a record label.

        All of this is precisely why he has credibility that no other white rapper has ever come close to. Iggy Azalea he is not.

      • Leah says:

        I am a huge Hip Hop fan and read everything i can on the subject
        I think you misunderstand or perceive it as a slight against Eminem to bring up the race aspect.
        As i understand it 1) He is was considered a phenomenally gifted rapper with credibility but also 2) as a white rapper was given opportunities and outlets equally gifted black rappers wouldn’t have access too 15-20 years ago. So you see one doesn’t have to cancel out the other. Eminen was in a sense the rapper who made rap really popular amongst suburban kids and him being white was part of opening up hip hop to new demographics so it can be argued that it was good for Hip Hop in the long run. But yes it can also be argued that his massive mainstream success wouldn’t have been possible for an equally talented black rapper at that time. He was the first rapper who had a hollywood biopic made about him. Nobody would argue Jay Z, Biggie or Tupac weren’t as talented or fascinating subjects so i think that tells its own story about how he was seen as a bigger commercial asset.
        By the way Iggy was also mentored by a black artist a number of white artists are, Justin Bieber ( mentored by Usher). Black artists mentoring talented white artists is not unusual, indeed like Dr Dre if they see an opportunity to make money of a talented white artists why wouldn’t they?

      • HH says:

        @Leah: +1 to everything you said.

        @Hannah: To compare Eminem and Elvis is a MASSIVE diss to Em. Em has always: a) acknowledged that he was influenced by AA artists; b) gave credit to AA artists;and, c) acknowledged how his race has played a factor into his success. AA artists and fans have given props to Em’s talent and have never said he doesn’t deserve the commercial success he has (unlike Iggy for example). What Black audiences have pointed out is that being a “white rapper” is an aspect that gets mainstream attention in a way that Black rappers haven’t received.

      • Greenieweenie says:

        I think you’re talking more about the way he was received by Americans. I don’t think they knew what to do with him at first. And sure, his immense popularity is almost certainly related to his broad appeal to white audiences.

        But that wasn’t how he came up. He himself is not his audience. He came up with the support of fellow black artists, and he didn’t co-opt black experience to sell himself. It’s not the same as someone who is selected and marketed purposefully to whitewash black culture.

      • Greenieweenie says:

        To illustrate, I am no rap historian but I used to use rap to teach poetry to high schoolers who are English language learners. If you ask me my favorite rappers–honestly? Probably Kanye back in the day and I always loved Andre Benjamin. Idk, I’m not too picky.

        But I taught a lot of Eminem because he’s a good example of iambic pentameter and his themes are pretty simple/appealing to high schoolers. Kanye too, but I had to explain the religious elements and a lot of slang.

    • barfly says:

      I saw that! Kendrik from Bomton was the title i think….telling his story of growing up in the blood neighborhood in compton with all his childhood friends in the yard with him. I was in high school when eminems first album came out and as a mixed race but mostly white girl in so cal it was a revelation to me. Still love em to this day.

  8. Sixer says:

    I like it that he understands technique is the bedrock of artistry. As I understand what he said, he thinks if he can be as technically able as Eminem, he’ll be able to let his own unique artistic expression fly better.

  9. BlueSky says:

    I came up when rap was in it’s infancy, so for me the rappers who were most influential to me from a political social conscience standpoint was Eric B & Rakim, Public Enemy, and Grandmaster Flash. I’m aging myself!

    • Parker says:

      I’ll date myself right along with you BlueSky! At heart, I’m a rock ‘n roller, singer-songwriter, alt country kinda gal, but Public Enemy was IT for me. I had to buy a second copy of “It Takes a Nation….”. Also loved N.W.A. and Wu-Tan and I had a thing for Ice T, almost solely due to the theme from the film “Colors”. Man I loved that song.

      • BlueSky says:

        OMG, Parker, I wore out “It takes a Nation of Millions to hold us back” That album changed my life! I even got my High School English teacher to listen to that tape!

  10. LB says:

    There aren’t a lot of rappers, old and new, who don’t respect Eminem. Yes he’s not nearly as good as he used to be – not as cutting or innovative, and his subject matter remains the same. But Eminem’s lyrical style and delivery will always be admired by those willing to give props. He’s not good for a white rapper. He’s just good.

    Glad it’s a mutual admiration society. Kendrick is amazing. Especially his live performances.

  11. kri says:

    Em’s style and delivery was amazing. I was not a fan of what he was saying most of the time, but his technique was really good. KL is right. But I believe that Kendrick has already surpassed so many-he i s more than rap. He is as much of a poet as Bob Dylan. And as far as maybe not being his “target audience”..a true artist puts their work out to the world. Each person who listens or looks or reads a work of art takes it and deals with it. After seeing him perform live, he has my heart forever. KL will go down in music history as one of the greats, and that’s how it should be.

    • GreenieWeenie says:

      People recommend him to me (KL) but I never really got past the first few seconds of a video before I got bored. But your comment makes me want to hang in there until I really get a sense of him.

  12. Lana Banana says:

    Kendrick Lamar and NF are the two best rappers to come out in recent time (over the past few years anyway). I love Kendrick’s last album. Listening to Eminem anymore, I feel like he doesnt have the same “passion” that drove him initially because his life is at peace for the most part. He isnt as angry as he used to be yet hasnt transitioned into new subject matter as another poster mentioned.

  13. Cee says:

    I basically became bilingual at age 13 by listening to Eminem and trying to understand what he was saying.

  14. bcgirl says:

    Dead wolves. Wow how luxurious.

  15. Leah says:

    Kendrick has Eminems technical gift but unlike Eminem i feel like he has something more important to say. A sort of burning passion in a broader sense. Eminem is probably the wittiest of rappers, but his themes are very limited ( celebrity culture, the women in his life etc).

  16. Wilma says:

    Because I don’t live in the US for the longest time the only hiphop I got to know were the hits, which usually didn’t have a lot of depth to them. I loved Outkast when I was twenty and Stankonia made it to our shores. But Eminem put me off. I have never liked the clipped quality to his voice and his subject matter was too hightened reality for me (I actually felt sorry for Kim to be honest, I didn’t know much about his life or their relationship beyond what he was putting out). Two years ago I started to really appreciate hiphop more when I was on a roadtrip through the US, specifically Jay Z. I don’t know enough about styles and techniques to really comment on the quality of Jay Z’s music, but I love his lyrics, I ride to work on my bicycle (as we Dutch people do) and his stories just make me laugh out loud or gasp. I don’t care if anyone’s around!
    With Kendrick Lamarr I can understand why he is good, but I don’t like listening to him at all because of the jazz. I don’t know why, maybe it’s because a car accident left me with a little bit of brain damage that undermined my ability to deal with math, but jazz gives me raging headaches. I did enjoy this interview a lot, I like it when artists talk about being an artist.