house of hits

M Will Interview (Marley Marl's son)

By Jimmy Ness and originally published for Potholes In My Blog

M.Will is the son of legendary producer Marley Marl, one of rap’s greatest beat-makers, and he’s been entrenched in hip-hop since birth. When Marlon Williams Jr visited his dad’s house on weekends, it was a hive of musical energy, with rappers showing up constantly. Whether to record in the House of Hits home studio or to do a show on Future Flavas, which was broadcast on Hot 97 and one of the first internet radio shows.

If you’re picturing legendary artists snatching pieces of toast out of M.Will’s hand or drinking milk straight from the bottle, you’re probably not far from the truth. Craig G, Common, Pete Rock, 9th Wonder, Evil Dee, J Dilla, Jay-Z, Black Thought, Raekwon, A Tribe Called Quest and many more recorded in the house. Despite being surrounded by famed artists and a multitude of talent, M.Will says his upbringing was balanced and it didn’t scare him away from making his own music. The 20 year old has recorded at least half a dozen beat tapes including 2012’s As Above So Below and definitely has his own sound with influences from Alan Parsons, Dexter Wansel, Kanye West, the esoteric and golden age hip-hop.

We talked for almost an hour and M.Will gave thoughtful answers about growing up around music, living with his dad’s legacy, cultivating his own sound, his first production credit with LL Cool J, turning down working with Joey Bada$$, and too much more to list. 

You started playing piano at five years old?

Yeah, that’s about correct. My school was an elementary school as well as a graded music school. It was really cool, I liked it a lot.

You use a lot of piano loops in your music?

Oh yeah, I think piano and keyboards in general are one of the greatest inventions or instruments that humans have ever done.

You’re also classically trained, but didn’t enjoy the music at first?

Initially when I was really young, you always rebel like “oh this stuff sucks,” but it gave me the integrity that I needed to understand the full spectrum of music and it’s just really something I enjoy to this day and I have a great appreciation for it. I didn’t know as much about hip-hop or popular music or anything else besides what was immediately in front of me.

Who enrolled you in the music classes?

I think essentially it was my mum’s idea, but my dad saw that I was pretty interested in music at a really young age and just being around the House of Hits and around keyboards, I was always really fascinated by them.

How was it being in a family where hip-hop was such a large part of your life? What was your childhood like?

It was really balanced. There was a time for everything. There was a time for hip-hop, but there was a time for practicing and just doing different activities, so it was pretty structured. There would be a time to enjoy good music or when music was going on, and that was something I really appreciated and admired about my upbringing that I guess it was very balanced and structured. The premise of course was hip-hop that was something that would never go away so it was just like what else do we have to take care of?

What are your earliest memories of growing up with rap music?

I grew up in Flushing, Queens and that’s when I was old enough to understand everything. Around elementary school I remember just cool cars and loud music – BMWs and just hearing some good music like Biggie Smalls or something. Like okay, there’s something going on, there’s a powerful force here, just something way beyond my comprehension. I never really even quite understood what my dad did until I was like seven or eight years old, it was just something we were so submerged in. It was like, this is life and we are just living before it gained some sort of definition.

You were growing up while Future Flavas, the first ever online rap radio show was being recorded in your house. There must have been a lot of energy in the air, at the time.  

Oh my gosh, I was so fascinated but I never knew how powerful what was going on was, it’s the ripple effect of the things that would go on from there. The topics that were being discussed, it was always up to date, always on the money, on everything that was going on. It was fascinating just to know so many people were connected at the point. I could never fathom the concept during that time period, it was way before everything is now like how the internet, you can’t live without your computer. This was during that transition and it helped propel the understanding that we have now with music and the internet. It was totally ahead of its freaking time. It was so sick.

I’m sure you saw all these famous artists that were always at your dad’s house, but they seemed more like extended family or uncles rather than big celebrity musicians.

