"It's Timeless": Tommy Black Breaks Down Making "Institutionalized" With Kendrick Lamar - DJBooth

"It's Timeless": Tommy Black Breaks Down Making "Institutionalized" With Kendrick Lamar

The "Institutionalized" producer celebrates his GRAMMY win by taking us behind the scenes of the song's creation with Kendrick.
Author:
Publish date:
tommy-black-studio-kendrick.jpg

On Monday evening, Kendrick Lamar took home five GRAMMY awards, four for his acclaimed To Pimp A Butterfly album.

Though he missed out on an additional six honors - in fairness, since he was nominated twice in the Best Music Video category, the max number of gold-plated Gramophones he could have scooped up was 10 - Kendrick's win for Best Rap Album meant that more than 30 songwriting contributors and 20 producers also earned themselves a GRAMMY for their participation in the creation of the award-winning album.

One of those 20 producers is "Institutionalized" co-producer Tommy Black, whose work with TDE dates back to 2009. "It started around the MySpace period," the Sweden native told us. "I was sending records to Ab-Soul and he immediately felt my sound. So we kept sending records and demos back and forth and he [eventually] introduced me to his partners in crime, Kendrick and Q. Both of them sent me e-mails personally asking for production and it's been going on since."

It's common practice to laugh at MySpace now, but during its heyday the social network was instrumental (pun intended) in connecting hungry, up-and-coming emcees with their producer counterparts. Ryan Lewis and Macklemore famously met one another on MySpace.

In 2013, after a show in Gothenburg, Sweden, Black connected in person with Kendrick with the intention of simply playing him a set of his chords that had been running through Black's mind for months and he thought Kendrick might dig. "I started laying down the drum groove and bass," Black explained. "Kendrick immediately hopped on [the beat] and started freestyling and tried different flows. He told Ali to set it up Vox so he could record in the tour bus studio straight away." 

That impromptu session was the beginning of what would become "Institutionalized," a whimsical adventure on TPAB that would eventually include participation from Anna Wise, Bilal and Snoop Dogg.

"He played me the first verse he recorded about four months after when we met on a festival, it was banging hard but the hook was still missing then."

Black suggested to Kendrick that he reach out to George Clinton for the record's hook. Although the principal architect of P-Funk didn't end up on the track, he would eventually land on TPAB's opener, "Wesley's Theory." 

Landing a production credit on a Kendrick Lamar album is a feather in the cap for any producer, but a GRAMMY-winning album? Well, that elevates the honor to a new level.

"It means a lot," Black told me. "It's more than just a great album, it's a very important record that people can always go back to, relate to. It's timeless, great music with genius lyrics and arrangements. It's going to go down in the history books and I would've still said the same thing even if I didnt have a production on it."

So, how did the producer of ScHoolboy Q's "Fantasy" and Ab-Soul's "Dub Sac 2nd Part" celebrate the biggest nod of his career? "I smoked a cigar and cheered with a couple of friends and today I'm back in the lab working as usual, but with a bigger smile on my face," explained Black with a slight laugh.

While Black was unable to reveal what collaborative efforts he has in the works with TDE for 2016, he and his partner in crime Chapee, a popular rap artist from Stockholm, are on the verge of releasing their MODE7TY EP. The seven-track project will be released internationally on March 15 through SoBlue Music.  

"Get ready for a fantastic voyage," Black exclaimed before our conversation ended.

If this next trip is anything like the ride that Lamar's "Institutionalized" took us on, I'm already in the car with my seat belt on and ready to go.

[by DJ Z, who loves haters and trolls. Photo via Iman Hazheer.]

Related