British Producer Kurtis McKenzie Shares the Story Behind His 'Black Panther' Soundtrack Beat Placement

"Kendrick texts back like 20 fire emojis."
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"Kendrick texts back like 20 fire emojis."
Kurtis McKenzie, Kendrick Lamar, 2018

We asked British producer Kurtis McKenzie, known professionally as The Arcade, to share the backstory behind "Redemption," the song he co-produced with Teddy Walton, Scribz Riley and Aaron Bow for 'Black Panther The Album,' which features vocal performances by "LOVE." co-star Zacari and South African artist Babes Wodumo.

Last September, I was in my studio in Los Angeles, working on random ideas, when I found a rare percussion conga loop break while digging through my samples.

Scribz Riley, one of the song’s co-producers, had given me a folder of random samples that he had collected and I found a soulful, jazzy piano loop in there. It had this nostalgic, happy vibe, like something about it was very familiar. Once I heard the sample, I already knew what I wanted to do.

At the time, I had been listening to a lot of baile funk, African-inspired music, and I was heavily influenced by that sound. I wanted the record to be uptempo, for the drums to hit hard and for it to have an African tribal groove. I took the piano loop and played chords around that to fill it out and give it more body. Then I found this wild female Spanish vocal sample and used that as the intro to give the track more character.

With most of the records that I produce, I usually try to create something that already has a lot of character. That way, when you press play, it grabs the attention of the artist. With the beat for “Redemption,” the Spanish vocal at the beginning was meant to do just that. Straight away, it grabs your attention. You can you feel something coming.

The original beat I crafted was actually slower in tempo and a lot more chilled, but after I played it for a few artists—everyone was really hyped about it—I felt like the original bass wasn't right and it needed more of a groove, and so I asked Scribz to play a new bass line.

A couple months later, Sam Taylor, who worked at Kobalt Music, linked me with Teddy Walton, who came by my studio. I only played him one idea, which was the beat that became “Redemption.” Teddy only heard the first five seconds and straight away said, “This is the one.” It must have been fate because, days prior, Kendrick had hit Teddy up asking for production with a similar vibe as the beat I had played for him.

We were going crazy in the studio when we saw how hyped Kendrick was about the beat.

Immediately, we switched up the original vibe and made it a lot more aggressive and dirty. We sped it up, changed the structure, and added more drums and distortion. It took us about 30 minutes and then Teddy texted Kendrick the beat.

He texts back like 20 fire emojis.

It was a surreal moment. We were going crazy in the studio when we saw how hyped Kendrick was about the beat. He hadn't even had the beat for two minutes before he told us that Babes Wodumo would feature on it.

A few weeks later, Teddy told me that Kendrick was working on the soundtrack for the Black Panther movie and that it was top secret. I was hyped because I knew how culturally significant the movie was going to be and how much of an impact it was going to make. I thought, to be involved on any level would be incredible.

In late December, I got the good word: the song would be titled “Redemption” and it made the album. I was ecstatic, all my family and friends back home in London were already hyped about seeing the movie and now they were even more excited knowing I was a part of the soundtrack.

Even after the song was finalized for placement, I ended up working on the beat right up until the last minute. The original drums had to be changed because of sample clearance issues. I probably ended up creating six different versions of the beat until I was finally happy with the one everyone has heard on the album.

I knew Babes was on the record because of Kendrick, but I didn't know Zacari was on the song until I saw the track listing like everyone else. On first listen, I was dancing around my studio; it was great to hear two artists from two very different cultural backgrounds connecting on one song.

I'm very, very proud to be a part of this soundtrack but also with a song that is as African-influenced as “Redemption” and which introduces an African artist like Babes Wodumo to the world.

Black Panther the movie and the soundtrack, curated by Kendrick Lamar, is a moment in history. I'm very grateful to be a part of that.