Terrace Martin: 'Everything Got A Little Bit Of Funk In It'
Last year you heard Terrace Martin's work on YG's album, Ninth Wonder's compilation, Big K.R.I.T.'s Cadillactica and, just this week, a new song by Kendrick Lamar, called " The Blacker The Berry." In the space of less than six months in 2014, the LA-based producer and multi-instrumentalist also put out a full solo album, 3ChordFold Pulse, and a Christmas project called Times.
When Martin spoke to Microphone Check he teased us about that Kendrick album, professed his love for A Tribe Called Quest and told us why he makes "relationship songs."
"I grew up on Crenshaw and Slauson and I grew up in the crack era and the gangbanging was really heavy in South Central," he says. "I never want, like, using my platform to talk about the same story and what's going — that s--- gives me anxiety, thinking about that era or that time. You know what I mean? Even with times going on now, it's like, the best thing I could do is really not comment and just keep on feeding the world good music. That's what I'm here for. Like the Titanic, when them motherf---ers went down with the ship, trying to make everybody else cool, that's all I'ma do."
FRANNIE KELLEY: Hey.
ALI SHAHEED MUHAMMAD: What up, Terrace?
TERRACE MARTIN: Hey there, hey there.
MUHAMMAD: So nice to have you here, man.
MARTIN: Yeah, man. It's a pleasure being here. That was a surprise walking in seeing you right there, like, ah! Like the album covers or some s---.
MUHAMMAD: Did you know that you were — like, did you know I was here?
MARTIN: Yeah. He told — I wasn't really sure — I'm still not sure, to the second we're talking, what exactly this is, but my folks said, "Yo. You should go do this." You know. I was like, "Oh, yeah, yeah." I wasn't sure the vibe though. But this is a good thing, you know what I'm saying?
KELLEY: Cool. Do you know what a big fan he is of yours?
MUHAMMAD: No. You want to tell me? No. I'm just joking.
MARTIN: Do you know?
KELLEY: I know a little bit about --
KELLEY: I watched a video earlier today that you stated your top four influences.
MARTIN: Oh, yeah yeah yeah.
KELLEY: And I believe Number 1 was Doggystyle.
MARTIN: Of course.
KELLEY: I think Number 2 was Midnight Marauders?
MARTIN: Yeah. But you know it's probably not in those orders cause I — it was — but that's the four, yeah. Doggystyle, Midnight Marauders --
KELLEY: Blue Train.
MARTIN: Blue Trainand --
KELLEY: Off The Wall.
MARTIN: Off The Wall. Yeah.
KELLEY: You also said, and I quote, "If it wasn't for the Midnight Maraudersalbum, I would not playing jazz. I would not be interested in jazz, at all."
MARTIN: Oh, yeah. Easily. Because I'm from South Central LA. So jazz — although my father is a jazz musician — but when you young, you not really into hearing John Coltrane. It sounds crazy to you. Crazy. So, it's just like, the Midnight Maraudersalbum was the closest thing that I felt kinda familiar with as a kid listening to with my father, you know what I'm saying? But --
KELLEY: So how old are you? How old were you when --
MARTIN: I'm 34 right now.
KELLEY: OK. So this comes out when you were like ten?
MARTIN: Junior high? Wait. Sixth, seventh grade? Something like that. Yeah.
KELLEY: OK. Got it.
MARTIN: Yeah. You know what I'm saying? But that album, because I got turned on to Tribe Called Quest — you know, I always tell people, all this deep backpack thing, that's like new, the-past-few-years-type thing.
MARTIN: Because only people that was playing hip-hop in my neighborhood was my influences at that time, which was gangsters, you know what I'm saying? So Tribe Called Quest came through everybody system because in my neighborhood, we love low end. You know what I'm saying? We like that — bass lines was very important to that era. And that sub, you know. I always say, like, when I bought the wax of "Check The Rhime," it was so — you know when you buy 12-inches sometimes they're real thin?
MARTIN: But " Check The Rhime" the grooves were so big. And I swear, you could play that record next to another artist's record on the 1200 and you could hear the difference with the low end. It was for real with Tribe Called Quest. And that was the most lowest music, like bottom-end heavy, that was out right then. Feel me?
MUHAMMAD: Thank you again to Bob Power. Just have to say that.
MUHAMMAD: Wow, man.
MUHAMMAD: It's — well --
MARTIN: Cause what's it? " Red Clay." You got a sample of "Red Clay" on that record. And that --
MUHAMMAD: Mm-hmm. Freddie Hubbard.
MARTIN: Yeah. That's the record that I was like, "Whoa. What is that?" And then my dad, you know, my dad, "Oh that's nothing but 'Red Clay!'" I was like, "'Red Clay?'" Then it makes you want to dig up — "well let me see what's up." Because I was producing then too, or doing beats then. So it made me want to go get the "Red Clay" album. Then see, oh, that's Lenny White on drums. Freddie Hubbard. Joe Henderson. You know what I'm saying? Ron Carter. Herbie Hancock. That's — then it makes you want to go get those other records and just follow the lineage.
