Travis "Teddy" Walton, the 24-year-old producer behind track 10 on Kendrick Lamar's new album DAMN., sits comfortably in his Beverly Hills home, anticipating the debut of his single, "Love." As the song begins, our chat halts as the light keys fluctuate softly in the background, broken up intermittently by trap drums. An angelic male voice echoes behind Kendrick's, and in tandem they envelope the beautiful melody and upbeat percussion. Walton then digresses briefly from our conversation to consult with his manager, who informs him that a hook he had suggested the rapper use made it onto the album in a different song. "Hold on, something crazy just happened," he says excitedly. "[Kendrick] used my phrase, 'This what God feel like' for track 13."
Through a viscous Southern accent, the Memphis native amicably recalls wanting to get into music as a child because he particularly enjoyed the sounds in cartoons. "I used to watch TV a lot, so I started getting into music really then. I was actually trying to download a game, but then I made a mistake and downloaded FL Studio," He jokes. "Since then I stayed on there just really fucking around until I started taking it seriously." The time eventually came for Walton to pursue music more earnestly when he began to produce for his brother, June, who helped him craft his unique sound. "I would describe it in three words: Three Six Mafia, Tame Impala, and SWV. I bring a psychedelic, yet soulful sound to most of my music."
He adds, "I knew that I could be a big producer after [we] dropped [June's] first project, EVOL. It was definitely a huge underground project. He helped me out by making me fuse 90s and R&B. I would say everybody knows me from that," he says with animated reverence. "Really, before like everybody started doing trap and R&B, I was the first person to do that. ASAP Yams found that out on the internet." Walton and Yams eventually met when he skipped school to go to South by Southwest in Texas with his brother, who was playing shows at the festival. "Yams actually knew about my brother's music. So he was a fan of my work," Walton said. "He actually like, pulled up on me and my friend and [said], 'Hey I think I know you. We've been trying to work with you for a minute.'" A year later, they reconnected via Twitter, conversing back and forth about working with A$AP Rocky, and in 2015, Teddy produced "Electric Body" for AT.LONG.LAST.A$AP. Since then, Walton has been curating and developing his eclectic sound through several new personal projects and collaborations—namely with GoldLink, Freddie Gibbs, Nipsey Hussle, Bryson Tiller and now, Kendrick Lamar.
Kendrick Lamar and Walton first became acquainted with one another earlier in 2016 after he expressed to a member of Top Dawg Entertainment (TDE) that he was interested in playing the rapper his beats, to which they jokingly asked if he really thought he had what it took. The individual from TDE—who already knew of his work through A$AP Rocky—invited him to the studio the following day. "I said to them,"One hundred percent if I played beats for Kendrick we're doing a thing." Walton ended up being right.
"[Kendrick] was like, 'Actually play anything… sounds… instruments… like anything you have, it don't even have to be a beat,' Walton explains. "So I just started playing all my older songs that I'm not even done with, just instruments and stuff and actually at that moment, he kind of didn't seem too interested in some of the stuff that I was playing." The very next day, TDE contacted his camp to express interest in placing his song on the upcoming album. "They said, 'send the tracks out, send the tracks out please. Send whatever you played.' That's how I found out I was officially on his album." In the ensuing months, Walton and Kendrick Lamar met a few times at the studio to work on the track, citing worry that if he wasn't present, the new sound he had worked to develop and perfect would be altered. "I was definitely concerned about [it being changed]. So, that's why they kept me around for the final process and stuff like that." In almost three months, "Love" went from being a song on Teddy's computer, to a notable career highlight for both him and Zacari—The singer sampled on "Love" who was involved in its early inception, and is one of only three featured guests along with Rihanna and U2.
Walton takes a long toke of a blunt that is handed to him, pausing to dramatically blow smoke into the computer screen, before acknowledging he believes that "Love" is his best track to date. Despite receiving a placement on one of the biggest album releases of the year, what is seemingly more important to Walton is that this song is a metaphoric catalyst—a chance for his alleged new genre to be showcased to the world. "I feel like this is the track [where] everybody is going to know about the genre that I [have been] trying to promote for my whole career," He candidly asserts. "Basically, Kendrick is the one that's going to make it go viral."
NOISEY: What were your sessions like with Kendrick Lamar when you were creating Love?
Teddy Walton: He didn't record "Love" in front of me. I gave him the beat with the Zacari hook already on it and he took it to the next level from there. I had, I would say, three sessions with Kendrick but that was just to listen to the song and to make sure to keep it the way that I wanted to present it, because the track is so different. Kendrick looked at me and said, "Yo this is going to be big."
Was there anything that you had to argue to keep on the track, production-wise?
No. Kendrick is actually super open and that's probably why he is one of the biggest artists. Because he listens a lot. He was just very open to a new sound. He knew it was new and that he had never heard it, so he was like, "whatever that you see on this vision, I'm just going to make sure that I can make it better."
You describe your sound as being a blend of Three Six Mafia, Tame Impala, and SWV, which is interesting because those are all very different. What elements did you incorporate into the song to get that sound and, ultimately, what do you think the reception will be?
Umm, it's really happy sounding. Like happy chords. I used a lot of happy chords. It sounds cartoonish, very happy, but at the same time, it's like a rhythm. It's a mood. It's crazy. I don't know, it's hard to explain. I think everybody is going to say they've never heard this before.
Artists say they're inventing new sounds all the time. What makes this different?
My main goal in production is to make something different, but acceptable. I'm inspired by a lot of different genres so I really put a little bit of everything into every beat I make. It's definitely going to stick because it connects with the youth on a happy level.
So, I guess we can expect to hear more of this sound?
Yeah. I'm the Executive Producer for two [Californian] artists that I'm working with right now. Zacari is a singer. He played a huge part in the love record. And TYLR JONES…These are the only two artists that are going to have my sound, really. I definitely know 100 per cent that they're going to be premiere artists. I don't want to talk too much about it, but I am coming out with a new project called Tokyo Highway, later this year. I'm having big artists hop on my wave.
I feel like you would have more creative license with a newer artist. Is that fair to say?
Actually, no. Every artist I've ever worked with, it's all been natural. I've never signed a deal. 'Im unsigned. I'm super unsigned. [laughs] Everything I'm doing is based off the Internet. Finesse game.
So you think that after today, "Love" is going to open up a gateway for a new type of music and everyone will begin to follow suit?
Yes. That's what I'm definitely trying to say. I'm telling Noisey and VICE right now that I'm starting a new genre. Peace.
Andrea Gambardella is a writer based in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter.