'I can't tell you what to expect my next song to sound like, but you can always count on me getting better'
Marques Martin x Evan Dale // May 7, 2020
Hip-Hop and Soul; New York City & PG County Maryland; Marques Martin is an artist of creative intersection. But as much as he is a product of his environment, he’s much more a product of his experiences. In turn, his music is a reflection of him – or more particularly – a reflection of the state he found himself in when he makes a given track. And en route to releasing his debut project, Brave & Afraid, expected later this Summer, we had the opportunity to speak with him on his unique sound, the affect that his latest single, Candy had on his next direction, and how regardless of what or where they stem from – love, lust, and the people around him – his experiences drive the heart of his craft.
RNGLDR: When it comes to the raw inspiration of a place alone, what is it about New York City that really influences your sound as a rapper and a producer?
MARQUES MARTIN: I'm not sure exactly how New York specifically inspires me. I think every location that I record in I'm kinda locked into my bubble of music that I'm listening to. But, I think the people I met in the city have inspired me.
RNGLDR: And what about your sound – if anything – would you attribute more to Maryland where you were born?
MARQUES MARTIN: It’s hard to say that a specific location defined my sound, but my drive, perspective, and dialect have been heavily influenced by being from PG County Maryland. There’s such a diverse selection of people there just making anything - from Jpeg, Rico, Animal Collective to IDK. There’s a weird untamed creative community in the DMV. So that might explain all the genre blending in my stuff.
RNGLDR: Do you think that in a modern music scene governed first and foremost by the insane amount influence one can receive from the internet, is more influential on artists than their actual surroundings? Or have you drawn influence from both your physical surroundings and what culture you consume through technology?
MARQUES MARTIN: Overall, artists are influenced by the internet way more than their surroundings. There's so much music out there and it puts a lot of pressure on artists to sound like whatever else is on the net. There are definitely a few exceptions, but I actually know kids with scholarships rapping about killing people. I really doubt people are handing out full ride scholarships to drug dealers and niggas with AK-47's so a lot of these kids are imitating what they see. Idk... it’s a tricky question and it also depends on what kinda artist you're dealing with.
Me personally, I'm inspired by the internet a bit as well. I had to update my sound years ago cause everyone’s 808's and kick drums are hitting so damn hard, and lo-fi is also a thing now. But, the lyrics I write are completely inspired by the people I'm around or whatever I am or was going thru. For example, I met a stripper and now I really wanna make sexy, dramatic music at the moment.
RNGLDR: As far as influence is concerned, who is one NYC artist and one Maryland artist that can provide us a glimpse into your range?
MARQUES MARTIN: I like Baby Keem, who's from NYC. Animal Collective from MD is amazing.
RNGLDR: And speaking on influence, there are a number of lines to be drawn between you and friend / collaborator, KAMAUU. You both have roots in DC-VA-MD, you both live in NYC, and you both bring a strongly messaged, lyrically forward edge to your music. What sort of creative relationship do you two have? And what do you think you’ve learned from one another as musicians?
MARQUES MARTIN: Kamau and I are both from OG County, Maryland! Kamau was friends with my next-door neighbor in Maryland but we weren't aware that either one of us made music. One day my neighbor posted one of his Soundcloud tracks on Facebook and I followed him on SoundCloud. He actually reached out to me first and I started producing for him at his house years ago when I was like 18. I literally learned how record my vocals though him, and I studied his raps. I really looked at him as mentor - I kinda still do. He told me that if I'm ever in NYC he'll hook me up, so I took him up on it. We also lived together in an artist community called the Dolobhana. I remember I was the youngest guy there, so I got the little brother treatment a lot. We threw a lot of rooftop shows, SoHo house, Ludlow house. I even met my current manager after performing at one of the rooftop shows. That placed helped out a lot.
RNGLDR: Your most popular track thus far, Dinner Date, features KAMAUU and merges your hyper-lyrical approaches into a high energy anthem. In comparison to most of your other singles to date, it brings a more intense, hard-hitting edge. How did the track come about? And can we expect more up-tempo tracks like it as you continue to roll out singles?
MARQUES MARTIN: I made the original version of Dinner Date in 2017 with Brandon Black at No Wyld's studio. It’s a long story. I made the song while Brandon and I were rehearsing for a show at the Bowery Ballroom, opening up for Raleigh Ritchie in NYC. (Context: Raleigh and I had a short relationship; He and his team were interested in signing me, so they brought me out to London a few times to work on my album and meet cool people.) One of our friends Nick Burrows was just playing a beat in the other room and I begged for it. Brandon wrote the hook and I wrote my first verse there and performed it the next day at Bowery. The show was a great - it was sold out. I recorded my second verse later that year on a trip with Raleigh's team in the UK. As for Kamau, he wasn't actually on the record until like a month before it came out. So, both my verses on that track are from 2017 and Kamau's is 2019, lol. I felt that his voice would sound good on that beat and of course he was excited - that beat is crazy. Plus, we had no songs together at this point so we'd both been itching to collaborate.
I can't tell you what to expect my next song to sound like, but you can always count on me getting better.
RNGLDR: On the opposite end of your spectrum, newest single, Candy is a mellow, melodic track still brimming with lyrical raps, but boasting a mood more suited for the laid-back moments. Did you enjoy putting together the singing aspect of Candy? And what is your background as far as vocals are concerned?