KELLEY: So did you have that dynamic with your dad, where he was like, "Hip-hop's just jacking from everybody else?"
MARTIN: Oh, definitely. See because the thing about — I say again — about most of them samples that Tribe was taking, jazz things. These are the albums as a kid you grow up just running across the hallway, walking past, and, like, kind of tripping on 'em. So you these pictures. So then when you find — you hear the music and you say, "I remember this!" Now you're going through the whole album. Now you're reading the credits to that album, you know what I'm saying? Seeing those artists. And, "Oh that's Greg Phillinganes. That's blah blah blah blah blah blah blah," you know. It just, it started that thing for me. That like — it started me, like, wanting to learn, you know what I'm saying? Like, what is this?
KELLEY: Is that intentional or is it cause you're that kid too?
MUHAMMAD: Absolutely. It's just funny hearing you just talk about, like, reading one name and then connecting the dots. It's like never-ending history sort of a thing and it's crazy. You mention Greg Phillinganes who's like, his piano playing is just like bananas, you know. And --
KELLEY: He was on that Stevie Wonder tour.
MARTIN: Yeah. He was on a Stevie Wonder album. That album.
KELLEY: Ah, man. Well, exactly. Yeah, I'm saying he's still out. It's awesome.
MUHAMMAD: Yeah. So it's just to know like — and all the different genres that he's touched as well.
MARTIN: Ah, everything. Yeah.
MUHAMMAD: It's just kinda like, it's nutty. And you don't know that unless you start, you know — like you interested enough to read a credit and go, "Oh, OK." And then, you know, you hear something else and you're like, "Ah, man." And then just to see the different way certain musicians play accordingly. It becomes a never-ending maze of exploration.
And as a musician — like for me, I started off sampling. I didn't play. But it was more of; how can I take, like, what was happening on one record and take something else from another record and try to, you know, blend them together.
But later on, I wanted to know how to do it myself because in, like, listening to just so many different artists, I was like, "Man. What were they thinking about when they did that?" You know? And not only that, but just the recording aspect. What was the room like? What engineer influenced and sculpted the sound? So you start learning stuff like that and it — you just kinda get thrusted into, "I want to know as much as I can know."
MARTIN: Exactly. Yeah.
KELLEY: Quik said the same thing when we talked to him. He was like, "I want to know what the hot TV show was the year that this happened."
MUHAMMAD: You know, you learn about history too, especially from jazz. Cause they would send jazz musicians to places like Russia.
MARTIN: Everywhere. Yeah.
KELLEY: Through that State Department program.
MUHAMMAD: Yeah. You know, just to kind of, like — I don't know if it was a means of communication or understanding or whatever --
KELLEY: It was marketing America.
MUHAMMAD: Marketing — well.
MUHAMMAD: Whatever it was --
MARTIN: It was cool. Yeah.
MUHAMMAD: — you're touching people.
MARTIN: And then just, you know, music in general — and I'll say this especially: the jazz musician. The jazz musician to me is one of the most accepting musicians of everything. Cause he — learning is so important in jazz. Like, you want to know a lot.
MARTIN: You know what I'm saying? You want to know. So you want to travel. You want to study. It's such a thing where just — but even — it transcends through the music because even going back to those records. Those records make you want to try to figure out things or try to — it just makes you — like how you said, it makes you want to, "What was they thinking about when they played this type of stuff?" Or --
KELLEY: Well, and then there's also the standards.
KELLEY: I mean, they're playing what are essentially pop songs.
KELLEY: Right, right. And then you want to think about how those songs even came to be in like the '20s and '30s and --
MARTIN: Yeah, but you know, Tribe Called Quest is really responsible for a lot of our new wave of jazz musicians. Me, Robert Glasper, Ambrose — jazz wasn't the music of our time. Tribe was. So Tribe was the lineage to help us go back and get a lot of that, you know what I mean? That's the bar.
MUHAMMAD: It's trippy. No, it really is cause, like, just to see your place in history or evolution, I should say, it's just, like — I don't really think about that when making music. As it being: you're definitely going to be in the history. But there's a lot of people making music and they just might not make that impact. But, you know --
MARTIN: Y'all made that impact.
MUHAMMAD: You make that impact and you don't — you're not conscious of it and so to see, to know how Stevie Wonder may have changed my life. How Prince may have changed my life. How Earth, Wind & Fire changed my life. Like, I know that. And I look at them just like, "Oh my god." So --
MARTIN: Y'all did the same things. Yeah.
MUHAMMAD: Yeah. And that's why I say it's trippy. Cause I'm sitting here and I'm like — I listen to your music and it's just, it's so good.
MARTIN: Thank you, man.
MUHAMMAD: And knowing, like, that there's a hip-hop influence but knowing that you were taking it a step beyond, a greater step beyond where we did because you're a musician, you know what I mean? A player.
MUHAMMAD: And I think that sometimes playing, because the music-in-school programs have been kind of, like, killed. So, just the importance of learning how to play and how transformative it could be in terms of communication, in terms of opening up your mind, like you were saying.
MARTIN: Oh yeah, man.
MUHAMMAD: You want to explore and expand and go outside of your environment. And you're doing that, you know.
