Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers is full of raw emotions and experiences. What was it like creating the album in real time?
It was rough. It was good times, bad times, and frustrating times. I remember 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. It brought me down, to the point where I was creatively stuck. Then mix COVID with that, lockdowns and all of that, it was just an emotional wreck for me personally, to the point where I was drained. I was forcing myself to create music, but eventually you gotta get out of it. I found myself A&R-ing a lot more than production. When things opened up a little bit, though, you could actually get in the studio with the artist. You could actually feel the energy—things that you forgot you needed. I’m a perfectionist. I need someone to be like, “No, no, no, that’s actually good. Don’t throw that beat away.” Otherwise, all my beats would never come out because I just feel like it could be better. I still listen to the songs today and I’m like, “Ah, I wish I didn’t do that.” That’s just the perfectionist in me. I’m hard on myself, so you need people like Kendrick to be in the studio to give you life sometimes.
Given that series of events, from Nipsey to Kobe, then the COVID-19 lockdown, what was the timeline for the creation of Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers? When did you start and when did you finish?
Oh, we always start, immediately after. Like, we’re starting on the next one now. That’s never going to change, all the way from the Kendrick Lamar EP. The next day, we started on Section.80. It’s just the ideas never stopped. That’s one of the main reasons I go on tour with him, is to create the next album. We can’t skip a beat. We have to just keep it going. There’s no breaks. There’s no such thing as a vacation when you’re doing what you love. Everything you do is what you love to do, so you’re excited. Your family might feel a different way about it, but it’s always like, what’s next? We’re like kids in a candy shop. Personally, once I release an album like this, I don’t go back to it for a while, because I lived it so much. It’s like, it’s not for me anymore. It’s time for me to clear my head, so the best thing to do is to think about the next project.
“We always start, immediately after. Like, we’re starting on the next one now. That’s never going to change, all the way from the Kendrick Lamar EP. The next day, we started on Section.80.”
What were some challenges that you faced during the creation and rollout of the project?
For me, specifically, that lockdown hurt. I didn’t think it would. I thought it was going to be a perfect chance for me to just hone in on my creativeness. But like I said, not being able to feed off other people’s energy and not being able to actually get reassurance that what you’re doing actually makes sense, that can drive someone crazy. It was rough for me, for sure. For Kendrick, I don’t know. I know he went through a lot, too. If you want to say this, we could do three albums of Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers. There would be similar content, but sonically, it’d be completely different. Just because our emotions constantly keep changing—things keep happening in the world which changes this. Then, all of a sudden you don’t feel that way any more. So it’s constantly changing to the point where you look up and like, “Oh, shoot, this is a completely different album.”
If you could have three versions of the album, with all different sounds, at what point did you look at each other and say, “Enough is enough. Let’s go with this version”?
It’s this feeling we got. I talk about it all the time. I take a drive and I listen to the full album nonstop. If I don’t come away from that drive overwhelmed with emotions, then it’s not it. It’s always the same split moment—I would hit him and then be like, “We’re not ready.” He was like, “Bro, I was just about to tell you the same thing. We got to do this. We got to do that. We got to change this.” Until that happens, and until the whole core people are in agreement, the album’s never going to come out. Fortunately, this felt like this was it. We got off every feeling, every emotion, every sonic, everything that we wanted to do, and it is now ready to present to the world.
What was the main priority or goal the core team wanted to achieve with this album?
Just raw emotion. Don’t hold nothing back.
You mentioned that you took a step back from the creative process and prioritized A&R-ing. What does that mean in the context of this album?
When I went through my little funk in 2020, I couldn’t pick up an MPC. I couldn’t pick up a keyboard. I needed a break. So the next thing for me was putting people together who I knew would make amazing music. So I A&R-ed Baby Keem’s The Melodic Blue album. Like, little ad-libs, little beats and stuff. Like I said, “Ooh, James Blake would kill that little ad-lib right there, bring him into it.” That’s what I got joy out of doing for that full year. For the Kendrick album, it was like saying, “Okay, I know J. LBS, I know his musicianship. I know how he can play a piano. Bring him in for these piano sections.”
What were some of your favorite memories from the five-year gap you all took?
Right after the DAMN tour, we went straight to London and just started banging out ideas. Granted, only one song came out of that whole session, but I remember that initial happiness we had of this being a blank canvas. That’s always one of the funnest moments for me. To be able to see that session turn into what now has come out to Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers, I don’t know, it just brings a smile to my face.
“Alright” was featured in the new Black Panther trailer. The song has become recognized as a protest song, but can you talk about its significance in expressing grief and other emotions?
That song has so many layers. When I first heard it, I didn’t necessarily hear it as a protest song. “We’re going to be alright” could mean so many different things and hearing it with Black Panther, it just felt perfect. I got chills. It was just the perfect score to it.
Why do you think “Alright” is a timeless record, regardless of the climate?
I think when you’re in a moment that’s selfless, you don’t have an objective to put out a hit record or anything. You’re just actually doing what the energy is pointing from. That’s when you’re always going to have songs that are going to capture the timeless moments, and that just happened to be one of them. I remember when that song was being created, it wasn’t necessarily meant to be, like, the protest of the year song. This is how we felt. We were all in the studio, just shedding tears listening to the lyrics being created, because that’s how the moment was bringing us to feel. The energy, everything about it, it was just a selfless act.
A Black Hippy album never happened, but the fans are still praying for some type of miracle. Can you give some insight on why it never came to be?
You guys are going to have to ask the Black Hippy artists on that one. Me specifically, I can just say it was all about timing. As each part is elevated, timing and schedules become crazier. That’s from my vision, why it never happened. Of course, there was a moment where we were all in the studio, we brainstormed some ideas, but then somebody had to go on tour, or somebody’s album was dropping. And it’s like, “All right, after this album, then we’re going to lock in.” But then that person has to go on tour.
What else are you working on right now that you can talk about?
There’s a few projects that I’m working on. I really can’t talk about them just yet, but there are a few projects that I am working on and I’m excited about for the future. They will all be revealed within time.
From a commercial standpoint, you’ve done it all. But how would you like the next 10 years of your career to look?
I just wanted to have every goal that I’ve ironed out done. It’s quite a few of them, so I’ve got a long way to go, but I just want to have a lasting legacy in the genre that I love. Legacy for me is more so my family. I want to have my family look back at everything that I’ve done and be proud. I don’t know if you can tell, but I’m a very low-key person. I don’t need to be famous. I don’t need to be looked at as the greatest producer that ever walked the world. I just love to do what I love.
What’s the most important thing people should know about you right now?
I’m never ever going to lose the passion for what brought me here. Without music, I would not be able to be a happy person. So I guess my main thing is just to know that whatever I do in my history and my life, music is always going to be that main thing that always keeps me straight and focused. So even if I change and go and do something else completely different, it’s still going to always link music somehow in the middle of it.