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 on Aquemini. 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.
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: Shit, 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 shit. 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.