When Kendrick Lamar‘s Untitled, Unmastered project hit timelines, a mysterious voice popped up on “untitled 05 | 09.21.2014.” However, there was no question mark for Top Dawg Entertainment loyalists, who recognized the man behind the song’s second verse as Punch.
Terrence “Punch” Henderson, TDE’s co-president, hadn’t rapped with the label’s Grammy-winning MVP in years (See: 2014’s “25” and “Project Window”). Though they frequently collaborated in the past, Henderson had been busy behind-the-scenes as K. Dot ascended the rap ranks. However, per Punch, the U.U. reunion on wax could signify greater things to come.
“I think I’mma do a project for sure,” Punch recently told Billboard over the phone. “I think I’m going to finally finish it because I write a lot and I record every so often. I think I’m just gonna go ahead and knock it out at this point.
“I’m starting to get that itch more and more,” he continues. “Before, it was like, ‘OK, I write a little bit, I can rap. Let me put it down for fun, it’s cool.’ At this point, it’s starting to turn into a burning. I really want to do it now.”
Punch’s urge comes from a need to educate audiences with thought-provoking and insightful lyrics, something he takes pride in. “I like to teach and share whatever it is that I’ve picked up,” he explains. “I see a lot of people starting to relate to the stuff I’m saying. The more it connects with people, the bigger the sensation is becoming.”
Through past releases, Punch has given fans glimpses of his lyrical depth. On “Project Window,” for example, he delivered a bird’s-eye view of inner-city struggles. On “Imagine,” he posed a series of intriguing questions. “Imagine if they really tried to fix these streets,” he rapped on the track. “Would they start in the ‘hood or executive suites?”
Last week, Punch accomplished that again on “untitled 5,” where he rhymes about “searching for loopholes” inside of his “bruised soul.” The song, sparked by a call from Kendrick to rap, was, in many ways, about Henderson’s search for greater wisdom. “I was talking about trying to gain insight and understanding,” he explains, adding that the verse was finished in 20 minutes because it came straight “from the heart.”
In order to finish his album, keeping it 100 in his bars is of utmost importance. Henderson — who’s keeping busy with his TDE duties, like accompanying SZA to the Brit Awards for a surprise performance with Rihanna — is mindful of that. “The way I do it is I write and then I go lay down everything,” he says. “It’s rare that I actually write on the spot. I don’t have that type of time to sit there, record and do all of that. I gotta write these ideas out so once I get in, I can lay them and do whatever else I’ve gotta do.”
He’s definitely got the support of his crew to make the transition into the foreground. “Punch [has] always been a crazy lyricist aside from being a pioneer in the company,” K. Dot told MTV News last year. “He always had the knack for music.”
During that same interview, K. Dot said “you can’t hide” Henderson’s talent, and TDE CEO Anthony “Top Dawg” Tiffith knows that too. “I just put his name on the board and him in the [studio],” the label head tweeted over the weekend, bringing excitement to stans who’ve longed for a full-fledged Punch LP for years.
Perhaps he’s closer to finishing the album than ever before, but for now, Punch says he’ll continue “fine-tuning” his new material, balancing rhymes with his work as a label leader. There’s no release date or timetable for him yet, but he says he’ll continue sharpening his already celebrated MC skills. “I feel like I get better every day,” he says confidently. “The more you do it, the more you grow.”