Sounwave and Kendrick Lamar have become one of the best rapper-producer combos in all of rap, with their work spanning back to 2009 with songs like “She Need Me,” “Celebration” and “It Is Love?” from the Kendrick Lamar EP.
After that, Sounwave and K.Dot teamed to make some of Kendrick’s most popular hits — “A.D.H.D.,” “Michael Jordan,” “Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe,” “King Kunta” — along with deep cuts like “m.A.A.d. City,” “Hol’ Up” and “Alien Girl.” For someone who’s worked with a range of producers like Black Milk and 9th Wonder to Mike WiLL Made It and Boi-1da, Kendrick has found consistency in the wide-ranging talents of Sounwave.
So naturally, once Kendrick honed his lyrical content on the self, Sounwave was right there with him on DAMN.
Sounwave had production credits on eight of DAMN.‘s 14 songs: “YAH,” “ELEMENT,” “FEEL,” “LOYALTY,” “LUST,” “LOVE.” “XXX” and “GOD.”
The FADER talked to Sounwave about what it was like working on each song, from the radio-ready grooves to the introspective deep cuts.
Some snippets are below with the full read at The FADER.
We take the sequencing of songs very, very seriously. Going from “DNA.,” which has so much energy, we couldn’t just hit ‘em with another energy record. “DNA.” was probably the second song we did on the project, so after that we had the [Fox News] clip and everything in there. Probably about a month before the album was done, we still didn’t have a song that felt like a track that lyrically matched up with “DNA.” “YAH.” came and it felt right. He felt the need to express a little bit further about that news clip.
“ELEMENT.” went through a few changes. The first version we had was a little too jazzy. It had a four-on-the-floor sound and it didn’t feel right to us. The song was mastered and ready to go, but we were like, “Hold on.” We went back to it, changed the drums up, gave it a little more bounce. As soon as we made those adjustments, it was like, “Yeah, this is gonna be one of the fan favorites right here.”
James Blake came in at the last second. He constantly sends Kendrick stuff, and he just happened to send this crazy piano loop right as we started to feel like the first version wasn’t it. He dropped it into his text messages at that moment. We incorporated his keys with the original and it became what it is.
Kendrick is hands-on — every album, with everything. “FEEL.” was the only record that wasn’t made in the studio and that’s because I had a family emergency. I had to take off to Atlanta, and I literally made that song on the plane. I sent it to him, and he sent it right back.
This was towards the end of the recording process for the album, and I knew it was missing a song like that. I had this family emergency but I couldn’t stop working at the same time. That was about two months before we turned everything in.
Bono and Kendrick had been talking on the phone and they’ve wanted to work with each other for the longest. It was just all about opportunity and this was the perfect opportunity. To get a chance to work with U2 and have the song come out the way did it was a dream come true for me and for Kendrick. That was at the top of the bucket list.
I tweeted this video about what it’s like to engineer Kendrick Lamar, and it’s really like that. He’ll tell you the most outlandish things and it’s like, What are you talking about? But, when you do it, it sounds genius. He’ll be like, “Right here, I want the beat to switch up on that 15th bar and then come back in.” And it always works.
We’ll always look forward to a Kendrick x Sounwave production.