Terrace Martin (2016)
Photo credit: G L Askew II for NPR
Terrace Martin takes his job very seriously. Here's just a taste of what he sees as at stake when he goes to work: "You got the Marines. You got the Army. We are the only people that soothe them. The art community are the only people that soothe the people that violently defend us cause they have to sometime, or sometime they don't, but regardless we are the only community that defends them."
This conversation, our second with Terrace, got heavy, even teary. It was always going to, and we taped only two days after Phife passed. All these words came out of a too-tired-and-sad-to-be-false period of time, which isn't to say that they aren't leavened by Puffy stories and suspect relationship advice.
ALI SHAHEED MUHAMMAD: Terrace Martin in the building.
FRANNIE KELLEY: Part two.
MUHAMMAD: Part two.
TERRACE MARTIN: Part two, man. The sequel.
MUHAMMAD: It's happening, when we have return guests.
MARTIN: I love that, yeah.
MUHAMMAD: I'm like, "Oh, yeah. We official. We growing."
MARTIN: I'm almost there, baby.
MUHAMMAD: No, you there.
MARTIN: I'm there. I'm here.
MUHAMMAD: Actually, you're making us official.
MARTIN: S***. Shoot. Can I cuss on this?
KELLEY: Yeah. It's fine.
MARTIN: I'm going to still not cuss. That's my new thing, try not to f****** cuss so much.
MUHAMMAD: How you doing?
MARTIN: Cool, man. I'm happy, man.
MUHAMMAD: That's important.
MARTIN: I'm happy.
MUHAMMAD: A lot of people might not be able to say that readily. Why are you happy?
MARTIN: I'm happy because, no matter, what I'll always go under the understanding of: you could find beauty in every problem, and every day you wake up it's always going to be problems. And this is not even no — this is not no deep miracle, spiritual s***. This is just really how I really feel. It's beauty in every problem, and when I was younger, I could never accept challenges. I would turn away from challenges, life challenges, this, and that.
And then I realized that these challenges will never go nowhere in your f****** life. Challenge will always be here, so you have to press through every challenge. And I know every day is going to wake up; it's going to be some form of challenge, but now I'm excited for every challenge. I'm excited for every challenge, every obstacle. I'm not even talking about in music; I'm talking about in life. None of my conversations are really on music now anyway.
But every obstacle that I encounter, I feel like once I go through it — cause I'ma make it through all of them — so once I go through the obstacle and I make it through, it's like my own spiritual trophy. So I actually get up and I look forward to what may be the obstacle, cause whatever it is I'm gonna conquer it.
So that's when I say I'm happy, that means I don't live in fear. I don't live in disbelief. I understand faith. I understand you have to lose faith to gain faith and to really understand faith. So that's why I'm happy. Cause I understand those Earth, Wind & Fire-type things in my life right now. And I didn't always use to understand that s***.
MUHAMMAD: What became the eye-opener for you to begin to see life that way?
MARTIN: When I started — when I realized this — cause I was young growing up in this record business. What started me — those things — I started opening my eyes about five or six years ago when things wasn't that moving, as far as in Los Angeles with the hip-hop scene and certain — it was just another scene that I wasn't versed at that was going on.
And sometime when — sometime in music when you don't — it's a psychological thing that happens cause in music, especially — unfortunately in a lot of things — but hip-hop music now, and I believe the past 15 years, some people — it became a thing to where it was OK to sound like everybody else and be like everybody else and look like everybody else. But all of my heroes and all of my teachers told me on records that I had to be different. So at the time, when I finally got good enough to be different, it was popular to sound like everybody else. And that was puzzling to me just in music in general, cause I don't believe — I believe you should be yourself.
So it was a dark time business-wise for me and a lot of my friends in Los Angeles on the music scene to where we wasn't working. Nobody was calling us to produce the records, to do the records, or record labels wasn't calling. It was just a strong thing that was like a black cloud, I felt like, over Los Angeles, that — it really helped me get closer back to my saxophone. Cause I've always been a saxophone player, but when the records wasn't going on, I had to play my horn really to make a real living again.
And through that is where I found out that — I realized what loyalty was, cause I had been disloyal really to the art. And I fell in love with kind of what it was supposed to be about, and that's how I got lost in transition. That's how all of us got lost in transition though. It was like a plague of some f***** up s*** going on in the music business. Just something was going on. But it —
KELLEY: Wait. So what was happening then? 2010.
MARTIN: They just —
KELLEY: Like music — what was popular? I can't remember.
MARTIN: Music is always inspired by life, what goes on around.
KELLEY: For sure.
MARTIN: You know what I'm saying? I think a lot of just back then, it was just — I think it was going through a growing spurt. A growing thing. And that's just what I — now that I'm older and I look back, I think it was that, and — I just think it was that.
But going through that dark time and not being called, not getting the phone answered or this and that, then I realized once it was just me alone in the room with my art, with my music, and I realized like, "You know what? Let me stop complaining about everything, cause at least I have my health and I'm able to get up in the morning. Play the horn, and I could still listen to music and then I'm just going to keep practicing everyday and stay loyal to the sound I want to do. And one day, something's going to happen."
MUHAMMAD: That's a very —
MARTIN: And then that little m*********** from Compton came out, Kendrick Lamar.
MUHAMMAD: Well, I was gonna ask about him.
MARTIN: What happened?
MUHAMMAD: Since you brought him up, I was like — well, some people may take that and say, "Well, things got a little bit better. Maybe that's why you can see things, life, from a brighter perspective." But —
MUHAMMAD: But before we go there, in that sort of adversity, in having to look at life through a different lens because you're now focused on yourself, focused on your relationship with your horn, focused on seeing life from a different perspective, it's very freeing. And it may be difficult for people who are not there yet to really see how free it is. So in other areas of your life, if that's how you looking, how does it then begin to pay off for you?
What I'm asking is that, now that you have a new understanding, a new vision, an outlook on life —
MUHAMMAD: — and how you're treating just life in general when you wake up, how does it then, that transformation, begin to pay off for you? Like, you're seeing, I guess, the fruits of that growth.
MARTIN: Because it — now that I understand. It's — I've learned how to live alone now. Like, I've learned how to sleep alone now. Same thing with a relationship. I've learned how to be alone, because I had to be alone, you know what I'm saying? There was nobody to call or — and what I mean nobody to call, I mean it was — and when I mean me, it was — it's a few of us. But me in general, I had to learn how to be confident and happy with the blessings I have around me and the people that I have around me and the facility that the creator has giving me to be able to move how I move, in general.
So I think once I really humbled myself within myself, things start turning around. So it's paid off, because I've learned how to be alone. I've been stripped down of everything to be made whole again, to build back up again. You know what I'm saying? So now my values are different, my morals are just totally different, my foresight, I know my job. My job is only to be a servant of the community, and just to inspire. That's it. That's my whole job, and I know that.
That's why certain things don't really get to me. Cause I'm grounded. I know what I have to do, and I know that we're on a mission. I know this whole movement that we're on, art, is on a mission. We've been told to do something by the forefathers before us, you know, P.E., Tribe Called Quest, N.W.A. Like, we've been set a manual. So we have a mission. We have a book that we're following right now.
So that's how it's paid off, because I've stayed loyal and I believe your gift will make room for you if you just stay loyal and just stay put. So many people just get — right when you get frustrated like "Ah!" and then bam something cool could happen, you know what I'm saying? And I believe that's what — that's what those negative energies want to do. It's like, they want to confuse you, and they want to steal your joy.
Cause once your joy is gone, it's a wrap. Cause happiness is temporary; joy is everlasting. So once your joy is gone, damn, then they could f*** with your head, and once they f*** with your head, you just left on the side of the road.
MUHAMMAD: So with regards to the new record, Velvet Portraits, it definitely sounds — it sounds like a transformation, this record. I don't know what it is. It's something about it. It seems lighter and pleasant. I don't know if that's —
MARTIN: Yeah, it is.
MUHAMMAD: — deliberate, or if that's just manifestation of where you are.
MARTIN: My art, most of my art, is — a lot of it, at least 75% of it since I could remember it, even when I used to draw pictures as a kid on canvases, most of my art sometime is always reflecting the opposite of what I'm seeing or what I've been through or what I've seen.
So you have some cases in hip-hop, the gangster rapper, some certain ones will talk about everything they've seen, everything they've been through, everything they've done. Then you have the gangster that don't rap, that doesn't talk about anything. Those are my heroes. And all they did was do things and they would soothe people in the neighborhood of the other guys that sometime would come in and disrupt the neighborhood.
Those are my — that was my earliest experience with the first formation of what kind of Africa was I read about, just in a different way, as a village and a community. So my heroes are people like that, that just stayed and made sure their family was taken care of.
So art-wise, my thing is like with all these crazy things going on — you have some people that literally talk about what's going on. Like, you have "We gon' be alright." You have J. Cole. You have all these people. And MCs can just — bam — pinpoint it. So my thing is I didn't want to do art like that, because that's being done by greats right now. I'm — I don't believe in — I believe in finding my corner and trying to fill that void to paint a different picture. So my thing is I want to do, musically, soothing music to soothe the times of what's going on.
So even — you know, I see what's going on. We all know what's going on with society and with murders, and it's bad times and people losing people and all these times that you would say dark. My thing is, like I said earlier, I believe in finding the beauty in every problem. So I'm not going to pinpoint the art on the dark thing, we know that's that. I'm going to create a pillow and a bed so you can lay down and soothe yourself. Cause when you wake up from my records, you gotta get up and turn on CNN and go through a whole 'nother type of head trip all day, man. And that s*** is scary on the news.