MUHAMMAD: And it's important. People always ask me, "I want to rap. I want to do this." I'm like, "Yo. You should go learn how to play piano or something." Like, that will be the best thing you could do.
MARTIN: It's helpful.
MUHAMMAD: And they don't really grasp at because they're focused on, I think, the glamor aspect of being a rapper, per se. But I'm like, if you want to really be an artist and transform the world and do things that's greater and take yourself on a journey and go beyond, I'm like, "Oh, pick up an instrument." So, you're taking this influence — I'd love to take the credit. I can't because obviously your dad, I'm pretty sure, is like, "Excuse me?"
MARTIN: There's a few of 'em. Snoop like, "Excuse me, too."
KELLEY: Yeah. Right.
MUHAMMAD: But it's just trippy, really.
MARTIN: Man, it's trippy being here. It's an honor being here too.
KELLEY: So, yeah. I guess another person you would want to thank would be Reggie Andrews?
MARTIN: Oh, yeah.
KELLEY: I interviewed Thundercat a while ago. And so that's how --
MARTIN: Ah, ha! That's my cousin.
KELLEY: You're cousins?
KELLEY: I did not know that.
KELLEY: That's funny. I was, like — I noted all these ways you guys have crossed paths, but it was way earlier.
MARTIN: Way earlier.
MUHAMMAD: I didn't know that either. That's crazy.
MARTIN: Before he started playing bass, he was just drawing, being annoying.
MUHAMMAD: That's crazy.
MARTIN: But we all grew up junior high schools together and high schools and we still play on the same records like every day, almost every week together.
KELLEY: Who was in Snoop's band first?
MARTIN: Me. Me. I was in Snoop's band fresh out of high school. Out of high school, I went to Snoop's band. And he hadn't really had bands. My god-brother was with him since '98, something like that. So he hadn't really had bands. Then he started wanting to get into bands. He started falling back in love with the Parliament thing and that thing was going on. So he wanted to get bands.
So I first started playing saxophone for his band. And then I just started building with him, doing records with him, and then I just started — I don't know what happened. But the nine years I was with him I think I played saxophone one year in his band. Then I just started playing main keys for the rest of his band. But we had a horn section. And then I had a chance to bring in Stephen — Thundercat — had a chance to bring him in. He sucked back then though. Oh, he was horrible. But he was funny. He was a good guy to be on the road with.
MUHAMMAD: I don't even believe that. I just find that impossible to believe.
MARTIN: Because you know why? I'ma tell you why. I always say he sucked back then because we didn't know he was just developing his own thing before we started developing our own thing.
KELLEY: OK. That's fair.
MARTIN: You see? He was going through some growing pains that some musicians go through early, some — I went through later, you know. And I wasn't ready — nah. Cause at the age we was at, you're supposed to sound like somebody else. "Wait, man. You don't sound like Marcus, man. And I'm trying to sound like Cannonball." And he was like, "Man, I don't play like that." But everybody was playing like a certain thing. So he had his own thing. And that's why I say, in that era, in that timeline, he sucked to us. But now that I'm older, he was just on his thing a lot before we was on. Ya dig? Now, he's — you know, he's the cat.
KELLEY: One question about it. He told me a story that this one time he was hanging out with Snoop and he, Snoop, made him a mixtape. And it was like — it was a lot of R&B, I think.
MARTIN: Oh, yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
KELLEY: And then somebody, he thinks it was security, stole it before he could even burn it or anything.
MARTIN: Yeah, he had a lot of problems with security. Cause he was a different cat.
KELLEY: OK, that was not my question. My question was did Snoop ever make you a mixtape?
MARTIN: Oh. I thought we was going to the stuff about Thundercat. I was going to bring up a whole 'nother story.
KELLEY: We can come back.
MARTIN: Yeah, all the time. All the time. Because of Snoop is how I found out later on in my life — cause I didn't really grow up in a house of oldies. I grew up, like, heavy straight-ahead jazz or my mother played whatever was popping at that time like Luther, Freddie Jackson, and Shirley Murdock and Roger. So it was like, we didn't have a middle ground. It was like intense or Jimmy Jam/Terry Lewis, you know what I'm saying? So when I got with Snoop, he started turning me on to Blue Magic, The Dramatics, Ohio Players, all that fly music that — once again, other famous producers and artists that I love — made me go back and say, "Oh! I know — oh, that's the — with the honey. That's that record!" You know what I mean?
MARTIN: So, he turned me on to that. Cause Snoop, more than anybody I know — and I know a lot of people — Snoop may be the biggest human walking record crate I've seen in my life. There's not a genre he can't talk to you about. You know, like, you gotta understand — when Dre and them was doing all that Chronic stuff, that was Snoop bring Dre all them records. All them Parliament records.
Cause before that Dre was heavy on breakbeats because he loved Hank Shocklee and P.E. N.W.A. music, really if you listen to it, the whole West Coast element didn't come till after that. That was — we was — all it was was New York stuff we was influenced by, so all them breakbeats and transforming. That was all — you know what I'm saying?
