DJ Dahi played a pivotal role in shaping the sonic direction of Kendrick Lamar’s “DAMN.”
“YAH.” was from a session we did in New York. We literally just had a jam session and just started to go in and make a bunch of beats. I’d get on the mic and I’d start humming melodies and they’d be like, “Oh, I like that part…I remember that night we had all sat down and listened to albums. You know what I’m saying? Just listened to music. From there we just said, “Alright cool, we got this. Let’s go in and let’s just start having a jam session.” ”From the sound of it, YAH. was conceived in an organic, on-the-fly situation. Creativity tends to flow uninhibited during a jam session, so it’s cool to see that Kendrick and his team partook in such a raw process.
“Terrace had this loop and he brought it in and Kendrick just loved it. He was like, “Yo, can you mess around with this?” Initially, he had the loop, but I think he gave it to Sounwave and he chopped it and kind of made the pattern. I’m a drummer, so I came in and just added drums to everything to get the pocket right… And [Kendrick] was already saying, “We gotta get Rihanna on this. This has gotta be a Rih record.” From there, we structured it so when Rihanna came in, it would be easy.”
This tidbit reveals an insight into Kendrick’s sense of vision. He knew Rihanna would be a good fit for the track, and the team built around her voice as if it were an instrument. DJ Dahi dishes on laying down drums for the record, which was already cooking before he put his touch on it. Clearly, this in an era where multiple producers are working on a single beat, and I’m okay with that.
“[BADBADNOTGOOD] had sent Kendrick some music, and I knew that Sounwave had started a template of what the record was going to sound like. When I got my hands on it, it was just a loop. Me and Kendrick just talked like, “Yo, what if we tried this? What if we tried that?”…Kendrick is a really great editor when it comes to his music. He’s always like, “OK, that’s enough” or whatever. We were just kinda in a room like, “Oh, let’s try this,” or “Oh, let’s do that.””
A pattern is starting to emerge, and Dahi gives us a pretty cool insight into what him and Kenny’s working relationship looks like. There seems to be a lot trust between the collaborators, with each one using the other as a creative springboard. Dahi speaks on Kendrick with a lot of respect here, citing Kendrick’s overall sense of vision; the man knows what he wants, and he surrounds himself with a team that can help him achieve that goal.
“Initially, he had this record that he started with Mike WiLL and he had the basic structure of the record, but he wanted some more energy and more vibe. When I came in to work on the record, I went, “Oh, this is dope, but I don’t know, I gotta finish it and add some stuff to it.” I came in on the second part of the record and just turned it up some more with everything that makes it like just a more aggressive energy that I think represents what he’s talking about—his almost revenge, I-don’t-have-no-type-of-mercy type vibe.”
Seems like Dahi is Kendrick’s go-to confidante when it comes to adding an extra layer of hardness. Dahi did his thing, and his description continues the trend of taking Kendrick’s words and applying the appropriate musical vibe.
“You know, he’d been saying he was just saying that in the hook just walking around the studio for a long time: “This what God feel like / Laughin’ to the bank like a-ha.” He was doing it on different types of beats. So it was a matter of we just gotta make the beat that fits that record, you know? It was just kind of an idea he kept cookin’ up.”
On his final track, Dahi mentions that Kendrick came to him with a vocal idea, and they subsequently began searching for the appropriate beat. It’s an interesting twist on a process that so often begins with a beat and builds from there.
Dahi also mentioned the process of sequencing the album, citing Clipse’s Lord Willin’ and Kanye’s Graduation as main influences. For more insight from DJ Dahi, check out the full interview over at SPIN.