KELLEY: Last time we spoke, was that like a year ago? Is that right?
MARTIN: Yup. I think — yup.
KELLEY: I think it was about a year ago. You said that you wanted your music to be like the musicians on the Titanic as it was going down.
KELLEY: But to me, this album feels more like you hope that the music would actually in some way prevent the ship from going down.
MARTIN: Well, yeah. Hopefully they play my music while they worked on the boat to make sure everything is fixed up correctly.
KELLEY: Just never happens.
MARTIN: So we won't go down.
MARTIN: We don't want to — but if the ship go down, I'ma go down. I'ma go down with the ship. That's what I signed up for.
KELLEY: So what changed then, in just a year?
MARTIN: Nothing changed, really, with my intentions. What changed is just maybe sonically the palette of music I'm providing. That kind of changed. But — and this is just on this — this music was inspired by a time. I'll probably never sound like this record again. I hope not. I hope I grow and get better and, you know, a different thing now.
So this music just represented a time, and it made me want to reflect on certain elements. That's why certain elements on the record may remind you of certain other things, you know what I'm saying? It's just a time thing. Cause I — tomorrow I may do another record. I may leave here and go work with YG and do the most craziest self-hate record ever but have fun doing it. I don't know.
KELLEY: I mean, it feels to me like the payoff that Ali was talking about, of your own growth, is that it doesn't feel impossible.
MARTIN: I'm more confident. I know for a fact I've been lied to for — we've — every artist have been lied to for so many years, when this business tells you what you have to do and what you're going to do otherwise they're not going to help you feed your children after you've done so much for them. So I've been lied to.
So now that I've realized the truth, I'm more confident of just doing what I want to do, you know. Like, I didn't come in this business doing a record to get a hit record. I didn't know what a hit record was. I didn't know what platinum records was. I didn't know that. All we knew was we wanted our s*** to sound like whatever sounded like on 1580 KDAY and The Beat and Yo! MTV Raps and Rap City.
That's the furthest I think young people knew in hip-hop. We didn't even know about a record deal except if you get a record deal that means you could be on Rap Pages or Fresh and have a video. We didn't know you could get a car and a house, none of that stuff. That was so — and I'm back to that. I'm back to just like: I want to inspire.
But then, the other side is I'm a product of hip-hop. So I want to have a friendly, competitive thing, too, with my peers and stay on top of my s***. That keeps everybody's knives sharpened. That way we all inspire. But like when I go hear somebody press play, it's some records I hear I say, "I wish I would've produced that record. Why didn't I produce that record?" You know what I'm saying? So it's all just vibe, man.
KELLEY: You know Nicholas Payton?
MARTIN: Yeah, I know Nicholas Payton.
KELLEY: You know what he writes about Black American Music?
MARTIN: Yeah, Nick —
KELLEY: Putting down the term jazz, everything?
MARTIN: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
KELLEY: I think about that when you talk about wanting to make music to soothe people, and how we need both sides of that coin. But I don't really understand why they're exactly separate genres. And then also what you're talking about, how — the reason that they are called or labelled that way on iTunes is because of systemic, institutionalized racism, sexism, homophobia.
MARTIN: Mm-hmm. Well, see I feel — I'm a human being, so I feel two ways about all kind of s***.
KELLEY: OK. Yeah.
MARTIN: My one side to that is, like, I think the titles help and they hurt. The titles help for the people that just don't do music, and they just want to identify and not think that deep and go get a f****** jazz record —
MARTIN: — in the jazz section! So then it's not — it's that.
Then it's the artists, it's us. You know, it's us. And it is — but those titles sometime — sometime when certain press will write about you, sometime — I don't think they do it on purpose. I know in the '60s and '70s they did a lot of things on purpose to jazz and black music. I think now it's just whatever. But they'll keep you in a box. Jazz, jazz, jazz, jazz, jazz, jazz, jazz.
Like with me, I don't mind. I'm a jazz musician, and I love other music. But I didn't play jazz first. So really I have to say I'm a hip-hop musician, if anything, that studied jazz. So when they say jazz for me, I always like to say, "Well, be careful. We gotta keep it broad, too." You gotta keep it broad. Cause jazz is not the only thing in life moving. Neither is funk. Neither is rap. Neither is rock. It's everything.
So I try to keep — now what I do, I try to keep my conversations wide, you know. And I'm careful on the interviews. I try to keep my interviews with people that are wide-range people too. To get out that — so for me, I don't feel it's no difference, but then I feel it's a difference. Because if you go get a YG record, you don't want to hear no jazz. You have to be able to identify it.
KELLEY: Right. Sure. It's about energy sometimes.
MARTIN: It's about energy. So it's like, I mean, f*** it. People want to call it what they want to call it. Just enjoy it. That's kind of where I'm at now. Just enjoy it, and keep the lights on so the artists can keep on going, to the artists can keep on living. Go pay for concerts and buy records. Jazz, hip-hop, bluegrass, whatever you want to call it, we'll show up.
KELLEY: I think that also —
MARTIN: But we know what it is. We know it's art.
MARTIN: We know it's only two kinds of music, good and bad, right? But, you know, everybody got they thing. That don't bother me. Long as they love it, you know?
KELLEY: I mean, the other thing about the reason people separate stuff is cause people want — they want sounds to be responsible for things, and they want artists to have to answer certain questions. Like, are you doing things for your community? Are you getting money to put back into your community? And I've seen you talk about responsibility in — I think it was a Billboard interview. You talked about being at the Grammys and seeing Herbie right over there, and you said you felt responsible to him.
MARTIN: Well, no, no. I said I felt — I said I had responsibility to the culture and to the art.
KELLEY: Like he did?
MARTIN: And — yeah, yeah, yeah. I have a responsibility. That's — we all, as artists, have a responsibility, I believe, especially the ones that are getting these interviews and being seen and everything. People know, because people are inspired by us, you know what I'm saying?
MARTIN: So, the thing with that is when — I felt like that, but then when I saw Herbie at the Grammys it just reminded me how serious the responsibility is, cause he got the Lifetime Achievement Award. And here he is, 75 years old; he played with Miles Davis, one of the most legendary records that helped be responsible for hip-hop and certain styles of playing funk and everything, called Miles Live At The Plugged Nickel, in the '60s.
And here he is today at the Grammys and without him, without that style of playing our music, we would not be performing on the Grammys. Cause it would be impossible, impossible, to write them songs on To Pimp A Butterfly or anything I've ever done without a Herbie Hancock. It's impossible.
So it was just like, "Oh, this is how it go." And the whole thing I felt, the energy when I feel with different cats, is like, I'm just inspired to find younger musicians and tell them everything I know. So hopefully in 20 years when they see me down there getting my lifetime s***. I could be like, "You got responsibility." You know, it's just the each one teach one thing, so —
And you definitely want to make, in anything you do — I'm sort of Kobe when he play — even right now, he about to retire, but I'm sure Kobe, if Michael Jordan was sitting on the floor, I'm sure he would turn up like ten years ago. Cause it's just something — I'm sure if I'm in a beat battle, which I don't do, but I would, maybe, for reap the benefits with some kids. But I may have a selection, but if I see Dr. Dre and A Tribe Called Quest, I might have to get this other selection.
MARTIN: Because you want to show the cats before you that you learned and you've taught; you're growing. You want to like, "Yo! This is —" you know what I'm saying? So I think with the Herbie thing, it always stands out to me because it was like — to me, he's one of the forefathers of the art of just — jazz is one thing that man has done. So I think when I saw that, it was like a recital. It felt like a recital, musically.
But then bigger than the recital, I knew right — the recital thing felt like a quick 11 seconds. When that s*** said "Something something Kendrick Lamar," that curtain came up, the people — you looked at everybody. We all blacked out. It was just like, "We gotta get this point across. Cause they might shut these cameras down when they get done seeing this s***." Cause they wasn't even sure what we was doing all the way.
So we was like, "We just gotta get this point across, man. If anything, let's just — we love the nominations, love the Grammys. But if anything, let's use this stage to spread this word. Spread this word." Like, "Yo, it's the word of love, the word of family. Let's just make awareness to what the f*** is going on." And I think it's not even really about the music. It's just about the culture the whole s***, life. So much more bigger than music. Music is just something we do. It's just something we do. It's just a tool to get out how we feel.
MUHAMMAD: I think that was — I mean, everyone — I'm sure you've heard it from hundreds of people of how much of an impact that performance was. And at least for someone like me, from a little bit older generation, I mean, I couldn't be more proud.
MUHAMMAD: And even today, several people have been calling me regarding Phife, and a lot of younger artists calling me, and I just keep saying to them, "You know what? Thank you. I know why you calling, but really like, you keep carrying that flag." And I think they need to be told that, especially when they're going in the right direction or a hint of the right direction. You want to push that. And just seeing that performance, it made me really proud, and I hope that you guys continue to push the boundaries and be fearless. Cause that's really — it's just fearlessness. And be courageous.
MARTIN: Yeah, cause the Grammys strict on time. It was cold. We had to be fearless.
MUHAMMAD: Yeah, but it's just in that — especially, specifically in that environment when you have the world to look at you, and people will do it sometimes in subtle ways just because, and then some people can't be subtle. And there was nothing subtle about it, but nothing arrogant either. It was pure. And so, sincerity, honesty, it was important.
