A five track introduction to Terrace Martin

Terrace Martin had been quietly plying his trade for over a decade, producing music for artists like Snoop Dogg and Lalah Hathaway, before his work on Kendrick Lamar’s critically lauded sophomore album To Pimp a Butterfly made him an internationally recognised musician and producer. The album, which made a monumental impact even exceeding Lamar’s expectations, was set apart by its remarkable production aesthetic; harnessing the jazz, funk and R&B styles that have always been present in rap music, but representing them with a musicality that is unprecedented in rap music.

His latest solo album, Velvet Portraits, is a treasure trove for Kendrick Lamar fans, featuring many of the musical motifs and distinctive production styles that adorned To Pimp a Butterfly, but also rewarding fans of jazz in many of its forms, featuring a variety of excellent compositions, executed by some phenomenal musicians and vocalists. Like much of Kendrick Lamar’s music, the album is indebted to Crenshaw and neighbouring districts of Southwestern Los Angeles for it’s inspiration. Martin describes the sound of Crenshaw as being “like a gumbo”, comprised of the “R&B, Funk and Soul to Hip-Hop and Gangsta Rap” that have come before, so it’s no surprise that they are channeled unmistakably through this record. Alongside Ropeadope records, Martin has established the Sounds of Crenshaw label, which is a platform for his work and that of others involved in the explosive L.A. scene.

Ahead of his first show at Band on the Wall on 14th November with The Polly Seeds, a band featuring vocalist Anna Wise and a selection of fine jazz musicians, we pick five tracks which provide a perfect introduction to Terrace Martin, the musician, writer and producer.

Kendrick Lamar – For Free?

Martin’s distinctive alto saxophone lines are the first notes to catch the ear on this Kendrick Lamar number, which, when listening to To Pimp a Butterfly sequentially, is the first real indication of how important jazz is to the fabric of the record. The track was produced by Terrace, who decorates the core piano trio with saxophone, electric guitar and a gospel choir, creating an emphatic be-bop instrumental for Lamar’s novel and theatrical vocal to play off.

Terrace Martin – Valdez Off Crensaw

Valdez Off Crenshaw is a statement piece, displaying the fusion that Martin talks about when discussing the music of Crenshaw. From the funky clavinova and soulful organ, to the G-Funk synth lines and subtle underpinning Fender rhodes (provided by Snarky Puppy’s Robert ‘Sput’ Searight), the track is subtle and melodic, warm and grooving, with Martin’s signature doubled saxophone sound taking centre stage during the breakdown.

Lalah Hathaway – 1 Mile

One of two tracks from Lalah Hathaway’s Self Portrait produced by Terrace Martin. Again, L.A. bleeds into the production, which is an off-kilter hip hop groove layered with hand percussion and bubbling keys, allowing Hathaway’s incredible voice to shine through. Hathaway’s sound is clearly a favourite of Lamar and Martin, as she featured on Velvet Portraits and To Pimp a Butterfly.

Terrace Martin – Curly Martin ft. Robert Glasper, Thundercat and Ronald Bruner Jr.

Curly Martin, jazz drummer and father of Terrace Martin, features in the core band on Velvet Portraits, but guest drummer Ronald Bruner takes the lead on the track which bares his name, playing a hyperactive groove to underpin the jazz-funk melodies of the track. Martin’s vocoder work is another example of a sound recognisable from To Pimp a Butterfly.

Kendrick Lamar – Untitled 05 (09/21/14)

Prior to its release, the demos featuring on Untitled unmastered were referred to as “the secrets”; the songs that gave a strong indication of where To Pimp a Butterfly’s influences lay. Martin co-produced and played on this early recording, which demonstrates how much went into crafting the instrumental direction of the record. He recognises the influence of fellow collaborator Robert Glasper on this track, suggesting that his piano work on the track sounds much like his.