Sporting a blue Dodgers cap and a home Dodger jersey (Ryu #99), Terrace Martin steps outside the sauna atmosphere of the brightly lit Woodworks Records studio off Manchester Boulevard in the heart of Inglewood to catch a breath. He’s slightly inebriated from an alcoholic beverage or two, and talks a mile a minute. This is how he is most of the time, words rolling off his tongue like notes from his saxophone. On this slightly chilly August night, Martin is shooting a video for “You’re The One,” a song off the recently released 3ChordFold (Empire Distribution), which features a hook from one of Terrace’s friends, Atlantic Records artist Ty Dolla $ign, he of the “Toot It And Boot It” and “Ratchet In My Benz” fame.
Terrace is eager to discuss 3ChordFold because for him it’s a personal, cathartic record. He produces and raps on most of it, with guest production coming from 9th Wonder, guest vocals from multiple Grammy winner James Fauntleroy, guitar and vocals from soulful rocker Robert Glasper and raps from Wiz Khalifa. Surprisingly, Kendrick Lamar, for whom Martin plays the sax in a live band that joins him at important performances such as the one on the nationally broadcast David Letterman Show, contributed sung vocals on “Triangle Ship,” one of the standout songs on that rare album that meshes hip-hop and R&B with the tactful approach of a jazz record.
Although Martin learned how to make beats on a drum machine before learning how to play saxophone, he remains as one of the few true musicians producing a blend of R&B and hip-hop. Well respected by his peers and industry figures, he’s able to pull in A-list artists and record in huge studios without a major label budget.
In an exclusive interview with MIMO, Martin touches on how the album came together and shares his thoughts about the controversy stemming from Kendrick Lamar “Control” verse.
MIMO: Let’s talk about 3ChordFold. The topic is women and the heartache as well as being in love. You did a record before about that with “Here, My Dear.” How long did it take to make this album?
Terrace Martin: Two years. I was really going through a lot in this relationship as I was doing this record. So, in and out of that, until I said the music became the therapy for me. I said, you know what, if I think about her, I’m going to think about the relationship – and I’ve been a bad guy in it, too – as I reflect on everything, let me reflect on the keyboard or the drum machine. You know what’s funny is through this I met someone I’ve been with for a while. The first half of the record is about the freeloader, the renter and the buyer – but I actually met the buyer. I’m with the buyer now. That’s why the album turned positive, because I got down with her and started out hanging with her and see it in another light. We were friends, we started hanging out and we just honestly fell in love. This record has a true story form to it and that’s kinda cool.
MIMO: Is she in the industry?
MIMO: One of the reasons you went through so much is probably because you’ve been in the industry for a long time, don’t you think?
TM: I believe you always need a woman to counteract whatever you do. I’m already the wild jazz musician, turned up, whatever… and she be like (makes screeching sound) “slow down!”
MIMO: The album came out on Empire Distribution, but you’ve got major label artists on there, including James Fauntleroy, Wiz Khalifa, Robert Glasper.
TM: I got major artists on there because … only thing that makes independent an independent is the title. What makes major a major is a title. That’s the big thing. My production career has always been a major label thing, my artist thing has always been independent. At the of the day, I don’t give a f**k if you’re independent or major, if you’re dope you’re dope, and luckily, everybody on my record we all have that in common – Wiz, Kendrick, Robert – we all share each other time, no matter’s who up or who’s down. It don’t matter. We all fellowship. And that’s what I stand for: I stand for the fellowship.
MIMO: That comes across extremely well. 9th Wonder produced the joint “Triangle Ship.” As a producer yourself, how does your relationship work?
TM: 9th Wonder was one of my heroes. You had DJ Premier, Pete Rock – still got them – but 9th Wonder took all their shit to me, on a positive level, and made it to where Black folks could really dance to it. Not that Black folks weren’t dancing to Pete Rock and Premier, but they wasn’t hittin’ the ghettos when I was coming up like … that Little Brother shit hit the ghetto. It was soulful. Even when I worked on 9th own projects, everything was in key, had a bridge, samples are so melodic that he uses them like keyboards. He’s one of my favorite producers to work with. I still love Pete Rock and Premier, though.
MIMO: Let’s talk about Ty Dolla Sign and James Fauntleroy, who are two of the most premier songwriters of this generation. Talk about your working relationship with them and the hook on “You’re The One.” Ty said you wrote it.
TM: No he wrote it (Martin sings chorus from “You’re the One”). I wrote it? Regardless, we both wrote it. Me and James Fauntleroy, we’ve been friends since before we started music. I’m talking about since 16 or 17 years old. Grew up in the same area and everything. I’m extremely proud of him and thankful for him even getting down with me. He’s so busy. Ty has been a friend of mine for years. Everybody on this record, we’re all family. Kendrick, forever. Wiz, forever. Robert (Glasper) I’ve known since I was 15.
MIMO: Speaking of Kendrick … let’s talk about him for a second. You were with him in New York for the David Letterman Show performance, playing saxophone in the backing band. Do you tour with him a lot?
TM: I do a lot of spot dates with him. TV dates. I don’t tour a lot of with him, but I think we are going to go out on tour real soon. I’ve been working on my record and he’s been busy with a whole other thing going on. Now it makes sense where I can hop out on the tour. I told myself I wasn’t going to hop on the road unless I really got with somebody that really cared about my brand and cared about me.
MIMO: What do you think about his verse on “Control”?
TM: I think it’s excellent. For me, I’m used to that, though. I’m from L.A. and one of the only cats that’s been around the old regime into the regime. I lived through this before, when New York was real upset.
MIMO: Are your surprised at the magnitude of the response?
TM: I’m surprised by the magnitude of ignorance, how many folks didn’t really listen to the verse and only heard that one bar. If you listen to the verse, he’s not disrespecting New York. It’s a reference to something else. But everybody got their own thing, which, I mean, if that’s how somebody take it – that’s how they take it.
MIMO: The song “Triangle Ship” is amazing. It sets the tone, following Ab-Soul on the intro track, and Kendrick right after that. Is he singing on that sh*t?!
TM: Yeah, he’s singing.
MIMO: Who wrote his part?
TM: Kendrick. We did the record in separate order. Punch (president of Top Dawg Entertainment), one of my best friends and my manager, put the album in order. He was around in all those relationships I was in and is one of my dear friends. I was just doing the music, he put it in order, and said, “This is your album.” I said, “Wow, that’s my life.” It’s like somebody telling your life but I did the music. It was just a team effort. I was thinking, “How would Quincy Jones do it”? I was more or less trying to facilitate.
MIMO: My last question is about Camille “Ill Camille” Davis. I’ve noticed she’s all over the song credits and credited as a creative consultant. Can you talk about what she has contributed to the project?
TM: Ill Camille is my rock temple. Like, on the Michael Jackson record [Editor’s note: Martin’s rendition of “Can’t Help It” is not a separate track, but included as part of “Gone”]. She’s just a strong artist, a great producer and songwriter, one of the best I’ve worked with in my life. She’s directing this video (“You’re the One”). I trust 150 percent with her vision. I vote Ill Camille for president!
3ChordFold is available for purchase on iTunes and available at most retail locations.