Top Dawg Entertainment has cemented itself to be one of hip-hop’s premier independent label. The company, which is led by Anthony “Top Dawg” Tiffith and Terrence “Punch” Henderson, houses artists including Kendrick Lamar, ScHoolboy Q, Jay Rock, and SZA.
However, before the label enjoyed its success, it faced many challenges. In an in-depth interview with Complex, “Punch” discussed how he helped build TDE and the role he played in each of the artists’ growth. He also shared who he draws inspiration from and what motivates him to stay in the music business.
On joining forces with Anthony “Top Dawg” Tiffith:
“He was there from the start of when I was trying to do what I was doing. He would give me little advice. . . It was constant conversation. If I had a question, I would call him. The conversations just grew more. . . He liked the way I think, the way my mind works. That I should just come over with him. And at the same time, I was reaching a limit with what I was doing. . .”
On why TDE split with Warner Music Group:
“We didn’t fit and we didn’t want to be there. And I don’t think they necessarily wanted us to be there. It was kind of an easy split. We got this internet thing that’s moving now, we got Twitter. . . We don’t need a middle man. If we can go directly to the people, then when it’s time to deal with them again if we want to, we’ll have leverage.”
On helping Kendrick (formerly known as K. Dot) introduce himself as Kendrick Lamar:
“The first thing you do when you introduce yourself to somebody is you tell them your name. And that’s how they get to know you and who you are. And at that time he wanted to make more personal music. Before that he was rapping for the sake of rapping. Rapping about rap. So I was like, ‘tell stories and show your lyrical ability within those true stories. That’d get the people right away.'”
On how he and his artists come up with concepts at the studio:
“We spend more time talking in the studio than recording. . . We be sitting around throwing out ideas. Talking from science, to religion, to history, to what’s going on in the neighborhood. Through that we developed certain concepts, certain ideas.”
On the role he plays in his artists’ growth:
“I’m more of a confirmation. I can write, record. They [the artists] respect what I do musically as well. I’ve always been a writer, I never considered to be a rapper. I understand them more than the average business person, or an average label person would. Cause I know what’s like to be stuck on a bar, or I know what is like to deliver a certain lyric a certain way. So it’s a deeper connection. So they know they can always call me. . . And I’ll give them exactly what it is. I can give way more insight on it.”
On what motivates him to stay in the music business:
“I’m not really goal driven, that’s not my thing. I just enjoy making the music and touching people. Once it touches the people and moves them a certain way, I guess that’s the goal that’s been fulfilled. Everything else that comes with it is cool, I appreciate it for sure. But the main focus is to change something about somebody’s life.”
Watch the full conversation above.