Terrace Martin Calls His Artistic Strategy Feeding The Black Community First
Exclusive: Terrace Martin explains how Snoop Dogg convinced him to remake Ray Charles "Let's Get Stoned" and charts how Blues, Funk and Disco influenced Hip Hop
In addition to women and a good turkey taco, one of the things Terrace Martin loves is a good story. You can ask him about the instruments he plays, but what fun is listing them, when he can spin a hilarious yarn about when he was a child and a woman with huge breasts told him, “With the saxophone you can make love to your girl without touching her.” Needless to say, Terrace became a rather skilled saxophonist.
As it happens, Terrace recently got caught up in the story of his latest album, 3 Chord Fold Pulse. Much like the name implies, it’s a continuation of his last album, 3 Chord Fold, but this time around there was an emphasis on incorporating Jazz and live instrumentation—hence the “pulse.”
“The pulse just represents life and your heart,” Martin explained.
Ah yes, the heart. From reinterpreting Marvin Gaye’s Hear My Dear to the more recent “Triangleship” with Kendrick Lamar, Terrace Martin seems to often gravitate toward love themes. Aside from being a universal subject most fans can relate to, speaking on love matters provides a near-endless supply of subject matter and generally keeps an artist away from the violence that sometimes comes with speaking on tropes of what is commonly referred to as “Gangsta Rap.” That said, Terrace still considers the likes of Snoop Dogg, Jeezy and Dr. Dre (the man who proclaimed he “started this gangsta shit”) friends. Rest assured if you want to know how those seemingly disparate elements peacefully coexist, Terrace Martin is happy to tell you the story.
Terrace Martin Charts Hip Hop’s Evolution From The Blues
HipHopDX: Let’s start with you and the sax. If a lot of early Hip Hop started due to a lack of access to live instruments, how do you see the evolution of the music now that people can get access to instruments?
Terrace Martin: Well that’s a big part of the case; that’s 85 percent of the case. I was talking to Too Short one time, and he said Hip Hop to him [was different]. In New York, Hip Hop was one particular thing. For us on the West Coast, Hip Hop was different. For people like me and Too Short, Hip Hop was a thing that we could do well. I couldn’t play football well, and I wasn’t into that. I wasn’t into dope dealing, but I could grab onto Hip Hop. It was something positive. So Hip Hop to a few of us was something different. Too Short said, “My Hip Hop saved my life.” Hip Hop was a thing for us where, if you weren’t good at something else, Hip Hop always had open arms for you. That’s true for the arts in general. If you give the arts your heart and your time, the arts will provide a job for you. Hip Hop is just another door within the arts. Hip Hop is just a name they put on it.
So back to the instrument thing, I have a theory. The Gospel babies—slaves—birthed the Blues babies. The Blues babies birthed the Jazz babies. Going back to the Blues and Gospel babies, they birthed the R&B and Soul music babies. We have all these instruments, and the Jazz babies birthed the Fusion babies. The Fusion babies birthed a certain other kind of level of Jazz, then it got to the Disco thing and the Funk thing. The Funk babies birthed the Hip Hop babies. Back in the day, you grandfather could pass you down a trumpet or a pair of drums. Times got rough, man. Cats didn’t have instruments, and they started taking them out of the schools. So all we were left with was our old records of the previous generations.
Because the arts—Hip Hop—had open arms for us, all we had was some turntables. We didn’t have the instruments, but we had the records where they were playing all these instruments. We had to make those our instruments, and that’s where you get Pete Rock, Premier, Hi-Tek, J Dilla, Alchemist and 9th Wonder. All of them are amazing, and that’s a whole world onto itself. Turntables became an instrument, and the art of sampling is really an art if it’s done in a tricky, cool way.
I like Dipset and Wu-Tang, because early on, them mothafuckas just took records and rapped along to them. They didn’t even sample. Ghostface would rap over the whole song. Some people would be like, “Ahh, that’s wack,” but I saw an art to that. That’s just not giving a fuck and using all they had. It felt good to them. Art is deep, because who am I to say what’s wack or ugly. It’s like calling your kid ugly. Who are you to call my kid ugly? I think my kid’s beautiful. Now some shit is just wack, and we know it’s wack. Let’s not fuckin’ play games. We know an ugly baby, and we can all agree on an ugly baby too. That doesn’t mean that babies not… I was a funny looking kid. Shit happens [laughs].
