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There are many things that can be discussed when it comes to Kendrick Lamar‘s To Pimp A Butterfly. How it was released ahead of schedule, the millions of times it has been streamed, even its album cover and photos in the liner notes. But it’s an album filled with music first, and the genre-bending nature of it has been a large focus of debate. Kendrick and his team created something that is hard to musically categorize, something that another musician involved with the project, Robert Glasper, has done recently himself.

Much of the album is also driven by a legendary hip-hop figure. Its last song, Mortal Man, which uses a rare interview with Tupac Shakur to create a dialogue with Kendrick, was recorded a few days before the Grammys last month. As the Grammys unveiled its own Tupac exhibit this year, plus To Pimp A Butterfly being released the day after the 20th anniversary of Me Against The World, the surprise release seems to be driven by the spirit of the legendary rapper.

The Urban Daily caught up with Glasper this week, who played piano on nearly half of the album, and talked with him about the process. Check out excerpts from the interview.

How the Grammy-winning musician ended up on To Pimp A Butterfly:

I’m really close with one of the main producers, Terrace Martin. Originally he had me come in to play on the second track. I went there and played on that song, and Kendrick was there. I had met him a few times, but this was the first time he had seen me play the piano live. So he was like, ‘Aw man’ and pulled up this other track. It was like, ‘What do you hear on that song? Could you play something on that song?’

So he put up like nine different songs, and I played piano on all the songs. They only kept five or six. Actually I’m on like seven songs but I was only credited for like five songs. I actually recorded on nine songs but I guess they just kept a few of them.

On what Glasper contributed to the album:

Keyboard playing was pretty much what I did. The actual compositions themselves were already written. A lot of the producers are fans of mine so you can kind of hear some influence in that way. But other than that, all the songs were already written. I just came in and put keys on top of things.

How quickly “Mortal Man” was recorded, and how the album dropped a month later:

The very last piece I was there for the beginning of. The piece where [Kendrick] interviewed Tupac. So I was there when Terrace was kind of putting it together and writing that. It was crazy because none of us heard the actual interview yet. He made these pieces, and it was like a suite. It actually has more sections than you hear on the record. They took some sections, they were kind of seeing what works under the voices.

I actually flew out, did that the week before the Grammys. So I flew out early to do that, cause that was kind of a last minute thing. Then a few weeks later it was like, ‘We’re putting the album out!’ I was like whoa! That’s really fast.

Another artist who ended up doing more than one song?

Bilal told me a similar story. Bilal is all over the album too, and I think what happened is they called him in to do one song. And Kendrick was like ‘Oh shit, can you give me some on this one? Some on that one?’ *laughs*

The similarities between Kendrick and Robert’s recording process:

He’s very spontaneous. Kendrick is very in the moment, and I’m the exact same way. I make most of my shit up when I’m in the studio, with the things that are around, you know what I mean?

So that’s kind of how Kendrick was rolling. Kind of just like shit happens on the spot. Take that, and put that, and make it into this. And then you have an incredible album.

Where the album gets its jazz flavor from:

Terrace produced a few songs on good kid, m.A.A.d city. I first met Terrace in jazz camp in high school, he’s a saxophone player. I knew him from the jazz world. He brought in the jazz flavor to Kendrick’s sound. That’s why you hear a saxophone on damn near every song. Kendrick was like ‘Yo let’s put the saxophone there.’ So he really brought that jazz flavor. Terrace also brought Lalah Hathaway in as well, which was another really cool addition.

On people trying to figure out what Kendrick’s new album sounds like:

Don’t worry about what you call it! One song may be more hip-hop than the other song. Like people kill me with that. Because why are you stressing yourself on what to call it? Just love it, and maybe there will be another definition down the line. When hip-hop was first born, everybody didn’t really know what to call it. They were just like ‘woo we love this sound. What is this sound?’ Just enjoy it! Then figure out if it even needs a label. It may be something that hasn’t had a label yet. But people are so quick to want to put something in a box. Because it’s almost like if they can’t understand it or can’t define it, they can’t enjoy it for some reason.


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Robert Glasper Takes Us Inside Kendrick Lamar’s ‘Mortal Man’ Studio Sessions [EXCLUSIVE]  was originally published on