Boardroom sat down with Mr. Morale producer Boi-1da to get the story on K Dot’s creative process and the rising star of Kodak Black.
Vulnerability. Generational trauma. Internal conflict.
All that and more set the arc for Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers, Kendrick Lamar’s celebrated studio album from May 2022. Touching on every serious subject under the sun, Lamar unlocked a level of artistry that saw him take home Best Rap Album at the 2023 Grammy Awards.
The extremely personal project — one that came to light after a five-year musical hiatus — hit fans in the feels, delivering enough self-reflection and growth to span a lifetime. Writing and recording subject matter that’s both sensitive and self-revealing is no easy task.
However, Kendrick’s creative process is not always as weighty as it may seem.
“When I get in the studio with Kendrick, it’s just so free,” Boi-1da, the song’s producer, told Boardroom. “We clown around and work. That song literally came from us messing around.”
That song is “Silent Hill” — a feel-good sing-along song about seclusion and stress.
Both catchy and cathartic, it’s high on replay value, inducing sonic self-soothing to all who indulge. It’s also a standout spot an album full of depth and worthy of awards.
Last Sunday in Los Angeles, the hometown hero took home his third straight trophy for best in the genre, giving him a career .750 batting average in said category that only Eminem has eclipsed.
Last month, we spoke with Boi-1da to learn more about the studio sessions behind “Silent Hill,” Kendrick’s role as not only a rapper but also as a producer, and how high the ceiling is for Kodak Black.
Care Free K Dot
On wax, Kendrick Lamar is perhaps the most personal poet hip-hop has ever seen.
Showing shades of Scarface in transparency and notes on 2Pac in conviction, the best work written by Kendrick Lamar Duckworth pulls on all the heartstrings, presenting serious questions regarding the most explosive exterior issues and our most unstable inner dialogues.
In the studio, though? His creative process is much more relaxed.
“The song came about just from us just messing around,” 1da says. “Anytime I work with Kendrick, we’re just having fun.”
Having produced Mr. Morale‘s lead single, “N95,” as well as the highlighted second single, “Silent Hill,” the Toronto talent and OVO affiliate has a knack for finding a lighthearted approach to bringing out a brighter side of Lamar.
According to 1da, Lamar already had the concept for “Silent Hill” before the beat was even finished.
“It came together seamlessly,” says 1da. “The beginning idea came together with all of us in the studio. Then after, he goes and completes it himself. I let him do his thing and get into his own creative space. Get the lyrics, the content, and everything down.”
When 1da and Lamar linked in the studio for “Silent Hill,” the idea for the song came together almost instantaneously.
While some consider the conception of Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers to be a five-year process based on release dates, Lamar is said to have ideated fast on “Silent Hill” which checks out based on how fluid the final product feels.
Still, he’s a master editor when it comes to taking his time and delivering a masterpiece with his projects. Three straight Grammy Awards for Best Rap Album prove this point.
“I feel like a lot of thought was put into that album,” says 1da. “Kendrick’s very meticulous and you could tell by listening to his album. You could tell that it took a long time and that it took real thought. He put in a lot of extra thought. What was it like five years? Everybody waited for that. That’s just Kendrick. He’s always gonna be thought-provoking. He’s always gonna put his all into everything and it’s gonna be an art piece every time.”
From a sonic standpoint, 1da carried the majority of the weight behind the boards. However, when it comes to producing and arranging, Lamar plays a major part in the creative process even if he doesn’t care for credit.
“K Dot is like a producer, too,” 1da says. “He’ll tell you, ‘Put this over there’ and ‘do this’ with an idea, but when we work? It’s free-minded, really open. We kind of do whatever we feel at the moment and just come up with ideas. He’s definitely a producer. He’s just creative in all aspects.“
As a rapper and songwriter, Lamar’s creativity is well documented.
However, as an A&R and producer, it’s often understated.
Some of that creativity revealed itself in the artistic choice to feature Kodak Black on both the song and the album.
An Unexpected Assist
Polarizing in perception yet oozing with talent, Kodak Black’s inclusion on “Silent Hill” and the album as a whole registered as a risk.
Not landing right for fans and critics caught off guard by the Miami rapper’s raspy voice and public lows, Kendrick offered an opportunity and a lifeline to the 25-year-old rapper still finding his way.
“We could’ve just did the song, and it never came out,” Kodak told Speedy Morman in 2022. “But he went as far as having me speak on the intros, the interludes, and all this other stuff. Having me do a poem on there. He already know my intellect. He trusts me, and I appreciate him for trusting me with his album, ’cause he ain’t got to do none of that.”
The features arranged by Kendrick gave listeners a new lease on Kodak. Additionally, it offered the artist known for his tough times an occasion to be heard as a poet on hip-hop’s biggest platform.
While this risk put Kendrick in the crosshairs of criticism and debate, it aligns with his ethos of finding feeling in flaws and beauty in second chances.
“The duality of life is not such a bad thing,” Lamar told Jazzys WorldTV in 2022.
“We go through so many volatile situations where we don’t really know how to connect or communicate how we feel. Through my music? I want to make sure that’s the legacy: showing people how to communicate. It’s okay if you’re not perfect. It’s about excepting the beauty of imperfection.”
When working on “Silent Hill” and other tracks, that beauty becomes evident.
“Kodak is the best,” says 1da. “I had the pleasure of working with Kodak for a whole week in Miami. He’s free-spirited and does what he wants in the studio. We have a bunch of records that we did together that should be coming out. Kodak is just a blessed person and really fun to work with. One of my favorite artists and one of the best rappers in the game, in my opinion.”
High praise? For sure. Higher ceiling? Perhaps.
“I feel like we haven’t even seen the best Kodak yet,” 1da says. “He’s so good right now, but I feel like he’s just going to get even better, you know?”
However, it was Lamar who laid it out on the line by giving Kodak Black the spotlight. Like it, love it, or disagree, it’s empathy and being able to operate in unpleasant areas of thought that makes Lamar one of the greatest writers in music history.
The irony of a song like “Silent Hill” – an upbeat and upstream track about stress – is that it sees Lamar often carrying the weight of others to make a brighter space for all. Heavy is the head that wears the Tiffany crown, but worthy are the honors he reaps for it.
“I’ve had rewards for my other albums in different ways,” Lamar told W in 2022. “Whether it was accolades, whether it was the Pulitzer, whether it was the Grammys. This one is the reward for humanity for me.”
In 2022, Lamar made what many considered his most human album yet, shedding light on flaws, growth, and everything in between. In 2023, he got another Grammy for his work, taking the total to 17.
For Kodak’s contributions, the rising rapper got his first Grammy via a second chance from Kendrick.
Perhaps for Lamar, it’s that latter win that matter the most.
Perhaps when Lamar’s looking to ease the stress of others through a song like “Silent Hill,” it’s not merely an exercise for the artist, but for all parties involved. The work and recording can be cathartic for all involved, even if it means more weight and resistance for Kendrick himself.
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