So when Dre got with Snoop is when he got turned on to that funk. And he had been knowing about it of course, but really started doing them kind of records, Snoop was bringing him Ohio Players, the Isleys, hella Parliament, you know what I'm saying? And that's where the G-funk got cracking with that situation. So Snoop really is just as good as a producer than an artist in itself, anyway. Most of the records I've done with him, he's really produced those records. I just show up and work the equipment. I'm fortunate he gave me 50%.
KELLEY: I have a theory that funk is coming back in a big way.
MARTIN: It ain't went nowhere, baby.
MARTIN: Nah, that's the one record I'm not on.
KELLEY: OK. Have you seen the video? At the beginning, when the bouncer's reading outside, he's reading George Clinton's memoir. Was that — do you know anything about that being intentional or --
MARTIN: I don't know. I'm not as close to that record. You got to ask Rahki or one of the other cats that was around then. But I know usually just how the energy around Kendrick works is everything is really spontaneous and everything is always the first take. We believe — I mean, after the third take, let's try it again tomorrow. Cause it's an impulse, a spiritual thing.
So if that's what that cat — if they caught that, "Oh, that's tight! Record that!" That's how it happens all the time with him. So I — sometimes we have to go in there with it already mapped out cause I don't like doing that sometimes. You know what I'm saying? I want it mapped out. "Nah, that's it!" But usually — I'm not sure how that went down but I could almost guarantee you it was probably that kind of energy going on.
KELLEY: OK. Why do you — well. So funk never went away, from where you sit. Why would it be important that it happens in like a more public, maybe even mainstream, way right now?
MARTIN: What do you mean? Funk music?
KELLEY: Yeah. Does it matter at all that Kendrick is in that lane?
MARTIN: Mm. Now when you say — just so I could be clear — when you say funk music what are we — are we talking about, like, the Kendrick thing? Or are we talking about like Tower of Power type things or — just so I could just understand.
KELLEY: I'm talking about where those two things intersect.
MARTIN: Oh. Well, I think it's going on. I think, you know — I don't — I think it's going on. I think it's beengoing on. I think everything got a little bit of funk in it.
MARTIN: If not the whole thing. Especially coming out of the West Coast, I mean, that's such a strong — we love the funk. Cause we like low riders and pit bulls and that's our culture. Gangbanging.
KELLEY: The funk is not --
MARTIN: The funk drives our whole thing out here, you know. Peace out to Roger.
KELLEY: The funk is not, like, in Atlanta, though. I'm talking about for stuff to chart like crazy, and have the funk be exposed.
MARTIN: Yeah, that's deep. It's not that deep but it's deep. It shouldn't be deep at all.
KELLEY: Thank you?
MARTIN: Atlanta got its own thing, you know. It's a powerful thing. And it's — as George Clinton would say, that's their funk. You know what I'm saying?
KELLEY: Yeah. Yeah.
MARTIN: That's their thing. I know what you saying. It's just touchy when it comes to me with those things because it's like the names funk, jazz, and who got it, who don't, is like calling somebody baby ugly in a sense.
MARTIN: See what I'm saying? It's like, for me, it's never left because everything I do has that element. If you go to my room right now, where we set up at — I've been for like five months — all my keyboards are — I mean, I have a Voyager and a real Minimoog.
MARTIN: You know, I have an ARP Odyssey, a Fender Rhodes, a Wurlitzer, a Clavinet. That's cause of the funk. My guitar dude he only gon' play a Strat. These are all the elements. So, even if we doing something turned up, these are the elements that are in — I'm still thinking about Bernie Worrell when I'm playing. That's my homeboy. Peace out, Bernie Worrell, my dude. But I'm still thinking about him when I'm playing even if it's on "I'm In Love With The CoCo" — I don't know. I didn't do that. I'm just giving you a real example though, you know what I'm saying?
KELLEY: That's a New York shot, I think.
MARTIN: What? "I'm In Love With The CoCo?" [singing] "I'm in love with the coco."
KELLEY: Yeah. I mean --
MARTIN: That's a big record in the club right now.
KELLEY: Yeah. It's a big record everywhere.
MARTIN: I go to the clubs. I do go to the clubs. I'm not all deep all the time. I go to the clubs. I have another set of friends. I go see what's going on.
KELLEY: Another set of friends?
MARTIN: Yeah, man. They don't understand this sort of thing, you know.
KELLEY: That's funny.
MARTIN: But I think it's making a comeback. Snarky Puppy. Are you guys familiar with Snarky Puppy?
MARTIN: Amazing band. Out of Brooklyn, New York. Like a nine-piece band. Amazing. They're all on the Internet but they just won the Grammy last year. And they beat out — I think they beat out Mary or something crazy like that. But it's a funk band.
MARTIN: Funkfunk. Like Tower Of Power horns. And they're slowly starting to make a comeback. But, you know, it's — to really put it back in the face, it's gon' take the cats like the Kendrick's, the J. Cole's, and, you know — but they're doing it. Man, I'm proud of them guys, man. J. Cole, they music, you know. I can't wait till y'all hear this Kendrick record though.
KELLEY: So mean.
