Compton, California, 1995 – a young Kendrick Lamar stood at the periphery of a bustling video shoot, eyes wide with wonder. As he soaked in the scene unfolding before him, he couldn’t have known that his childhood heroes, Tupac Shakur and Dr. Dre, were unknowingly planting the seeds for his own future success.
Growing up in a rough neighborhood dominated by gang culture, Kendrick Lamar Duckworth was no stranger to adversity. His upbringing was marked by poverty, and his father was a member of the Gangster Disciples. But even in the face of these challenges, Kendrick found solace in music and a determination to excel academically.
The year 1995 marked a significant milestone in hip hop history, as “California Love” signaled 2Pac’s highly-anticipated return to the music scene after his release from prison. Teaming up with the legendary Dr. Dre and singer Roger Troutman, the trio created a track that would become an instant hip hop classic and one of the biggest hits in Pac’s immense catalogue.
The two-part music video for “California Love” was a testament to ambition and creativity. Directed by Hype Williams, the first version channeled a post-apocalyptic Mad Max vibe, set in the desert landscape of El Mirage, California. The second video took a more intimate approach, portraying a raucous house party celebrating Pac’s arrival at Death Row Records.
For eight-year-old K.Dot, witnessing the filming of the “California Love” video provided an inspirational glimpse into the world of hip hop royalty, no matter how far away he was from achieving his rap dreams.
“I was in Compton and they were shooting the first version of it,” Kendrick recalled during a 2012 interview with The Morning Riot. “They stopped right in front of the middle of the street. My pops had seen them and came back to the house and got me. My father went to the house to get me and put me on his shoulders to watch them shoot.”
In a separate interview with the Recording Academy, the Compton rapper reminisced on getting the opportunity to watch his heroes work up close. “I was about eight years old, they was shooting a video in my neighborhood in Compton,” he said. “My father sees them, went two blocks down and got me, by the time he got me everybody was out there it was pandemonium, he put me on his shoulders and there they was, Dr Dre and Tupac right there.”
Fast forward to today, and that 8-year old aspiring rapper who watched Dre and Pac film the “California Love” video is undeniably one of the most important West Coast artists of all time. Not only that, the influence of Dre, Pac and that unforgettable day in Compton still resonates in Kendrick’s work to this day; he signed a deal with Aftermath Entertainment in 2012, and featured a sample of Pac’s 1994 with P3 Soul Broadcasting Corporation on “Mortal Man,” the poignant closing track off his 2015 magnum opus, To Pimp a Butterfly.