Terrace Martin Explains Producing Albums for YG & Herbie Hancock at the Same Time

Samantha J
Terrace Martin and Herbie Hancock.

Terrace Martin's production credits are as impressive as they are eclectic -- the jazz-reared saxophonist has been behind the boards on projects by everyone from Snoop Dogg to Lalah Hathaway to Kendrick Lamar's Grammy-winning To Pimp a Butterfly. But 2016 is bringing Martin a totally new set of challenges: he's working on albums for Compton rapper YG and jazz icon Herbie Hancock...at the exact same time.

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Hancock has been a vocal supporter of Martin and his peers in L.A.'s resurgent jazz scene -- many of who also worked on TPAB. "It's something that's fresh and new. Revolutionary," he told Billboard before Clive Davis's Grammy party. "It's not something that's locked into a box. These people have opened up this box -- we called it hip-hop."

Martin elaborated on his many current projects in a recent conversation with Billboard, including his upcoming album Velvet Portraits. Read the second half of the interview below, and check out the first half here for more on what went on behind the scenes and in the studio on TPAB.

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You said you're working with both Herbie Hancock and YG -- how does that work day-to-day? It's a lot to handle!

I've been playing with him every day -- which is very weird, that I play keyboard next to Herbie every day, a very weird thing. I try to be cool, since I'm "the producer" and everything, but then he throws these things at you harmonically, and you have to catch 'em! He is 75, and his ideas -- they're like he's 12 years old. They keep coming every second of the day.

I work with him five days a week. We usually start about 12 or 1 p.m. and I'm done about 5. That's a five-hour session. When I work with a rapper, I can do 15, 20 hours and not be tired. When I leave Herbie's, I'm exhausted. My brain is exhausted -- he stretches my brain so much that I have to leave his house, take a three-hour nap, and then go to work with YG.  

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They both stretch my brain -- YG works on a whole different schedule, where he doesn't work that long, but he works more intensely. They both are challenging, and I love a challenge -- I don't think you can grow without a challenge. YG has grown -- he has his own things he wants to do now. He knows how he wants things to sound. Working with him is a challenge because he's so into the funk element. Can't be jazz funk -- it's gotta be funky for him. Herbie -- first of all, he helped shape music 12 times. Talk about being around greatness. You're looking at him like, "Do you really like me?" They're at the opposite ends, but yet the same end, because they're both challenging. I'm excited for the challenge because I want to be great, only so I can inspire other kids to be great. I don't feel I'm great yet, but I'm trying to get there -- and I think working with cats like that, I'm learning so much.

What have you learned from working with them so far?

Working with Herbie has actually taught me how to produce records better for YG, better for Kendrick -- because one thing Herbie does, is he honors the mistake, and he expects the unexpected. Those are two rules that I haven't lived by, that I'm now practicing. I've realized that I've missed out on so much by just being in the box. Now my eyes are open for new music -- I want to just grow, and be better, and work with new people. And that's all from Herbie! With Herbie, you realize that you have to have a million influences to catch what he's throwing at you!

How Kendrick Lamar Transformed Into 'The John Coltrane of Hip-Hop' on 'To Pimp a Butterfly'

The album I'm doing with him, it's not what you think: Kendrick is on the album, Snoop is on the album. It's not like it's just Herbie Hancock over a hip-hop beat. It's like, I'm really digging into his world, and he's digging into the hip-hop, and we're just trying to figure out a thing. In the process of us trying to figure it out, something is happening magically through the music. Something that I've never heard and he's never heard. Kendrick came over the other day and he was like, "Yo, I hear so many ideas." We're just going in all different directions.

When can we expect the album?

With Herbie, I'll know we're done when he says, "Don't come over to my house and record anymore." Then I'll know we're done.