Compiled and edited by Michael Krieger for The Higher Plane
For today’s feature, we turn to a dope MC out of the Bronx by the name of MaG. Listening to MaG’s last major project, I Ain’t Going Back to Retail! really reminded me of why I love this Hip-hop as much as I do. While new rappers are spawned faster than the Chinese churn out trinkets, good music is still unmistakeable when you hear it. To me, MaG is a throwback MC: substantive narratives and poignant deliveries. Rich music overall.
He is also an MC I respect a lot for his grind. I receive countless e-mails a day of artists trying to promote their music, but for some reason, I always really payed attention to this man’s e-mails and the tone he was using to connect with people even though it was just digitally. I think you will see this is a humble MC, but one not to be slept on because his skills are more than the real thing.
THP: For our readers who may not be familiar with MaG, can you give us a little background about where you are from and how music became such a huge part of your life?
MaG: Well I was born and raised in the Bronx. I think music was embedded in me man. My father was a DJ for a local radio station and my moms side of the family pretty much all played in bands back in the Caribbean. My brother played nothing but Hip-hop and R&B/Soul records in the crib. My moms played everything from Rod Stewart to old Soca records. I just love music. Always have.
THP: For those aspiring artists out there, can you tell us a little bit about your grind thus far? What do you consider some of your largest accomplishments thus far?
MaG: I try and not take anything for granted. Every e-mail, every blog post, interview, I appreciate it all. As far as accomplishments, that’s such a hard question cause 2010 has been full of so many great blessings. I gotta say, being featured on the Talib Kweli Blacksmith Community project was an honor. To know that an artist of Talib’s caliber listened to my music and liked it enough to place it on a project of his own just goes a long way you know? Completing my previous LP, I Ain’t Goin’ Back to Retail!, was a huge accomplishment for me because I executive produced it. I wrote everything, picked all the producers, picked all the beats. The vision was mine so to see it come to fruition was just amazing.
THP: Let’s talk about NYC for a minute. NYC and Hip-hop are synonymous. How has the climate changed since you started doing this hip-hop thing and where do you envision it is heading?
MaG: The unity and lyricism is missing. I feel like NYC has become the bandwagon city, as far as Hip-hop is concerned. Growing up on the Wu-Tang’s and the Jay-Z’s, the Nas’, the B.I.G.’s, you’re spoiled. They made music and didn’t follow trends or what was being deemed “popular” by radio. I think you’re starting to see a shift though, especially with dudes like Torae, Skyzoo, Emilio Rojas and others putting more of a focus on lyrical ability and song making. There a lot of emcees right now in NY who are really being creative with what they’re doing. Homeboy Sandman, the list goes on man.
THP: Who are some of your influences and where does your inspiration to create come from?
MaG: B.I.G., Jay-Z, Nas, and Andre 3000 are probably the major influences. Stevie Wonder and Quincy Jones are also in the mix. My inspiration is everyday life. Family, friends, love, the world, and everything else in between. There is something new and different that happens everyday in our lives. I try and capture that in every piece of music I put out you know?
THP: Having listened to your last official release, I Ain’t Going Back to Retail, I must say I was super impressed. There is a soulful grittiness to your music. It seems that you really put a lot of thought into each bar and crafting a song, not just rhyming aimlessly bar after bar. Tell us about your process and how you approach putting a song together.
MaG: Well, first off thank you for that for real! I mean I’m a fan of music first and foremost. So, I think when I’m writing I’m trying to reach everyone. Each song is different. Normally, I’ll listen to a beat and let it take me where it will. Certain keys and sounds and elements in an instrumental bring me to a place, and I let that place dictate what I’m writing about, whether that be war, or politics, or homelessness or my lady, it’s all incorporated in the music.
THP: Your delivery is also on point throughout that tape as well. It’s a very controlled, but poignant delivery. Do you emphasize delivery over content, or vice versa? If you put more focus on one more than the other, why is that?