Also, I'm thinking last time we saw you you had this vibration that you knew — I don't know if you knew you were emanating it — that you knew s*** was about to jump off.
KELLEY: That's cause he was teasing us about the record.
MUHAMMAD: Yeah, you were kind of —
MARTIN: Was I teasing?
KELLEY: Yeah, you were being a real d***.
MARTIN: Ha haaaa! I love it. Yes. Yes.
MUHAMMAD: See today you came in here kind of on the zen master kind of a thing I was like, "Oh, I get it." Which is dope. It's totally —
MARTIN: I'ma tell you why I'm on my zen s***, cause I've been hanging out with Puff lately. And I gotta be on my zen s***, cause he's on 20 all the time.
KELLEY: That's the best possible answer.
MARTIN: And he makes me just be zen and just, zen. Every time he texts you it's aggressive. "Yo, b!" Although you can't display emotion over text, you just know it's like, "Ugh!"
KELLEY: Does Puffy use a lot of emojis?
KELLEY: Exclamation points?
MARTIN: It's like different numbers he calls you from. Different assistants. It's the ultimate — whatever you could think about, it's the ultimate. It's the ultimate.
KELLEY: One time I was at Revolt, and he was reaming out somebody who had had to take the call at reception cause he couldn't get up to his desk fast enough. So I heard the whole thing. It was really intense.
MARTIN: Puff is intense. Puff — I've been hanging out with him a little bit in the studio and just talking to him, and I've been learning so much because he is really, I could say — and I've been doing — I've been playing with him — one of my first — he was actually my first employer at 17.
But I could truly say he is, for me — I've seen — I haven't worked with all the greats, but from what I've seen thus far in my world, he is the hardest working man in hip-hop by far. He just does not sleep, and he's always trying to beat himself with a new idea. He's always trying to think of a new idea. And he's always like, "You got any ideas?" Like, "Yo, why don't we do this?" And his ideas are big. He has no ceilings on his dreams and his — I've never met nobody with no ceiling on a dream.
And he's for real, man. If — I wish he would go around and talk to colleges forever, because he just understands some things that — Puff knows some keys that if these younger execs, younger people, would listen, Puff knows some keys that'll help this game go another strong 10 years in hip-hop. He knows some important keys, and that's why I'm around, cause I want to help him get the keys out. He has keys, man.
He said something so deep the other day, and it was simple but deep. And a lot of folks just think Puff is this guy, that guy, Ciroc, dance, and this and that. And he's all that. That's his fly s***. He's all that. The other thing Puff is, though, he's a music lover. And I was doing a beat the other day, and he said, "Yo, man. I need a bass line." He kept saying, "I need a bass line. I need a bass line. Give me a bass line." He was humming bass lines. He'd come to the keyboard try to play a bass line.
And I'm like, "OK." I said, "Why he so on the bass line?" He was on the bass lines. Then he said, "Man, T. We gotta make bass lines." I said, "Why? Why you want bass lines?" He's like, "Cause with trap, everything is boom." And he say he love that energy. He love that. But he said, "But bass lines make people dance. The bass line is what makes people dance." And I felt like that, but I've never said that. That's what I felt like.
And when you think about it, every record we grew up to — when you think about y'all records — the bass line! When you listen to "Check The Rhime," that's kind of the only thing as a kid a lot of us remember, and the beginning. Because it was (sings bass line). 30, 40 years before that, "Chameleon." "Atomic Dog." Roger Troutman. Like, bass lines, you know? Motown.
So, when Puff said that, man — I've always had the highest respect for Puff. He's always been one of my superheroes, for real. Ever since I was a kid. But when he said that, I had a whole brand new look for Puff. And then I said back, I said, "I shouldn't've had that, because you gotta remember the hits."
MARTIN: The hit records. So I just want to talk about Puff and just whatever.
MUHAMMAD: It's alright.
MARTIN: Cause he's in tune with the art, and I came back in his life cause my first time — other than Tribe Called Quest with the jazz and hip-hop thing, Puff hired me to play in a big band. And he did a big band arrangement — I did a big band arrangement at 17 to "All About The Benjamins" for the Soul Train Awards.
KELLEY: I remember that.
MARTIN: Yeah. And I remember — and we went to his house. He had the f***** rehearsal. When I was 17. It was the craziest s*** ever. But —
KELLEY: He had the whole band in his house?
MARTIN: No, no. He had the rehearsal and the video of like — I'm old. That's like 20 years ago almost. 17. 20 years ago now.
KELLEY: Oh, I understand.
MARTIN: But I'm saying he was early on a lot of s***. And then he loved Tribe Called Quest.
MUHAMMAD: Yeah, I know.
MARTIN: Puff loved Tribe Called Quest.
MUHAMMAD: Yeah, I know. When you mentioned his name, it just took me back to —
MARTIN: Puff loved Tribe Called Quest. People don't know he's like —
MARTIN: He loved Tribe Called Quest.
KELLEY: What'd it take you back to?
MUHAMMAD: It took me — I think I talked to you about this. It took me back to one of the shows that he booked, but even —
KELLEY: Oh, yeah yeah.
MUHAMMAD: Yeah. But even before that at the — oh, what was the name of the club that he used to — The Red Zone? Puff used to throw parties in New York. So I mean, just the love that he showed all the time when we were around. he would just be really excited and happy. So, you know —
MARTIN: What year was that?
MUHAMMAD: This was like '92, '93.
MARTIN: Was he still hype?
MUHAMMAD: Yeah, of course he was.
KELLEY: Probably more.
MUHAMMAD: Of course. Of course. Yeah. I mean, he's always like that.
MARTIN: Yeah. I love that, man.
MUHAMMAD: Have you walked away with — I mean, being around someone who is as an idea person and as an inspiration and successful, what else have you walked away lesson-wise from Diddy?
MARTIN: Definitely hard work. Definitely dream bigger than I was ever dreaming. Just dream 'til you get a headache, you know what I'm saying? And there's no excuse for excuse. He don't have no excuses for nothing. And he's very alert.
He's hands-on. I learned how to be more hands-on with people. Cause Puff and Snoop and them is hands-on. You hands-on. Hov is hands-on sometime. I mean, it's like so — but I think it's back to that. I don't think it always was that. I think now it's back to people and artist want to just, "What's up, man? Pull up."
MARTIN: I think it's back to that now, and that's always cool, cause that's a musician thing. You know, cause you a musician. The fellowship is important.
And I think — I learned — also a producer thing I've learned from Puff, cause he is one of my favorite producers as far as just, you know, he know how to put the right cats in the right room, and he know how to — he is a producer, period. So I learned with him even more producing things, where it's like — he knows just how to pull the best out of you. And right when you leave you think you haven't done nothing, you may get a call saying, "Yo, that's hot." It's like, I like that. I like the challenge.
MUHAMMAD: And talking about pulling a cast together, can you talk about the cast you pulled together for Velvet Portrait?
MARTIN: Yeah, I pulled together — a few good friends of mine. I've been playing with the same friends doing records with them and playing in bands since I was 14. I literally — I don't even — I know a lot of new musicians, but fortunately my crew is my family, and it's always going to be Robert Glasper on piano. It's always going to be Robert "Sput" Searight on drums. It's always going to be Thundercat on bass. Brandon Owens on bass. My father's on drums on this album, on 80% of the album, which is, like, a very important thing for me. Lalah Hathaway. Tiffany Gouché. A new artist named Rosegold. One of my best friends, Kamasi Washington.
So it's really a lot — Keyon Harrold, trumpet player. It's like — this record on purpose I wanted my all my friends to shine. I wanted all the cats that's been doing everybody's records the past two years. Let's do our record. I watched a lot of Steely Dan things, and I wanted to just do a record and have all them involved in it too. Cause we had just got done having a good couple of years with Robert's records, Kendrick's records, Kamasi's records, Thundercat's records. So we just wanted to regroup and just get this energy to mind and we gon' keep doing that situation.
MUHAMMAD: That's dope. What was — I remember the last time I saw you you were talking about going to — where was it? Oklahoma?
MARTIN: Omaha, Nebraska.
MUHAMMAD: Omaha, Nebraska. Yeah.
MARTIN: I went. I went. Yeah.
MUHAMMAD: So can you talk about that?
MARTIN: Man. Well, when we was doing — I went to Omaha, Nebraska, cause that's where my father lives. He teaches out there. So when we were doing the end of To Pimp A Butterfly — towards the end — we had experienced so much weird things, man. Like, one of our closest friends, and one of the best musicians in the Los Angeles community, Mr. Zane Musa, passing. And then a week later my dad almost passed from a heart attack and pneumonia. So it's like — and these were right in the middle of the sessions.
My father raised me, and he's a musician. And one thing that my family — I'm like fourth generation musician. So I don't know life without music, at all. I don't know — I can't really remember exactly when I fell in love with music. All I could do is remember when we got closer.
So throughout all this crazy stuff we never took breaks. When we found out we lost our best friend, Zane, me and Kamasi and Thundercat, all of us was in one room. We were recording the song "Mortal Man." We found out. It hurt. Boom. Everybody was down. I said, "Let's go back. We gotta leave the studio at nine o'clock, cause I gotta turn this record in by ten." And we want back and just did the record.
Next day, do the record. Something else happened, I think. A lot of things was going on. Then a week later, my father — I get a call saying, "Your father's dead." Once again, it's like, "Yo, is he dead? OK. Cool. Let me call you back, cause I gotta go to mastering at about eight in the morning."
