Top Dawg Entertainment built their success largely on the back of Kendrick Lamar’s popularity in the rap scene with LA natives Sounwave, Tae Beast and MixedByAli collaborating as producers and in-house engineer.
They have won Grammy Awards between them and Mark “Sounwave” Spears was 2019 Oscar nominated alongside Lamar in the Best Original Song category for “All the Stars” from the movie Black Panther.
In a public conversation as part of the Red Bull Music Festival Los Angeles 2019, they sat with Brian “B.Dot” Miller to discuss their rise to fame.
Here are some key quotes from the entertaining talk:
What is it like working with Kendrick Lamar?
MIXEDBYALI: Man, it’s like working with your big little brother. The thing with him is he’s so open creatively where, as the engineer, talking from the engineer point of view, there’s no time that can affect his creativeness. If he feels like me mixing a song three, four, five different ways, no matter the deadline, we’re gonna do it three, four, five different ways to try to get three, four, five different outcomes. It’s all for the greater good of the record. He just inspires everyone to pull the best out of everyone around him. I never knew I could stay up for five days straight, but he for sure pulled it out of me.
Is everyone as hands-on as he is in the camp?
SOUNWAVE: He’s the most hands-on person I’ve ever, ever dealt with. So back then in the Section.80 (debut album) days before there was cellphones and all that other stuff, we was right on a corner. If he came up with an idea, he just knocked on the door and my Mom knows and lets him in. I can be in the bathroom, on the toilet or something, and he just knocked. “Yo, I got this melody. Can you do this for me real fast?” [beatboxes] I’m like, “Alright, let me try it.” I try it and it comes out genius, and that’s kind of how (the single) ‘A.D.H.D’ was made, to be honest with you. Another beautiful thing about Kendrick is he listens. I don’t care if he’s Pulitzer Prize or Oscar nominated. If you come up with an idea that’s good, he’s gonna try it. If it didn’t work, he’s like, “Alright, it didn’t work”, but he still tries it. He listens to anybody who has an idea.
During the ‘To Pimp a Butterfly’ sessions, you were going for mastering and Kendrick was already on his fourth album. How does he do it?
SOUNWAVE: That’s Kendrick. We literally just finished mastering ‘To Pimp a Butterfly’ and he was like, “Alright, that’s cool. So for this next album.” I’m like, “Bro, no, it’s not even out yet. Let it get out first and then we’ll start talking about it”, and he was like, “No, no, don’t worry about it. They gonna get that. For this next album we gonna do this, we gonna do that.” You just gotta go with it because he’s a genius. Always. To this day. No matter what, his brain never stops working, his brain always comes with crazy ideas.
Do you feel like there’s a pressure to carry on his legacy?
SOUNWAVE: Of course there’s a pressure. I mean, we got the GOATs. I don’t know if y’all remember but one of my proudest moments was when Kendrick performed out in LA and Snoop, The Game, Kurupt, all of them, came on the stage and passed him the torch and those tears that he had. That was tears that all of us had, ’cause we wasn’t expecting that. So for that to happen, show that brotherhood of the West Coast is like, “Yo, we got your back.” Bruh, that was one of my top moments in the whole history of this.