Alongside the world premiere of N.E.R.D's latest single, "Don't Don't Do It!" featuring Kendrick Lamar, Pharrell Williams sat down with Zane Lowe to discuss the track—which was inspired by the death of Keith Scott at the hands of police last year—and also emphatically describe Kendrick's otherworldly creative process, comparing him to two jazz legends.
“To me, Kendrick is like probably a jazz artist reincarnated,” Pharrell said. “The way that he handles the pen is kind of how Miles Davis handled the trumpet. Or how Coltrane fingers just shifted and sifted through his saxophone keys. It’s like his melodies are as prolific and what he has to say has so much harmony and so much color in it… That’s why I compare him to a jazz artist because he rhymes and riffs. And then at the same time what he’s saying has so much color in the same way a jazz artist [scatting]. Incredible. Brilliant. You’re arguing and asking yourself is it brilliant colorful scribble or is it like really eloquent calligraphy? Is the way he’s rhyming, is that a drumroll or is that like an AR-15 with a banana clip? What is that? That is what a jazz musician is always able to do, a really good one.”
Pharrell nailed it.
Kendrick’s greatest draw as an artist has always been his vocal inflections, his delivery, and the way he can paint and repaint a musical motif with a simple up-tick in his octaves. Where hip-hop is a genre steeped in storytelling, Kendrick’s many voices are his characters and his themes: Lucy, his consciousness, White America, etc. Some of his best works can be boiled down to jam sessions with his own damn self.
Consider the fervor and ear-dizzying approach Coltrane took on “Giant Steps” as the close cousin of Kendrick’s maelstrom of bars on “DNA.” The glorious beat switch on that track was the result of Kendrick going off into a series of “riffs,” which in hip-hop terms means he just did not stop spitting. Jazz, born out of the community of collective improvisation, does not simply give a melody new life, the genre takes a musical idea into another dimension.
Whether you’re a fan or not, it's impossible to deny that Kendrick has re-colored hip-hop’s soundscapes each and every time he has dropped a new album.