In recent years, the DMV area has generated a plethora of hip-hop artists representing all spectrums of the genre. What's more is the versatility by which they can take sounds of yesteryear and adjust them into modern times. From trap-styles to underground conscious rap, there are plenty of styles by which DMV artists are influenced. Marc 2Ray is that kind of hip-hop artist.
He's made a name for himself opening for hip-hop artists like Scarface and even some Wu-Tang members. A year ago, RapReviews showcased his single "1915", a lyrical history lesson about the Armenian Genocide inspired by Marc's grandfather who himself was a survivor of said genocide. Recently, Marc sat down with us to discuss several topics, including his style of hip-hop, his upcoming album, his hip-hop heroes, and his cap collection.
Sy Shackleford: At the risk of sounding like the film, "Brown Sugar", tell me, when did you fall in love with hip-hop?
Marc 2Ray: Oh, not only can I give you the age I was, I can give you the exact moment. It was the first time I heard Biggie, when I was five years old. I first heard him on "Juicy", 'cause that was on the radio. Then later, I had a friend whose older brother had "Ready to Die". It was through him, I heard "Ready to Die" all the way through and that was the moment I decided, "You know what? I wanna rap someday".
SS: How long have you been an emcee?
M2R: Five years. I've always been into music, but after graduating high school, I really got into it by writing my own songs and lyrics. Then, a real close friend of mine encouraged me to start recording, which is when I fell in love with craft, the songwriting, and the wordplay. I just got really into it.
SS: How would you describe your brand of hip-hop?
M2R: My brand of hip-hop is what I call "Hip-Hop With a Message". I do a lot of lyrical substance and storytelling through my music. I talk about real-life issues and things that people struggle with every day. On my new project, my upcoming album titled "Fresh Air", I have songs that talk about poverty, drug abuse, and the headlining single "1915", is about the Armenian Genocide which my grandfather survived. So that's sort of my lane right there: Very conscious hip-hop.
SS: The album's first single, "1915", has gotten quite the response. It's been used in teaching settings and you performed it acapella at a protest outside of the White House. Did you choose it as your first single because of the inherent message?
M2R: Well, yes. The response has been really well, the song's been used in both high school and college curricula. I've performed it at certain protests and demonstrations, including the one outside of the White House for the 101st anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. I guess the main reason I wanted to put it out as my first single before the album was because I actually wanted to release it before or on the 100th anniversary which was in April 24th, 2015. It was intended to be just a single, not on the album at all, because I wanted to release it early. But it's included now because of its tremendous success and the movement it's sparked.
SS: Who's the female singing the hook on "1915"?
M2R: That is Miriam. She's a very talented singer whom Godfather (the producer of "1915") brought out to put on the song. She really came alive and brought the chorus together. She wrote part of the chorus and with a little bit of tweaking, we came up with "Love can rule the world/You can't fool the world", which are the two main messages for it.
SS: Apart from Miriam and Godfather, who are the other producers and guest artists who'll be featured on "Fresh Air"?
M2R: Godfather was originally going to produce "1915" only, but now we have him as the album's executive producer. He's doing the arrangement for a lot of the songs. The other main producer who I worked with is Calin Enache from District Sound Lab, he's the owner and main producer there. I've been working with him ever since I started recording music and was actually his first hip-hop client. He's a really cool guy and has produced lots of my older material and will be on "Fresh Air". We also have features from JusPaul, Kwame Darko, KAM Royal, Ethan Spalding, Brain Rapp, One Sun, J-Artz, Lisa Christine, Black Cat, Nick Harrison╔.I think that's everybody.
SS: Where will "Fresh Air" be available? Will it be online and/or physical format?
M2R: Both. We're definitely going to put it out on iTunes. Music videos will be played on YouTube, and all aspects of the album will be available there as well as on iTunes, Spotify, and Amazon. We will have physical copies that'll be available at shows.
SS: You stated that what you bring to the table is "Hip-Hop With a Message". Apart from politics in the lead single, what other topics have you covered or plan to cover lyrically? Storytelling, extended metaphors, punchline-laden battle raps, etc.?
M2R: Yeah, the "Hip-Hop With a Message" is centered around political and social issues, but I do some storytelling with that. For example, one of the songs talks about drug abuse, but is actually one long story, you know? It's just one of the records where you have to follow each verse as it's all one intricate story. So I do a lot of storytelling with that, and even when I'm not rapping about serious issues, like in my party songs. The wordplay and flow are all very intricate and for a hip-hop artist, I think your voice is really your instrument. Wordplay, flow and rhyme combinations are crucial. The wordplay is definitely present regardless of what the topic is.
SS: Who are some of your favorite rap artists currently? What's Marc 2Ray got in his rotation?
M2R: I'm a fan of local underground artists, actually. I'm a big listener of local D.C. cats. From the Top 40, I really like Wale, J. Cole, Kendrick Lamar's really good. In my current rotation, what I'm currently bumping is one of the live concerts from Prophets of Rage, which is Chuck D. from Public Enemy, B-Real from Cypress Hill, and Rage Against The Machine minus Zach de la Rocha. My parents and I are planning to see them when they come to D.C. for their tour, which they kick off in Cleveland at the Republican National Convention. And the title of the tour is "Make America Rage Again".
