Surrounded by the wealth of inspiration of music gear such as drum machines and keyboards, as well as credentials from past performances and tours, I sat in Terrace Martin’s Los Angeles home studio as he played me demos of new songs to be included on the re-release of his latest LP, 3ChordFold. Terrace improvised synth lines on his Yamaha Motif to give me a clear picture of what these new tracks would sound like when everything is ready to go. It was Saturday morning and the label required him to turn the new material in by Monday. Between giving me this impromptu listening lesson, he traded text messages with various collaborators, checking to see when they would send over their parts. It was crunch time, but he was in good spirits and completely focused on completing the task at hand. “I have to actually write a song right after you leave,” Martin confessed as we took a seat and I began to roll tape on my audio recorder.
Being under the gun may not be a joy to some, but when it’s for something that is your love and your passion, it’s just another opportunity to accomplish greatness. For nearly the past 10 years, the Quincy Jones protégé has become one of the new torchbearers in West Coast sonics, and has been making his mark as an artist himself with fan favorite projects such as Locke High and Hear My Dear. In this sit down with SoulTrain.com, Terrace detailed to me how love, faith, passion, and legacy are all the same chord.
SoulTrain.com: 3ChordFold revolves around the concept of “The Freeloader, The Renter, and The Buyer.” Explain what each is and how they relate to the relationships in the album’s storyline.
Terrace Martin: The whole concept is really following three different characteristics that I personally feel we all have in us and have encountered. The title 3ChordFold came from that most things in my life have come in threes: whether it be the time—seconds, minutes, hours; the whole trinity—father, son, and the holy ghost; or relationships within the Christian faith, which is my faith—husband, wife, and God, with God being the first chord. So I took that concept and put my own spin on it. I started to think about the three characteristics of “The Freeloader, The Renter, and The Buyer” after I heard it from a pastor at bible study, because I have been in relationships that mirrored those characteristics. There is “The Freeloader” who just comes into your life and just takes, takes, takes, and leaves your soul hanging. Then you have “The Renter,” and they are amazing. But they’re only excellent for a short period of time and they are looking for something bigger and better to come along. It’s like renting an apartment; if something breaks, you’re just going to call the landlord because that place is not your full responsibility. Same thing with that type of relationship. If something breaks, they’ll move on quick. Then there is “The Buyer,” who loves you with true agape love, which is discussed a lot in the book of Corinthians, meaning to love someone with true unconditional love and forgiveness. The main thing I like to tell people through this record is it is impossible to love somebody else, if you don’t love yourself first. That’s the reason why a lot of relationships don’t work out. If you put yourself and love yourself first, your sanity will be there to treat your lover the same way. I told somebody the other day, I don’t care about record sales; I am an indie artists with little money to push a record. But if I can help heal a few relationships and [keep] families from separating with that album, then it’s all worth it.
SoulTrain.com: There is a line I heard you say a couple times during the album that really stuck with me, which was “Love don’t hurt, but emotions do.” For you, how do you differentiate between the two?
Terrace Martin: Love can’t hurt. It’s impossible to love and hurt. Love is of God. Love is kind, caring, and forgiving. It’s the emotions caused by certain things. Love is not when somebody does something spiteful towards you; that can unfortunately occur within a relationship. That is hate and emotions. Nothing of God hurts. We hurt. That is us as humans confusing the two.
SoulTrain.com: Minus the Locke High albums and Melrose with Murs, most of the themes on your projects have a romantic/relationship angle (Hear, My Dear, The Sex EP, The 4 Luv Suite). When you use it as sort of a muse, what is it about love that brings out the best in you as an artist?
