Los Angeles-based musician-producer-songwriter, Terrace Martin, didn’t grow up in a safe place. Born in 1978, Martin came up in very dangerous areas of Southern California. He was forced to make his own safe places, while never truly feeling protected. Music became his safe place. It became his time machine, too. It became the keyhole through which the entire universe began to unfold. It was also the thing that bonded him with now longtime friend and collaborator, Snoop Dogg. Martin met the rapper over 22 years ago. Ever since, they’ve held together through love of life and song. This shared, heartening bond is the hearth that continues to warm Martin’s creative soul. It is the furnace for his speeding locomotive of production. And it was the model for the musical supergroup he co-founded – Dinner Party – and the band’s latest album, Dessert.
“Snoop taught me so much,” Martin says. “He taught me how to be a better father, husband, son and human being, in general. Snoop is always preaching love. Even when he had that beef with Suge Knight, he would talk love. People tried to kill Snoop Dogg! And it was still love.”
Martin says it was the love Snoop shows his wife, Shante Taylor, today that especially inspired the new album, Dessert. Knowing the rapper for so long, Martin was keenly aware of Snoop’s big heart and how he expresses it to his wife on a day-to-day basis. Martin had a track, “Luv U,” and, well, Snoop would be perfect for it, he thought. Martin drove over to Snoop’s house, played the song and the legendary emcee agreed wholeheartedly.
“Snoop and his wife are madly in love,” Martin says. “It’s like witnessing next level love, the thing these two people have. We talk about it, aspire to be that way one day. Just walking down the hallways, seeing how he smiles when Shante walks by.”
One spin of Dinner Party’s debut self-titled record or the follow-up and it’s clear love is at the center. In many ways, the record is meant to be an antidote to the narcissism fostered and incentivized by social media and the current American socio-economic-political culture. Dinner Party, which includes Martin, pianist Robert Glasper, saxophonist Kamasi Washington and DJ-producer 9th Wonder, is saturated with musical talent and common admiration. One might expect, putting on their songs, to hear a wild cacophony of solos and sonic displays. But individualism is not the name of the game. Rather, it’s about comradery and the collective.
“That was a real conscious decision,” Martin says. “We didn’t want to have any accidental bridges built for ego to cross over. That’s a big deal with this record. To do this record or even do anything in life that is highly successful, it has to be egoless. We are trying to heal people. If you’re trying to heal people, you talk with them and not at them.”
While Martin may have always known this lesson, it was cemented when he co-produced the incendiary record, To Pimp A Butterfly, from Pulitzer Prize-winning rapper-musician, Kendrick Lamar. That album merged jazz and hip-hop like no other since. It changed music and helped to make household names of Glasper, Washington, Martin and many others.
“To Pimp A Butterfly,” Martin says, “inspired Dinner Party. Producing that album made me understand the urgency of people working together. When we did To Pimp we were working every day. It taught me the value of removing the ego out of the room. We were all so happy to work with each other and we wanted to give Kendrick the best ideas in the world. I think that helped all of us as human beings.”
Family is central to the creation of good music, for Martin. It’s at the root. The type of warming, heartening love that sews together friendships for lifetimes in- and outside of the recording studio is the flame that he yearns for. Martin’s musical education began with family. His parents are musicians, studied in jazz. But when Martin found hip-hop, his brain opened up to the idea of creativity like never before. A Tribe Called Quest first kicked off his admiration for the genre. From there, he’d fallen into a rabbit hole of beats. For Martin, songs are like mini classes, lectures from which to learn about ways to live better.
“When you do music,” he says, “it’s like you learn so many other different things about life through music.”
For Martin, the members of Dinner Party are assuredly family. There’s no two ways about it. He met Glasper at a jazz camp when they were each 15-years-old. He met Washington a few years prior. Martin met 9th Wonder in 2010 at a show in Washington D.C. and they’ve called each other brother ever since. These emotions and relationships permeate Dinner Party’s songs.
“This record is not only a music record,” Martin says. “It’s a record to be reminded of brotherhood, sisterhood, family. That’s the whole spirit that I believe is bigger than the music. I want people to feel love.”
Martin says he and Glasper had the idea for Dinner backstage at a show in London one evening. Glasper mentioned the idea of them going on tour with a DJ and Martin felt stoked by the notion. It would be a great way to meet and connect with fans. They could play in jazz clubs, hip-hop clubs – anywhere. The idea stuck with him. And when the quartet eventually came together with 9th Wonder and Washington, the group recorded the seven songs in about a week that would make up their debut chart-topping album. It’s a testament to Dinner Party’s talent and shared trust.
“I only do what my heart tells me to,” Martin says. “If my heart doesn’t tell me to do it, I don’t do it. There’s an election coming up. There’s a lot of racism and hate out there. I’m staying hopeful and aware of the light. And the music reflects that.”
We spoke with 9th Wonder about Dinner Party, too. Check out that interview!