SS: It came at the right time. I remember back in high school how Rage Against The Machine played in protest at the Democratic National Convention for the 2000 election.
SS: Back then, it was more exciting to be at a concert.
M2R: For sure, that's one of the great things about music with a message. When political shit is going down, music is a great way to get your opinions in and messages out there.
SS: What and who are some of your non-musical influences and why?
M2R: I would probably say my dad. He's not a musician himself, but a very avid music collector. So he exposed me to a lot of good music growing up like John Coltrane, The Beatles, and Hendrix╔I was listening to them while I was pretty much in the womb (laughs). One of my really good friends, whom I confided in about taking music seriously, took notes and encouraged me to go to a recording studio and start pursuing music on a professional level. So those are two of my main inspirations for taking this seriously as a career.
SS: Hypothetical question: If you were on a desert island, name five hip-hop albums you'd want there with you.
M2R: Oh man, OK. "Illmatic" by Nas; "Ready to Die" by Biggie╔yeah, this is a tough one. I'd have to say "Life After Death" because I'm a Biggie fan. And then the two Public Enemy albums "It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back" and "Apocalypse '91╔The Enemy Strikes Black". My dad was huge Public Enemy fan because of the political element that they brought into their music.
SS: Good choices. All east coast rap, by the way. All New York rap!
M2R: I know, don't get me wrong, I'm a huge fan of west coast rap.
SS: Which artists, local or major label, would you like to work with?
M2R: I'd like to say at some point in my career, it'd be a dream to work with Eminem. I think he is one of the best lyricists to this day. As far as Top 40 goes, he's the best rapper. I'm in-tune to a lot of underground artists, I hear a lot of talent, but this guy has been in the game for number of years and is untouched as far as flow and wordplay is concerned. He's one of the reasons I rhyme the way I do, his older material was very educational. Just listening to his rhyme combinations helps.
SS: Yeah, there's definitely a science to rapping.
M2R: Exactly, the right amount of syllables, when you wanna add a rhyme, how you want to stack 'em, breath control. It's like bobbing & weaving: You don't wanna have rhyme on rhyme on rhyme on top of rhyme. You have to do rhyme-on-rhyme, and then a little duck and bobbing, just like boxing.
SS: Which era of hip-hop do you love the most and why?
M2R: The '90s hip-hop. I'm a big boom-bap fan. You'll hear a lot of boom-bap inspired tracks on "Fresh Air". That's the era where I fell in love with hip-hop and for me, it's the golden era when it comes to lyrics. Hip-Hop is like any other musical genre, it goes through phases. It evolves, changes up, switches up. Because of that era, hip-hop for me will always be a lyrical genre, that's its roots and its base. Of course, that's not what you see when you look at the current Top 40, but it's always gonna circle back and come back to that.
SS: You have a serious fitted hat/cap collection. Whenever I see you, I barely recognize you without something on your head. How much would you say you've dropped on caps alone over the years?
M2R: At least a couple hundred (laughs). I usually wear a hat, not always though. For the most part, you'll find me wearing a hat, unless I'm at work or something. But I'd say I have about 30-40 different hats. I don't buy one every week, it's just a collection that's grown over the years.
SS: What about your shoe game? Are you a sneaker buff?
M2R: That's not as big as my hat collection, since shoes, I think, cost more. So I don't have anything crazy, I probably have like 10-15 pairs of shoes.
SS: Do you intend to get yourself signed to a label or do you prefer the indie route for now?
M2R: I definitely prefer the indie route for now. One thing about my lane, about Hip-Hop With a Message, is that I've developed a fanbase that's intrigued by what I say. So it's very important to me retain what I can and can't say since lots of record labels want to dictate the kind of music you make. My story is very important to me. I'm not opposed to signing with a label, but we'd all have to be in agreement about what the goal is.
SS: If you could take anything out of the current state of hip-hop, what would you remove?
M2R: It would be the mumbling in AutoTune with no rhymes. I'm not knocking anybody in the game doing that. Obviously it sells, so I'm not hating on it, there's a market for it. But as a kid who grew up in the 90s listening to boom-bap, it's just not my style of rap. Again, I'm not knocking it, but I'd bring the lyrics back if it were up to me.
SS: You've opened for fellow hip-hop acts from J-Live to Large Professor to Scarface. What was that like?
M2R: It was pretty incredible meeting some of these legends who've been around the world touring, it was crazy and humbling all at once. I did a show last November opening up for Cappadonna and Inspectah Deck from the Wu-Tang Clan and THAT was insane! I have pictures of myself as a 7-year-old wearing Wu-Tang shirts. I count them along with Biggie as major influences on me from that era. It was surreal to share the stage with two people I've listened to since I was a kid.
SS: You said the Notorious B.I.G. is your favorite rapper of all time. If he were alive today, what would you say or ask him?
M2R: The one thing I would say to him is, "Buy some bulletproof windows on your truck, man". I'd want him to be around still and be in the game. He had so much potential and, tragically his life was cut short. If I could go back in time and warn him and make a right or left turn after leaving that Vibe Magazine party, I would. The game would be different if he was still around.