He notes how a past relationship also contributed to his love of the city. "As far as the song in particular, I was dating a young woman in Oakland that was a beautiful lady and taught me a lot about Oakland culture and different things. She just showed me so much about that city that it felt like it was my home, but I wasn't from there," he adds. "It's different than any other city because there's so much knowledge with the art, and I truly believe because it has something to do with Oakland being one of the most soulful cities.”
Watch the "Oakland" video and read the full interview below, in which Martin discusses his Grammy nomination, recording with his father and the biggest takeaway from his Velvet Portraits LP.
Congratulations on your Grammy nomination. How does it feel being nominated for Velvet Portraits?
It feels amazing. It's always good when you're acknowledged, but for me, it's cool if that it's for me. The real joy comes out because it started out just being a vision of me owning my own record label, Sounds of Crenshaw. To be ran, created and operated from Crenshaw all the way to the Grammys is a big deal in my book, just really for the community as far as being recognized. The cover of my album is Leimert Park and that area is getting more notoriety. People are starting to ask about it, know about it, and that energy of Leimert made it all the way up to the Grammys.
When did you start recording this album?
I started recording the album in the middle of me doing To Pimp a Butterfly. I would come home with all of these ideas left over in my head so I would just start coming up with song titles or themes. I remember coming home with notebook paper in my back pocket or receipts with all of these ideas I would write with a No. 2 pencil on the back. So for years, it was all of these ideas on my wall, and I made it into a record.
Where does the title Velvet Portraits come from?
Velvet portraits are some of my most favorite art pieces. Not only that but way back before velvet got over here to America, Spain and what not, when somebody gave you a velvet portrait, it was a huge honor because a velvet portrait is one of the only things you could see and feel. It has grooves, it's soft. So going to my album mixed with love and family, I wanted it to also be thought of like a picture, a piece of art that can always be referred back to. I just wanted to give the community something very special as a thank you for raising me, and feeding me good energy, good music, and good things. So I wanted to name it velvet portraits as a gift going back to the community where I come from. Hopefully that stretches out to the other communities like Oakland, Brooklyn, and all these other cities, these black areas that pretty much make the sh-t fly in life.
Talk about collaborating with your father for this record.
Collaborating with my dad is beautiful. I was in a session towards the end of the Kendrick record. He had suffered from some breathing complications and his lungs filled up, and he got real sick. Everybody thought he was going to die one particular night. My unclde called me and said, "Your father is dead," right in the middle of the session. I was like damn, that's a way to kill me when I have 20 people around. Let me call you back when the session is over. My father trained me since I was young and when you sign up to be an artist -- the kind of artists we are -- no matter what, you have to finish the session. You have to finish because we have a responsibility to our community and to our people. and that's part of our job as being, I call it, warriors of God.
So I thought he was dead, but thank God he wasn't. I'm in the session, I'm stressing out. Everybody's around me but nobody knows what's going on because I wanted to complete the record. I think it was "How Much a Dollar Cost" [off Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp a Butterfly]. I remember getting on the phone when it was done. I cried my eyes out when everybody left. That night, I had a brief feeling of what it would feel like to lose my father, to lose someone. And not only is he my favorite drummer but he's my father and my best friend. Sometimes in this business, we can neglect our loved ones because this game is so demanding. I didn't forget about my father but I wasn't acknowledging him the way I should have. The third day, he felt better and I said, you know what? F--- this, I'm about to go do an album with my dad. I flew out Robert "Sput" Searight, one of the producers on my album and Brandon Eugene Owens, which is one of the other producers and bass players on my album. We flew to out to Omaha, Nebraska where my father lives, and we found a studio. We set up there for a month and we did at least 75 percent of this album there.
What can fans expect from you for the rest of the year?
What I would like people to get from Velvet Portraits is beyond the music. I'm a person that's not far removed from the worst and to the best of anything. I'm a person that lives based on impulse and lives in the moment so if I want anybody to pull something from this [album], I want people to really understand if you work hard and stay loyal and true, it will happen. You will live. Your gift will make room for you if you work hard. You couldn't tell any of my friends that we would be nominated for a Grammy on this album after coming from the Kendrick situation. So now I'm more of a believer that dreams with vision really can happen.