‘Our Job Has Always Been to Reflect the Times’: Why Terrace Martin Made His Fearless New Song

Terrace Martin sits for an interview about his fearless new song "Pig Feet," which features Denzel Curry, Kamasi Washington, G Perico, and Daylyt.

Terrace Martin

Image via Terrace Martin

Terrace Martin

Over the past two and a half months, as much of our country has lived in quarantine, we’ve witnessed the violent loss of black lives with disturbing frequency. Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd have died at the hands of racists and law enforcement. Complex Networks recognizes the power of its platforms and is committed to amplifying their stories and the voices of our communities to work for justice.

Terrace Martin sounds pleasantly energetic as he answers the phone on Monday, June 1. It’s a refreshing spark of energy amidst a devastating cycle of news about George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery—just the most recent victims of police brutality and racism in America. But it’s because of Floyd, Taylor, and Arbery’s murders, and the protests that have erupted across the nation, that Martin sounds so passionate on the other end of the line. 

In the wake of these events, the acclaimed musician released “Pig Feet” on Monday. The song features Denzel Curry, Kamasi Washington, G Perico, and Daylyt. But despite its release in the middle of coast-to-coast demonstrations, Martin clarifies it is not a protest song, but an “all-action” record that was created to bring awareness and strength to the people. 

“The message of ‘Pig Feet’ that I'm trying to get across is A, awareness, B, strength, and C, fearlessness,” Martin tells Complex. “The song is very fearless. I want people to instill that in their lives. It's okay to be fearful, but to be fearless is much stronger right now. So, instead of pumping out Kumbaya, I want to pump out awareness and stay ready for whatever. That could mean whatever you feel ‘stay ready’ is. But I’m ready. I’m staying ready. And, obviously, they’re [the police] staying ready, too.”

“Pig Feet” is a deeply personal record for each of the artists involved. G Perico tells Complex, “I’ve been a victim of oppression and police brutality for as far as I could remember. So it was only right to get my frustrations off to let people that are going through this know that they’re not alone.” Perico adds, “Black Lives Matter. Justice for George Floyd and all the thousands of minorities that have been murdered and/or brutalized by police officers across America.”

As we collectively search for ways to cope, heal, and help our communities at this time, Martin emphasizes the responsibility for artists to use music to send a message, in addition to joining others on the frontlines. 

“Our job has always been to reflect the times,” he explains. “For those that aren't reflecting the times, my job is not to question their artistry, but I question their being, and why they're doing this for a living.”

Complex spoke with Terrace Martin about the message behind “Pig Feet,” his thoughts on the current uprising, and what he hopes will come out of this moment. The interview, lightly edited for clarity, is below.

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What was your thought process behind releasing “Pig Feet” right now? 
The time is now. We recorded that record not that long ago, but unfortunately, the subject matter hasn't gone away in 100 years—probably more than that. But with the police trippin’, I just felt like I wanted to say something. I knew my brothers, Denzel Curry, Daylyt, Kamasi Washington, and G Perico also felt the same. We’ve had these roundtable [discussions] about being creative, Black, all being from the ghetto, and all having little stints with the police. A few of us spent time in jail and things like that, so we’ve always talked about how we've been mistreated, and how we’re sick of paying taxes for the police to kill us. I’m not going to pay my police to kill me. We never felt protected by the police. That’s what the police are for, to protect and serve. But as a Black man from where I’m from, South Central Los Angeles, none of us have ever felt protected by the police department. Even when I travel the world, I don't feel protected by police. I walk with my own spirit, and I protect my damn self.

You mentioned having roundtables with the guys on this song. Is that how “Pig Feet” came about? 
I’m working on my album called Drones, and this was a song I pulled off my album, because the time is now. Anything I do, I'm always into merging and blending. One of the challenges of being in music is that people normally wouldn't meet each other without a certain link. I've talked to all these guys personally, but none of them had met at the time. I just felt like we all come from different places, but we’re all the motherfucking same. It’s the same shit. Everybody was a product of the crack era. Everybody understood gang banging to a certain level. Everybody understood the police, and everybody was just trying to identify their enemies. We all have allies from all walks of life. Everybody loves us, but then again, we have a lot of people that hate us.

