Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1088

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Marley Marl
Marley Marl

Raised in the notorious Queensbridge housing projects, a young Marley spent the 1980s ruling the Rotten Apple airwaves on WBLS, beefing with KRS-One̢۪s BDP posse, and revolutionising the sound of hip-hop alongside the multi-talented Juice Crew Allstars, a collective that counted such heavyweight artists as Kool G. Rap, Masta Ace and Roxanne Shante amongst its ranks.

His ingenious use of sampling technology coupled with an ear for raw talent led to a slew of classic Marley Marl-helmed releases on the Cold Chillin̢۪ label, arguably making him rap̢۪s first super-producer, years before the likes of Kanye West and Timbaland would flood the market with their own trademark sounds.
But although the amiable music man has a full and rich history in hip-hop, the present day finds Marley Marl with his eyes fixed firmly on the future. In London recently to perform at Red Bull̢۪s Beat Battle event, the king from Queens sat down with B&S to talk about crafting classics, dealing with change, and building bridges with old rivals.
B&S: How did you make the transition from DJ to producer in the early-̢۪80s?
MM: I was always a DJ who wanted my own versions of songs to play, so a lot of my early productions were really dub-plates, like Dimples D’s ‘Sucker DJs’. MC Shan’s ‘The Bridge’ wasn’t actually supposed to be a record, it was a dub-plate I made for the Queens Day celebration that we had every year. Then I realised that I was actually producing. The funny thing is, the first time I saw ‘Produced By Marley Marl’ on a record I had a beef with Fly Ty from Cold Chillin’ because I was like, ‘Why did you put that on there? I’m a DJ not a producer!’ Ty was like, ‘You’ll understand later’ [laughs].
B&S: You single-handedly produced some of hip-hop’s most memorable albums. What do you remember from recording Biz Markie’s 1988 debut ‘Goin’ Off’?
MM: Biz’s first album was fun because he was such a character. What I loved about Biz was that if I told him I had an idea for sampling a particular record but the copy I had was beat-up, he would go find a perfect copy of that shit and then buy out every other one in the record store so nobody else could find it. He was a hunter for records. A lot of ‘Goin’ Off’ was just done off-the-cuff. I had an apartment in Astoria, Queens with a microphone in the living room and a studio off on the side. Biz would come through the door rhyming and I’d just let the tape run.
B&S: What about Big Daddy Kane’s ‘Long Live The Kane’ album released the same year?
MM: The first time I met Kane he had come by my house for a Biz recording session. He knocked on my door like, ‘I was supposed to meet Biz at the train station but he’s running late.’ Once Kane came in the crib he was like, ‘I’ve been writing some stuff for myself and when you have some time I’d like to hear how I sound on tape.’ So I threw on what became the ‘Just Rhymin’ With Biz’ beat and that was the actual day they made that song once Biz turned up. As soon as I heard Kane rhyme I knew he was a star and that he would become a force to be reckoned with. I just knew at that point that if he came out as an artist he could possibly change rap and make everyone want to rhyme like him. And with ‘Long Live The Kane’ that’s exactly what he did.
B&S: How do you feel new technology has changed the production game?
MM: It̢۪s a natural evolution. You have to move on and I̢۪m embracing new technology fully right now. When you̢۪re being creative it̢۪s very much a spur-of-the-moment thing, so if I can achieve things in a shorter amount of time that̢۪s good because I can challenge myself to try things different ways because I have the time to do it now. What used to take me two hours 20 years ago might now only take me 20 minutes. I know people say things like being able to find samples so easily on the internet takes away from the art of digging for records etc. but you still have to know what sounds good. If you̢۪re wack you̢۪ll still be wack regardless of how much technology you have.
B&S: You̢۪ve just completed an album project with former rival KRS-One. How did that come about?
MM: Basically, I got a call and I didn’t believe it was KRS on the line [laughs]. At first I was a little hesitant about doing it, but when I started to think about the history we share I realised this album could be one of the biggest projects of my career. The title of the album is ‘Hip-Hop Lives’ and there’s a lot of discussion right now about hip-hop being dead. KRS decided to call the album that because through people such as us hip-hop truly does live. Our style of hip-hop might not be what’s popular today, but it is the style of hip-hop people point to when they say ‘Why doesn’t hip-hop still sound like this today?’ So I think this is going to be an important album for a variety of reasons.
B&S: You were recently heard on New York radio asking Jay-Z why he hadn’t used producers like DJ Premier on his ‘Kingdom Come’ album. Do you feel top artists in the game could be doing more to reach out to producers such as yourself whose sound they grew-up listening to?
MM: Of course! I feel that a lot of artists are not really representing the sound of hip-hop. Everyone̢۪s on the radio talking about bringing New York back but nobody̢۪s using New York producers. I̢۪ll put it like this; I do think that a lot of artists in those top positions could use the essence a little more. I feel that Marley Marl still has a lot to offer the world and my whole focus right now is about making great music for the public.

‘Hip-Hop Lives’ is released May 22nd on Koch
Words Ryan Proctor

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