One of the defining characteristics of Kendrick Lamar's sophomore album, To Pimp A Butterfly, is a running poem that builds and unfolds as the album progresses, with K.Dot sharing more and more of the piece song by song. The piece culminates after the music fades out during the album's final track, "Mortal Man," and as Kendrick finishes he asks a question, answered by the voice of Tupac Shakur. The two proceed to have a conversation about metaphors, social inequality, classism and maintaining sanity in the face of so much pressure; towards the end, Kendrick asks 'Pac for his take on the future of Kendrick's generation and receives an answer that wouldn't seem so out of place if it was given today. The only difference is, that interview with Tupac happened in 1994.

How exactly Kendrick came across that particular interview—which you can hear in full here—is still a slight mystery, but the origins of 'Pac's answers are not. The interview was conducted in the Atlantic Records office in New York City around the time of the release of 'Pac's Thug Life: Vol. 1 album with his group Thug Life, which came out Sept. 26, 1994. The journalist in question: Mats Nileskär, a Swedish radio host who has been documenting the careers and music of African-American musicians through the jazz, soul, funk, R&B and hip-hop eras since 1978, conducting around 6,000 interviews in the past 37 years by his estimation. Nileskär's P3 Soul radio show has grown into an influential and now-legendary European institution over that time period, with this Tupac interview one of the crown jewels of his collection.

After listening through To Pimp A ButterflyXXL was curious about the origins and circumstances of the original Tupac interview and spoke to Nileskär about the circumstances of the conversation, when he found out it would be included on TPAB, the surreal nature of linking 'Pac and Kendrick in this particular way and how many of the social issues they discussed 21 years ago have come back around today. —Dan Rys

Ed. Note: Nileskär will be airing his entire Tupac interview, including never-before-heard excerpts, on his radio show on Apr. 5.

tupac shakur mats nileskar kendrick lamar to pimp a butterfly

XXL: When did you find out that your interview with Tupac was going to end up on the Kendrick Lamar album?
Mats Nileskär: Well, it was actually a call from the Top Dawg boss in late November and he said something like, "Finally I caught you, Kendrick has been living with this interview for a couple of months and it's sort of the final piece of the puzzle to go through with the album." And that was it; late November, a phone call in the middle of the night and we connected. [Laughs]

What did you think about him wanting to use the audio?
Well, of course I was happy and it was sort of a little bit surreal to connect them in this way. But to some extent it wasn't a surprise since I've been doing interviews in the African-American music scene since 1978 and artists have been aware of my work and my mission. So sooner or later somebody of Kendrick Lamar's status could end up doing something like this. But of course it was a surprise, but at the same time I've been doing this for such a long time, so it's also a natural thing, maybe. I've always felt like I give something back to the artists, some type of inspiration coming from Europe, with a love and knowledge of the culture in maybe a little bit different way than American journalists. A little bit of a different angle on some things. It's surreal, but it's a great honor. It's like breaking the boundaries of life and death like that. [Laughs]

Do you have any specific memories about that day with Tupac? What can you tell me about that time?
It was during one of my length trips to the States. At that time I was [going] for five or six weeks doing 200, 300 interviews over six weeks all over the States. And Tupac was on my most wanted list, but he was very tough to get a hold of; it was one of those real tough ones. It was before cell phones and Internet and everything, so when I checked into my hotel I got a message from reception from, I think it was Atlantic [Records]; it was when he released the Thug Life album. "Tupac's in the office, come now." So without having time to go through it in my head—I had the research in my head, but no time to do real research, which I do for lengthy [interviews]—so I just went out to the Atlantic office. He was sitting there, we kicked it for one hour. Without any sort of... I wasn't prepared, we just did it and it went great.

