During the recording process of To Pimp A Butterfly, Kendrick Lamar was listening to Prince non-stop. The rapper reached out to the legend for a feature and even headed to his recording studio, but it sadly fell through at the last minute.
After Prince’s death, a memoir he penned with writer Dan Piepenbring called The Beautiful Ones emerged, and the musician didn’t hold back about the decline of pop music. “We need to tell them that they keep trying to ram Katy Perry and Ed Sheeran down our throats, and we don’t like it no matter how many times they play it,” he said.
Piepenbring agreed with Prince and told the BBC: “To be honest, I was so much in agreement with him on that subject that there didn’t seem to be any more to say about it at the time. More than a grudge with a few artists in particular, what he was bemoaning was a culture that simply doesn’t allow artists to colour outside the lines.”
One artist who can’t be accused of not colouring outside the lines is Kendrick Lamar, and undoubtedly this is why his work was attractive to Prince. Speaking to Medium in 2015, ‘The Purple One’ revealed his love for To Pimp A Butterfly and added: “He just has something to say. It’s pure, and with Thundercat on the album? Come on. You’re not taking ‘Alright’ off my playlist.”
It wasn’t just ‘Alright’ which Prince dug, but also ‘Complexion (A Zulu Love)’, according to Kendrick. He loved it so much that the two even discussed Prince recording the vocal hook for the track, but, unfortunately, timing prevented them from making this a reality.
K Dot told NME: “Prince heard the song, and he loved it and the concept, so we started talking. We got to a point where we were in the studio talking and not recording, and we ran out of time. We just ran out of time, it’s as simple as that”.
Interestingly, it was Lamar’s team who engineered the meeting between the two artists. According to the rapper’s manager, Dave Free, he had become “obsessed” with Prince while recording To Pimp A Butterfly, and they were permitted to meet him at Paisley Park.
Unfortunately, the dream collaboration wasn’t written in the stars, but it was an experience which taught Kendrick a valuable lesson. Free told The Big Hit Show: “He [Kendrick] became obsessed with Prince. We were trying to get Prince on TPAB, and we went out to Paisley Park.
“He told me to never touch his ping pong paddle – I’ll tell you that. Prince don’t care man. He was doin’ him. That’s what we learned from him. Do you – do it with poise, respect and intention, but do you!”
Although Prince didn’t get to sprinkle some magic dust on ‘Complexion (A Zulu Love)’, he did leave a mark on Kendrick’s approach to artistry. On the other hand, that day at Paisley Park confirmed to Prince that modern music still had integrity, and he needn’t worry about Ed Sheeran and Katy Perry any longer.