Bilal with The Roots at Radio City Music Hall, photographed by Mel D. Cole
I actually met Kendrick in the airport, I think it was the L.A. airport, It had to be two years ago maybe. And then he called me a few months ago and asked me to be a part of the project. I flew out there and we did everything over the course of a few days, and then we did another session in New York. So it was sessions between L.A. and New York.
When I got onto the record and started actually doing stuff, it was probably around four or five months ago. The record was pretty much done and in its final stages. Especially the music. When I went it, he pretty much had an idea of what he wanted me to do.
He would tell me “can you be a certain character on this?” but he wanted me to be on the project because he knew I could do different voices. And that’s what he was doing with his voice on the record, almost like playing different people. So we would talk a lot about that and how what characters he was looking for, I guess. He definitely wanted that. He didn’t want anything really sing-y. That’s pretty much how I feel, so a lot of times he was telling me “Do that Bilal shit!”
I would certainly say he’s more of a screenplay writer or playwright after hearing this unbelievably genius, visual album. The triple-entendre (maybe more) is so much more like a film or art piece than anything else it could be categorized as. I didn’t get much direction but when I heard what was there that was direction enough, so much work had already gone into the music already.
I think of all my voices as characters. We’ve named some of them. Some of them have been around since GKMC. The longer we have worked together, the less we need to talk about it. Details are conveyed energetically. It’s like, imagine the studio is next to a black hole and time moves slower there for us, compared to the rest of the world. Like in that movie Interstellar.
“These Walls,” came out of a session like that. I was at Terrace’s crib and he was working on that track and he was like “Yo, jump on this track. Kendrick may lay a verse on it, he may do something on it,” so that’s when I did it. I did it at his house on the Rhodes, just messing around doing goofy shit. He actually cut some of that goofy shit into the song! That song came from that sort of stuff.
On “These Walls,” my part was added last. Kendrick and I went into the smaller studio and wrote it together, then Ali and I recorded it. We moved into the larger room the next day for the intro sounds. The vibe in the studio is always comfortable. I don’t consider those to be orgasmic noises and I don’t blush easily. I’m the weird one. I’m always in the deep dark cave.
I remember one of the first times I came to the studio in 2011 there was a videographer there who got in the booth with me to document and stuff. That definitely made me uncomfortable and Kendrick could immediately tell. He couldn’t even see me through the glass, he could just hear it in my voice. So he kicked that guy out of the studio.
“Hood Politics”—I call it “Boo Boo”–I remember being in the studio with him while he was making that. He only played the first verse for me, but I was impressed by the way he was doing things. He would do a lot of stuff…stop…and then totally take the beat apart and have other musicians like Terrace or Cat come in and play it, then strip it down again. He never really marries himself to anything.
I don’t know [if a studio version of “Untitled” will ever come out]. I mean I did vocals for it. I don’t know if he finished it, because when I was in the studio I think it only had one verse on it. But I know he finished it now. So, who knows?