What about that experience really sticks out to you? You guys got into some really deep subjects.
What I sort of try to do is to put African-American music in a social context, make it a hybrid of music journalism, social reporting and art, to some extent. So I remember, what I did was put him in a sort of free space, a free zone. Because he had a hard time; everybody was after him, it was the rape charge, he had recently shot a riot cop in the ass in Atlanta. Everybody was after him. So I tried to put him in a free zone and going off a sort of more or less metaphysical vibe to make him feel freer and so we could talk about the artistry and everything. So I created a space for him to be intense. Or I tried to do that. [Laughs]

Do you remember walking away from that interview with a feeling one way or the other about it? Or was it business as usual for you?
It was absolutely not business as usual. I can put it together with two other interviews where I felt like this was something historical, this was a once-in-a-lifetime thing. The two other instances were the Aaliyah interview I did two weeks before the plane crash and then a D'Angelo interview I did just around the millennium. With D'Angelo in New York in 1999. I felt the same way; like this felt like a pretty important meeting. And I think that's how I look at it when I do it; it doesn't end with the interview, it takes on its own life, and this is surely proof of that. These days, it's even more like that, of course. It doesn't end with a show or program, it inspires people to do something else, etc.

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What do you think about how Kendrick used it, like he was having a conversation with Tupac? I thought that was fascinating.
Yeah, I think, as I said in a Tweet, I couldn't have done it better myself. He's got some journalism in him, for sure. He certainly used some variations of my questions, like the one about how you keep your sanity. I think my question was something like this: "With everything going on, everybody's after you and the pressure and everything, how do you keep your sanity?" And [Kendrick] made a slight variation on that. But there's other parts where we talk about ['Pac's] peers, his love for Scarface and how he looks at himself like and old-fashioned bluesman, stuff like that. The interview was performed in the midst, or the tail end, of the Clinton era, was it?

In 1994, that would have been the beginning of the Clinton era.
Yeah, it was the beginning of the Clinton era. And we talked about false hope in the African-American community in reference to President Clinton, because some said he almost felt like a Black President, that it was a relief after the President before that [George H.W. Bush]. So it was a theme of a false sense of security, stuff like that.

It is interesting how the same things have come back around again, 21 years later.
Exactly. I think it's super fascinating. And these quotes from Tupac in this interview; I mean, some of these quotes can be the backbone of what I see as a new Civil Rights movement right now happening in the U.S. The quotes with the ground, that could be on t-shirts in urban America right now. So it's super fascinating how his words... I mean, he didn't know that this interview would live on, and he didn't know anything about me I suppose, and how I would use it or things like that. So that's real metaphysical, how these words can be used in different contexts.

What did you think about Kendrick album as a whole?
To put it simply—and maybe a little stereotypical—I think it sounds like the hip-hop, 2010s version of [Marvin Gaye's] What's Going On. How it blends together jazz, different genres into what, to me, sounds like the beginning of a new music form or a new sub-genre or a new way to do hip-hop.

Have you ever interviewed Kendrick yourself?
I've interviewed him two times before, but never around the album so I'm looking forward to that.

He kind of owes you one now, I guess.
[Laughs] Yeah, I suppose so.

Anything else you want to add?
Maybe it's a trend. Maybe Drake would like to interview Aaliyah, who knows? [Laughs] No, but I think what I was going for was the sound quality. I still work with an analog tape recorder on the road, believe it or not, and that's a part of getting that sound quality. That's what people notice, is that the sound quality [of my interviews] has always been very clear and crisp. I think even the Smithsonian Institute has been in contact with me and shown interest, because I've done something like 6,000 interviews with all artists from, let's say, Aretha Franklin, James Brown, Jay Z, Beyonce, everybody. It sounds like a visit inside of his head, for sure.

There's a different radio tradition in the U.S.; often it's people listening to the radio station and they're chatting about stuff, and then in terms of music journalism there's, for instance, your great magazine covering it. But the broad spectrum from, let's say, jazz, funk, through soul into the hip-hop era and post-hip-hop with new genres, I don't think it's in one archive in the U.S. I don't know, maybe, I don't know, but that's what I've been doing for 37 years.