Why was it important to link with this particular group of artists and address this subject? 
These were the conversations we were having. A lot of it was stemming from people seeming to think being pro-Black is racist. They think it's against something else. We always have these talks about those things. Why do people say that and feel that? What's something that we all went to court for? Then I said, “You know what? Let's put this spirit and energy on the record.” 

That kind of topic, I instantly think about Dr. Dre and Public Enemy. That's the frequency I grew up off of, that penetrated my life. That particular power in the music was driven into my life. That's the music that saved me from gang banging. That's the music that turned me on to jazz, because of the samples. So I went back to my foundation. Whenever I get lost in my life, I always go back to the point of direction. That's where the music came from. And I wanted to pull them brothers together, because they were the ones I thought were on the front lines of what this shit should be for. And asking all of them to do shit for their people in the streets, for their people right next to them, for their personal friends, I know these brothers only love. I know these brothers ain't just doing it for the ’gram. This is for our people. I know these brothers really feel like that. I don't like doing music with fake motherfuckers. I don’t like that shit. This shit was real, and this is a real ass time.

You can’t be motherfucking soft right now. You got to be around soldiers. My mama, my granny, the strongest people that I see in L.A... The women are moving strong for the brothers right now. They ain’t no punks. I ain’t seen one punk ass woman on the front line yet. I'm talking about little bitty women, tall women, they’ve been tougher than all the men. That's strong. So, I wanted some strong brothers. I love everybody, but I wanted some strong Black men on the record. I feel like we have to speak up for certain things like this. I was talking to Denzel, and he was telling me about his fans and I’m like, “Man, fuck it. This is for the folks that want to hear it.” 

This song will bring in a diverse group of listeners. How do you expect or want people who have never experienced this sort of thing to feel and receive your message? 
I don’t know how they’re taking shit. I don’t know how anybody white is taking any motherfucking thing. I don’t know. But I would say, the message that we hope to put out there for whoever catches this message is, at the end of the day, our core is love. We are just bringing awareness. Although you see it everywhere, sometimes these motherfuckers don't want to see you. You got to creep it in through music. So, it’s really about bringing more awareness to the situation, along with action behind it. 

But at the same time, we are with the pro-Black. And we are with the pro shit too. If you catch me and my homies marching, anybody pushing up on us, it’s all love, but if we got to go with hate to deal with love, that’s what the fuck we going to do. We’re going to protect our people, by any means. I’m not walking away from this shit. We don’t believe in Kumbaya. But I believe that we have to respect each other to get to the other side. That’s all I'm on. You ain’t got to be my friend, you ain’t got to be my brother, but let’s respect each other so your kids can go and my kids can go. That’s it. Let’s start there. 

You wrote about how you were feeling on SoundCloud, but can you go into more detail about what’s going through your mind at the moment? 
I feel like we need to do a few things as a people. Number one, we need to vote. I know people are scared their voice won’t be heard, but we need to fucking vote. Every time I go, it be me and about 50 other white people in line. I'm the only one smelling like weed and voting. I know people say, “Well, they’re both the evils.” Okay, well, vote for the lesser evil, punk! God damn! 

Our people need to vote. It’s important. Look at this shit, man. Motherfuckers ain't voting and bitch ass motherfuckers are in office, because we’re not showing up. Now, a lot of us are paying the price. Let's show up. We show up when it's a motherfucking festival. We show up when it's all kind of fly shit. It's motherfuckers not even endorsed with Gucci and Louis posting that shit and tagging that shit like they’re endorsed with these companies. We’re showing up for everything else. Why can't we show up to vote? 

You can't speak on this politics shit if you ain't never done it. That's why you can't speak on street shit if you ain't been in it. You can't speak on his Black shit if you ain't Black. You can't. You could be a spectator, but shut the fuck up or get in line and vote. 