And I say that to say, my responsibility is really serious. My father taught me it's serious. Being a musician, it gets weird. You know. Because you have to give up your whole f****** life to everybody. Everybody. So me and Kamasi was talking like, "Yo, Zane is gone. Zane is gone." Everybody's crying. Oh, crying, crying, crying, crying, crying. And I remember I'm crying in my hands, crying, "Zane's gone. Zane's gone."
But I'm looking at Kamasi's chart and he wrote the wrong line. He wrote a dotted eighth notes when he should've wrote half notes. And in the middle of hurting for Zane, I said, "Well, we have to correct this chart right here, cause we still got a responsibility to give out. We'll deal with this hurt later on. We gotta get this record out. We have a deadline. This record is important."
Cause my father taught me, when you sign up for this s*** —
We're crazy. We're strong, man. And I don't take being a servant lightly with the art s***, because this is my s***. You know I'm saying?
MARTIN: So saying all that even is to go is like — when I went to Omaha, right when all this death had happened, I went — with Zane funeral, all this stuff. My father dead; he's not dead. He's dead? He's dead. Oh, he's not dead? OK, cool. He still can't talk. Now. Those split seconds I still didn't even deal with a lot. I just made sure everybody was cool. Went to Zane's funeral. Came back. Finished Kendrick's record.
And then I had to chance to have two hours to myself and said, "OK. We're done. What's the next step?" And I was like, "Let me go record my father. Because I just experienced almost losing him, and he's the best drummer in the world." And it's going to inspire so many fathers and children and other people that may have not talked to their friends and their families and their loved ones, forever, to call, get the picture, say something. And I'm practicing what the f*** I preach now.
So that's why when I come up and hug you, it's for real. When I smile and be on my zen, it's to keep from crying, being f***** up. Because when you like us, dog, it's f***** up. And that's why we turn to different things for hugs and s*** like that. So I went to Omaha, Nebraska feeling all like that, and I had to give the whole thing, cause that's literally what the s*** was feeling like. Worse though. With vodka. So I went to Omaha, Nebraska —
KELLEY: Ciroc. Sorry.
MARTIN: Not Ciroc. Not Ciroc that day. But I did drink Ciroc with Puff.
MARTIN: And he spilled it on me on accident.
KELLEY: My fault.
MARTIN: Anyway, so I went to Omaha, Nebraska. I flew out three musicians, Brandon Owens, bass player, Robert "Sput" Searight. Two musicians and myself. And I wanted to go to Omaha, Nebraska. My father couldn't travel. He was fresh out the hospital, so he couldn't really travel. And I wanted to go out there and just get the f*** out of L.A. and get the f*** out the city. I didn't want to go to — I'm always in New York. I'm always in L.A.
So I wanted to go somewhere where I had bad cell phone service, and I could get away from everybody pulling at me and just really focus on pulling my heart out and just digging into another atmosphere of art. Cause I just gave everything to this other situation. I don't have a lot of time. I don't have a lot of time. I don't know who the f*** is gon' die next. It's weird. And a few other friends is sick, and three other friends got shot. It was just weird.
So I was — I'm just rushing everything, but not rushing with the intent of, "Let me hurry up." It's still like, "I need to f*** with everybody I love. Right now." So I f*** with my dad, everybody. That's why we all came together. With my dad. I came with — then we started doing Kamasi's new s***.
And I think that losing people and losing and almost losing and the whole time taught us, yo, like, nothing is never — we don't got no problems with each other anyway, but nothing is never too f****** crazy to just hug somebody, embrace. And if you have — we have talented friends of the art, we need to really do things together. And I could say that now, cause I preach that. I know Snoop Dogg preaches that. He is a firm believer of connecting the lineage and always doing records with loved ones. That's how we say thank you.
I have a record on my record called "Tribe Called West," and this is some strange s***. But this was what the publicist two days ago — when we do the picture? Like, a few nights ago. And then the publicist had the song. The song been done. Then you — the write-up, the whole speech, and then Phife Dawg passes? You know what I'm saying?
And it's a thing to where I'm so weird and touchy with certain things, cause I believe Tribe Called Quest are more important than the f****** Beatles, to me. So I'm so intense with that. I literally — I was like, "Yo, don't put this s*** out right now. Keep it quiet." Cause the whole thing is also — we're always taught as jazz musicians: those are sacred times, really for the family. That's why I don't believe in putting "Rest In Peace" or nothing on a social network until after the family and everybody has acknowledged and felt a certain kind of way. That's a real f****** thing. That's a real thing.
And it's just, that s*** is crazy, man. Everything is crazy, but even this, even what we just went through, cause me — and Kamasi called me like, "Yo, did you hear the s***?" It felt like — you know what I'm saying? Like, we don't even know this guy. But we feel like we know him or he know us. His music raised us, so that's how we feel about Phife and Tribe Called Quest. So it just felt like we lost a relative, man. And it was deep.
You're never prepared. But Kamasi said something, he was like, "Yo, you never prepared, man, but I'm starting to see what age is." Because we took a crazy hit in the summer. We're not used to nothing. But this is just what happens. We go. This is what happens. And we hurt. We mourn when people die and pass, but sometime, man, they ready to be like, "Look. Y'all, I did what I could do. I'm out. Thanks. Stop. Leave me the f*** alone. I want to go to sleep." That's how I look at everything with everybody.
That wasn't even a question but it just went there.
MUHAMMAD: No. I'm glad that you —
KELLEY: It was going to.
MARTIN: Y'all got me all deep and s***. If I was on my YG s***, I wouldn't have cried just now. I would've been harder.
MARTIN: But I feel like that, man. And today, seeing you, Raphael, it's like, these are real things happening right now.
MUHAMMAD: The thing about what you said, though, is just having that sense of urgency of life, and specifically tied to your art and the passion that you have to carry that responsibility. Cause as you have spoken — it's kind of crazy to be a musician, because of the amount of dedication and what you give to the people. You're no longer of yourself, of your family. You're really a servant of the community.
And I'm just wondering how, when that is the level that you walk the Earth as an artist and as a guider of the generations to come through the arts, how do you feel about other people who are way less passionate, extremely frivolous, and careless with what they call art? How do you feel being in the community surrounded by people like that?
MARTIN: I feel, with that — I understand history and I understand conditioning. I understand family. I understand teachings.
So when I see that, somebody so careless with something so powerful, the first thing I say is — I look at the age. Cause it is a age thing. Cause we've all been careless with a lot of things. I mean, so, who am I to judge? But I look at the age and say, "Well, maybe they just don't know." And lately I've been seeing them my age and not knowing. So it gets tricky. But I say, "Maybe they just don't know." And nine times out of 10, when I bump into these other artists at radio shows, I realize that they don't know. They don't know the responsibility of the art and they don't — they just don't know.
And a lot of them are familiar with me now through the popularity of Kendrick or those records, cause they all love Kendrick. And then when they see me it's like — you know, the L.A. thing or the industry thing to do is, "Oh, man. We gotta get it in. We gotta work." I don't get that when I see these other artists. They look at me like a uncle. Like, "Terrace Martin, I want to work but I'm not on no —" and I say, "Well, you not on no what?" And that opens up the conversation I need to have with them. And I've had it with all of them.
And the one thing I find out is — I ask them without preaching, cause I don't preach to them. Cause I hang with them. I really hang with them. Like, I'm in the paint with some of these kids. Like YG, I'm in the — that's my little bro. I love that energy sometimes. He's more conscious of a lot of things than what people really think.
But in general, I try to — I ask them — I could usually tell — I ask them, "Yeah, man —" I hide it, I say, "Yeah, man, what do you hope to do with your next record?" That's how you ask them, "What's your plans?" And some of them, most of them, "Oh, I'm doing this. I'm doing that. I'm doing that. I'm doing that." And I could tell the way the conversation going it's like, "And I'm going to do this, and it's going be a movie. It's going to be that." And surprisingly I hear a lot of strange s***. And I say, "Well, you know, man, think about this: the run doesn't last forever. The run don't last forever. You should hurry and figure out some s*** to be concrete. Maybe you may want to switch your s*** so the run could last a little longer. But the wave — everybody don't stay hot forever."
And I tell them that, man. I tell them. I say, "I know you got some money right now, man. I know. But this game will put your ass in a two-bedroom apartment after your ten-bedroom house is gone and you'll be nothing. You gotta think about that time. Nobody's going to answer they phone how they're answering right now. Hate to bring you the dark side. You should already been thinking about that." And then I just disappear. But how I really — that's — I can't control that. I can't control what nobody sees. It makes me just hope — it makes me want to keep spreading my message, so it could just inspire others to just do other-type things.
But it's turning around, man, cause you got cats like Travis Scott, to me. Travis Scott is amazing to me. And when you really listen to all his songs, he has something for everybody. You have Ty Dolla $ign where it's not all turn-up. You have YG where he is really bringing these — he has a — when you really talk to him about what his records mean, it's not what you think. So you have some cats that get it to they crowd how they gotta give it to 'em. Then you got some b*******. But you got some cats who give it to they crowd how you had to give it to us. You see what I'm saying?
MARTIN: I always say, "I wouldn't be playing jazz without Tribe Called Quest." My father been playing jazz records. I didn't want to go hear a f****** John Coltrane record when I was 10 years old. Who want to hear "Giant —" who could dance to "Giant Steps?" It's not reality. It's just not as a 10 — it's not.