Why Terrace Martin Says His Fans Have A Level Of Intelligence
DX: True. As we bring it back to the current day and project, break down the pulse in 3 Chord Fold Pulse.
Terrace Martin: I originally put out a record called 3 Chord Fold. So 3 Chord Fold Pulse is just an extension of that. I wanted to mix in something a little more with a little more Jazz influence and live-instrumentation. The pulse just represents life and your heart. There’s a pulse in everything. It’s all kinds of things clicking in these cameras right now; these are all forms of a pulse. They’re just to keep things moving. So I chose the best songs that represented life for me on 3 Chord Fold Pulse. I wanted to put them together and still deal with the topic of 3 Chord Fold: relationships. I believe I or none of the rest of us will ever master. I got the same cats on it—Kendrick, Snoop, Robert Glasper—it’s the same usual suspects. But I just wanted to touch on the same topic of 3 Chord Fold and having three different characteristics in the relationship.
DX: “Let’s Get Stoned” was an interesting choice. You’ve got a clear Gospel influence on a song about getting high. How do you like the juxtaposition of those two elements?
Terrace Martin: I didn’t write that song; that’s by Ray Charles originally. We just redid the song, but Ray did that song in the ‘50s or something. You would have to ask the master, who’s no longer with us. He’s Ray Charles—he smoked weed, and he grew up in the church. It’s like how everybody else does, but tries to hide and say they don’t.
I know a lot of organ players that go to church high, and people think it’s a bad thing. Some people are like, “Whatever,” about it. It’s just weed, man. It’s so uncomfortable to deal with weed and church and all that. But we deal with church, then we’re not married, and we’ll fuck on a Monday. We deal with church, but then we’ll cuss on Sunday or have evil thoughts. I don’t even get mixed up in it. It’s just music to me. I’m a fan of Ray Charles. That was Snoop’s idea to do that song though. I didn’t even know the song until Snoop pointed it out and wanted me to produce that song over. It don’t bother me though. It used to bother me. I can’t have sex to Gospel music, but other than that, nothing bothers me in church…a hangover or nothing. I used to feel convicted, but everyone that used to convict me for doing bad things in church would get high Monday or drink Sunday. So my deal was like, “Fuck it. Live to your best everyday. God is good.” So I don’t see a difference. The way you’re breaking it down and merging the two—I don’t see that. It felt good, so we did it.
The people that are in tune with my music are kind of in tune though. For me, my music is heartfelt, and it comes from a very intellectual standpoint musically. It’s not dumbed-down music. To even listen to my music, I know you have a certain bit of intelligence to you. We don’t even have to break too much down for my people, because they’re kind of hip. I’ve got 15-year-old kids telling me how they feel about John Coltrane at my shows and what Dr. Dre did for them on this album. I’m talking about kids, man. So I might not have a huge base, but I got some intelligent, slick motherfuckers that follow me around. I love that. When I get off the stage, I can talk to people, and it ain’t all, “Yo, you know what’s up? You know what I’m saying, my nigga?” I understand that culture too, but sometimes I want to talk regular. We can bail, squab and “What’s happenin’ loc,” and all that. But we have to be a little bit more intelligent people. I do my music for the world, but I do my music for my community, because my community needs the most help. The black community needs the most help. So I try to feed my community with as much intelligence—raw felt, creative, positive love music—as I can. Once I deal with home first, I can deal with everyone else. But right now, I’m just trying to do my part to get my community right.
DX: On that note, how much can an artist pick their audience?
Terrace Martin: You don’t have no say over that. You just hope it’s the cool motherfuckers and not the strange motherfuckers. You don’t want a Stan in your crew. But if you’ve got one, work it out baby boy. If you do music about killing people, nine times out of 10, somebody’s gonna try to kill you. If you do music about love and women, nine times out of 10, you’re gonna go through love and women. If you do music about dope and money, nine times out of 10 you’re going to jail. That’s because you’re telling on somebody. All these gangster rappers be telling, boy. That’s why I do love music, ‘cause when you’re really been through a lot in your life, you don’t wanna talk about too much shit.
