Kendrick Lamar’s ‘Alright’ Almost Didn’t Make ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’ Reveals Producer Sounwave


“Alright” is the triumphant centerpiece of Kendrick Lamar‘s To Pimp a Butterfly, not to mention one of the Compton rapper’s most recognizable songs. Combining an uplifting, chant-friendly hook (“We gon’ be alright!”) with buoyant production from Pharrell, the track has become the unofficial soundtrack of the Black Lives Matter movement.

But “Alright” almost never made it onto To Pimp a Butterfly. In the latest episode of Spotify’s The Big Hit Show podcast, producer Sounwave explained how the platinum-certified anthem was a last-minute addition to Kendrick’s 2015 album.

The longtime TDE beatmaker recalled Pharrell playing beats for Kendrick Lamar in the studio when a Sony executive named Sam Taylor pulled him aside and played him a track that the Neptunes hitmaker had originally made for another artist. (Pharrell played an early version featuring Fabolous during a DJ set in 2014.)

“He plays me the skeleton of ‘Alright’ and I just remember my jaw drop,” he said. “It was literally just the 808s and the keys, and Pharrell had the melody of ‘We gon’ be alright.’ And I was like, ‘Bro, what is this?’ Oh my goodness, I’m freaking out. And I immediately run, I was like, ‘Dot, you have to come hear this.’ He plays it for Dot, Dot stopped everything he was doing and starts to write to ‘Alright.’”

Despite falling in love with the beat, Kendrick Lamar struggled to find a home for the song on To Pimp a Butterfly, whose heavy jazz and funk influences didn’t mesh with Pharrell’s bouncy production. Sounwave refused to let the record go to waste, though, and with the help of saxophonist Terrace Martin, they perfected the song to Kendrick’s liking.

“We loved that record so much that I said, ‘Ok, I’m not letting this record die,’” he said. “I literally have to go back in, last second of the album, like literally at the crunch time, I think we had one more day, and added drums to it.

“And I just remember about three hours, just me and Terrace [Martin] locked in that room. We came out, I said, ‘I think we got something.’ We played it for Kendrick. And I just remember him, his eyes lit up. It was like, we did it. This is finally it.”

He added, “We had no idea it was going to be what it was going to be, but we just knew that felt perfect with the rest of the album after that.”

Kendrick Lamar himself expanded on the making of “Alright” during a 2016 sit-down with Rick Rubin for GQ.

“I was sitting on that record for about six months,” he said. “I knew it was a great record, I just was trying to find the space to approach it. I mean, the beat sounds fun, but there’s something else inside of them chords that Pharrell put down that feels like — it can be more of a statement rather than a tune.

“P had the ‘alright.’ That’s him on the hook. And what does ‘We are gonna be alright’ represent? I’m glad that sparked the idea ’cause that song coulda went a thousand other ways … I remember hitting P on a text like, ‘Man, I got the lyrics.’ And typing the lyrics to him. He’s like, ‘That’s it.’”

Revisit “Alright” below.