There are various ways to excel if you are a rap artist. You can write smart songs. You can rap really fast. You can create a larger-than-life image. You can rhyme as many syllables as possible. You can get exceedingly poetical, personal, political, or profane. One crucial yet often underestimated rap competence is the ability to pick the right music. The probability for MC’s to find the perfect beat may have increased exponentially during the age of the internet, still not everyone has an ear for beats and the skill to write and rap in tune with the music.
Austin, TX up-and-comer Marcus J made exactly the right choice by teaming up with Austin native/Philadelphia resident Johnny Swindles for his “For Now EP.” The beats are musical in the traditional sense, organic compositions that advance with a sense of direction. When Marcus J ponders the importance of patience (“For Now”), Johnny Swindles supports the notion with a slowly progressing track consisting of steadfast drums, strategically placed bass plucks, and spheric synth twines. “Yin Yang” and “Nimbus” both build on thick funk grooves, the former could as well be a simple loop, but the latter is fully fleshed out, a harmonica lifting the track onto the “cloud nine” J claims to be on.
Emphasizing its ethereal elements, the fragile construction of “Where Is the Love” may be most familiar to contemporary listeners, while “New Religion” and “Check It” balance their lucent synths with bass stabs and kick drums, respectively. While Johnny Swindles isn’t out to revolutionize hip-hop, he’s a beatmaker who doesn’t resort to the same sounds for every track. The same could be said of Marcus J and his lyrics. He develops his thoughts, illustrates them with real-life examples. On “For Now” he conversates with a depressed friend whose situation soon ameliorates:
“I’m happy for you, bro
Got a interview and the next thing you know
Got the job on site, and what are the odds?
Mysterious moves were made and you can just thank God
Everything is temporary, never let the struggle win
Realities and dreams stuck together like conjoined twins
It’s all up to you, your dreams are real
But bringin’ them to life depends on your will”
Like many of his peers, Marcus J isn’t a rapper who claims to have all the answers. Instead you’ll find him soul-searching (and looking for God) on “New Religion” and asking, “Where Is the Love,” again focusing on individual hardship instead of engaging in general lament.
Marcus J is a rapper in the Kendrick Lamar vein, to the point where he literally recalls the West Coast star on some tracks. Obviously he doesn’t (yet) have the penmanship that would allow for such a comparison, and it’s actually a good thing he varies his approach, addressing his city’s music scene on “Yin Yang” by exchanging verbal “Kanye shrugs” with labelmate Karma Jonze, or reaching new h(e)igh(t)s with SC representative Ben Al on “Nimbus”:
“Ridin’ on nimbus, the flow still stupendous
Now watch me prove ’em all wrong as God is my witness
It’s too many rappers, and not enough fans
Too many on stage and not in the stands
I should probably keep quiet before I cause tension
It’s too late now – already got they attention
Now hook a brother up with a better position
I’m just clownin’, chokin’, doin’ a little smokin’
Inhale and exhale, make sure the shit is potent
Potheads sharin’ thoughts, you think Spitta wrote it
But I’m MJ, baby, just waitin’ on my moment…”
For now Marcus J’s music isn’t awfully spectacular, it’s more in the solid lane. But a lively flow, youthful voice and a sensible mixture of determination and humility – along with the taste in music – raise expectations for the upcoming “Pipe Dreams” full-length.