MARTIN: I want to talk a lot of crazy things --
MUHAMMAD: That's so — I don't even know --
KELLEY: You're being an asshole right now.
MUHAMMAD: I'm like, why'd you do that? Like, really?
KELLEY: God, I knew he was gonna do that.
MUHAMMAD: Things was just so lovely, man. You're just gonna come in here --
MARTIN: I know, man. They pulled — Ray — hey. Yeah.
KELLEY: Ray swore you to secrecy? He's like, "Don't tell Frannie, whatever you do."
MARTIN: Well, Ray, you know, Ray pulled me out of the studio. He was like, "Man." I was like, "Oh yeah, NPR. Cool. I'm down with that. I always want to f--- with them, mess with them."
MUHAMMAD: Oh, man.
KELLEY: That's fine. OK.
MUHAMMAD: Thank you. Yeah.
MARTIN: But you know what's funny? Every time we're in the studio and — it's a few a people that's working on the whole project, few people. But when we're in the studio a lot, the whole thing in my head, a lot of times that I'm thinking about for low end, is Midnight Marauders, period. That's one of our — we have five — we have six, seven ingredients on this album and that's one of the salt shakers, baby.
MUHAMMAD: I got a joint for him but, you know --
MARTIN: It ain't too late. We got four more days.
MUHAMMAD: I didn't think that — I figured — I was like, it's too many people boxing for that. I'm like, nah.
MART IN: You know what though?
KELLEY: Believe in yourself.
MUHAMMAD: What? Believe in myself?
MARTIN: No, no. But you know what? Certain names come across the heap or whatever where we have to listen. Certain names come across where you gotta listen cause you know it's gon' be something, you know. It's one of those things.
KELLEY : Well, maybe you can talk about the song that you guys did on Colbert cause that was like a visual — that's a lot of the people working on the album, right? Thundercat and Bilal and you and Anna.
MARTIN: That's a good picture. That's a good picture.
KELLEY: The song. You're saying the song is a good picture.
MARTIN: Oh, the song. The song. We made — that song, we came with that the day before at rehearsal. Cause we didn't want to do nothing that's already been done. He didn't want to do "i." Let's just, you know, fly out, New York. Let's rehearse in New York and get that energy and do something a little different.
KELLEY: So you wrote it the day before you performed it. Is that what you're saying?
MARTIN: Yeah, yeah.
KELLEY: I just need to sit with that for a second.
MARTIN: Yeah. We had a sketch of it though. We had an idea of it a while ago. But we wasn't sure — but most of that was done right there — not right there but the day before. And then something magical and spiritual happened there to where some things that wasn't, you know, rehearsed, happens.
MARTIN: Because I think me and Thundercat forgot the arrangement and just --
KELLEY: There it is.
MARTIN: — do what jazz musicians do. And Kendrick, him being like a horn player, he's like Coltrane, man. Mild-mannered, soft-spoken, always practicing. New harmonic approaches, different techniques, falls in — there's not a mistake on that stage with him. If the turntables fall, he gon' — like, it's weird. It's like water.
KELLEY: I've been saying that's the craziest thing about him.
MARTIN: So that's how he is, you know. And not — and that's, right now — just from the cats I've worked with, I haven't — next to him, improvising-wise, like an instrument, the only cat I felt like that was probably Snoop. That I could feel could go sit in with B.B. King right now.
MARTIN: And still get it off.
KELLEY: Yeah. So four days left?
MARTIN: They said today but I'm saying four days.
KELLEY: So I kinda want to ask about schooling and training and discipline. So Kendrick is not a trained musician, in that sense.
KELLEY: What — is there anything different about the way that you communicate with a not-trained musician?
MARTIN: I think now he's been around me, Thundercat and Robert Glasper for a long time now, to where, I think, it's trained now. I think — you know, the conversations are different. It's not, "What's that?" It's like, "Hey, T. I want to do a song that's 17 bars here. Break it up. Let me do five bars here. Alright. Let's do a seven-bar phrase." He's talking like that now. And what he doesn't know, he's not scared to say, "What's that mean? What is that? Ah, really? Can you send me some literature on that? Oh, what is that?" You know? But we come from — the kind of music we come from makes you want to — it's OK to ask that.
KELLEY: Right. Like we were saying.
MARTIN: It's OK, you know. It's OK. And when you meet our heroes, these cats, you know — the cats that I meet, they're always enlightening. They're always — they're not scared of — cause they're secure, musically. Some bad motherf---ers out here, they secure. They cool. So I think — he's not trained but at this point he's picking up very fast. He knows how to become an instrument. And that's all we care about anyway, how to become an instrument.
MUHAMMAD: What was your training like? How much time did you put in to practicing?
MARTIN: I used to practice — high school years, I practiced like eight hours a day. Eight hours a day. Come home, practice. Weekends, practice. Practice — cause my thing was — I grew up — I fell in love with jazz and the saxophone in New York and all my friends went to schools like LaGuardia and all them New York schools. In New York, the energy was different in the '90s compared to LA. LA was gangbang, period. Gangbang, Snoop, Dr. Dre, gangbang, go outside, get killed. It's a strong possibility, period.
