Canadian hip-hop producer Marco Polo picked a delicate artistic alias. It’s not entirely easy to make a name for yourself when you borrow it from a famous historic figure. The real Marco Polo was a Venetian merchant who in the 13th century at age 17 embarked on an eastward journey he returned from 24 years later and whose travel memoirs, recorded in Genovese captivity, would shape Europe’s perception of Central Asia and China for centuries.

Our Marco Polo, born Marco Bruno, is somewhat of a traveler as well. Early in his career he relocated from Toronto to New York, which led to extended collaborations with underground representatives Pumpkinhead, Torae and Ruste Juxx, individual tracks for some of the East Coast’s finest, and last but not least two albums hosted by himself, “Port Authority” and “The Stupendous Adventures of Marco Polo!”

Marco Polo’s latest adventure takes place in the home of his ancestors, Italy. “Per La Mia Gente (For My People)” is a collaboration EP with Italian MC’s Bassi Maestro and Ghemon. Bassi Maestro is one of the most active hip-hop musicians in his country, an accomplished producer himself who even had an uncredited beat on Rakim’s most recent album. Ghemon (AKA Gilmar) doesn’t have the same standing but released three albums so far, his ’07 debut featuring a beat by Marco Polo. After Bassi conversed with the Canadian producer, it was the latter’s idea to involve Ghemon, and together they came up with 7 tracks of Bassi and Ghemon (who have joined forces before) rhyming over Marco’s beats.

The EP is bookended by two of MP’s trademark thumping East Coast bangers. “Meglio Che Chiedi A Qualcuno” (‘You Better Ask Somebody’) explodes in your face with sharp scratches and spiky stabs but soon grooves along comfortably thanks to a snug piano/bass padding. Likewise, the MC’s sport precise, punchy flows that still roll smoothly off their tongues. Conversely, “Get Live!!” uses the 88 keys in the most menacing way, bringing additional ruckus with banging drums. Guest Torae feels right at home: “I’m the hardest rap artist ever signed to a deal – besides Bump[y Knuckles] / The rest of these niggas is all chumps / They stand there frontin’ like they with it to ride / then they get a separate lawyer like Diddy and Shyne.”

Italian rappers are typically of a more laid-back disposition, and so neither Bassi nor Ghemon match this kind of intensity. Instead Polo allows them to play to their strengths over a handful of relaxed tracks. The title track is vintage road music with melodic trickles raining down on the steadily striding drum/bass/guitar chassis. The rappers help steer the track in a purposeful direction with lyrics that bond with the common man.

[ Bassi: ]
“These are my people
Who break their backs for crumbs, for nothing
Who break their hearts trying to be in two places simultaneously
Feeding two families and punching in twice
One for the money, two for the loved ones forever
Who are too proud to count non-attendences
My people at the depository, later at lunch
Low spirits, struggling for what little is left
For every departed train there’s a defective one
Those who know who came up and come out at the top
Because they respected the rules
Who are strong but respect those who are the most feeble
Who fight their demons
Ghemon knows, it’s a matter of loving yourself
But above all honor; no more sorrow and pain”

[“Questa è la mia gente
che si spacca di lavoro per le briciole per niente
che spacca il cuore in due per essere in due posti contemporaneamente
fa mangiare due famiglie e segna due presenze
Una per i soldi, due per gli amori di sempre
troppa orgogliosa per contare assenze
La mia gente in magazzino e dopo in pausa pranzo
Morale basso struggle per il poco che è rimasto
Per ogni treno che è partito ce n’è un altro guasto
Lo sa bene chi c’è salito ed è arrivato in alto
Perche ha rispetto delle regole
chi è forte ma ha rispetto del più debole
chi lotta col suo demone
Lo sa che Ghemon è questione un po’ d’amore proprio
ma sopratutto d’onore, niente lutto e dolore”]

On “Nonostante Tutto” (‘Despite Everything’) they paint an optimistic and clearly outlined portrait of their generation who keeps its eyes on the prize over a quirky soul track, while “Stronzate & Musica” (‘Bullshit & Music’) is a breezy summer jam with carefree lyrics to match. The two solo tracks finally point to the different artistic profiles of Bassi and Ghemon. While the latter picks apart a doomed relationship on “Niente Di Buono” (‘Nothing Good’), the former analyzes his long-running affair with hip-hop music on “Rap Vero” (‘Real Rap’):

“Fell in love with hip-hop at a young age
because it was simply independent music, always against the trend
Today it’s trendy to make hip-hop
and I see my music dying from indifference”

[“Mi sono innamorato da piccolo dell’hip-hop
perchè era solo musica libera sempre contro tendenza
Adesso fa tendenza fare hip-hop
e vedo la mia musica che muore nell’indifferenza”]

With Marco Polo “sulla traccia” (‘on the track’), the two Italian representatives pull off a feat that is quite unique in European hip-hop history since producer/rapper collabos usually occur in the other direction. For the beatmaker it’s a nice way to connect with his roots and prove he’s more than just the go-to producer for Brooklyn hardrocks. “Per La Mia Gente (For My People)” – another stupendous adventure in Marco Polo’s discography.

Marco Polo :: Marco Polo Presents: Per La Mia Gente (For My People)
7.5Overall Score