Sounwave Says Kendrick Lamar’s ‘To Pimp a Butterfly’ Went Through Three Phases
TDE in-house producer and A&R Sounwave has been working with the West Coast crew since 2009's Kendrick Lamar EP and has been steadily building his portfolio ever since. Over the years he's boasted credits on Ab-Soul's Control System ("Double Standards") and These Days... ("Closure"); ScHoolboy Q's Habits & Contradictions ("There He Go," "Raymond 1969") and Oxymoron ("Hoover Street"); and Kendrick's Section.80 ("Hol' Up," "ADHD") and good kid, m.A.A.d city ("Bitch, Don't Kill My Vibe"), building himself up as one of the best producers in the game today.
With his status as one of the main go-to beatmakers within TDE, it wasn't a big surprise to see his name all over the credits for Kendrick's new album To Pimp A Butterfly, which dropped this week. Sounwave is listed as a main producer on five cuts from the LP ("King Kunta," "Alright," "Hood Politics," "Complexion (A Zulu Love)" and "Mortal Man") and has additional production nods on four more ("Wesley's Theory," "These Walls," "u" and "For Sale? (Interlude)"), placing him on more than half the project as one of the main architects of the distinctive sound of the album.
With the album stuck on repeat for hip-hop heads all over the country, XXL spoke to Sounwave about the process of crafting To Pimp A Butterfly, the influence of Thundercat, Terrace Martin, Anna Wise and Bilal on the album and what TDE has coming down the pipeline. —Dan Rys
XXL: When did you first start working on the project?
Sounwave: With Kendrick there's no breaks. I would say, literally, a week after good kid, m.A.A.d city we were on tour, and probably a week passed and we started bouncing ideas off each other, trying to vibe out, thinking about plans and whatnot, trying to get to the next step you could say. But Kendrick, he just never wants to stop working. Literally the week after.
What was the process like? Were you bringing him a beat or were you sitting down together?
With us it's mainly organic. It's us just vibing out to records and whatever is connecting with us at the moment that's the direction we lean towards. This project probably went through three different phases, just because of the vibes we were on. I'll usually make beats catered to what we're on at the moment, he'll record to them and we just keep going until we get what he felt is that one particular sound.
What was the vibe in the studio when you were crafting those records?
I mean, it's like, for us we really don't think about it. We're working, we know what feels right and we don't sit back and say, "Oh, this could do this, this could do that." We know what feels right for us. My whole thing is, when you put 100 percent into something, your all into it, your focus, your heart, there's no way that the people, the public, could feel like this wasn't their best work. So we never really sit back and think what could happen, we just put out our best material and whatever happens happens.
Was the process making this album similar to good kid, m.A.A.d city?
I mean, I've been working with this kid since he was 16, there's no difference. It's basically the same process. Only difference was we were a little busy this time just on tour the majority of the time, but other than that it was the same process, same scenario.
You were a main producer on five of these songs and worked on an additional four. Any favorites out of these?
Man, it changes every week. Last week it was "For Sale," today it's "These Walls," after that it was "Hood Politics." I don't know, it just changes for me every week.
What did Thundercat bring to the table?
Other than his musical talent, this guy is a blast to be around. Anybody that has [hung out] with Thundercat, they gonna wanna keep him around and that's what we love in the studio, good vibes. He definitely brings good vibes. That on top of his amazing bass playing and his amazing vocals, it's just perfect. You might see a lot more work with us in the future.
Thundercat, Bilal, Anna Wise, Terrace Martin—These guys seemed like they were the core of the album almost. Was that a nucleus that you relied on in crafting the album?
I wouldn't say that we relied on it it just happened organically like that. The first was we had to bring in Terrace. I felt like once we figured out the direction we were going in the first thing I wanted to do was bring in Terrace. Terrace is a genius in the whole jazz world and making it modernized. Once we did that, Flying Lotus actually brought Thundercat on the Yeezus Tour and that's when we all met Thundercat. He had us dying back stage the first time we meeting him. We were like, "We gotta get this guy in the studio." Once we got him into the studio he's like the most musical genius in the world. We all knew his work in the past but seeing it live it's like, "Yo. Bring him on board." That right there became kind of the heart, brain and body of the sound, sonically. And after that we had to go back to Anna; she's a phenomenal singer, she was on good kid, m.A.A.d city [on "I'm Real"]. And K. Dot always had this crazy sound he wanted singing vocally and the only voice he had in his head that he wanted was Bilal. So he reached out to Bilal, Bilal was all for it and the rest is history.
How did you pick out the samples you wanted to use?
There's barely any samples on this project believe it or not. There's probably three samples. There's a couple inspired moments but the majority of it was just us.
Lyrically and sonically it almost feels like a throwback to the 1960s and 1970s. Was that something Kendrick always wanted to do?
Again, it kind of happened organically. We never really planned that. Based on the records we were listening to when we were on tour—stuff like Miles Davis, Parliament—that's just what was in us when we hit the prime of the sound of what we were doing. So that kind of spilled over into the music.
Were you in any sessions with George Clinton?
I missed that session, I was so mad I missed that session. They just came back with so many great stories, like, "George is George. What you think George is? That's what he is." I'm so mad I missed that one. [Laughs]
Everyone's wondering who LoveDragon is; they are credited with two beats on the album ("How Much A Dollar Cost" and "You Ain't Gotta Lie"). Do you know who LoveDragon is?
[Laughs] LoveDragon? You might have to talk to somebody else on that one. I keep that one up in the air for the right time for whenever that person wants to come out.
You're only adding to the mystery here.
[Laughs] Hey, hey, I'm not the one to spill the beans on it or whatever. They wanna be known, they'll be known.
What do you have coming up next?
Right now I'm going straight in and finishing up Jay Rock's album and after that ScHoolboy Q is working, as everybody know if they see his Snapchat. You know, I like to make sure my team is perfect first before I venture out and that's why you might not hear me on a lot of other projects. Even though I would love to do stuff outside of TDE, but I would love to make sure that my team is straight first.
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