Mars Ill: Rapping And The Pain Of Sample Clearing

Tuesday 20th June 2006

Mike Rimmer met up with Atlanta hip-hop duo MARS ILL who spoke about their hugely delayed 'Pro Pain' album.

Mars Ill
Mars Ill

Year in, year out, Christian hip-hop continues to slowly progress. Despite the apathy and even antagonism of most Christian bookshops and the incomprehension of most Christian radio stations, each year the sub-genre takes a little more ground so that alongside the TobyMacs and John Reubens there are now hundreds of more authentic hip-hop acts making CDs and taking ministry to the streets. One act who've made steady progress since they first emerged at the turn of the decade are rapper/lyricist manCHILD and deejay/producer DJ Dust, better known as Mars Ill. Independently released singles, 12 inch vinyl and 'Blue Collar Sessions EP' brought the Atlanta duo to the attention of Gotee Recrds who released the band's 'Raw Material' album in 2001. By 2003 the duo were really hitting their stride and 'Backbreakanomics' is a minor classic. A press release at the time summed up their approach perfectly. "The style is organic but hard hitting in a way that amplifies an aggressive flow that manCHILD honed as a battle rapper in the (404) underground. Their combined talents forge a blue collar mentality with transparent, honest lyrics that contrast the puffed-up, blown-out, guns 'n' girls world of wannabe rapper-pimps."

In early 2004 the band recorded a new album 'Pro Pain'. It was scheduled for release in October 2004. Demos were circulated to the media. But then the release was postponed. A new date was set. And again it was postponed. Now, in May 2006, the album was finally released. Meeting up with the duo in a Nashville hotel room I begin by asking DJ Dust why it's taken a year and a half to get 'Pro Pain' into the hands of the public. "We had to tweak and take some samples out for legal reasons. The lawyers advised against it. Gotta listen to the lawyers. I think they know what they're talking about!" ManCHILD chips in, "That's the whole reason it was held up in the first place." So in order to avoid being sued down to their underwear, the duo simply changed the tracks when the samples weren't cleared and a final legal version is now out in the shops. ManCHILD observes with massive understatement, "It was a little frustrating. We joke that the name of the record is 'Pro Pain'. It was sort of a self-fulfilling prophecy. All of a sudden we had to have these professional pains with it." I suggest they call the next album 'Easy Life'. "Or 'Rainbows & Butterflies' or 'Easy Street'," offers manCHILD. Dust quickly throws in, "'Takin' It Easy' or 'Releases Are Easy'!"


Dust looks on the bright side, "Even though it got delayed a few things have happened since then that will help the record ultimately. We got two videos that we shot after the delay that Gotee invested in and they look great. We got a manager that's on board now that's really a perfect fit for us. So God's timing is really perfect and that's kind of how we look at it. Even though, if I had to do it over again, I wouldn't. I would just say, 'Put it out now!' But you've got to look at it positively."

ManCHILD teases Dust because it was Dust's idea to use one of the samples that caused the most trouble. Dust admits, "Every day I think, WHHHYY?!" ManCHILD chides, "You ruined my record! It's all Dust's fault." Dust hangs his head "All my fault," he mutters. ManCHILD elaborates, "The thing is, when we found out we were on our way to a show in Chicago. Got the call that it was being delayed and there was a problem and this and that. I've never seen him beat himself up.not beat himself literally.but just the way he was. He was like, 'I'm so sorry! I don't know. Why was I so careless?!', and this and that. The thing is, it was going to happen sooner or later. It's tough for us to take because we're relatively small compared to the sales of a lot of people. And our peers on the general market side don't clear anything. I mean some of them do but a lot of guys who are selling even more units than us don't clear anything. So in certain regards we feel like it limits us, but at the same time it forces us to be that much more creative."

One of the things that I've always loved about Mars Ill is the way that they have retained a strong underground sound to their music. These days with so much R&B infecting hip-hop, there's a certain snobbery that can develop in the hip-hop community. Dust says, "Yeah, I can relate. I can be a snob sometimes." ManCHILD adds, "There's a lot of pop-rap and that's definitely not what we do. We just make music that we like. Luckily a lot of other people like it too. And I think people sometimes make mistakes about us, 'Oh, they want to be underground. They don't want to be big.' I think it's just really that I'm not just disliking it because it's R&B. There's a proper way to put a soulful singer with hip-hop, where it really works together. And then there's the whole industry thing where it's like, 'Oh there's an R&B songstress. She sells a lot of records. Let's put her on this song!' And it really turns into just a mishmash and I don't like it. So when people say, 'Oh you guys want to be underground', we don't want to be underground in the sense that we don't sell a tonne of records. But stylistically there's just things that we adhere to. That we want to be who we are, not who somebody else thinks we should be."

Dust continues, "Once you start letting the market drive your music it can really make for a mess. We've seen too many messes! We've seen too many guys that start off doing what we're doing, making music that they really felt. And then they edge their way over to, 'I'm gonna make a club song. This is gonna be my Top Of The Pops chart-bang right here!' What happens is they miss all the markets. They missed their underground." ManCHILD observes, "And they're not good at making pop music, it turns out. So that doesn't go all over for them. So they can't really go back."

I often play a game with my wife Pippa when it comes to actors. Is he an actor or star? And you can do the same thing with hip-hop. You can look at hip-hop groups and distinguish is this hip-hop or is this pop? In the Christian scene, it seems like the poppier end is beginning to make progress but that generally Christian radio big wigs in the USA aren't keen to fill the airwaves with hip-hop even though the genre is the biggest movement in the mainstream.

Mars Ill: Rapping And The Pain Of Sample Clearing

ManCHILD agrees, "There's only a handful of radio stations that are even interested in really appealing to the youth culture, period. Most of them are directed towards, for lack of a better term, at 'soccer moms'. You have a few like Radio U that really say, 'Okay, we're going to do edgy music.' And I think the thing is that the stations that only appeal to soccer moms, there's a market for that but I think they're afraid that if they move away from that, they'll lose their listenership and they'll lose their support. The thing is, Radio U thrives because parents see the positive impact on their kids and they support the station. So all that being said, we really dealt with it. We don't really think we need to start a campaign for Christian radio to play our music because in the end, if they show us love and they show us support, then great. But if we don't depend on that we really say, 'Okay college market, in the United States, is going to support us.' If Christian music gives us anything we just consider that extra and that's great. But we just can't sit around and wait for them to start playing our music. We can't. Because if we do, we'll just be waiting and waiting and waiting and waiting. I don't know if that day will ever come to tell you the truth."

Dust laughs, "It's funny because even if there was a Christian hip-hop station, we would probably still struggle to get on there! Even our most accessible songs are a little different. But I really strongly feel that if people, were given the opportunity to hear it, I think they would go for it. Because I think it's challenging music but it's still fun and it's still got a great sound to it. You can dance to it." "If you want to!" manCHILD adds. More laughter and Dust reflects, "Yes, if you want!" CR

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.

Reader Comments

Posted by Amani M. in Minnesota @ 20:29 on Aug 17 2006

christian hip hop is awesome if people tell other people about it'd be really popular

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