I’m not one to call anything an instant classic. Sure, maybe as a joke on social media accounts– but on this site? Rarely. It’s difficult to truly digest a piece of art in a culture where so many things are regurgitated at a pace that is blindingly and robotically fast. But every now and then, something appears that can be easily considered a cultural touchstone and Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly is the closest thing among recent releases that we can name “a significant body of work.” But as much as TPAB has had the industry all googly-eyed, does it hold up to truly great classic records? Can it hold a candle to A Love Supreme?

Billboard: How Kendrick Lamar Transformed Into 'The John Coltrane of Hip-Hop' on 'To Pimp a Butterfly'

While plenty will gasp at the idea of comparing a rap album to the great John Coltrane’s magnum opus, plenty of other notable musicians will readily dub K Dot as the Trane of hip-hop. “He is the John Coltrane of hip-hop right now,” comments producer, multi-instrumentalist, and TPAB contributor Terrace Martin about Lamar in a Billboard article. “Soft-spoken, extremely humble, and the motherf—er’s always practicing.”

Frequent Revive contributor Natalie Weiner recently gathered Robert Glasper, Terrace Martin, Ambrose Akinmusire, and Kamasi Washington on Billboard to give their thoughts on To Pimp A Butterfly as well as the album’s main creative driving force.

Read an excerpt below:

Terrace Martin: John Coltrane, “A Love Supreme”. I played that for him for a reason. For one, that’s not the record you introduce someone to [jazz] with. But I did that because he’s so advanced. I told him on a text — this record we’re doing right now [To Pimp A Butterfly], this feels like your fourth or fifth record. It feels like your “A Love Supreme”. Like when Coltrane came to grips with the true spirituality part, and started giving up the horn technicalities and became deeply into the spiritual aspect, just getting really into improvising. I feel like Kendrick does this in his music. 

He is the John Coltrane of hip-hop right now. Soft-spoken, extremely humble, and the motherf—er’s always practicing. He’s rapping — while he’s making eggs, that motherf—er’s rapping. Like if you ask him what time it is, he’s like [puts on nasal voice] “Time, time t-t-t-time.” He’s always focused, and he’s always trying to push the envelope, just like Coltrane. 

When Coltrane was able to get Elvin Jones, and Jimmy Garrison and McCoy Tyner together, I felt Kendrick did the same thing when he said, “You know what, I’m going to get this super crew together.” It’s kind of like the Miles Davis concept too, where his whole album is full of leaders. But, leaders that follow him — [TPAB] is a fine demonstration of having the biggest ego in the room be the music. All of us have our own careers, and all of us play our own instruments, but we came with a common goal: to make sure he was satisfied and that the music would be there.

Robert Glasper: He loves the music — you can tell when you hear Section.80. You can tell when you hear GKMC. That’s the great thing about Kendrick Lamar — he balances everything out so well. When you want the gangster, there’s the gangster in there. There’s the backpack [rap] sound. There’s the jazz sound. No matter what kind of music you like, you can kind of listen to this record and there’s something about it you’ll like. If you like soul, R&B, hip-hop, east coast hip-hop, there’s a bunch of stuff in there. He’s been able to like balance that — and be on top at the same time. Not be the artsy guy that everybody kind of likes, but is on the low, like under-appreciated. He’s like, on top. 

TM: The deep shit about this is I’ve been praying for like 10 years that an artist [like Kendrick] will really look at cats like me and Robert and Thundercat, and put our music on a platform that the world can really embrace. I think it’s entirely special that somebody like Kendrick, an MC, really fell in love with this whole jazz thing and really wants to help push jazz a bit further, and stay on his square with his hip-hop, and just do world music like that. 

RG: I applaud him for not giving in and just getting the obvious people that the industry thinks you should have on your album. Not going out and being like, you gotta have Nicki Minaj as a guest, you gotta have Rihanna. Because these people are on top. Kendrick is on top, so he can say who he thinks should be on top. He can say who’s cool, and he chose to say Bilal. He chose to say Lalah [Hathaway]. He chose to say Rapsody. Thundercat. Myself. 

TM: [Kendrick] just texted me — his texts are like how he raps. Like, “Yo.” You’re like, “Hey, what’s up?” He’s like, “I wanna hear some more jazz. Canyougetmesomemorejazzpleaserightnow?” 

So I’ll send him the links to some more jazz. I just sent him some Miles Davis — you know, the whole Bitches Brew shit. Right now I’m giving him a lot of the popular things that he can pull from, that have a lot of information [about them] online. Once I get him through that, then my next step is to give him like the esoteric shit. More different [stuff], like Bill Evans Trio records, Lonnie Smith records, early Herbie [Hancock] shit. We gonna keep digging. 

Just like we did with jazz, we did with Sly Stone too, we did with all the gangster shit, we did with Jay Z, we did with Count Basie — like, we dig. 

Ambrose Akinmusire: Terrace is a real dude though. He’s one of the few guys out there who really knows jazz, and knows hip-hop, and knows the business, and can really sort of bring in the two worlds together. He’s kind of the leader of that, in my opinion — just being on the jazz side and having friends in the hip-hop world. He’s one of the few cats that understands how to communicate with both sides. 

It was a big thing that he asked me to do it. They didn’t really need me to do it — anybody could have really done that — but I think he knew that it was important to have me there, and for it to be a jazz collaboration.


Read more about Terrace Martin, Robert Glasper, Ambrose Akinmusire and Kamasi Washington’s thoughts about To Pimp A Butterfly on “Billboard“.


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