Jason Teal is a down on his luck hip-hop producer working a dead end job, with a stripper girlfriend, and a deceased graffiti writing legend brother he still can’t help but look up to when he meets Cyril Magbion, a man who tells him that he can change his life as long as he follows a very specific set of rules laid out for him.
This is the beginning of the plot of MC Mars’ latest book, Burner, a novel about hip-hop, quantum physics, and the Illuminati. Although those aren’t topics that people would automatically assume go hand in hand, Mars puts them together as perfectly fitting puzzle pieces to form the idea that we shape the future through our interpretation of events.
This week RapReviews caught up with MC Mars to learn more about Burner, what inspired him to mix such a diverse set of concepts, and where hip-hop fits into the equation.
Adam Bernard: Let’s talk about Burner. What about it is going to connect with hip-hop fans?
MC Mars: The book is a huge paean, it’s a huge home of praise, to hip-hop. All four pillars of hip-hop are covered. The main character is a DJ and a producer, and I explore the mindset of what it means to be that. You have the scenes with the break dancers. The main character’s brother is a deceased, yet great, graffiti artist. He was one that was so great he was feared by governments all over the world. They destroyed all of his work, and the only way his work exists today is in photographs. Mistah Buck Brown is an emcee, and all of this is done organically, it’s not like I’m trying to demonstrate these four pillars of hip-hop, they’re all part of the story because the story takes place so intimately in the world of hip-hop.
AB: What originally inspired you to combine hip-hop, quantum physics, and the illuminati? It seems like an unlikely holy trinity for a plot.
MM: Yeah, indeed. It’s one of those things where I had an idea about the story of Cyril Magbion, there’s a certain element of autobiography that’s involved in that, and starting with that I decided I was going to be extremely open ended and just try to explore. I basically wanted to take these very diverse topics and see if I could weave them together into something that would cohere and that would begin to resonate with a sense of urgency in the plot, where the material would just call forth the action.
AB: You’re an emcee, so why did you make the main character in Burner, Jason Teal, a producer?
MM: I decided it would be more interesting to take on the persona of a producer. I wanted to get in the head of a producer. At the heart of the music business is an insatiable ambition, so I took the idea of this kind of ambition, an ambition that gets thwarted, and the kind of paranoia that exists in the music business around the illuminati, the fact that there definitely are groups in the world who are vying for control of your mind, whether they be advertisers on Madison Avenue, or whether they be secret societies like Skull and Bones, or the G20 Summit, or Bilderberg, or the Council on Foreign Relations. All of these organizations are convening to figure out how to move their agendas forward, but in the music business the Illuminati almost serves as a kind of a Boogeyman.
AB: What do you mean by that? What makes the Illuminati a Boogeyman like entity in the music industry?
MM: If you press people on it what do they know about it? It turns out it’s really kind of vague. It’s a paranoia that there’s somebody out there trying to get you, trying to hold you down, trying to work game on you.
AB: How did you go about bringing all of these topics – hip-hop, quantum physics, and the Illuminati – together?
MM: There’s a power outside of yourself that’s acting upon you, and this is the notion that exists in our society. Our society believes because you look outside yourself to God, that somehow the supreme power resides outside of you. Even though power lies outside themselves, it is being acted upon them. I don’t believe that. I believe that the real power exists within your own life. That’s where quantum physics comes in. The Copenhagen Interpretation basically says that every outcome exists as a probability. In every moment there’s a choice. Understanding that, it gives you the sense that every moment you have control over how you interpret that moment. What we’re clinging to right now, we’ve entered the information age, but what does that really mean? Everything is information. Quantum physics is a way of interpreting information, the Illuminati is that force that feeds information from the outside, and hip-hop is the setting I’m familiar with, and I’m interested in, and I chose to take the mindset of a producer and a DJ.
AB: You mentioned your familiarity with hip-hop. Another thing you’re very familiar with is San Francisco. I’m wondering, with your history there, and with the extreme detail with which you can describe certain areas, how many of the characters in Burner are based on people you’ve come across in life?
MM: They’re hybrids. The book wouldn’t have the sense of reality that it has, that I believe it has… you gotta be as close to nature as you can if you’re going to depart into realms of the invisible, and speak about things that are unseen as though they could be seen, and may very well be seen in the future.
MM: I have, but it seems vain of me to point to somebody else’s praise of the book as something that I want to put forward as an example of “this is a good reading of the book.” You have to be as indifferent to praise as you are to censure if you’re going to create art, if you’re going to really do something that involves risk, and involves a quest for truth and beauty. You can’t be looking over your shoulder and saying this person said this, this person said that.
AB: OK, even with that in mind, if someone only gets one thing out of reading Burner, what do you hope it will be?
MM: You never know what people are going to get out the book, but in terms of what I hope for them to get out of the book, the book is so multilayered that there are so many things that they can get out of it that I would be gratified by, but ultimately I would like them to enjoy a good story, a story that makes them throw back their head and say whoa.
AB: Finally, there seems to be a ton of potential for this book to become a film. Is that something you’re interested in?
MM: Yes. The book… it’s like pushing it up a hill. It’s kind of a Sisyphus move. Hopefully it won’t be a Sisyphus move and it won’t fall back down on me, but it’s definitely an uphill struggle getting the word out on the book. I’m glad you said that, though, because I think the book would be a great film because it’s so dialogue driven.