Kendrick Lamar's 'LOVE.' Producer Teddy Walton Discusses 'DAMN.' Collaboration & Bryson Tiller's 'Trapsoul' Follow-Up

Chris Egerstrom
Teddy Walton

As Kendrick Lamar closed weekend 1 of the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival with “LOVE.”, Travis “Teddy” Walton -- the song’s producer -- realized something important about his life.

“That right there made me realize that I definitely have the ability,” he tells Billboard. “That bounce, that type of beat, I’ve been doing that ever since I started [at] 16 so to see everybody at Coachella going crazy over something I’ve been doing, and Kendrick making it go viral, it gave me a lot of faith to know that I’m on the right path with music. That’s what we live for.”

But “LOVE.” took some twists and turns before landing on Lamar's latest album DAMN. According to Teddy, it started as a different cut for Zacari, the soulful singer who’s featured on the track. “[Zacari] showed me this song and it was literally the ‘Give me a run for my money’ hook,” Walton explains. “But I didn’t like the beat too much. I said, ‘Zac, let me get those vocals.’ I made the whole beat around his vocals, and I can sit here and say that, as soon as we finished the song, me and Zac definitely knew how crazy it was.”

What they didn’t know was how it would end up in Kendrick’s hands. Eventually, Zacari’s manager Moosa Tiffith -- son of TDE founder and CEO Anthony “Top Dawg” Tiffith -- heard what the two had been working on. He invited them to play their work for K-Dot himself and Walton says he knew what they had to share. “It was almost like it was a given,” he explains. “Like it was supposed to happen. I played 3 or 4 songs and then me and Zac looked at each other like, ‘We should definitely play the song [that became ‘LOVE.’]. The next day, they was like, ‘Can you please send it out?’”

Kung Fu Kenny took over from there. He added an intro, called on Kid Capri for additional vocals, and replaced Zacari’s verses with his own. He included vivid details to make the song personal and thematically relevant to the rest of the album. He even layered his own flair on the chorus. When Walton heard the final version, which was co-produced by Sounwave, Greg Kurstin, and Anthony Tiffith, he was impressed. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard Kendrick like this,” he says. “This is the new Kendrick right now. It’s crazy.”

“LOVE.” marks a new era for Walton, as well. The 24-year-old, who was raised between his native Memphis and Missouri, earned his first major placement in 2015, producing A$AP Rocky’s ScHoolboy Q-assisted “Electric Body.” Less than two years later, his schedule seems busier than ever. He’s got the K-Dot collaboration, GoldLink’s “Crew” (with Shy Glizzy and Brent Faiyaz), and he says he’s got at least one track on Bryson Tiller’s forthcoming Trapsoul follow-up.

"Me and Bryson [DM each other] on Twitter," he says. "I sent him this one joint and he told me, ‘This is a dope record. I need this...' [Bryson’s] super personal. I haven’t even heard the song, but he’s definitely stressed to me that it’s a powerful song to him. That’s how crazy it is." Beyond his work with Pen Griffey, Walton says he’s also producing Zacari’s next project and at least one joint for Nipsey Hussle.

High-profile placements aside, Teddy’s also working on two projects of his own. One of those will be Tokyo Highway, his debut album. "I’ve been working on it for about two years," he says. "It’s going to be different because I’m actually going to make it an experience, putting major artists on my type of beats."

Before that, he’ll release a yet-to-be-titled EP “for the culture” in the next two months. He says it’s going to showcase his versatility while making a statement. "Do not put me in a box," he stresses. "I can produce for Lil B and the next day, I could have a session with Adele, and I can make both of them hits. I want to let people know that I’m here and I understand both sides of music."