New York was tough, too, but it had a sense of the art still. When you walk through Harlem — you could still feel the energy of the arts when you walk through Harlem. When you through Brooklyn the same thing in some places. Really Harlem — Harlem got — cause my family's from Harlem. But Harlem does have a thing. It has a thing so what — I would practice so much cause my friends in New York would be killing because that's all they did every day.
And my father would say, "You live in LA. You got to wake up three hours before because the cats out here is already practicing." So I would wake up four o'clock in the morning before I go to school, cause I knew my friends was practicing in New York at seven. Then I had another best friend — still my good friend — Keyon Harrold plays trumpet. He lives in New York. We used to practice on the phone. He lived in St. Louis. We — at 16, we used to practice on the phone together. "Play that? What's that note?" On the phone, like, before there was, you know — so that was my thing.
KELLEY: You guys got all the ladies, huh?
MARTIN: I was in love with it, man. I was in love with it. Like, I wasn't that great in school. I wasn't that great with a lot of things, man. But that's why I really thank god for hip-hop and music because, like, I believe — I was talking to Too $hort one time and he said hip-hop for him was — his hip-hop was — he wasn't good at basketball. He wasn't good at that. But he could find a lane in hip-hop. He could figure out his thing and make a way for himself. And, you know, I think — hip-hop for the West Coast, for most of us in the hood, that was how we viewed hip-hop. Like, a real way. Like, "Maybe. OK. Maybe." Cause I was into hip-hop way before jazz.
MARTIN: I had an SP1200 before a saxophone. You know what I'm saying? My mother bought me one in fifth grade, saved up a long time. So I had an SP1200 cause I used to want to be like Marley Marl. " Make the music with your mouth, Biz. Ayyy." That was — ah, man. Yeah. I don't know if I answered the question.
MUHAMMAD: Oh, absolutely. Yeah.
MARTIN: Do you play?
KELLEY: I play piano.
KELLEY: I don't like playplay. Did you just make a face?
MUHAMMAD: No, cause I'm like, I don't think I knew that.
KELLEY: I mean, I play classical.
MARTIN: We could start a group here.
MARTIN: Call it the NPRs.
KELLEY: Oh my god.
MUHAMMAD: You know what I wanted to ask you? You're — well, aside from Here, My Dear album, the last two — well, no. More so I just want to go with 3 — was it 3Chord?
MUHAMMAD: 3ChordFold. And even — I don't know what — OK. Let me just ask you this: you come off like relationships are important to you.
MUHAMMAD: At least that's what I get from some of the albums. So — it's kind of like a double question, double, triple question — what was your life like recording that record?
MUHAMMAD: Yes. Relationship-wise. Or leading into it. What was in your mind? What was in your world?
MARTIN: 3ChordFold. That was really — just, you know — honestly, just to keep it real real, I was going through a relationship when I first started the project but it was ending. So what happened was I end up hanging with this other girl, just to hang like a re-bound, to get over the other one. You know what I'm saying? But I end up really falling for the other girl because she was just a better person. But it was a weird vibe because I still had feelings attached to the other girl. Then there's music. It just was a lot, you know what I'm saying? That's the safest way to put all that.
Man, I was going through that. And I was really just going through — like, lately — not lately, but the past few years, I've had a lot of questions as far as relationships. Cause I've been like thinking, am I gonna be single forever? Am I gonna be just having girlfriends forever? My mom's like, "When are you gonna get married?" And all my friends are getting married. I'm now like — I'm like the old uncle coming to events with girls and stuff. It's just not the good look right now.
KELLEY: It's that early 30s thing. It's a nightmare.
MARTIN: Yeah. You feel me? Everybody — I'm like, I still got my 21 swag, baby. But it was really just going through that, man. And then just in life, cause I believe — the record was really — it was about relationships but it was also about — in life I believe everything is in threes. Hours, minutes, seconds. My favorite chord progressions are 1-4-5, which is the blues, or jazz, 2-5-1. You know, Father, Son, Holy Ghost. It seemed like all my friends always died in threes. Like, random a lot of three things going on. And then just when I really studied the three chord fold and I realized, it was — you know, I put my own definition with it too.
KELLEY: What is the --
MARTIN: Cause the real three-chord fold is out the Bible. Three-chord fold is uneasily broken. And three-chord fold is of man, woman and god. That's three-chord fold. That's the original thing. I just did my own twist to it because the preacher — I went to my mom's Bible study. And they was talking about that. And he was talking about three different personalities: the freeloader, the renter and the buyer. And that's where the concept came from. A freeloader is somebody that comes in your life and takes, takes, takes, takes, takes, takes and leaves you dry. The renter comes in your life and is perfect for that time but they're renting so they assume no responsibility, so there's always looking for the next bigger and better thing. A renter. Now we've all been these things. And we've all seen these things. The buyer is somebody that loves you with true unconditional love.
