A month ago, Kendrick Lamar caused quite a stir in a Billboard cover story when he gave his thoughts on the events happening in Ferguson.

"I wish somebody would look in our neighborhood knowing that it's already a situation, mentally, where it's fucked up," said K. Dot. "What happened to [Michael Brown] should've never happened. Never. But when we don't have respect for ourselves, how do we expect them to respect us? It starts from within. Don't start with just a rally, don't start from looting—it starts from within."

The backlash was as swift as it was vicious, slicing through the TDE MC's unbreakable armor forged when he dropped his album good kid, m.A.A.d city. For a while, people questioned Kendrick's character. Then on Monday (Feb. 9), the day after winning Best Rap Song and Best Rap Performance for “i” at the 2015 Grammy Awards, he dropped "The Blacker The Berry," answering all questions in one powerful swoop with a five-plus minute wake-up call put on wax. "I'm the biggest hypocrite of 2015," he says on the track. "Once I finish this, witnesses will convey just what I mean."

Besides Kendrick, a dancehall artist from Jamaica named Assassin—who's also featured on Kanye West’s “I’m In It,” a cut off Yeezus—is heard giving his spin front and center. Assassin's hook fits in perfectly, adding a battle cry to Kendrick's overall speech. XXL wanted to find out how Agent Sasco once again landed such a huge feature on a hip-hop record. So we got him on the phone to discuss "The Blacker The Berry" and “I’m In It," the possible trend combining hip-hop and dancehall and who else he'd love to work with. —Emmanuel C.M.


XXL: How did you get involved with the Kendrick Lamar record?
Assassin: I got the call from Kardinal Offishall saying that Boi-1da was exploring this track and maybe wanted to get a Jamaican perspective. I guess my name came up and he forwarded the track to me. It was just a skeleton—a demo—with the overall vibe of the track that I got. I did the verse and I did the chorus and I sent it back and that was the last of it until early this month, end of January. Kardinal told me that the guys are going to go through and put the record out. That’s pretty much how it came together.

When did you receive the beat initially from Kardinal?
It was late last year, so it was in December, maybe sometime in November.

Did they mention what the record was for?
They did mention Kendrick, but there was no Kendrick verse on it. It was just a demo, like a basic idea of something I could write to. I knew that it was for Kendrick. That’s pretty much all I heard and knew.

From the skeleton that they sent I really just picked up the vibe from what that was. They sent the chorus and I did my interpretation of it. Hearing the finished version, it came together fantastically.

So that was your first time working with K.Dot?
That was my first time working with Kendrick. My other hip-hop collabs were with Raekwon, Melanie Fiona and Jerry Wonda. I also did “I’m In It,” which was on Kanye West’s Yeezus album. And I did the “Turn Down For What (Remix)” for Lil Jon’s album. I got some hip-hop exposure.

How did the Kanye West collaboration come together?
I was in Jamaica and I get this call saying there’s this project going on in Geejam Studios for the Kanye project. But it was supposed to be a compilation album, from what I understood at that time [Ed. Note: The long-rumored Cruel Winter project?]. It wasn’t supposed to be for a straight-up Kanye album. I went down there and I did some verses. They ended up liking me and they selected it.

They were recording in Portland in Jamaica, in a studio called Geejam. The engineers there—I work in Geejam sometime—they know all my work, so I got the invite. There were some other local artists in the session as well, but they ended up choosing my verse.

Where did you do the verse for “The Blacker The Berry”?
I did the Kendrick verse in a studio in Kingston, Jamaica.


Have other hip-hop artists reached out to you?
There are some things in the pipeline, but I can’t say it as of right now, this second, because things are very early. But I ‘ve always been a fan of hip-hop. To have these features with these heavyweights, I’m definitely looking forward to doing more work with whoever is willing to get that Jamaican vibe. I’m excited about the opportunity because there’s still so much more to represent for dancehall culture. I’m just happy to do that.

Do you see a trend happening with reggae artists on hip-hop records?
I’m hoping that what’s going to happen. It always had that impact. People come up to me and say, "Man, you killed it on the 'I’m In It' verse," so there're definitely fans who want it. Just looking at the feedback from “Blacker The Berry,” it’s a welcome fusion. I’m just happy to be doing it and represent my culture, and I can’t wait to do that even more.

Who inspires you musically?
My inspiration started off primarily with dancehall, so at the time growing up it was people like Papa San. As I grew there were artists coming on like Buju Banton and that was an influence, Bounty Killer, Swagga Benz and Beanie Man. Then it more became the music, and so when I got to [my] teenage years, we started to get cable TV in Jamaica. I got exposed to hip-hop, so Eminem, Biggie Smalls, 2Pac, Kanye West; it moved from artist-focused to the art form. I just watched them and started doing more research and becoming more aware of the culture and the art form.

How do you approach writing for hip-hop records?
It depends; let's just say if there’s a chorus, then I’m writing to that and I’ll give my interpretation of what that vibe is. If there’s nothing, then I go with the vibe from the beat itself. If I’m given specific instruction then I go with the instructions. I try to be real. I’m not going to not be me on the record. As long as it feels good to make, then I’m going to try it within the scope of creativity.

After hearing the final version, what are your thoughts on the record? Kendrick’s lyrics are powerful and unapologetic. I love it.
It’s a powerful record and it’s very timely. Like he said in the lyrics, the listeners and the witness will determine what is being said. I like that. Music is so much about interpretation; people get different things from it. But at baseline, it’s just a very powerful piece and I’m happy to be apart of it. Much respect to Kendrick and Boi-1da for including me with their vision of dancehall on the record.

Are there any hip-hop artists you have to work with?
I’m just excited with the infusion of dancehall in hip-hop. I definitely hope a trend is starting. There are major players I admire, respect and have been listening to. Like J. Cole, he’s great; Drake. There are so many people. One dream collab would be Stevie Wonder, so it’s not just a hip-hop thing, more of a music thing.

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Kendrick Lamar “The Blacker The Berry”