In 2015, Kendrick Lamar did more than just release his sophomore album, he dropped a new generational gospel. To Pimp a Butterfly, the follow-up to 2012’s good kid, m.a.a.d city, soared atop charts — where it remained for two weeks straight — upon its surprise arrival in the wee hours of March 15th, later acquiring a total of six Grammy Awards (two at the 57th ceremony for “i”; four at the 58th ceremony) and a RIAA-certified platinum plaque (his second platinum certification).
But beyond its coups and trophies, Kendrick’s deep, sprawling, creative work is a cultural mouthpiece that, even a year later, remains deeply ingrained in today’s political and societal climate. To properly celebrate Kendrick’s new-age gospel, we went back in time and compiled some of the behind the scenes moments that helped birth the Grammy Award-winning opus.
Brainstorming for To Pimp a Butterfly started a little before good kid, m.A.A.d city hit stores
A title and theme hadn’t yet developed, but by the time his critical darling, good kid, m.A.A.d city arrived in stores, Kendrick was already plotting on the follow-up. “Literally, good kid, m.a.a.d city is not even printed yet and he’s brainstorming for the next album,” Sounwave told REVOLT days after the album release. The producer also hinted that the same scenario took place on this record. “He [already] called me with an idea for the third album.”
“How Much a Dollar Cost?” was the first song recorded for the album
Besides being the POTUS’ favorite song of 2015, the contemplative centerpiece that is “How Much A Dollar Cost” actually became the very first song recorded for TPAB. “That was early,” Terrace Martin revealed to REVOLT. “It sat around for months. It [almost] wasn’t going to happen.” The deeply woven track was almost replaced by another “killer” track, Martin noted. “We had another record that was killer. I wanted to make it [on the LP] so bad. Me and Sounwave did the beat, it was killer,” he said. But there’s still a chance that fans will get to hear the unreleased track, because as Terrace puts it, “I might put that on my album (Velvet Portraits).”
The emotion of “u” bounced from the booth to the entire studio
“When we recorded the song, it was crazy,” said MixedByAli about TPAB’s teary-eyed reflective statement, “u.” The song plays like the Cain to the Abel of “i.”
“He just walked in [the studio], cut the lights off, he walked into the booth, locked the door, and didn’t come out for three hours. So when he did his verse, I’m sitting back recording and it’s pitch black everywhere. It was an experience for sure.”
The recording of the song struck a chord with everyone in the room.
“Everybody that walked in the session had tears in their eyes. I don’t know,” said Sounwave, before hesitating with emotion. “It just hits me every time I listen to it. He put his heart in that one.”
The session jazz/trumpeter opens up “Wesley’s Theory”
The rich baritone that opens up “Wesley’s Theory” with the words “When the four corners of this cocoon collides…,” isn’t George Clinton. Instead, that mysterious voice happens to be trumpet player Joseph Leimberg. As for how this came together, Terrace Martin explained it best: “Everything walking in that [studio] is music.”
“That’s the trumpet player of the album on the intro. [Laughs] ‘Cause how the vibes is in those sessions, whoever is in the session, Kendrick is going to look at you like, ‘Ay what you do?’ If you say ‘I make tacos,’ he gonna be like, ‘Ay put a mic next to her making tacos.’ If you say ‘I make T-Shirts,’ he gonna say, ‘Ay record him saying that and reverse it.’ It’s just different ideas. Everything is music. Everything walking in that room is music. Even cats that wasn’t musicians ended up being a piece of the music.”
Kendrick spoke in moods and colors during recording process
Describing Kendrick’s methods in the studio, longtime engineer MixedByAli said, “Everything with Kendrick is moods. He’ll come in and he’ll hear a beat and that’ll spark a certain mood.” With their chemistry, Ali said they were able to communicate through colors and moods. “From that he would tell me, like ‘Yo, I want it to sound like this, I want the mood to be dark. I want to the mood to be trippy, and from there a color would emerge, ‘Make it sound purple if its trippy, or like a green or dark green.’ We’ve been working together for so long, so we just found ways to make that translate in the music.”
“Mortal Man” has an extended outro that will appear on Terrace Martin’s Velvet Portraits
As if the “Mortal Man” wasn’t stirring enough, Terrace revealed that he created an ending to the record that couldn’t make the cut. “We have another ending that a 24-piece string orchestra came in and Kamasi [Washington] did the string orchestration and it’s crazy. We having an ending for that but it was too long. It’ll make you cry. It’s crazy.” The extended version will appear on Martin’s upcoming album Velvet Portraits, which arrives on April 1st.