What does a Sounwave beat sound like? You might not be able to describe it if you try, because as the producer explains, his sound has no boundaries. 

“If you put all my beats side-by-side, I guarantee none of them are going to have the same instrument in it,” he points out. “They’re not going to have the same pattern. Everything is going to different elements.”

Sounwave, born Mark Spears, is a producer from Compton, who is responsible for a long list of hits over the past decade. As an in-house producer for Top Dawg Entertainment, he’s produced major projects like the Black Panther soundtrack, and collaborated closely with artists like Schoolboy Q and SZA. Outside of TDE, he’s earned credits with everyone from Beyoncé to Thundercat to Baby Keem to Chloe x Halle. Through it all, though, the artist he’s worked with the most is Kendrick. 

To date, Sounwave has contributed to every one of Kendrick’s projects, from his self-titled debut EP in 2009 to his fifth studio album Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers, where he has production credits on 13 of 18 tracks.

Recalling his first meeting with Kendrick, Sounwave tells Complex, “He had this tie-dye hoodie on and he didn’t say a word.” When he played one of his beats, though, Kendrick came alive, rapping for “20 minutes nonstop, freestyling off the top of his head.” Sounwave was immediately impressed, but the two wouldn’t cross paths again until a year later, ultimately reuniting in the studio with TDE’s Top Dawg and Punch. “We’ve been rocking ever since,” he says now.

Kendrick’s most recent album, Mr. Morale, came together over the span of five years, and it captures some of the most raw emotions and experiences that took place over that period. Sounwave acknowledges that it was a challenging process for all involved, explaining, “It was rough. It was good times, bad times, and frustrating times. We went through so much from the five year gap. We lost very key figures in our culture in Nipsey [Hussle] and Kobe [Bryant] within less than a year of each other, which can bring anybody down.” 

The album has so much depth that most fans are still processing its significance and uncovering new layers, but Sounwave says they are already working on the next album. “Oh, we always start immediately after. Like, we’re starting on the next one now.” 

Complex spoke with Sounwave over Zoom to get a glimpse into his world. During the conversation, he spoke about his own introduction to music and production, working on Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers, and what’s next. The interview, lightly edited for clarity, is below.