And if it was for you at 10, you not it. You not cool. That s*** ain't cool for your — "Here, man. Play this!" "We don't want to hear that." I had to hear a "Red Clay" sample to say, "Wait, what?" Then later on went back and said, "Bob James. This, that." But I had to hear how I — and my parents was probably like, "Turn that down! Turn that —" but I had to get it how you gave it to me.
So YG and them gotta give it — and the other artists that sometime — a lot of them talk crazy. A lot of ones that you may think, "They on some s***, man" — cause I talk to them and see the way they crowd move. And YG music is really about fun and love. It's really about love and a brotherhood with his s***, when he really go through his s***. I don't know he was as deep as he was till I started working with him.
KELLEY: We've spoken to him before. Yeah.
MARTIN: Yeah, he wrote a love song.
MARTIN: On his last album.
MARTIN: It's his own way of saying he got heartbroke.
MARTIN: "F****** b****!" But he was hurt.
KELLEY: And the song about his mom and everything.
MARTIN: That's why we gotta get to the youngsters, though. See if we get — somebody say, "Yeah" — like I — we gotta get them at 15, 16.
MUHAMMAD: Yeah. I think you guys, however the creator's laid it out for — to balance — I'll say just to balance things out, I think whatever — your whole family is in a very important position for, I'll say, humanity on this side of globe. Really. It may not be realized for another couple of decades.
I don't know what the vision is for you with that. I mean, obviously you walk with a responsibility anyway, so carrying it means nothing. I don't know. I don't live with you everyday. So maybe you go home and be like, "Why am I carrying this weight?" But outside of that, just with regards to — you still pushing. You still — you seem in a great space and just listening to the record lightly, it just feels — it feels really good.
MARTIN: Word. Thank you, man.
KELLEY: Even "Mortal Man," which you're saying doesn't come from a good place. I mean, can you talk about the difference between the version that's on To Pimp A Butterfly and the version that's on your album?
MARTIN: Mm-hmm. The version on To Pimp A Butterfly is the original composition. So I was a fan of it when we was first doing it, when everybody was writing it. And I was the fan when it was going in.
And the music had moved — the music moved me before the lyrics moved me. The lyrics — the music said what he said before the lyrics was on the record. It said that s***, and when he heard that and wrote it, it just — and then just the history behind the record and then — so I just felt like — I just wanted to add onto that thought. I didn't want to re-make the thought. I didn't want to cover it. I just wanted to add on to it, and just finish the — not even, cause the statement's not even finished. But just add on to the sentence, you know? Just add on.
And it's like a — I think it's important for me to show homage and to cover my peers' songs. Cause that what Miles Davis and everybody else did with their peers. Playing the music of my time, whether it be instrumental, whatever, and making it — having solos in between the music of my time makes it quote-unquote jazz, cause jazz is about being in the moment. So I'm able to express myself over a preexisting composition in the moment, and that's what "Mortal Man" is, really. The big difference with that is just another — it's adding on to the sentence.
And that song just means — my father's playing on that song, and then I think about Zane on the song. I think about Kamasi and Thundercat and Sounwave. I think about our brotherhood and our families, and the one thing I'm happy with that I know when I pass on people will be always talking about this, like you said, this particular moment.
And this moment will inspire a generation of young musicians and young leaders of all colors. It won't just be the black kids or the white kids or the Spanish kids or these kids. It'll be everybody. It'll be everybody'll be inspired to pick up an instrument or not, read about the history. Something about when you just study things you're a little more relaxed. When a kid has something he wants to study — but it's so powerful —
And I'm finally glad that this sound is becoming recognized because when we got — the Grammy situation, it just felt like the Grammys wasn't for us. It was for a thing that was a —
KELLEY: You mean like the previous Grammys?
MARTIN: It was — we felt like the Grammy was for this. We felt like the Grammy was for Snoop. We felt like the Grammy was for Nas. We felt like the Grammy was for Tribe. We felt like the Grammy was for Dilla. We felt like the Grammy was for Miles. Herbie. John Coltrane. We felt like everybody that you could hear that record and hear obviously where some of these — the energies people that — I mean, just influenced by. Cause we wouldn't have been on that —
All that is is like when you hear fusion in the '70s and you hear a early record of Miles Davis playing "So What," it's the same, it's just it's grown. When you hear Low End Theory and then you hear To Pimp A Butterfly — I say that more in good kid, m.A.A.d. city, but To Pimp A Butterfly — you could hear the lineage. Even when you hear N*****4Life.
I know what everybody was listening to, cause I studied y'all. I've asked you questions. I've asked Dre questions. I've asked people questions, so it's just funny how seeing how everybody was on the same accord, but on different areas. Man.
MUHAMMAD: You know what's crazier about this moment is that we were trying to make it happen for several days and look is it —
KELLEY: Oh yeah, it was totally half my fault, half your fault.
MUHAMMAD: No, but it was meant to be today, you know what I'm saying?
MUHAMMAD: And because after Malik's passing, to me, us sitting down has way more meaning, you know? So —
MARTIN: Oh, man.
MUHAMMAD: But that's a matter of understanding the moment, the present moment. You really — it's hard to have connected clarity to something greater than you, to understand your present moment and the value of the present moment, and to give into it. But I mean, as artists we strive for that and understanding that and express in that moment, to be improvisational but also a master of your instrument, a master of your mind, is what we strive for.
MARTIN: In the words of Herbie Hancock, "Learn all the rules and break 'em."
MUHAMMAD: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
KELLEY: Well, it's also important that you guys talk about this stuff in a way that a lot of people can hear it.
KELLEY: Because it's hard when you have stories that we can't talk about on the air and everything like that.
The way that the public hears the music is so different from how you guys experience it and how you make it. The way — the timing of everything is so different for you, and then people get a little bit confused about what exactly you're talking about, referring to. And it's just important, and I really appreciate that you guys both take the time to put your words out in this way, in addition to everything else that you do.
MUHAMMAD: Yeah. I definitely feel —
MARTIN: Thank you. That was deep.
KELLEY: Shut up.
MARTIN: Thank you.
KELLEY: F*** this whole interview.
MUHAMMAD: Got any more questions?
KELLEY: I mean, yeah. But I also feel pretty good.
MARTIN: Go ahead. Ask me whatever.
KELLEY: I guess I just wanted you guys — cause Ali loves being in the studio so much.
KELLEY: Guess that's why we're here right now. And you are always in the studio. And that's another thing I don't think the public really sort of gets, how much of that is not actually about noodling on your guitar or whatever. How much of that is foundational relationship, just figuring out how to f****** talk to people. I mean, is it different now that you are at this stage in your career than it was —
MUHAMMAD: No. But I think what Terrace said really defined it, and what you said before about the sacrifices. And so when I was 19, I didn't — how do I say this? There comes a great amount of selfishness that comes with wanting to shut the world out so that you can perfect the dream, that big dream, and that vision, whatever it is that you're chasing. And it takes a great amount of selfishness.
But when you're 19, you don't know how to articulate why you're being selfish. It just comes off as you're being in your own world. And when you're 19, it's bigger than that. It's that, "I'm chasing that dream." You may not even realize the other multiple layers that that dream has. For you, the dream is like, "I want to take care of my family. I want to put Mom in a good place. I want to stop being in a neighborhood where I can't just get no sleep. Or I can't even just go away for a week to go perform somewhere to touch some people and I come back my stuff is gone." Like, the dream may be basic, but then there's other — it's greatness on top of it. So when you're young, you don't know how to articulate that.
But ultimately now, as you ask me that question, I'm clear on what it is, and I — when you're young, you made to feel guilty. Like, "Yo, you not kicking it with the crew no more? You can't do this with us?" And it's just like, "Oh, you changed." And it's like, "Nah, nah. I'm really still that same person that's been on this journey that y'all been riding with me, but now I see how real, how tangible, it could be if I just make certain adjustments." Which then becomes the sacrifice that you talk about, and because it's kind of crazy to — as an 18, 19 — and even the age of where people find success is a little older now, but it's a little crazy for a 19-year-old to want to carry their neighborhood on their back.
KELLEY: Yes! I keep saying this to you.
MARTIN: Yeah. When you think about it, it's crazy. Yeah.
MUHAMMAD: It's bonkers. And, you know, to just look at that picture —
MARTIN: Your whole neighborhood.
MUHAMMAD: Yeah. Just look at that picture for the moment. It's like, "The whole block?" Like, "I'ma bring the whole block with me, the whole block." Not only got you and your young squad of maybe 12 to 15, but the only block is then grandma, grandpa, auntie, the whole —
MARTIN: The block!
MUHAMMAD: It's bonkers to even think, like, what you as one person on all the population of Earth will be able to do that, but then to get a touch of, "Yo, this is real?"
But then to try to manage that when you're not taught — we don't — at least I didn't come from any generation of business-minded people, people of wealth, people who've been couple hundred years of establishment and giving the children the knowledge that they don't even have to think about carrying the block, the block was built thousands of years ago. All these things. So you give a kid that, just that glimmer, and that they see that it's real, it's so much that comes with it.
But now I don't feel guilty about my vision. If anything, I was charged as a kid — when I mean charged I mean just excited to get to it — but I'm even more excited now, because I'm like, I know the value of the knowledge that I have now and what it can do for the next generation. And I feel like, "Yo, I got cheated. I got cheated."