Exactly, we were all living simultaneously - I was just the young one growing up. We would share the same food, hang out and pass around homemade cooking. It was just the real deal, the human side of everything behind the mystique and behind everything else. It was just a real normal human experience – emotions, frustrations and happiness. It was really cool.

Were there any artists that your dad was particularly close to or who were always around the house just hanging out?

Yeah definitely, Pete Rock lived just a couple of miles out and he would be over all the time, like forever. That was always really really great, that was someone who I saw literally as an uncle. It was always them two just hanging out all the time that was a really great friendship and companionship to witness at a young age. Aside from that, Craig G was around a lot, a bunch of different artists. You know just constantly, so many I can’t even name, people would be around the time. Callie Ban he’s the man, Aisle 12, these were just some of the familiar faces I remember seeing all the time.

Do you still see these people around or not so much anymore?

My dad has such a wide social circle you know. Occasionally yeah, you’ll see them all the time at certain areas and at events. Just recently they did a really cool reunion with Pete Rock and I up was there and got to hang out. That was really cool, see how it was when they were doing their thing together. My dad’s always doing something, he’s a freakin superstar, it’s ridiculous this guy just runs around and does shows forever and he’s damn near pushing half a century. He’s always just out there [laughs] it’s awesome. It’s really cool.

J Dilla came through to the station once didn’t he?

From my understanding, yeah. Him and Pete Rock were really tight. That was the first time ever Pete Rock was breaking Slum Village records and Busta Rhymes records and Tribe records, and the station was just a real taste of where you could find the goods.

Big L’s number was also written on the wall at the studio?

It’s so crazy, the House of Hits itself is so remarkable with all the relics and just everything that’s ever come through there. It was right above the vocal booth, I think they were scheduling Big L to come through a couple weeks before he actually got killed. It was in the works, about to happen because I think Lord Finesse had made the call because he was on Future Flavas for a short time before it occurred and it was in the motion. At that time period, man there was so much hip-hop coming in and out of the crib.

Did Wu Tang ever come through? Because I know GZA was affiliated with the Juice Crew for a while.

Everytime we see Wu Tang they show mad love. I’ve seen Raekwon, I’ve met him a couple of times. He just shows mad love, he’s so embracive. I know that Raekwon, RZA and the GZA have been on Future Flavas before. They’ve definitely passed through a couple of times. I know that ODB has definitely been in the House of Hits. I recently met his son and we kicked it for a bit and that was mad chill. I love the new generation because they’re carrying on the legacy. I’m really good friends with TJ Mizell as well. (Jam Master Jay’s Son)

Rock music respects its legends and a big part of the culture is playing homage to them, but rap tends to pay less respect because it’s a young people’s game. How do you feel about that, being a young dude but growing up around all these veterans?

I just think that it’s just a natural thing that comes with time, we’ll hold onto certain records and things because they become the soundtracks to our lives. I just think that’s how rock has been able to maintain because it has such a resonance to its fans, I think hip-hop will get there, for the past 20 years it’s definitely gaining in prestige. I really see hip-hop getting the prestige that jazz music did, when it gets older I will become something really monumental a lot more than we can even fathom because it has touched so many lives.  

You starting producing when you were around 12 or 11 years old?

Well, yeah I guess. For fun I made loads of little tapes and stuff, here and there when I was really young. Sometimes my dad would just record me fucking around on a keyboard or something. I’d go up on weekends and that’s what we would do, that would be our bonding time because I was always really into music. By the time I started really cultivating sounds and doing things like that, it would probably be around 11 or 12, I think I was like 13 or 12, I had an iBook or something and I was just fucking around with GarageBand.

I heard that your dad told you early on not too mess with hip-hop too much. Why was he less encouraging early on?

You know, just as a parent it’s always one of those things like “I did all of this so you don’t have to replicate it.” Just as a parent it’s their perspective that they’re busting their ass to make you not do what they had to do, because they want you to have it whatever way. It’s just like a parent’s concern. I hear about my friends telling me things like that all the time in different situations and that’s just how it was with me. My dad was like “I want you to be a doctor, or lawyer or a surgeon” when I was really young and I was like “screw that, I want to be the man!” But I’ve grown up and matured, and definitely seen all the different revenue streams that come from hip-hop. My dad was just very much like “nah you don’t want to be in the spotlight, you want to do it up right and have it wholesome.”