Terrace Martin: Love is who I am. As an alumnus of Locke High School, the Locke High album was coming from a standpoint of me looking out the window and talking about my environment, sort of a Good Kid, m.A.A.D City vibe. I’m just more familiar talking about love than being a gangsta on the block, because I didn’t grow up on the block like that. Although I lived on the block, I had to be home at a certain time. I was raised deep the Crenshaw District, which is noted to be Rolling 60s Crips gang territory. But a lot of the O.G.s from the neighborhood really took me under their wings and told me to keep with the music. Although bad things did occur in my neighborhood, I mainly took good things from it because I was shown love and support from the people around me. They kept me focused on music so I didn’t have to deal with certain things that some of my other peers were dealing with in their neighborhoods. I know how to give love because I was shown love. And that’s why it comes out in my music.
SoulTrain.com: In early press for the album, you explained that you wanted 3ChordFold to sound like a mix of Dr. Dre’s The Chronic with Quincy Jones’ Back On The Block. Given you have worked closely with both Dre and Q, what are certain pieces of knowledge or ideas you have learned from them that you took into the creative process for 3ChordFold?
Terrace Martin: The biggest thing I’ve learned from working with both of them is they are masters at creating music that connect with the people. That is hard to do sometimes, especially when you’re a genius musician such as Quincy Jones and you have the ability to make records that are only relatable to other musicians. But to make music that will create strong memories and emotions out of the masses, that is rough. I learned from Quincy it’s cool to have a hit record, but it’s better to have a 15 year catalog. Don’t get me wrong; although I have the catalog, I still want that hit. Like DJ Mustard, who is a dear friend and collaborator of mine. His catalog is all number one records. That’s amazing. Now that we have been linking up, we have been applying that “Quincy Jones Mentality” of combining both of our worlds, and finding that balance of appeal. I love what everyone is doing in the west. Although some of the music they do is not something I would create, I still support them. I take music as a ministry, so I don’t want to put out anything that my family would be ashamed of down the line—even though I have put out records like that in the past.
SoulTrain.com: In true “Chronic” fashion you enlisted a full ensemble cast to create 3ChordFold: Ill Camille who, according to the liner notes, was the Snoop to your Dre; Ab Soul, Kendrick Lamar, 9th Wonder, Problem; Music Soulchild, Robert Glasper, Wiz Khalifa, Lalah Hathaway, Snoop, and James Fauntleroy, just to name a few. One of the hardest things to do in the world is get everyone on the same page at the same time, especially with a project that holds personal meaning. How did you bring them into your world to keep the album’s storyline seamless?
Terrace Martin: Let me correct you. Ill Camille was more the Rod Temperton to my Quincy Jones. The Snoop to my Dr. Dre is Problem. Even if I’m not producing a beat on his records, I’m still overseeing the process to make sure that everything is cohesive, recorded and mixed up to high standards. So I have a Rod and a Snoop in my corner. Now, as far as keeping the storyline seamless with a large cast of characters, it is because everyone on this album, with the exception of Musiq Soulchild, is a personal friend of mine. So everyone has seen me go through my relationships and knows the stories behind these songs. I actually met Musiq through Twitter. I am a huge fanatic of his and he recently became hip to my work. We talked on Twitter and I asked if I could send him something and he did it with no problem. He was the easiest new music friend I’ve ever worked with! But love is a subject matter everyone can relate to. Even if you have never been in love, you have witnessed someone close to you in love. So that is how everyone was able to find themselves on the same accord content wise.
SoulTrain.com: Speaking of Q, you recorded a cover of Michael Jackson’s “Can’t Help It” for 3Chordfold, with Quincy behind the boards. First, take me back to that recording session with Quincy and how he “conducted traffic” as the producer revisiting a previous work for a new generation. Secondly, with so many classic MJ records to choose from, what is it about “Can’t Help It” that relates to you and to concept of 3ChordFold?