So that was the whole vibe about. And my buyer on 3ChordFoldis music. That's my buyer. Cause no matter what I — no matter what we all do, the music'll love us. The business, I don't know. But the music will always love you. As long as you give 150%, she may give you, or he may give you, 80% back. But the music --
MUHAMMAD: That kind of answers my next question, cause I wanted to know then what is love to you? And I don't think that wholly answers the question but --
MARTIN: Love — I feel a few different ways. Love, when I was young — now this is some funny s---. I used to be like, well, if somebody dies and I cry at the funeral that means I love them. That was what I used to think when I was a kid, you know what I'm saying? But my love — and I think love is like, really true love, is like patience. It's being forgiving. And it's really loving somebody unconditional, you know. Like that word — you know how people say, "I forgive but I don't forget?" That's the craziest s--- I've ever heard in my life. Cause if you forgive — you don't even — that's not a thing. You know I'm saying?
MARTIN: I think love is the ultimate — for me, it's just forgiving somebody whole-heartedly and really sometime even caring about their happiness more than your own, you know. Hopefully it's the right person.
KELLEY : Right.
MARTIN: And hopefully you understand that your love — you're not addicted or infatuated with that person. We all get that messed up. We think hang out with a motherf---er for seven months — and having the best sex, and couple of jokes, we laugh at each other, we have 11 things in common, our parents are cool — that we love this person. And then that ninth month hit when you realize you just been f---ing their representative. Cause here they come. Ah! We could talk about that kind of stuff all day.
KELLEY: I don't want to.
MUHAMMAD: But, well, no. I feel like you do though in roundabout ways with your music, you know.
MARTIN: It's the same thing, man.
MUHAMMAD: And it comes across at least to me. And it's — I don't know much about you, but I get a sense you got a great sense of humor, you know what I mean?
MARTIN: I'm the party, man.
MUHAMMAD: So it comes across in such a smooth, subtle way. And it's satirical and just like — it's serious but then it's like — not necessarily pokes fun. You feel the pain. You feel the frustration of the dynamic of being in pursuit of love, you know, and trying to find a feeling. Like, you get it. So I think you really communicate that.
MARTIN: Thanks, man. And that's the line I'm pushing. I talk about things I go through. You know what I mean?
MARTIN: You know, I grew up on Crenshaw and Slauson and I grew up in the crack era and the gangbanging was really heavy in South Central. So I don't — I never want, like, using my platform to talk about the same story and what's going — that s--- gives me anxiety, thinking about that era or that time. You know what I mean? Even with times going on now, it's like, the best thing I could do is really not comment and just keep on feeding the world good music. That's what I'm here for. Like the Titanic, when them motherf---ers went down with the ship, trying to make everybody else cool, that's all I'ma do.
KELLEY: Well, you're talking about Kendrick and Cole and we were just talking to Leila — and I want to talk to her about this, sort of the difference between people making, like, message music and people making songs about loving yourself and taking care of yourself and respecting yourself and how much that might have, like, a faster impact than just pointing out ills.
KELLEY: But I think it's also important that people make relationship songs cause people don't — you guys are so closed off. Like, it's ridiculous out here.
MUHAMMAD: What do you mean?
KELLEY: Just men in general.
MUHAMMAD: I knew you meant that, I just wanted you to clarify.
MARTIN: I know! I was looking at her do this and I was like, oh, here it comes. Bam! Are you from LA?
MARTIN: Where you from?
KELLEY: My dad was in the Navy so I grew up all over the place.
KELLEY: Yeah. All over this country.
MARTIN: We're not really closed off though. We're not closed off. Everybody has a piece to they puzzle.
KELLEY: It just takes a minute to find out what's really happening.
MUHAMMAD: Yeah, Terrace. Tell her.
MARTIN: Everybody got a piece to they puzzle, baby. And you know, sometimes you got to find the right piece to your puzzle. That's what I tell everybody. You got to find the right piece to the puzzle.
KELLEY: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
MARTIN: But you shouldn't be — you don't have to find nobody. A man's gon' come get you.
MARTIN: And marry you. And take care of you and love you to death. That's how it got to go. You know, long as you cool.
KELLEY: He's making crazy eyes at me. This is unfair.
MARTIN: As long as you're cool.
KELLEY: I feel a little bit on the spot right now.
MARTIN: Nah, it's all good.
KELLEY: Let's try to end on maybe talking about — you're working on a solo album, or you're about to when Kendrick is done, and you tweeted that you were going to move to New York to write it and record it.
MARTIN: Well, I'm recording half of it in New York because it's the energy I love in New York. I have New York friends that I play with that play with a different energy than my Los Angeles friends. Not better, not worse, just a different energy, you know what I'm saying?
KELLEY: Can you describe what makes it different?
MARTIN: Yeah, you know, just — I mean, in New York, the pace is just faster. Even right now, I feel New York is a bit slower than it's been my whole life. Like, I'm born and raised there too. It's just, the pace is still — it's still the energy in New York. It's still the energy. And it's like — musically, it's a bit — live-wise, it's a bit more intense for me — harmonically in a few other different ways and everything. It's always been a cutting edge feeling from New York City. I'm not gon' take that away. That's what New York is, you know.
KELLEY: And so the album that you're gonna make is gonna be a mix?
MARTIN: It's just, I mean — I don't know what it's gonna be. It's gonna be some cool s--- though.