Listening to your music, you’re definitely trying to do something different than what your father did. You can hear the odd sample or influence, but you’re definitely trying to carve your own path.

Oh yeah, for sure. There’s definitely I feel, a certain perspective or edge that comes from my understanding of music because in any way possible I like to do a little tweak or whatever it ends up being, just a creative tangent from a song I already love. I love sampling so much, I appreciate the art. It’s essentially a musical collage, and if you’re able to really execute it well, it’s totally just reinforcing the original song. What more as a music lover can you do?

Your first production credit was “You Better Watch Me” on LL Cool J’s album Exit 13 that you made with your dad. You guys were actually just having fun and its placement was a surprise?

Initially that’s how it came about. I wasn’t actually in the studio with LL while it was happening. But the beat itself me and Dad made together, really one of my first new trials when I think Reason 4 came out. I was using Reason 3. We were just fucking around like “this is so cool, look at all these new things.” We were like little kids in a candy shop just going crazy over this new stuff and we just ended up making one of those beats and next thing I knew, dad was like “yo, check it out.”

You also have a production credit on the joint album between your dad and KRS-ONE. For those who don’t know, tell us why their collaboration was such a special moment and what it was like being around in that process.

It was a big deal, even just for my dad’s life story and everything that it incorporates. It was a really really monumental period, I remember that really vividly. I was turning 14 at the time, becoming of age and really grasping bigger concepts. It was a really important monumental thing just because you know, my dad jokes around about it all the time but that whole “Bridge War.” I still get pissed off when I hear “The Bridge Is Over” just because he’s talking about my dad. It’s huge. It’s a big thing and something we’ve always appreciated and celebrated. It’s so funny, one of the first things that from ear I taught myself to play was the “Bridge it Over” before I knew what it was and my dad was laughing like it was real real funny and I was like five and he’d be like “Don’t ever play that in Queensbridge.” It’s engrained in our collective story so to see that come together was like really awesome. They were always friends outside of the whole shit, but it’s a big deal because there’s always resentment that can exist after you put some shit on wax like that. So there’s always something but it was awesome. I know they did a couple of sessions upstate and a couple of sessions in LA but they really did it up nice.

You’re also quite a big fan of progressive rock? How did you get into it?

That’s for sure. I’m a big fan of music in general so I like classic or prog rock a lot because of its depth in music and inclusion of themes that are so much better, I don’t know. I’ve always really appreciated progressive rock or progressive anything for that matter. I’ve always grown up around the classics in elementary school, there were a lot of The Beatles and The Beach Boys going around. There was a really eclectic bunch of adults that were teaching my school so I’ve known about The Rolling Stones. I’d say I got into it myself after I went to high school.

Do you feel these different influences make your music more interesting?

Definitely, it’s like a microcosm to life. You have so many different flavours going around, taking little gems here and there and making something new is really fun.

What made you focus on the esoteric for As Above So Below?

Oh man, I’ve always been into that kind of stuff just given my life and things that I have experienced. It’s just really really fucking cool, it fascinates the shit out of me. I love history and I’d love to be a professor of hip-hop or some shit one day and I just think the stronger you understand the power of certain knowledge you can time travel kind of. You’re reaching the same thoughts and the same frequencies that were thought of not too long ago, you go back into time and look into how amazing certain buildings or structures were and it really wasn’t that different. I think that’s why I’m interested in older music too, these guys were geniuses and we just need to remind ourselves of that all the time, of Frank Zappa or my man Alan Parsons. I think it all correlates in that regard.

You also dedicate an album to Dexter Wansel?