Terrace Martin: We did “Can’t Help It” in different pieces because he so busy in Montreal. But also at that time, every other week with Snoop, we were producing Clark Terry’s album. In between working on that album and mine, I was listening to a lot of Stevie Wonder records. At first I was going to cover a Stevie song. But since Stevie wrote “Can’t Help It” and the lyrics—which are basically talking about uncontrollable love—just fit so perfectly with the concept of 3ChordFold, it was basically killing two birds with one stone. I did a demo at first and sent it to Q, and he would critique my vocals. That led to him coming to the studio and producing the cover with me. I must have done that melody line one hundred times before I got his blessing on the take he told me to keep. The one that made the final mix is not the perfect take to me, but Q was in the studio when the original was recorded, so I’m going to listen to him instead myself in this instance. There is footage of that session that exists and it will be out sooner than later.
SoulTrain.com: Last month, you recorded a live album at The Virgil in Silverlake. How was that experience, and when can we expect the recordings to be released?
Terrace Martin: I plan on releasing small video clips and documentaries from that night sometime at the top of the new year. I just got done mixing the audio from it and it sounds great. It was a group of family and friends I got together. For example, the bassist Thundercat is actually my first cousin. The two of us, and my other cousin Ronald, have been playing music together since we started playing. Robert Glasper, I met at jazz camp when I was 15, so we have that bond, just to name a few of the players. It was just something I wanted to. We promoted it for about 2 days, and packed it out. I have to put it out because it’s a rare thing to have Robert Glasper, Thundercat, and myself in the same band. I don’t know if that will ever happen again in a lifetime, that’s why I documented it.
SoulTrain.com: I have seen you posting about gigs where you’re jamming in jazz bands on social media. Having that education and love as a jazz musician, down the road have you ever considered putting together a trio or quartet to tour jazz clubs and festivals?
Terrace Martin: I have to. I don’t know if I would do traditional jazz, although I play it. Jazz is a museum music to me. I know the jazz purists I know are going to go crazy reading that, but I want you to print it. I don’t want to play just one type of music all night. When you’re swinging all night, it’s cool, but people can’t bob their heads to it—like playing hip-hop all night can get boring sometimes. As a matter of fact, I want to go on the record right now and say even though my background is straight ahead jazz, I am no longer a jazz musician. I’m just a musician.
SoulTrain.com: I saw you open up for The Robert Glasper Experiment at The El Rey Theater. You and Robert have extensively worked together from 3ChordFold to this new second installment of Black Radio. On stage you called Robert “a big brother to you,” and I remember catching a glimpse of you sitting “Indian style” behind the curtain backstage just mesmerized, studying their set. Talk a little about Robert’s and your working relationship and chemistry.
Terrace Martin: We have a vibe because before we’re musicians, we friends. Robert is a couple years older to me, so he’s the big homie. He’s one of the baddest musicians I know in my life. There are only a couple I consider bad like that: Robert Glasper, Roy Hargrove, Antonio Hart, Isaac Smith—these are just musicians that when you hear them, you’re like, “Whoa!” And Casey Benjamin, who is the sax player for Robert’s band, is honestly a saxophone ninja. I tell him he does karate chops with that sax. He is the best alto saxophone player in the game right now, hands down. Robert has the band of the best musicians, so why wouldn’t I take that opportunity to sit down and study? I was like a kid watching that. None of us can out-play him, man. He is the teacher. I hope to one day become the musician he is.
SoulTrain.com: Recently, you were on stage playing sax and Vocoder for Snoop Dogg and Dam Funk on Jimmy Kimmel Live. As a matter of fact, the confirmation of that collaboration finally becoming a reality for me was when you posted that video on Instagram of you in the studio with them playing the 7 Days of Funk album. Since you have toured with Snoop for a long time, are there plans to bring you on the road with him, Dam, and 1500 Or Nothin’ to tour 7 Days Of Funk?
Terrace Martin: Yeah, we are thinking about that. Working on it right now. Snoop is actually really involved with me working on something big for Lalah Hathaway right now. Lalah Hathaway and Faith Evans are my favorite vocalists in the world. Next year, you are going to see a lot of us—us being Snoop, Dam, Lalah, 1500, myself and many others all together. We all have been working together for a long time as it is, but this coming year we are making it public that we are one nation under a groove.