So now I'm pissed. It's different if you 19 and you pissed cause the cops just won't give you peace and service like they do other communities. And I got that. But now I'm pissed cause I'm like, "Oooooh, I see how this entire system was designed, and how everybody is playing their part."
So the environment now is supportive of my selfishness. Because my selfishness is not really about me. It's about, "Ah, I'm going to carry the block." But to me, the block is no longer just the block of like Madison Street where I grew up. The block is like, nah —
MARTIN: The world.
MUHAMMAD: The world.
And so I feel great about being in the studio. I have no life. But I have so much life. I have so much joy. And you were saying something earlier about Puff not having excuses. I just told my 20-year-old nephew, I said, "You need to stop making excuses, cause excuses — your multitude of excuses is nothing but a mountain pile of failures."
MUHAMMAD: I couldn't've said that to him maybe 20 years ago, cause I didn't even understand that myself.
So there's a charge and the information that I get when I'm sitting here still studying, playing songs I've been listening to for — I don't know — 25 years, I hear it differently. The information is the same, but because the level of consciousness is elevated, you can receive the message — the different layer of that dream is that you thought that this is where that dream ended? Nah. Through the next door is over here, so now you see where your dream is. OK, what you going to do to get to that point?
So that's where I'm at, and I just pray that the creator gives me enough life to make a difference, not for myself but for those that come after. So, yeah, I'm a studio rat, and I'm happy.
MUHAMMAD: Just like when — cause when you said that — I felt when you said, "Yo, I'm happy." It's just like I said; your energy is different now, seeing you today.
MUHAMMAD: And —
MARTIN: I just realized, man, if I don't want to do it I'm just not gonna do it no more, man.
KELLEY: Yes. Exactly.
MARTIN: And that's — I think that's hard for a human being. I think it's — I find it hard for myself because, especially when you pull from different people — and we're studio rats and it's like — and then everything you said is dead on.
Then you have — what about these — you have the class of people that you love, and no matter how you explaining what they see, they still just don't get it. Oh, we love them. But now how I deal with them, man, when I'm in the studio all night or just going to hear some music, I always I turn and I say, "Look, I love you, man. What I'm doing is working right now. And it's only to make everybody better." And I usually don't talk to m************ 'til the family holiday a year later, cause I gotta get them out.
Because when you on a mission, as you know, family, friends, lovers, it doesn't — this job is so — this art is so intense with pulling from us — and we love it — that if you're going to accompany us in our life, it's selfish, but you kind of gotta — you kind of have to just roll for a minute. You gotta roll. Cause I think as an artist like —
I tell my woman every time. I've always said this to a lot of people, but I tell her. And different people, but her mostly. She's an artist too. But I say, "The biggest thing for an artist is not a check. It's a hug saying it's going to be OK. It's going to be OK."
In the studio, I've — I guess that's what they said. They said we broke up because of the studio, different girls. But I stopped liking 'em anyway. But in the studio, you're in the zone. You have these walls. You have a computer. You have instruments. You can't help but to think about music when you walk into a studio, and it's a release. It's a joy to inspire people. It's a joy to love what you do. It's a joy to be able to buy a sandwich off of a idea you had. These things are blessings, man.
So then when you deal with somebody in your life that comes into your life and don't understand those things cause they may have a lack of passion for something or something like that, I think that becomes the weird divider right there. Cause they don't understand the joy you have. They don't understand why would you want to sit here for 14 hours doing music? Cause they don't understand it's bigger than — it's spiritual.
We have to get it out. We have to get it out, man. We have to get it out. One of the only other places you could get it out and just be wild and scream and get your music out is, like, church or the jazz club. That's why they're similar to me. But we have to get it out, man.
And what I've learned about the studio, I've learned I'm gonna lose a lot of people and gain a lot of people. And it's OK cause my children know why I do it. My loved ones know why I do it. And I'm put here to do this, so I damn sure can't listen to what another human being tell me what I should be doing.
Cause my thing is way supernatural, and it's not even mine. It's not even my control. So while this person's trying to control me, I don't know how to tell this m***********, like, "I want to control it too. I want to control it too. I would like to control it. I think I would. I don't even know how to — you should stop talking to me." That's literally how it goes.
But it comes out maybe in an argument or it comes out in a like, "Why is Terrace not picking up my phone call? Oh, that's Hollywood." "No, you've done something to disrupt the energy. And as an adult, as a man with an 18-year-old son, I don't feel I have to explain to you why I don't pick up the phone no more, but you've interrupted my studio world and my art world. So I don't want to talk to you no more as a friend." And I don't communicate that no more. "You see what the f*** what I'm doing. You see how I'm trying to move s*** and make s*** happen for all of us to make a better place. Leave me alone." That's my thing now.
MUHAMMAD: Yeah, I don't quite say it like that.
MARTIN: How you say it, real mean?
MUHAMMAD: Nah, I don't even say it.
KELLEY: Yeah, he just doesn't pick up.
MUHAMMAD: I just don't —
MARTIN: But when did you stop saying it though? It had to be an — you had to figure out: I'm not going to say it.
MUHAMMAD: Yeah. There was a point; I want to say I was like around 33, something like that. And I realized I don't owe anybody anything. I don't owe anyone any apologies, and I'm such a giving person — yes, I'm selfish. When I'm in this world, yeeaaah. But when I'm not there and I'm here, I give it all. And it's like, that should be — and I don't like to quantify my life or value, but I do think that I'm so free and giving it should be obvious like, "Give me that space." And I'm like — I got to a point —
MARTIN: It's not obvious.
MUHAMMAD: Yeah, it's not. And so — but this is where being — maturing and looking at oneself without the people to teach you how to communicate, you recognize, you know, maybe you should just learn how to identify with what you really want to say, what you're really feeling, and then articulate that, versus letting the emotion speak for you. So it's like, I kind of want to wil' out and spazz out, but that's just — that doesn't help the situation.
So what helps the situation? Well, just what you said. "When I'm over here doing this thing, it helps and it turns into all these other things, so I'm just needing the time to do that. Doesn't meant that I don't want to hang out with you, but you have to understand it takes an —"
MARTIN: Like I don't go to your house while you change clothes.
MUHAMMAD: "— amount of this concentration for me to get this point. So want to be here, want to do that, but cannot possibly in physically 24 hours adjust it that way. So, sorry can't be here. And maybe if this is too much for you, not what you want, then you should be honest, cause I'm being honest with you, with the focus that it takes me —"
MARTIN: But they're never honest though.
MUHAMMAD: "— and what I'm going to do. So be honest with me. Say that's just too much." And then we could hug it out and be like, "Yeah, I respect you." "I respect you." And everybody goes and lives their life to the fullest.
But it doesn't — it takes some maturity. It takes some coaching. It takes a whole lot of different things to get to that point.
MARTIN: Takes —
MUHAMMAD: But also more importantly though, and I said it before, my environment supports the way I think and the way I need to move. And so when I say environment, I mean really my family understands me and they — no issues. And if my mama, my lady got no issues —
MARTIN: It don't — yeah.
MUHAMMAD: — then the rest of the world — I don't have children. So if your children are OK and understand your method as an artist, then that should be it. I don't want to end this in a —
KELLEY: Well, I have two things to say. A lot of people think they are on your level, and they're not. And they still treat people bad. They treat people — they put the same sort of separation and maybe they even use the correct, honest language, but they don't actually need to be doing that to their relationships. And I think this is part of where confusion happens. When people are like, "Get out of my face. I'm making art." And we're like, "No, you're not. You're just being a dick."
MARTIN: Well, see then it's — oh, man. I feel you. And then it's the other side that I'm learning where it's like, everybody art is they thing. Maybe he is making his art, and I'm just not liking his art. And I'm just not understanding his thing, like he's not understanding my thing. Even if he's saying all kind of s***. I was about to — I just stopped quoting verses. Even if he says all kind of s***, and he's — yeah, man, I've heard some artists say recently, "Yeah, I'm a real artist, man. I got so many b****** and cars it's crazy."
KELLEY: This is where I was going with this statement, yes.
MARTIN: But then maybe, in his world, that's what justifies his art. Who am I to say, "Really?" That's like — art is tricky cause you could be — it's like calling somebody's baby ugly.
So it gets tricky sometime. Because I feel like this, but then I'm learning as I get older we have to be careful also, because sometime we could scare away the kid that is going to figure it out. Maybe he's not — but he's going to figure it out, man. He's going to figure it out. And I'm just learning, because I met a lot of my heroes growing up. And some of 'em, assholes.
MARTIN: I've worked with them. And I made myself work with them even when I just — but I have to work with you because you're part of the s***. You're part of the ingredient. So I gotta learn what I heard about you. What I heard on record from you, I want to see it, and I want it. I want it. So I have to, even if I don't — I gotta be next to you for a minute. I need that. But some of them were jerks, man, and some of them were just mean. And I've seen how he did other people and turned me off from them and this and that.
Then I got a chance to talk to them — I've liked — Too $hort told me what hip-hop was to him. It was me and Problem and Wiz Khalifa. And I never will forget; he said, "Hip-hop for me and my area, hip-hop was like something that the cats that didn't sell dope, the cats that wasn't that good at basketball could get involved in hip-hop. So it was a home. Hip-hop to me was my happiness." This is what he was explaining to me. He said, "Hip-hop to me was a place where I could feel comfortable, cause I wasn't a basketball player and I wasn't a gangster."
