With April 7th quickly approaching, the excitement for Kendrick Lamar‘s new album only increases. The Compton emcee has teased fans over the last few weeks with cryptic messages online, as well as dropping songs like “The Heart Part 4” and “Humble” out of the blue. Based on the overwhelmingly positive response to them, however, its clear that Lamar still has a finger on the pulse of hip-hop, and his latest project will all but certainly speak to that.
Still, with so little to go on, and so little time until its alleged release date, we’ve decided to compile all of the context clues and hints that have been given over the last few months, and hypothesize as to which musicians will make it onto the album.
1. Anna Wise
Anna Wise first partnered with Lamar on “Real,” the penultimate track off of 2012’s Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City. The song delved into themes of accepting one’s self for who they are, and feeling confident enough to show that self to the rest of the world. Wise’s cooing vocals on the chorus were a perfect counterbalance to Lamar’s distinct flow, and the two showed off a natural chemistry that would appear again on To Pimp a Butterfly (2015) and untitled unmastered (2016). Wise was credited as a feature artist on certain songs, though she also contributed uncredited vocals on several others.
When discussing her creative process with Lamar, Wise, the lead singer of the pop group Sonnymoon, told Spin that they’re “constantly working on the beginning of a song, or we’re always in different phases of a song.” Wise also revealed that her and Lamar “record so many songs… there’s probably 20 songs from Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City that nobody’s ever heard.” With this in mind, its a safe bet to assume Wise will be on the new album in some capacity or another.
R&B singer Bilal is known for his expansive, eclectic music, so it makes sense that Lamar sought him out as a collaborator on To Pimp a Butterfly. “I met Kendrick coming out of a rehearsal studio in New York,” Bilal told Billboard in 2015, “Kendrick said “I want you to be on a lot of records.” I thought he was just saying that. Sometimes when you do songs, they don’t always make the final cut. But wow, this [the album] is crazy and cool.”
It’s a different style than what’s going on,” the singer added, “Message-wise, he’s really no-holds-barred about what he says… It’s thought-provoking and I miss that in music.” Bilal found a kindred spirit in Lamar, and would subsequently add vocals to the untitled unmastered compilation the following year. Hearing Bilal’s eclectic, retro-funk harmonies for a third time would be little surprise to anyone.
3. Mike WiLL Made-It
Given that Mike WiLL Made-It produced the promotional banger “Humble,” his involvement on the new album is one of the few that are confirmed. The veteran hitmaker will reportedly be front-and-center in the shaping of Lamar’s new sound, which, according to Syk Sense, is much harder and aggressive than albums past. Sense told HNHH that Lamar is “not like the jazzy tape you would think, its like.. f**king Memphis. It’s LA, it’s Memphis.”
This makes complete sense given Mike WiLL’s southern origins and the menacing, looping beats he’s provided for everyone from 2 Chainz and Ciara to Kanye West and Lil Wayne. In a recent interview with The Breakfast Club, Mike WiLL (born Michael Len Williams II) also revealed that not only did he produce “Humble,” but he will also have two other production credits on the album.
This one is tough to say. Thundercat and Kendrick Lamar have been nearly inseparable in the past few years, with the jazz musician contributing to Lamar’s last two projects, To Pimp a Butterfly and untitled unmastered, respectively. Earlier this year, Lamar returned the favor with a guest verse on the single “Walk On By,” from Thundercat’s solo album Drunk. His influence on Lamar has been greatly detailed, as he recounted to Rolling Stone in 2015, “We went down some lines, a little bit of lineage. I tried to inspire him where he inspired me.”
Thundercat also commended Lamar’s creativity, saying “I’ve never been around a person like that. He was so freed up to the point that he didn’t care… I’ve spent so much time around cats that try so hard to be this one thing. With him it was effortless and fast.” Despite this history together, Thundercat’s forte as a jazz expert does somewhat distance him from the direction that Lamar has said his new album is taking. As of right now, we would say the chances are slim of seeing Thundercat return.
Solána Rowe, better known as SZA, is one of the latest additions to Kendrick Lamar’s Top Dawg Entertainment record label. Despite this limited timespan, the singer/songwriter has build a strong fanbase around her airy, synth-laced R&B sound. This unique artistry wound up being a vital force on Lamar’s untitled unmastered project, where she contributed backing vocals on three of the eight tracks. In terms of range, and musical variety, SZA arguably possess the strongest set of skills on Top Dawg, which makes her a strong candidate to appear on the upcoming album.
