What Does a Soundwave Rhythm Sound Like? You may not be able to describe it if you try, because as the producer explains, his sound has no boundaries.
“If you put all my rhythms side by side, I guarantee you that none of them will have the same instrument”, he underlines. “They won’t have the same pattern. It all goes to different elements.
Sounwave, born Mark Spears, is a producer from Compton, responsible for a long list of hits over the past decade. As an in-house producer for Top Dawg Entertainment, he produced major projects like the Black Panther soundtrack and worked closely with artists like Schoolboy Q and SZA. Outside of TDE, he’s earned credits with everyone from Beyoncé to Thundercat to Baby Keem to Chloe x Halle. Through it all, however, the artist he has worked with the most is Kendrick.
To date, Soundwave has contributed to every one of Kendrick’s projects, from his 2009 self-titled debut EP to his fifth studio album. Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers, where he has production credits on 13 of the 18 tracks.
Recalling his first encounter with Kendrick, Sounwave told Complex, “He was wearing this tie-dye hoodie and he didn’t say a word.” When he played one of his beats, however, Kendrick came to life, rapping for “20 minutes non-stop, freestyling on top of his head”. Sounwave was immediately impressed, but the two wouldn’t cross paths again until a year later, eventually reuniting in the studio with TDE’s Top Dawg and Punch. “Since then, we have been moving,” he says now.
Kendrick’s latest album, Mr Morale, came together over a period of five years, and it captures some of the most raw emotions and experiences that took place during that time. Sounwave acknowledges that it was a difficult process for everyone involved, explaining, “It was difficult. It was good times, bad times and frustrating times. We’ve been through so much since the five-year gap. We have lost very important figures of our culture in Nipsey [Hussle] and Kobe [Bryant] less than a year apart, which can knock anyone out.
The album has so much depth that most fans are still processing its meaning and discovering new layers, but Soundwave says they are already working on the next album. “Oh, we always start immediately afterwards. Like, we’re starting the next one now.
Complex spoke with Soundwave on Zoom to get a glimpse of his world. During the conversation, he talked about his own introduction to music and production, working on Mr. Morale and Big Steps, and what’s next. The interview, slightly edited for clarity, is below.