SoulTrain.com: Speaking of 1500 of Nothin, you just played the Soul Train awards with them, as they were this year’s house band. How as that experience?
Terrace Martin: It was beautiful, man, being able to work with 1500 and my little brother Larrance Doposon, who was the one that called me and brought me into the situation; and the great, great Greg Phillinganes who worked with Quincy in the past. I learned a lot from everyone on that gig because it was tedious learning and writing out charts for 37 songs for all these different artists, or a performance changing from the artist themselves or because somebody didn’t show up. It was my first time doing something like that, and I would do it again. If Larrance and Greg called me again, I would be there fast.
SoulTrain.com: Another artist you have spent a great deal of time with on the road and in the studio is Kendrick Lamar. The one-year anniversary of Good Kid, M.A.A.d City’s release was last month. As a producer on the album (“Real”) and seeing the impact it has made over the course of this past year, sonically and thematically, what do you think is going to be the lasting legacy of that LP?
Terrace Martin: I think that album goes under the Illmatic, Doggystyle world. That was his first album and it changed a few things in hip-hop. It brought the truth back in hip-hop. I feel like hip-hop has been living a lie for the past 20 years with the new artists coming out, saying things they were about, but not actually doing it. Music is spiritual, so the fans cannot connect with you because your whole career was based on a lie. The truth will always outlive a lie, because even with a lie, eventually it refers right back to the truth. It’s a truthful, timeless record that we will be celebrating 10 years from now. And I say that not just because I was fortunate enough to be a part of it. Even if Kendrick, Top Dawg, Dr. Dre, and Punch hadn’t given me the opportunity to work on the album, I still would consider it a game changing album.
SoulTrain.com: Within these last five years, there has been a renewed energy that has risen within the LA music scene: the TDEs, the Odd Futures, the Miguels, and hundreds of other buzz-worthy artists. What has excited you the most being a part of this new progression of West Coast music?
Terrace Martin: It feels like the late 90s when everyone was working together and winning from LA. I like the unity aspect of it. I like how we’re showing the world that LA is not just khakis, Chucks, and gang banging. When Death Row was running this, the only group that was doing that and noticeable was The Pharcyde. I love Freestyle Fellowship, but then didn’t reach the level of popularity with the people like The Pharcyde did. I feel like now we have more Pharcydes. I call it “Hippy Hip-Hop.”
SoulTrain.com: Black Hippy…
Terrace Martin: Case in point [laughs]. It’s a little rough, but it shows unity and it’s peaceful. The music is even more jazzy now.
SoulTrain.com: With 3ChordFold done and out, what are some of the new projects you are working on that we should keep an eye out for? I saw in recent post that you and 9th Wonder are finishing up a collaborative album.
Terrace Martin: Yep, we’re almost done. I’m trying to have him come out here to finish it. We are figuring it out now. When we get together, we make barbecue music. As I was playing you earlier, I’m gearing up to re-release 3ChordFold with new records and remixes. I am at the point where I going to be like Snoop and just keep hitting people with new music until they catch on.
SoulTrain.com: Last question, and I ask everyone I interview this. When it is all said and done, how do you want be remembered as an artist?
Terrace Martin: I just want to be remembered as one of the baddest muthaf***ers that spread the love of music. I just want you to sing about me [starts to sing the chorus of Kendrick Lamar’s “Sing About Me”]. That’s it. I want to leave enough catalog to be used as a reference point. I want to be a copyright. I want to be a chapter in a book…
SoulTrain.com: You want to leave your mark.
Terrace Martin: I want to leave a dent in the earth [laughs].
Chuck Nunley (also known as DJ Chuck “thE oLd SouL”) is a Los Angeles, California homegrown DJ/Producer/Artist, and Owner & Director of Operations of the music collective, Honor Flow Productions. Please check out the sights and sounds of H.F.P. at HFPuniversity.blogspot.com and follow Chuck on Twitter/Instagram @thEoLdSouLHFP. Soul Claps and Salutes to you all.