Interview: Sounwave Details the Making of Kendrick Lamar’s ‘untitled unmastered.’

Interview: Sounwave Details the Making of Kendrick Lamar’s ‘untitled unmastered.’


As one of T.D.E.‘s top in-house producers, Sounwave has been persistently giving us heat since 2009’s Kendrick Lamar EP. Fast forward seven years later, and he has positioned himself as one of hip-hop’s top beatsmiths. Sounwave had his hand in most of the tracks on Lamar’s critically acclaimed To Pimp A Butterfly, and was tasked with putting together untitled unmastered. So it’s safe to say he and Kendrick have pretty good chemistry.

Sounwave, who’s somewhat soft-spoken, surprisingly had a lot to say. He thinks people are reaching when it comes to a Drake diss being on “untitled 07” and thinks LeBron deserves most of the credit for the release of these records. We also spoke about Swizz Beatz and Alicia Key‘s son Egypt, the strategy behind releasing this record, and the beginning of the “Alright” video.

How did Swizz Beatz’s 5-year-old son get on the album?
I remember first seeing that clip Swizz posted on Instagram of his son making a beat and the caption said, “Making a beat for Kendrick.” So I’m blown away already that he’s five years old making this crazy beat. I sent it to Kendrick like, “Yo, did you see this?” And he was like, “Man, Swizz already sent me all the footage. I told him to send me the beat.” That kid is going to be a genius. I’ve never seen anything like it, five years old playing cords and all this other stuff. It blew my mind. The next thing I know, K. Dot’s writing to the beat.

“untitled 07” has two beat switches. Is Egypt responsible for both parts?
Cardo produced the first part. We were sitting on that for a while. Egypt’s part starts right after “Levitate” and “Levitate” is something we had in the past already. That was a song that we were going to throw on TPAB and Swizz happened to send that at the perfect moment. That was the latest song Dot recorded for this project.

So the part where Kendrick threw the jab at Jay Elect?
[Laughs.] Hey, man. Y’all can call it what y’all wanna call it. If that’s what you heard, hey.

There’s the jam session towards the end and he says, “You just want to make me Drake you down.”
OK, now people might be reaching on that one. That’s how we recorded To Pimp A Butterfly. Thundercat would be in there playing riffs and Kendrick would be freestyling and mumbling stuff. If y’all heard “Drake you down” I don’t know, to me that sounds kind of questionable. You’re gonna have to ask Kendrick what he meant by that.

People reached for that one, but the Jay Electronica one, come on. That’s a Jay Z-level subliminal.
You gotta talk to the man himself. [Laughs.]

The only involvement that we had was me and Ali trying to convince Kendrick that the project has to be mastered. We wanted to go all out and he wanted it to feel 100 percent authentic.

I know you were heavily involved in TPAB. How much involvement did you have in these particular tracks?
To be honest with you, these songs were literally done. The only involvement that we had was me and Ali trying to convince Kendrick that the project has to be mastered. We wanted to go all out and he wanted it to feel authentic 100 percent. The reference mixes that we recorded two, three years ago on this album was just me and Kendrick going through old songs and picking our favorites.

How much credit should LeBron get for dropping this?
[Laughs.] He should get a lot of credit, to be honest with you. We would always get a bunch of tweets and fan love whenever we would do a new performance like, “You guys should put them out on a project.” And we would feel like we should, so we don’t sit on them. When you get somebody like LeBron asking for them, it’s like, “Alright, maybe it is bigger than we think it is.” That’s when Top got on the phone asking me and K. Dot to pick out our favorite records. It just so happened that the songs we picked out sounded like an album.

Putting it on iTunes instead of putting it out for free was a shrewd move. Explain that strategy.
We’ve been doing this since day one. If you look back to Kendrick’s Overly Dedicated, people told us that we should’ve put that out for free. But we worked so hard, why would we do that? That’s our mind state to this day. We work so hard behind the scenes that the projects should have some value to them.

On “untitled 02,” Kendrick said, “Sounwave got a Grammy this year.” But that was a month before the Grammys.
[Laughs.] You gotta wish into existence. You have to wish everything into existence. When I first heard that line, I was like, “That’s right, get me this Grammy.” It happened, man, gotta love that.

How do you feel about the Grammy, in general?
I do believe in the past it was kinda iffy, for lack of a better word, but I do believe they’re going in the right direction. I mean, this is the first year they had the rap category on live national television, which is a big step in my eyes. It’s coming along. I really believe the Grammys are important to the music world, it’s our Super Bowl. When I work, I look at the Grammys as a goal of mine.

I remember Kendrick mentioning that he wanted to do something like TPAB for his debut. Why did you guys decide to save it for his sophomore LP?
You have to balance things for your first project. You can do it your way but in the back in your mind you know you it has to be balanced because you don’t want to be put in a box. If you go back to our older projects we always had the balance so that we can have that freedom to do what we want in the future. That’s my thought process of why he didn’t go this route in the beginning because me, I’m always going to be egging to go this route. I love jazz, Dilla, Tribe Called Quest, Donald Byrd, that’s what I grew up loving so I’m always going to want to do more records like this.

Should we expect more surprise performances from Kendrick? 
We have a lot of records, especially from this album. There are still records people haven’t heard, mainly because we can’t get sample clearances. Those songs were ones that we really loved and were hurt that we couldn’t put them on the album. They also have important messages in them, so Kendrick wanted to share those messages with the world. Why not share these records?

Is there anything you want the fans to know?
I’m thinking about if I should let this one go.I’ve been getting a lot of questions referring tothe beginning of the “Alright” video. And it is tucked and possibly going to come out. I’m working on my project, so hey, you never know. You might see it, you might not. I’m working on the blueprint now.