MaG: Good question! For me, they’re equal. I’ve learned you can have all the content in the world but if its not delivered properly, no one will care. When you listen to a Sam Cooke or a Frank Sinatra, delivery was the emphasis. Words carried weight. They still do. Even the great speakers, Martin Luther King, Malcom X, JFK, Obama; it’s their cadence. It’s a controlled but deliberate way of speaking to people to get a message across. That’s my goal with whatever I write. I need you to listen.
THP: You have several introspective narratives on I Ain‚’t Going Back to Retail. Have you always been a fan of narratives? And do you think those narratives help you connect with fans on a more personal level?
MaG: Always loved narratives! Nas is a great example of a dude who just paints pictures so vividly. Like you see everything. I think fans love stories. B.I.G. and Slick Rick are other amazing examples. At the end of the day, all people want to be able to relate to each other. I think narratives bridge that gap between the artist and the fan. Now we’re relating because I’m showing you a piece of myself that maybe you can identity with.
THP: How have you evolved as an artist from your beginning up until today? And where do you see room for improvement?
MaG: I think now I’m more aware and conscious of what I’m putting out to the public. People will judge you based on what they hear. If I rapped about guns and drugs then there’s a certain image I’m conveying. Its more important to me now to make music that I believe in and has integrity, and just songs that sound dope to me at the moment. I’m more comfortable with myself as an artist. I think lyrically I can improve for sure. I want to be able to read sheet music, maybe pick up a guitar. I want to improve my songwriting ability and continue to be the best person and artist I possibly can be.
THP: What projects do you have in the works that you can fill us in on?
MaG: Well, right now I’m working on another free LP with HipHopDX.com entitled Freedom. I have a project on working on with my man Maverick, a producer/emcee out of D.C. Also working on a project with the producer Dela and got a couple of projects I’m working on with Kevinnottingham.com and Refinedhype.com as well. I’m looking forward to putting all this music out.
THP: Let’s talk about the state of the industry for a moment in regards to developing your fanbase. Wiz Khalifa is an interesting model for success in this new era of hip-hop. Most of his growth came as an independent artist outside of his former label situation with Warner. I think he is a great example because he not only has an online buzz, but a real, tangible cult- like following. In today’s era, do you feel one is more important than the other, or do they go hand in hand? Also, where do you think playing shows factors into that equation?
MaG: Very good point. I think both are equally important. You cannot overestimate how invaluable the online buzz is. A lot of the times now, cats are meeting you through an e-mail and your website so generating a buzz via blogs and online interviews and e-zines is crazy important. I think though, especially Hip-hop artists, there’s a lack of emphasis on the stage show and performance. Playing shows is still one of the most effective marketing tools and viable sources of income for an artist. People will definitely either become life-long fans, or one show attendees if you’re stage show isn’t solid.
THP: How have you approached building your brand? And how do you measure the success of a project?
MaG: My approach really starts with honesty and respect. Going back to when you asked me about my grind, any type of contact I’ve had with writers, managers, etc., has been from a place of me being exactly who I am. I want people to see the love and passion I have for music and for Hip-hop as a whole. When people pick up a MaG project, I want them to be able to say they can relate or the music speaks to them in some way. Success is tricky when you’re dealing with mixtapes and street albums because they’re free. So you’re looking at downloads and how many blogs have posted the album on their sites. How many shows have I gotten off the album/mixtape? But its also the response. I got an amazing write-up in okayplayer.com by Will Georgi, and that alone made me feel like the Retail LP had accomplished what I wanted. When people understand the vision it goes a long way.
THP: To close, the floor is yours. Be sure to mention where people can find out more about you.
MaG: Make sure you guys download the Talib Kweli and Blacksmith Community Mixtape. My joint “Blinder’s”, produced by Small Professor, is featured on the project. You can find me on Facebook and you can download my other projects at www.mrmag.bandcamp.com. Shouts to Tiff and D-Dub and thank you Michael, Sal and the rest of The Higher Plane staff for the opportunity. Definitely appreciated.