Since Kendrick Lamar became the poster boy of West Coast rap thanks to hard-hitting rhymes on projects like his 2012 major label debut Good Kid, m.A.A.d. City, last year’s masterpiece To Pimp a Butterfly — and of course 2017’s DAMN, it has become clear the 29-year-old’s wisdom extends beyond the mic. The Grammy Award winner has a flair for making a statement, especially in the rare times he gives interviews.
As Lamar’s visceral and raw lyrics touch on the experiences of a kid growing up in Compton as well as a Black man in America today, the SoCal emcee manages to keep his cool and walk on the path of consciousness. Below are some of Kung Fu Kenny’s wisest words on remaining true to yourself.
“It’s a personal connection [with fans] and the experience of freedom [with DAMN]. When I say “freedom,” it means creating, being able to do what I want, to where you feel liberation from it. They already have a personal connection, because I’m talking about issues in my music that not only I go through, but the audience is going through.”
Ebony (May 2015)
“If I can use my platform to carry on a legacy and talk about something that’s real, I have to do that, period.”
Complex (October 2012)
“These songs, they come naturally for me to write off the experiences I grew up with and the things I been around. It was just what we were going through. It’s easy for me to write [real] stories rather than making up a crazy story.”
Spin (October 2012)
“You can’t take a person out of their zone and expect them to be somebody else now that they in the record industry. It’s gonna take years. Years of traveling. Years of meeting people. Years of seeing the world.”
The Fader (October 2015)
“I just want to be myself and not have any fraudulent points. It’ll never be anybody from where I’m from that can put out a faulty statement about who I am or what I’ve done or how I’ve grown up. You’ll never be able to do that, because everything is 100 percent real. People closest to me know it, and people on the outskirts know it. I always wanted to just keep that authentic, never want to have any weak points in my career, or in my character and who I really am.
Noisey (March 2016)
“It’s a hundred percent real. I don’t even think I can make music where it’s fabricating a story that’s not mine. From Compton I could’ve easily came out and said, ‘I did this, I did that, I killed a whole bunch of n—as…’ Just giving out fact where I’m from. That ain’t me. I’d rather talk about my reality.”
The Guardian (June 2015)
“I find myself to be quite confident as a person but you’re going to have that piece of doubt in the back of your head because we’re human. We all have it. It’s just I like to address it and not keep it bottled in, because I don’t know what it could turn into.”
Coveteur (March 2016)
“Personally, I just like a more classic, comfortable feel. You know, it just represents my personality. It’s just a representation of who I am, another extension of what I represent and my own personality. Do what always represents you.”
Acclaim (October 2012)
“I don’t just wanna be a popular person, I want my music to always live because that’s what’s gonna drive your legacy.”
TIME (December 2015)
“I want to continue to have something that’s not microwavable in a world today where our attention span is pretty much lost. We need something that we can hold on to, so in doing that, I’m [going to] continue to make the music I want to make and say the things I want to say, whether you agree with it or not.”
2DopeBoyz (February 2016)
“You have to be confident enough to know that the message will get to the people around the world and they will understand it. That’s a gift that God [sic] put in me to continue to talk about these things. The message is bigger than the artist.”
Interview Magazine (May 2013)
“I still know who I am and I haven’t let everything consume me. But on the other end, I have to know when I’m me — when I go out in public, to the person that sees me on TV and has a conception of who I am. That’s the only catch. That’s the flip side to it. But I think whatever pressure I feel all comes from me, from within. I always was that person who was hard on myself and challenged myself no matter what I was doing, whether it was passing third grade or playing basketball.”
Interview Magazine (May 2013)
“I try my best to stay away from social media as much as possible. [Laughs] When you go on your Twitter or look down your Timeline and it’s all great positivity — I love that. But at the same time, it can really divert you from what your purpose is or what you’re trying to do. And I’ve seen artists get caught up in that. I’ve seen some of my friends get caught in that. Whether you’re a small celebrity or a grand celebrity, it really triggers something in your brain, seeing all that stuff … So I’m real aware of it.”
Mass Appeal (April 2015)
“My new meaning for “keepin’ it gangsta” is totally different from the usual. It’s really about takin’ care of your family, handlin’ your business, and puttin’ positive energy out there where everybody can benefit from it, not just yourself.”
GQ (October 2016)
“I used to consider the listener. But now I’m in a space where if I’m not inspired, I can’t really do the music. I can’t feel it. I put in enough hours to be able to pen a hundred-bar verse on the spot at any given moment. But for me to actually feel an idea, it has to come from me. And a lot of times, I have to block out different needs and wants just for my own selfish reasons. But at the end of the day, it comes out where, whether you like it or not, you know it comes from a real place. It’s gonna feel unapologetic, uncompromising, and it’s gonna feel me.”
This story originally appeared on Billboard.com.