Hip-hop for him was just a thing to hold onto. What he said he said, but the culture was just something for him to hold on to. And he did Born To Mack. Born To Mack raised me, dog. Too $hort records raised me. Life Is ... Too $hort. And I think he's the most — he's the only MC that work with everybody in the world, you know what I'm saying?
But it's like, I'm sure at one point imagine — I don't know Chuck D. But as a fan, from back in the day, what was Chuck D conversation like with Too $hort back then? Are we going to say Too $hort thing wasn't art? Cause it was definitely art, cause it definitely painted a picture. It definitely reflected things that he was going through and of that time. He definitely as an artist —
Even I say this about Future: One of the artist main jobs is to do things that the other person can't do. YG job is to say all that s***, cause a m*********** driving to they job nine-to-five can't say that about they boss. And that's art in itself to be a vessel — it's all kind of ways to think about it.
MARTIN: So we just gotta be — it's a careful thing. I'm transforming though. This is not all the way there yet. But this is what I'm hoping and practicing I'm going to become. And it's really cause if I could know how to just look at things a little more wider, I could help a little more. So right now I'm just trying to — I'm figuring out —
I just realized with Future, he singing the blues. He is our hip-hop blues artist right now. He's singing the m************ blues. And I didn't understand that until I was in the strip club saying, "Man, I can't stand this f****** song." And then three strip clubs later, I'm singing the whole damn song and I'm feeling that way. You know what I'm saying? Like, I never f***** the b**** in the Gucci flip flops, but that whole story — just every — it's just the blues. His melodies are very influenced by the blues.
You listen to the new Rihanna record. Super influenced — I hear the blues. I hear Rolling Stones. I hear soul. I hear — I hear all kind of deep influences on that new Rihanna record. And I think that was courageous of her to try some of them things on that record. So — and her first record was a certain kind of thing. But look she's grown to a whole 'nother thing. So sometime we just gotta figure out how to welcome and just teach.
KELLEY: I'm with that, and I was not trying to be judge-y.
MARTIN: I know. I know you wasn't judging.
KELLEY: But I was also — I was kind of talking about people who are really just coming up. Like, really really early, don't have any identity.
MARTIN: Oh, like who? Say a name. Say a name.
KELLEY: No, I'm not trying to name anybody's name.
MARTIN: I'm from the West Coast. We all with all the rap beef. Go ahead. Say it.
KELLEY: You guys never have to say anybody's name.
MARTIN: They're like 12 years old now, all the new artists.
KELLEY: Yeah, that's kind of true.
MARTIN: Yo, they're so young and going to jail now though. You look at a young kid — Rae Shmurda, right?
MARTIN: Young kid, man.
MUHAMMAD: Yeah, but young kids been going to jail though.
KELLEY: Wait, wait, wait. What? Who went to jail?
MARTIN: Yeah. Not Rae Shmurda. It ain't —
KELLEY: You talking about Offset? Migos? Offset?
MARTIN: Who? Migos? Who?
KELLEY: Or you talking about Bobby Shmurda.
MARTIN: Y'all gotta edit this m***********.
MUHAMMAD: Oh, Bobby Shmurda.
KELLEY: Bobby Shmurda.
MARTIN: See. That shows my age. That shows everything right there.
MARTIN: Look. Bobby Shmurda, right?
KELLEY: We're the same age.
MARTIN: Now you're saying 19, holding your whole block right, and that's the first — when I think of things, I think of cartoons and, you know — and I just saw a whole crazy cartoon in my head, and that's who I thought about. Like, society, all these things, on that kid's back, and now he's the guy suffering. He just started. He just had a — he just started, but nobody taught him you have responsibility.
KELLEY: Well, he also didn't build his relationships. Like, this is what I'm trying to say. He went out —
MARTIN: He didn't know how to.
KELLEY: Yes, but that's what I'm saying. You can't just cut yourself off. People can't just do what you guys do, and say like, "I'm just gonna go to work." No, when you're in his position, when you are at that age, you need to make sure you know everybody you're working with. You need to make sure you know your lawyer, your business manager and your family will hold you down.
MARTIN: But we're conditioned not to know that. We're conditioned to trust —
KELLEY: I'm not faulting him for not knowing it. I'm saying —
MARTIN: I gotta say this. We are conditioned to trust whoever goes and gets us the check in hip-hop. And that's all we trust. We don't — we don't care about who — when we first starting, we don't care who does the deal. We don't care how much publishing we giving away. We don't care what the f***. All we care about it is, "This dude said he could get us a check, and we seen it on TV what it looks like. This is what the f*** we going to do." Nobody is saying, "We're going to do this, but look —"
We don't have no more artist development situations. We don't have any more mentors or any more soldiers in our community to even tell these young MCs and these young artists, when you do this, this is responsibility. This is why it's important for people like the J. Cole's and the Kendrick's and even the Drake's and everybody else to just always, no matter what they do, push that line, because we have a responsibility as a community in the arts.
When that kid went to jail, that was a hit for all of us. Cause we should've reached out. We should've raised him a lot better, and mentors should've reached out to him. And everything like that. If you see something like that. Like, I love everybody, and I know the guys that had something to do with his whole situation with his level of success. And I feel like just as a black man with another young black artist how dare you not even explain to this young brother how things could go left and things could go right.
This is why a lot of things — we're our own cancer to our own f****** situation. So going back to that particular kid, I feel bad for him, cause I know he was not informed how society will do you. Cause I just got informed at 30 years old. So I know cuz wasn't informed at all. And I know he wasn't by the subject matter of his rhymes and him being so — and everything, I know the teachings —
When I heard the record I said, "Lord, c'mon, bro." Cause I listen to lyrics and I'm like, "Ooh." And I got little cousins in the paint from Watts, so I know how the kid 14 years old is a little different from the kid in '88 and '99 14 years old.
MARTIN: So when I see a situation like that, it hurts me. And that's what it makes me push my message more where we just gotta inspire and teach and maybe when we see these young cats and just know — don't teach. But if you just hip and cool, they'll f*** with you.
That's why it's important no matter what I do to always mess with the jazz community, and it's important for me to always have my hand on who they don't think I should have my hand on. Like, they didn't think I should be doing YG records. Cause it ain't jazz. It ain't — no, but it is deep. And I come from that too. And he has his voice with the kids like that young man that just went down in prison.
YG owns those kind of voices. So if you get to him and show him love, he's going to project love on his records. That's going to try to influence them and inspire them to do something different. You know what I'm saying? That's what I see. It disgusts me when I see young artists and these older guys in front of them that know the f****** game and still — you know, you can't control nobody but —
MUHAMMAD: That's what I was thinking about because there — there's a couple of dynamics here. And one is that there's a lack of communication between generations.
MUHAMMAD: There's that. Then, there is the, you do communicate but the younger generation, they gotta live it their way, you know, and do it their way. And so there's — there are a lot of people, a lot of youngins, who don't know. They weren't given the information. There's some who've been given the information. They know. Simple.
I have a very successful, business-minded friend, and I won't say his name. Cause I say his name — we all know his name. And he represented the number one hip-hop artist in the world for a long time. And he says, "I break life down simply like this: it's either good or not good." I was like, "You can't do that. You know, it's gray areas to life. Blah blah blah blah." He said, "No, simply. Just look at the situation. It's good or not good."
And so if you're coming into the studio and you just laying your life out there, cool. That's artistic, and one should do that. Even if you're not laying your life out there, you're laying a portrait of something you've witnessed or heard about or seen. Cool. You gotta see the end goal of what you're putting out there, and is that end good or not good? And that's a hard question to really answer. But I know a lot of kids, they know the difference between good and not good.
MARTIN: See I grew up — my whole thing is like I always had Snoop since 16. So I always had somebody that I seen go through so much. But even in my own life I went through so much. But my son is 18, and I'm always dealing with the youth. And I'm always hanging and always doing records, and I'm always trying to stay up on everything. And I still function in South Central L.A. and all through the ghettos no matter where I go.
But the one thing that I could truly say is it definitely is a miscommunication. One of the bigger things what I've learned — and this is why I love cats like Snoop so much, because he got it. He figured it out. He's trying to touch as many of the young kids as possible. So we don't have these issues later on. Or we try to control these things. Because a lot of them do know, and with the older generation, the older generation talks at you.
Cause I was one of those kids, I was in and out of jail every other weekend, involved — playing with the gang-banging thing, growing up in the hood, all my homies Crips and everything like that. So I didn't grow up in a jazz lifestyle. I just played jazz. So I just know that gray area and that spot of not realizing if you don't got a — in L.A. in the gang culture we call them big homies. You got some big homies that'll put a gun in your hand and say, "Go merk the whole enemy block." Then you got some that'll be like, "Wait a minute. Come pull up over here, bro." And we respect that one because he did — everything we thought we wanted to do, he's done. But now he's saying something different, but he's not talking at. He's talking with.
The biggest miscommunication with the youth, cause I deal with the — I'm telling you I'm in the paint with them, bro. The biggest — you can't talk — you know, for us, you couldn't talk at us. If you talk with them and you a part of something hip and they could see it and believe it, bam.
This is just the simplest thing — I want everybody that's listening to understand it's the thing to where my generation knows who a group called Poor Righteous Teachers are. Amazing. It was them. It was X Clan. It was all these groups at a certain area. And the leader of that area was Tribe Called Quest, the leader of this thing. I would say it was A Tribe Called Quest. It's always — you have a few, and then it's always — that's just how the game go. Business, baby. Record sales, baby.