Additionally, Top Dawg Entertainment revealed that SZA’s long-awaited debut Control will be the label’s next release this year, so a key appearance on Lamar’s album would go a long way in setting her up to become a breakout star. Listen to “Babylon,” the first of their collaborations, above.
6. DJ Dahi
This is another production rumor that looks to be true. DJ Dahi is currently one of the busiest beatmakers in hip-hop, working with such varied superstars as Drake, Travis Scott, Dr. Dre, Lupe Fiasco, and Big K.R.I.T. among many more. Dahi also provided the production for “Money Trees,” a standout cut off of Lamar’s 2012 album Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City. While he was absent on the rapper’s more recent projects, Lamar’s direction on To Pimp a Butterfly and untitled. unmastered offer ample proof that Dahi wouldn’t have been the best sonic fit.
Now, however, with a promise to make a more “urgent” album, Dahi’s return not only makes sense, but proves a thrilling possibility for listeners. He produced the promotional single “The Heart Part 4,” which saw Lamar taking a wildly more aggressive approach towards his fellow rappers that had been seen on untitled. unmastered. Dahi also posted a photo on Instagram of him and Lamar in the studio, all but affirming that the duo are back together making bangers.
7. Terrace Martin
Terrace Martin‘s history with Lamar dates back to 2011, when the saxophone prodigy played on the song “Ab-Soul’s Outro” off on Section. 80. Dubbed “Kendrick Lamar’s Secret Weapon” by LA Weekly, Martin has been a vital player in the rapper’s career, from the sonic landscape and thematic textures to the way each album transitions from one track to another. His forte is obviously jazz, as he plays saxophone and piano on a number of Lamar tracks, but he insists that the creative spark belongs to his collaborator:
“He’s a bunch of different cats, and that’s what the music is like that: the fun side, the light side, the dark side, all different sides.” Martin also told Billboard that Lamar “knows how to play the different sides of his life, to convey the message through his art.” While it may not make sense to have a jazz maestro in the studio for this new album, we can’t envision a Kendrick Lamar album without Martin’s involvement.
8. ScHoolboy Q
ScHoolboy Q and Kendrick Lamar have been partners-in-crime since 2009, when they, Ab-Soul, and Jay Rock formed the rap collective Black Hippy. Unsurprisingly, Q has popped up on nearly all of Lamar’s projects to date, whether he’s dropping a fiery guest verse (“The Spiteful Chant“) or supplying his signature “Yak Yak Yak!” catchphrase for dramatic effect (“M.A.A.D. City“). Lamar has done likewise on Q’s solo material, providing slick flows on songs like “Blessed,” “Collard Greens,” and (background vocals on) “Overtime.”
Keeping this history in mind, and the fact that Q has been vocal in his support for the new album–moreso than any other Top Dawg artist– it would make perfect sense that he has a guest verse waiting to be unveiled. Plus, when it comes to sheer aggression and force (two things that are reportedly key to the album), ScHoolboy Q is the obvious Black Hippy choice.
Cardo isn’t as well known as the other producers on this list, but his discography speaks for itself, as he’s worked with Drake, Snoop Dogg, Migos, Meek Mill and many more. He also has a storied past with Top Dawg Entertainment, as he’s produced singles for the likes of Jay Rock, ScHoolboy Q, and, fittingly, Lamar, on untitled. unmastered. Cardo’s beats typically have a moody, nocturnal quality to them, and his ability to underscore Lamar’s elastic flow makes for thrilling results.
Cardo was one of many producers who were listed in the rumored tracklist that leaked online in March, along with veterans like The Alchemist, Flying Lotus, and Sounwave. And while these credits have since been disproven, Cardo looks as though he poses the most realistic shot at making the real tracklist.
There are several similarities between Kendrick Lamar and Q-Tip; from their nuanced, narrative-driven flows to the way they embed wisdom through rhetoric and clever wordplay. That being said, it wasn’t until 2016 that the two legendary emcees worked together on A Tribe Called Quest’s farewell album We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service. In an interview with DJBooth, Tip even revealed that Lamar’s album influenced the sonic texture of Service, particularly the song “Money Trees,” which sampled the indie group Beach House.
This swapping of ideas and musical ideas resulted in a brilliant tag-team track, “Conrad Tokyo,” and given that Lamar is notorious for recording lots of material with his collaborators, it wouldn’t be out of character to see Q-Tip pop up on the new album– whether in a rapping or production role.