The Jazz icon that inspired Kendrick Lamar’s third album
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The Jazz icon that inspired Kendrick Lamar's third album

Kendrick Lamar is one of hip-hop’s incredible talents, and the Compton native is known for being a consistent chart-topper when it comes to albums. His first project, Section. 80, released through Top Dawg Entertainment, was reasonably successful. However, with the backing of Dr Dre on Aftermath, Lamar’s major label 2012 debut Good Kid, m.A.A.d City went straight to number one. Ever since, he has been a force concerning full-length bodies of work. 

Most rappers draw influence from other hip-hop artists regarding the sonics of their albums. However, for his 2015 LP, To Pimp A Butterfly, Lamar began exploring the world of mid-1950s and 1960s jazz music. Still, he found himself drawn to one figure in particular. 

During an appearance on The Big Hit Show podcast with Alex Pappademas, the lyricist (real name Kendrick Duckworth) reflected on the creation of his 2015 project and explained to the host whom he was listening to while creating the project and how they steered the album.

The ‘Humble’ act explained that he wanted to experiment, stating, “Yeah, I was just trying stuff, throwing the paint on the wall and writing as these incredible musicians rock out,” he said. “I like that for eight bars. I like that. I like that. So prior to the album actually coming out, the shit actually sounded way more complex.”

Duckworth admitted that it was his old friend Terrence Martin who suggested he listen to jazz for inspiration. Recalling the recording process, the California rhymer divulged, You know a song that did that was a second record on that album called ‘For Free,'” he remembered. “I was in the studio with my guy Terrace Martin. One of my longtime producers and friend. And he was just putting me up on a lot of Miles Davis at the time. Just really schooling me and educating me, you know.”

Lamar continued, “Miles is playing, and you know he’s doing these skats and these rhythms. And man, I said to myself, ‘I wanna be able to do that, but I wanna rap that way.’ And you know, be on that cadence, and it’s super out of pocket, but you know it’s very jazz, it’s very Miles Davis influenced. And the rhythms were weird, but it was what I was feeling at the time. It was what I was inspired by what Terrace was telling me. He was like, ‘Man, you gotta be unapologetic. If you’re going to go there, you gotta go there.'”

As well as Davis himself, the DAMN emcee admitted Spike Lee’s 1990 film Mo’ Betta Blues had a profound effect on both of them and drove him to create incorporate jazz and blues into his album. You can listen to Miles Davis’ instrumental piece ‘So What’ in the video below.