If me, you and Q-Tip walked through — say we off — I'ma say South Central L.A. I'ma say the projects. And it's me, you and Q-Tip walked through the projects, and you talked to a kid say, "Y'all don't fight." They gon' be like, "Man, get the f*** away from me." If I say, "Ay, hold up. Ay, ay, ay, ay, ay. These my folks, these my G homies, they inspire the music I do for YG." I don't even say Kendrick. YG. They gon' be like — cause now they feel a connection. They don't feel a connection — that was the problem with jazz with me growing up. I hated jazz cause I didn't feel a f****** connection until the breakbeat under the jazz.
The same thing with music is life. That's why I'm rarely inspired by music right now. I'm inspired by life right now. I'm having a problem trying to figure out the life s***. Throwing some harmony together, figuring out the next thing, is challenging too, but I could practice and get that eventually as the night goes on. We gon' figure out the tune. The life thing, we gon' die being students of this s***. So I'm inspired by what is the challenge, the life thing.
And I think the biggest thing with the miscommunication is not knowing how to talk to the youngsters. A lot of these is my homeboys and homeboys' kids and I talk to the juvenile halls. And like I said, I'm still — I have to move a certain way cause I still get gas in certain areas. I still pop out the car — I still get gas in a area to where it could just be crafty and weird sometime. So I have to know how to communicate with that.
The first thing that — when I see a group of kids walking, like 16, 17, I say, "Ay!" They say, "What's happening?" "What y'all listening to, man?" They instantly go in. I was on Crenshaw and Adams. This was deep as f***. I see these kids. They was talking s***. Kids just cuss for no reason. "F***, s***, f*** f*** f***! I was gon' f*** that m*********** up. F*** s*** f***!" And I said, "Ay!" "What y'all listening to, dog?" They all was like — one dude was like, "YG." And three of 'em was like, "Meek Mill."
I was like — now this is deep how they was inspired by meek, cause I was like, "Oh yeah. Y'all like Meek?" All them: "Meek hard as f***." I'm like, "How y'all feel about Drake?" This how much power — listen to this. He turned — when I said Drake, they turned like they was Meek's kids. They said this: "We don't f*** with Drake. We f*** with Meek. We with the real movement." These kids were 14 and 15, you know what I'm saying? I was like — I looked at them like, "Whoa. That's deep."
So they said, "Ay, what you do?" First I was the old man, then I was like, "I do music. I f*** with Meek, man. I f*** with everybody." "What's your name?" "Terrace Martin." He's like, "Oh, you did —" and it was like, before they was so standoffish, now it's — then out the blue I was like, "Y'all know who Miles Davis is?" "Nah, who's that, sir?" They whole energy changed. "Whoever look up Miles Davis, tell me the year he was born, tomorrow I give y'all $10." Man, they came back all of them. I gave away $100. I think they all shared the same book or something, but they said, "Yeah, man. Miles Davis, he played the horn." These kids — they didn't even know who he was, but it was a connection through Meek.
It's just that. That's why hip-hop is such a important thing because our lineage now especially with the kids listening to now, you listening to Joey Bada$$. I'm like, "Is that a Meth record? Is that a Redman record? Def Squad?" I feel like, "Whoa! EPMD could eat right now." Not that they're not. Not that they're not. Strictly business.
KELLEY: The Miles Davis autobiography is a really good one to give kids, because he curses like a child.
MARTIN: He uses the word m*********** —
KELLEY: M*********** as every form of speech there is. Verb, adjective, noun.
KELLEY: I give that book to everybody.
MARTIN: But it's an important book about just — have you read the book?
MARTIN: Have you read Herbie's book?
MARTIN: Herbie's book is good too. It's funny reading the cat's book that was in that book, cause it's their angle of Miles's story. Miles's story is still the s***. It's the s***.
But the Herbie book is cool, cause you realize everything he's really touched and it's like, "Whoa." Like, what he's done for us with this. The pitch bend and the "Rockit" video and just pushing that line, man.
Was your last boyfriend a producer?
KELLEY: F*** no.
MARTIN: OK. Cause you guys hate producers. Girls — how about when we have to cancel dates five minutes before the date cause we just get a idea?
KELLEY: That's not just producers.
MARTIN: OK. Cause that happens to me. It's like, I get the worst things — like, I get a call at seven — I've flaked out for a million dates, all the nights. We've had the big argument, the talk about a long time. It's serious. I need to get my social and my relationship life right. And I be like, "Tomorrow. Seven o'clock. Dinner." And then Herbie'll call at 6:47. C'mon, bro. C'mon, bro. Herbie Hancock called. I gotta go.
MARTIN: I gotta go.
KELLEY: This is why I'm a big fan of the day date.
MARTIN: The day date. Whoa! You just saved my s***.
KELLEY: I know. I know.
MARTIN: The day date. But the day date is crazy, because I start my day at six in the morning. I'm in the studio — I'm here right now.
MUHAMMAD: Me too.
KELLEY: Well, figure it out, you guys.
MUHAMMAD: Raphael will come and be like — he can't tell if I left or I just stayed or I just got here. Yeah.
MARTIN: I think the best thing to do, man — I'd rather say everything else when the mic is off. I got some cool s*** to say.
KELLEY: OK, fine. So the last thing I was gonna say is —
MARTIN: Cause I can't — cause it involved — you know what I'm saying?
MUHAMMAD: I'm with you.
MARTIN: But it's the coolest s***, man! No, I'm going to say it.
A good friend of mine told me this, a very powerful man. A very powerful man that's shifted the culture a few times said this — when I said, "Man, I love this girl. It's my girlfriend. Yeah, I love her." This is years ago. He said, "OK." And then next month I was on the phone looking all depressed like — he said, "What's wrong?" I said, "Arguing." He said, "So you're all the way in New York working on another artist's album. They're paying you for your art, for your time. And you're arguing?" He said, "This time's not even yours to be doing this. This is crazy." Then he said, "You either going to be a musician or a family man." I said, "What does that mean?" He was like, "You're either going to be a musician or a family man. Choose one. And hopefully it works out for you."
MUHAMMAD: I hope it works out for you, Terrace.
KELLEY: For her.
MARTIN: For her.
KELLEY: This relates to what I was trying to say —
MARTIN: I don't really agree on that.
KELLEY: Oh my god.
MARTIN. I'm just saying.
MUHAMMAD: I'm just digesting it. I'm not even going to speak on it.
MARTIN: Yeah. See? I'm just saying. That's what he said.
MUHAMMAD: Yeah. That's what —
MARTIN: He's single. He been single for a long time. Cracking.
KELLEY: People are jealous of the studio, because people have nine-to-fives. And they don't get to use their brains the way that you guys get to use your brains. They don't get to collaborate the way that you guys do. I wish that the general public could have a space to do some of the work that you do, even though it's really hard, even though it requires sacrifice. It's special.
MUHAMMAD: It is. And I don't want to —
KELLEY: They should figure out a way to do it on their own terms and their own space, but they're jealous of it.
MUHAMMAD: I don't — what's the word? I don't want to, it's not "undermine," the statement you just made. But if you go to other countries where they are not as obsessed with work as Americans are, and —
KELLEY: Right. This is exactly what I'm trying to say. Yes.
MUHAMMAD: Yeah. Then there is that time to live life and to experience whatever that other additional time is. Be it with their family, with themselves, in their own mind, figuring things out to where they will align their communities. Here in America, our use of time is not harmonious with humanity's better spirit.
KELLEY: We just give it up for free to rich people.
MUHAMMAD: So — well, yeah. We work — we help them build — keep their empire afloat, right?
KELLEY: We just make other people rich. Yes.
MUHAMMAD: But, as artists, I don't know if people are jealous. I don't think we owe anyone any explanation. I'm not looking for no one to be — have any sympathy or — it's just clarity of oneself and then being able to articulate that devoid of emotional frustration definitely brings a certain amount of harmony.
MARTIN: I think everybody's jealous until they really — I mean, I don't know what they're jealous for. Cause, man, it's cool we could express ourselves, but everybody goes through a light and dark side. Like we always say, we sacrifice so much of things that maybe — I think it's a yin and yang with everything.
KELLEY: No doubt.
MARTIN: I think — "Well, you guys can be creative!" What about the times when you in the studio for seven days and it's just not going right? It's not going right, and now you done sacrificed your family, all this stuff over here, and it's still ain't going right over there. So it's those moments too, going back to us just staying loyal to what we do.
KELLEY: I just want people to make their own lives.
MARTIN: Yeah, man. Just hang out, man.
MUHAMMAD: I just really want to celebrate what you're about to drop.
MARTIN: Thank you, man.
MUHAMMAD: Cause to be able to put together another album — you know, we never know what tomorrow's going to lead. And just the fact that you've lost friends through the process of getting to today, I mean, I just want to celebrate the release of your next record, man.
MUHAMMAD: It's a dope album.
MARTIN: Thank you, man, and thank you for being inspiring. Thank you for just always being a cool-ass dude from New York.
MARTIN: All the New York guys are cool, but you may be one of the coolest. Puff is pretty cool too.
MUHAMMAD: Thanks, Terrace.
MARTIN: Yo, when I went to his house, he asked me what I wanted to drink. And I was — what I was about to say — right when I said, "Ketel," and he said — and I was like, "Ciroc." He was like, "Good choice, b." It's like a video, dog.
KELLEY: That makes me so happy.
MUHAMMAD: Shout out to P. Diddy.
MARTIN: Peace, man.
MARTIN: Thank you. I love y'all.