Kendrick Lamar

Kendrick Lamar performs during the BET Music Matters Showcase at Brazos Hall on March 14, 2013 in Austin, Texas.

Kendrick Lamar is pacing himself. After generating Internet buzz from his mixtapes, the 25-year-old Compton-bred rapper (full name Kendrick Lamar Duckworth) finally got what many in his position salivate for: a collaboration with one of his idols, the iconic Dr. Dre. Lamar’s 2012 debut studio album, good kid, m.A.A.d city, was dubbed an instant classic by those who matter in hip-hop, and he’ll spend much of this year on the road performing it live. What he’s not doing is rushing to make the next album. Instead, he says he wants to savor every moment, as well he should. Earlier this year, he went from being a new-school favorite rapper to breaking through to mainstream media when he landed a coveted musical guest spot on Saturday Night Live, winning over even more fans. And there’s more to come.

EBONY: Despite it being your first time out, last year your name was on almost every “Best Of …” list. Pretty surreal?

Kendrick Lamar: Yes! But it gets me even hungrier. I know for a fact the moment I slack, there’s always somebody right there who’s hungry and wants to start. I have that abundant desire to always be better and continue to grow, not only as an artist but as a person.

EBONY: Critics have likened your live shows to a religious experience. Are you the real deal?

KL: I really am a guy who not only wants to make music, but I actually want to have a connection with the listeners. I’m doing what I was put on earth to do. These are real moments that go on out there once I touch that stage.

EBONY: You have a very cinematic way of writing and delivering. Your music sounds like a John Singleton movie. Is it all autobiographical?

KL: It comes from a place of desperation and from a place of hope. I think it’s just all one big collective of who I am as a person. I’ve always been a dreamer, and once I get in the studio, I just get all those emotions out on the record.

EBONY: You’ve found success telling street tales from Compton, and your life has changed dramatically. What will you do for future music?

KL: The trick behind good kid, m.A.A.d city was that I started when I was 17. That’s the album that you got. I have already mapped out where my next projects will go if I have any to come. I haven’t even talked about who I was when I was 18 yet.

EBONY: What was your first “pinch-me” moment?

KL: To know that I wrote these songs in Compton—in a small house, inside my mama’s kitchen—and then went to London on tour, and there were 6,000 people in a packed [venue] singing these words. This started from just an idea.

EBONY: Your Saturday Night Live “Y.O.L.O” spoof video with Adam Levine and Andy Samberg was a big viral hit. Is acting next?

KL: When the time is right. Really, I just want to focus on the music now. I haven’t mastered doing music all the way yet. But eventually.