MARQUES MARTIN: Candy, I think undeniably is my best song that I have out right now. It's so beautiful, and its more in the direction of where I wanna go with my sound.
As far as singing is concerned, I was never trained. It just comes from a desire to find a new way to express myself. Going back to Kamauu - he showed me how he stacked his vocals years ago, so my fundamentals, as far as recording, came from him. But no singing lessons. I played a few instruments growing up. Saxophone, guitar, and a lil piano.
Candy was a really tough track to make. So much shit happened in the time it took to finish the song. I was dumped by someone I really cared about, I was in a moped accident, a lot of drinking, not taking care of myself, and I lost my grandma while finishing the track. It’s really a trip because I shouted her out in the first verse, before she passed. The last convo I had with her she really prayed for me in Spanish. I loved pushing myself as an artist and developing my music but what inspired the song was torture. There's a lot of dark stuff that didn't make the song...
When I was writing this track, I was being coached by my good friend Rob Akins (He also lived in the Dolobhana.) I remember telling Rob and my manager that I wanted to be one of the best writers and they both really pushed me. I rewrote both those verses so many times! That song is so important to me, not only cause of the personal lyrics, or the beat that we produced for it, but that track was a big shift for my creativity. I improved drastically after that song. I've always been in love with music, but Candy gave me a whole new relationship with music which is weird for a musician. The best way I can describe it is like getting out of the honeymoon phase of a relationship, where you and your partner are going through a rough patch, but after a lot of pain, and hard work you figure things out and realize that you even more in love with that person than ever.
RNGLDR: Beyond rapping and singing, you also produce. For you as a multi-tiered artist, which aspect of your musicianship – production, rapping, singing – drives the others when starting a song from scratch? Or is it a case-by-case basis sort of thing?
MARQUES MARTIN: As far as actually creating, its case by case. But what I'm experiencing in my life and my personality drives everything first. The music is a direct reflection of who I am, almost completely unbiased, lol. Mostly all true stories. Lately I've been into improving my writing. I just have A LOT to say right now. All of it is fun though.
RNGLDR: And when it comes to a different side of your artistry altogether, you’re able to pull together emotive, thought-provoking music videos in a pretty minimalist manner. What do your videos: Dinner Date – a one-shot, back-alley cut with you and KAMAUU – and Hailey – a B&W, headshot video – allow you to explore that is different or deepening to a track’s original message and story?
MARQUES MARTIN: Videos are something I really care about, and I haven't even scratched the surface for ideas that I have for them. Early in an artist's career, music videos are mostly a marketing tool in my eyes. Beginning artists don't have the budget to create crazy videos but, you don't need a budget to display you, the artist. So, for me right now, videos are just another way to have fun and also show the world who I am and what inspires me. Hailey was me demonstrating that a lot of my musical and visual aesthetics come from 60's sci-fi.
RNGLDR: With the visuals for Hailey, you’re wearing the same glasses as on the cover art for Candy. Part of your new look? Or just trying to make The Weeknd jealous?
MARQUES MARTIN: I'm just having fun.
RNGLDR: On the subject of presence and character, we run a narrative series called Dream Venue where we take the reader on a journey culminating in the ultimate live performance? From a fan point of view, if you could experience a Dream Venue, how would your day unfold, where would your journey take you, and who would be performing once you got there?
MARQUES MARTIN: I don't know to be honest. I know what artists I wanna see, but I could care less about the venue, unless it was somewhere really unique like an airplane. I definitely would be eating some kinda pasta, wearing ear protection, front row, Weeknd glasses on. Hopefully, I could see Anderson Paak, Smino, any notable D.C, Maryland artist, King Krule, Bree Runway, Outkast, Rosalia. Idk, I'd mostly wanna see someone I never heard of and be blown away or just go nuts at one of my friend’s shows. That’s always the best.
RNGLDR: And in the opposite direction, what would be you Dream Venue as the artist performing?
MARQUES MARTIN: There no venue that I'm dying to perform at really. I wanna do ‘em all. My dream venue is actually an idea I'm going to create in the future when I get to do my own headlining tour. I'm actually really into stage design and I see plays frequently. The dream venue show I have in mind is gonna be worth every penny. You should come.
RNGLDR: We also run a series called Collab Elation exploring hypothetical collaborations that we want to see in music. If you could collaborate with any artist past or present, who would you work with? Why?
MARQUES MARTIN: I'd work with friends first. Joon, Kamau, Daytrip, Keith Charles, Lou Palace, Greg Pasqua, Blvckmancowboy. Hypothetically: Brian Wilson, George Harrison, James Brown, Kim Gordon, Young Thug, Blood Orange, MF Doom, Tyler the Creator, Basement Jaxx. Mostly artists that are also producers and a lot of artists in other countries like Mari Kvien Brunvoll. There are so many interesting people I could utilize in my music and learn from.
RNGLDR: Removing yourself from the equation, which two artists past or present would you want to see collaborating, and why?
MARQUES MARTIN: Hahah shit man, any two artists from the last question. Imagine Young Thug and Doom on a track....
RNGLDR: With a solid collection of single lately, are you working towards debut project of sorts?
MARQUES MARTIN: Yes, this summer. It’s called Brave & Afraid. It’s really good, and different. I also got a single coming out in couple weeks.
RNGLDR: And aside from a prospective debut, what’s next for Marques Martin?
MARQUES MARTIN: Blowing up, bringing my people with me and sharing what I know to the next person.