When I started voting, I’ll keep it very real with you, God opened so many doors. I was going through so much financially and emotionally, and he opened so many doors for me... That's the year we started doing Good Kid, m.A.A.d City. I had a chance to get around brothers that would mentor me. I was always working with Quincy Jones, but we got closer. Then I got with Herbie Hancock. I started getting with these brothers, and as a man, I started spending more time being a father, being a Black man, being a survivor. And that's another thing, it's so important for people to teach others, because it means so much if a Black man walks up to another Black man or a Black kid or a Black woman, and just says, “Hey, I’m proud of you.” Smile and keep on walking.

You’ve worked with a lot of artists who are considered leaders and activists within the community. Has that been a conscious effort? 
I was a kid that was full of emotion and full of art. My first heroes were Crips and gang bangers and pimps. My homegirls were prostitutes. Everybody did crime, but this was a real community. I'm saying that to say, I was raised a little rough around the edges outside of my home, but I always did music. As I started growing up, I was a little too edgy, personality-wise, for a lot of the artists that I wanted to work with. A lot of the rappers, they would be tough and then we come around. I just wanted to do music, but they'd get a little scary, so I was always forced by God, I think, into working with honest people that gave a fuck about where they came from, because I was one of those people. I believe you attract what you are. 

Why do you think it’s important for artists to speak up in times like this? 
Because we don't have a lot of time on Earth, and we are all going to be dead one day. If you're a recording artist, as my big brother, Warryn Campbell told me—Warryn Campbell is one of my heroes from Los Angeles and honestly a pillar in the Black arts society with his music. He does so much. Very low key, but everybody dances to Warryn Campbell’s songs. I follow his path a lot in this game with Snoop and DJ Quik and Dr. Dre. But anyway, he came to the studio one day and he told me, “If you’re a recording artist, your job is to record every day.” That's what you're supposed to do. And then, I’m with Herbie Hancock every day, working on his album. That’s my friend. And Herbie always says, “Miles [Davis] always thought the job of an artist was to be a mirror for society.” Our job has always been to reflect the times. For those that aren't reflecting the times, my job is not to question their artistry, but I question their being, and why they're doing this for a living.

You worked with Kendrick Lamar on some pieces of music that were important in past protests, and you remixed “Alright.” How does it feel seeing that song is still relevant today? 
It hurts. That's what my brothers were talking about. We know that this country don't give a fuck about us. We know we give this motherfucking country everything—our blood, sweat, and tears. We built this motherfucker, and they don’t give a fuck about us. And it’s always proven. 

I still got to talk in code when I’m talking about bringing guns, and making sure my bullets is ready and everything. A white man could say, “Yeah, I’m going down, loading up my truck with guns,” and he’s cool. It’s regular. I’m a tax paying citizen with a lot of legal firearms. I’m part of a gun club and everything, but I still got to move different. So when you know the real, when you feel the real, unfortunately it makes you always ready to attack. I feel like I’ve been programmed to be ready for the police since I was 12 years old, fully ready to not be sure if I'm going to live or die after the encounter. That’s why I try not to get in encounters with them, as much of my life as possible. I don't drive fast. I don't do nothing.

What was the overall message that you wanted to convey with the title and song? 
Let me see how everybody can digest this real quick. The message of “Pig Feet” that I’m trying to get across is A, awareness, B, strength, and C, fearlessness. The song is very fearless. I want people to instill that in their lives. It’s okay to be fearful, but to be fearless is much stronger right now. So, instead of pumping out Kumbaya, I want to pump out awareness and stay ready for whatever. That could mean whatever you feel “stay ready” is. But I’m ready. I’m staying ready. And, obviously, they’re [the police] staying ready, too.

Is there anything else we should know about the song, music video, or what else you have going on? 
No, that’s it. If I say anything else, it will be like a rap nigga, and I hate them. I hate everything rap niggas stand for. Not artists, rap niggas. 

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