Kendrick Lamar came of age on the streets of Compton, California, the violent landscape that has featured prominently in the music created by scores of hip-hop artists. He drew inspiration from his background for an entirely different venture: a 2014 partnership with Reebok to create a signature pair of sneakers–one red, one blue, symbolizing peaceful coexistence of the notorious Bloods and Crips gangs.
“Any kind of business outside of art and culture and hip-hop, I have to have full creative control,” says the seven-time Grammy winner. “And having that control, I always wanted to have something that represents more than just a price tag.” He’s earned $78.5 million over the past five years, including a career-best $30 million this year, and inked a new Nike deal this summer.
In the music business, Lamar has grown into a force. He has earned two visits to the White House and grosses more than $1 million a night on the road and even more for big festivals like Coachella. Next up: a slate of international dates from Amsterdam to Stockholm in early 2018. Meanwhile, his songs have clocked over 2 billion spins in the past year, more than Beyonce’s or Bruno Mars’.
Lamar probably won’t return to the White House anytime soon, but he’s using his star power to tackle some of today’s toughest issues. He decried Photoshop’s creation of unrealistic beauty norms on his multiplatinum album DAMN., released this past April; at last year’s Grammys, he won five awards, including Best Rap Album, and performed in chains and a prison uniform to raise awareness about mass incarceration.
“It’s really about failure, not being in fear of that,” Lamar says. “Once you tackle that and block that idea, and you know it’s okay to actually make a mistake or to fail at something, you get back up and try it again.”