Terrace Martin Says Big K.R.I.T. Is “Carrying The Organized Noize Flag”
HipHopDX: This is kind of unrelated, but Big K.R.I.T. recently mentioned you…
Terrace Martin: Oh, yeah. That’s my Mississippi playa parter, man. That motherfucker can drink! That nigga…goddamn. He is the liquor. I love him though…that’s my dude.
DX: So are we going to see you two together on Caddilactica?
Terrace Martin: We’ve been working. It’s goin’ down, and we got a cool chemistry. I look at K.R.I.T., and to me K.R.I.T. is in my opinion the only one from the South that’s really standing firm under that OutKast flag to me. He’s got that Soul music; it’s conscious but still has good content. It’s fly. He’s not putting poison in our babies’ ears. It’s just player shit…cool shit. He’s the only one that I hear from the South really carrying that Organized Noize flag.
That’s why for me… I’m a fan of the South, and I like a lot of their stuff. I just haven’t worked with a lot of people. I work with Jeezy a lot, and that’s a personal friend of mine. I don’t work with a lot of cats from the South, because most of the music I hear from that direction are messages that I’m not with. I’m not saying it’s bad, but I just ain’t with certain things. I’m with the shit he talks about and his music. I like his character off the mic. I love him as a person, and it makes me want to do more music with him. I couldn’t go to a studio with a person always talking about killing someone and how much money he’s gonna throw in the club everyday. It’s like, “Goddamn, cuz! Everyday we’re in the club? Shit, nigga you’re gonna get old fast!”
That’s why a lot of people live a fast life. They put those records out, and those records last three months. Then we read about those motherfuckers in jail in nine months. Then they have t-shirts talking about free this person. Nah, keep that motherfucker in with that bad ass music. Stay your ass in jail, nigga.
How Terrace Martin Deals With Producing & Being Produced
DX: Whether you’re talking about K.R.I.T., Quik, Glasper or 9th Wonder, what’s the dynamic between you working with another producer and allowing yourself to be produced?
Terrace Martin: I’ve only been produced by a few people. I don’t let everybody produce me. I’m not a fan of everybody’s production with me more than everybody else. I trust a few people. I trust Teddy Riley, Quincy, Dr. Dre. That’s it for me. Now producing other people… What do you mean as far as the dynamic?
DX: Some people need to be directed more…
Terrace Martin: Everybody could use directions. I could use directions. I’m just a funny style, emotional-ass, temperamental prima donna when it comes to this music thing. If I don’t agree with your idea, I just don’t agree with the idea. Like, “I don’t wanna put that note there. Nah.” But some people’s ideas I just agree with, and it just feels right. Quincy’s shit feels right every time. Dr. Dre makes sense. Even with Dr. Dre, sometimes you’ll be like, “Huh?” But when you hear the final product, you’ll be like, “Whoa!” Kendrick can produce me. Sometimes he produces me on little things because he has a melodic ear. He obeys the music. Some people need a lot of direction, and that’s okay. Those make the good artists, because they know that and let the producer do his job. The problem is a lot of times, the artists are being the producers. Everybody’s not a ‘Hov. They don’t just know where the beat is going. The cats that let a producer produce are the ones that last forever like Michael Jackson, Frank Sinatra, Snoop Dogg. Even ‘Hov. When Dr. Dre is in a room, Dr. Dre produces everything. The only thing Dr. Dre don’t produce is God. He’ll produce you.
DX: Well this is a different tangent, but what do you think about Dre cashing out with that Apple/Beats deal?
Terrace Martin: Hey man, I don’t look at it like everybody else. That’s my homeboy. He’s my friend with a billion dollars. I have a billionaire friend [laughs]. It’s dope…it’s amazing. I can’t get no more amazed by Dr. Dre though. Everything he’s done has been amazing. I know his story. His story isn’t anything to play with. It ain’t just no gimmick, and it ain’t no fly by night thing. Even after he was successful, he went broke again. When he left Death Row, he left with nothing. He just wanted his freedom and a peace of mind. He just left with a dream…an idea of Aftermath. He put that first record out, and what did the fans do? They talked bad about him. He kept going. So he deserves everything he’s got, and he’s a hard worker. Him and Puff are hard workers, and they deserve everything they have.