KELLEY: OK. Is it gonna continue to be like what Ali's talking about? Relationship stuff?
MARTIN: This one's gon' be — that's the vibe. It's gon' be a little different. Cause it's not gon' be so much singing and rapping. There's gon' be a lot of instrumental stuff. But it's gon' be like — two of my biggest influences, two songs that are my biggest songs I'm thinking about, patterning just the energy off of, is — it was so gangster but Najee had a song in the '80s — ah, what was that song? All the dope dealers played this song. " Betcha Don't Know What's Going On." Look that song up. Najee, "Betcha Don't Know What's Going On."
MARTIN: You know that record?
MARTIN: "Bet you don't know what's going on ..." It was with 808s though. It was like DJ Quik, but Najee was playing horn on it. It was that — and then I love anything that Grover did, like on the Winelightalbum. And of course, Bernard Wright. Just that whole sound. So that's what I'm basing everything off of. Of course with different drums and breakbeats cause I'm a hip-hop head so different vibes like that but, you know, yeah, that's the vibe. And it's gon' sound like the era. Cause I'm going to tape. I'm using 24-tracks. I'm going to tape.
MUHAMMAD: Who from the jazz world of the young should the non-jazz, the people not into jazz, be interested in?
MARTIN: Robert Glasper. Right now, I just got to say him. Cause he could ease it to them a little easier right now. He could get them prepared for some other stuff and he could still soothe them, too. If I say another name they might not want to hear it no more. It's kind of intense.
KELLEY: Who is it?
MARTIN: Mm-mm. Cause then it sounds like a diss if I say it now.
KELLEY: Caught me.
MUHAMMAD: What's happening with — how do you pronounce her name? Is it Wy-enn? Wy-on?
MARTIN: Wyann Vaughn.
MUHAMMAD: Wyann Vaughn. Love her voice.
MARTIN: Man! Do you know who her mother is? Her mother is Wanda Vaughn from The Emotions. Her father is Wayne Vaughn, the dude that wrote " Let's Groove" and produced all those Earth, Wind & Fire records.
MUHAMMAD: Oh my god. So what's happening with her?
MARTIN: She's a college teacher that songwrites amazingly. She's a — me and 9th Wonder have been working with her on some other stuff. She's an educator and just she's beautiful, kind, and she's amazing. And she's a Tribe Called Quest fanatic too.
MUHAMMAD: I'm hoping to hear more from — like I'm hoping — I was hoping you're saying, "Yeah. I'm about to do a whole album with her right now."
MARTIN: What. I mean, what's funny — we should talk cause she's dope. Like, you should — we should just give her some stuff.
MUHAMMAD: I love her voice.
MARTIN: And she got her own Pro Tools set up. Artists, get your own Pro Tools set up and lay your own vocals and just send 'em to me. And then we'll just see if we gotta go in.
MUHAMMAD: That's a very real thing. Heavy jewel you just dropped. If you're not paying attention, what he's saying is: I'm not gonna record your stuff where you have so many other things happening. And if you want to show that you really are a singer, at this stage in the game, what singer's are doing is recording their own vocals --
MARTIN: Their own, man.
MUHAMMAD: You know, if you're gonna edit your stuff, you have to know how to edit.
MARTIN: C'mon now.
MUHAMMAD: If you're a little pitchy — we don't even want to see you come into the room being pitchy but at least if you're on Pro Tools --
MARTIN : If you're pitchy, be real humble, though. Don't be pitchy and arrogant. I hate pitchy and arrogant. That's a weird energy. That's a lot of singers I work with. They're pitchy and arrogant.
Yo, they have Neumann U87s just for the regular mic you talk into.
MUHAMMAD: I know. Every studio.
MARTIN: That's crazy.
MUHAMMAD: In here — I haven't seen the ones in DC but I'm pretty sure the whole building's filled up with them --
KELLEY: It's even fancier.
MUHAMMAD: — here and New York.
MARTIN: That's crazy.
MUHAMMAD: And I just walk in, I'm like — but if you guys get a Telefunken connection could you hook Terrace and I up a little bit cause I'm all about trying to stock up on 251s.
MARTIN: Funny. I'm actually endorsed with Telefunken, with the M16s --
KELLEY: What's your — 350s, is that what you said?
MARTIN: Oh, what are they?
KELLEY: Oh, we have 350 of them in DC.
KELLEY: Here. Here. Oh. All over the country.
MUHAMMAD: That's crazy.
MARTIN: Nice. Nice.
KELLEY: Taxpayer dollars.
MUHAMMAD: We just geeked out on you guys for a minute.
MARTIN: And these are probably good because, you know, when you buy used U87s a lot of them was used in the '60s and '70s for kick drum mics also so they're beat to death. So if you can find one used that's just been used for vocals, like soft conversations like these — whenever you guys want to get rid of these, look me up, man.
KELLEY: They do do it like that.
KELLEY: Yeah, they holler. Alright, well thank you.
MARTIN: It's all good.
KELLEY: Really appreciate it. Come back.
MARTIN: I will whenever. I live up the street.
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