With the 58th Annual Grammy Awards exactly one week away, Kendrick Lamar, who leads the ceremony with 11 nominations for his second album, To Pimp a Butterfly – a Hip Hop milestone, and nearly all-time record had it not been for Michael Jackson‘s Thriller racking up one extra nod in 1984 – along with several of the LP’s contributors Sounwave, MixedByAli, Thundercat, Terrace Martin and Rapsody spoke with Grammy.com to break down much of the project’s recording process. Read some of the Compton MC’s insight-providing excerpts below, and see Kendrick performing live at the event, which will air live from the Staples Center in Los Angeles and be hosted by LL Cool J for a fifth straight year, next Monday, February 15.
On the album title:
The title grasped the entire concept of the record. [I wanted to] break down the idea of being pimped in the industry, in the community and out of all the knowledge that you thought you had known, then discovering new life and wanting to share it.
On his trip to Africa that inspired the album:
I felt like I belonged in Africa. I saw all the things that I wasn’t taught. Probably one of the hardest things to do is put [together] a concept on how beautiful a place can be, and tell a person this while they’re still in the ghettos of Compton. I wanted to put that experience in the music.
On incorporating funk:
I was on tour with Kanye [West] and I had Flying Lotus with me because I wanted to work on the bus studio. He would make beats and it was one particular beat that he forgot to play. He skipped it but I heard about three seconds of it and I asked him, “What is that?” He said, “You don’t know nothing about that. That’s real funk. … You’re not going to rap on that.” It was like a dare.
On working with George Clinton:
I had to find George Clinton in the woods, man. He was somewhere in the South and I had to fly out to him. We got in the studio and just clicked. Rocking with him took my craft to another level and that pushed me to make more records like that for the album.
The idea was to make a record that reflected all complexions of black women. There’s a separation between the light and the dark skin because it’s just in our nature to do so, but we’re all black. This concept came from South Africa and I saw all these different colors speaking a beautiful language.
Immediately when I heard the beat I heard [Rapsody’s] voice and vocal tone. But what made her special was that I knew that she was going to bring the content from a woman’s perspective about complexion, being insecure and at the same time having gratitude for your complexion.
It was real uncomfortable because I was dealing with my own issues. I was making a transition from the lifestyle that I lived before to the one I have now. When you’re onstage rapping and all these people are cheering for you, you actually feel like you’re saving lives. But you aren’t saving lives back home. It made me question if I am in the right place spreading my voice. “Should I be back home sending this message or be on the road?” It put me in this space where I was in a little bit of a dilemma.
On “The Blacker the Berry:”
I sat on the beat [for “The Blacker The Berry”] and then the Trayvon Martin and Mike Brown situations happened and I knew that this needed to be addressed.
If you speak on this kind of subject matter you’re labeled a conscious rapper. I don’t even know [if] that word conscious can only exist in one field of music. Everybody is conscious. That’s a gift from God to put it in my heart to continue to talk about this because that’s how I’m feeling at the moment. The message is bigger than the artist.
When Tupac was here and I saw him as a 9-year-old, I think that was the birth of what I’m doing today. From the moment that he passed I knew the things he was saying would eventually be carried on through someone else. But I was too young to know that I would be the one doing it.