That’s one of the funkiest keyboarders, dude is just the man.  I just really really took to his music when I came across certain songs. Hip-hop is a lense for me, I see a lot of my favourite songs and I see what they sample and look into the original songs. I think how I got into the Dexter Wansel stuff was The Cool by Lupe Fiasco, which was a song that I really like and it was produced by Kanye West and I just found the original sample from that. I started listening to a lot of untouched gems and stuff that was on the internet or YouTube like “oh my god, this is some of the most potent shit I’ve ever heard.” I just love it, the whole Philidelphia sound and everything that came out of that era was just so righteous, they were playing their asses off and I love it.

Tell us about your Supreme Team DJ mixes on Soundcloud.

It’s homage to the 1980s radio of Mr Magic, the world famous Supreme Team of Newark, WHBI as well as Kiss Fm and the whole radio rivalries. How blogs essentially became what radio was in terms of breaking records was really what I wanted to allude to and just never forget how powerful someone like a Frankie Crocker or some of these really awesome DJs were.

Because your dad is so renowned and he’s a pioneering musician, is he also one of your harshest critics at times?

I’d definitely say he’s one of my toughest critics by far, by absolute far. Especially more recently, in the past couple of years. It’s good though, I know he’s involved and I know he gives a shit and I know he’s really really listening which is great. Like hyper listening and I know he likes it which is cool. We go back and forth making beats sometimes, but I know there’s things I’m able to do that are an extension of what he wants to do.

Does he still listen to a lot of new music? You know there’s a stereotype about hip-hop legends as grumpy old heads who hate everything new.

That’s so funny. I think somewhat because my dad, he’s in his own kind of world in that regard only in terms of the music that he plays and the stuff he’s around. He knows what works, he knows what the classic “make you want to get up and dance records” are and he holds tight to that. He’s definitely really open to new things, but he’s always recultivating things and remixing songs that have been out for eons. Doing his own thing. I guess I can see that, but I always put him onto new things and he doesn’t quite get it until it gets a big nod from a record company or aside from that, but he’s pretty open with new stuff.

I’m sure he can appreciate the more lyrical guys like Kendrick Lamar or even Nas is still making great records.

Yeah, of course he’s up on that, but even Kendrick now has a huge nod from Interscope. I was talking about Kendrick when he was when we both had our music put up on Kevin Nottingham at the same time. It was just one of those things where I would have loved to have been like “yo, dad let’s bring this new guy from Compton, I hear he’s really dope, bring him to the studio.”

I read a Tweet where you said “I think it’s corny when some people’s parents have vendettas against my dad and they use their kids to try set up traps in the music business.” Is this something that you encounter, people are that petty?

Yes, all the time. There will be something that pre-dates me but I’m the one that has to deal with it or some sort of “oh well your dad was a jerk to me.” Something stupid and it’s like whatever, holding onto a grudge of one little small nothing that really wasn’t that big of a deal. They look for any kind of reason to see you in a negative light. I encounter that sometimes. There are people who still work in the industry to this day that hold their grudges, they could still be at Def Jam or anywhere.

You’re trying to stand on your own as an artist, but your dad is a legend in the game. Do you ever get tired of talking about him, where you want to be known as yourself rather than as Marley Marl’s son?

Yeah for the most part, that’s every angle or selling point that’s ever used. Everybody who I’ve ever worked with like that, it’s always the huge huge sell point. Initially, no one is supposed to know, my early releases I’d just drop them on my own and not even really care. But it’s not something I can escape like alright I’ll take it for what it is and still try to do my own thing, it’s always going to be there because it’s in my name, I can’t do anything about it.

What’s next for you?

Well, I always have my hand in a lot of projects. I’ve been really tied up with a lot of different things. We put together shows in the city, I’ve been doing that a lot, just throwing parties or shows at Webster Hall or somewhere downtown with some of friends just really doing some cool stuff. I’m trying to get into the technology world with music and help cultivate some cool things with enhancing the music experience.

I’ll always have three, four, five projects lined up, I’m definitely dropping something really soon, a beat tape that is just a by-product of all of these other great activities. That’s really how my music comes to be, As Above So Below is a perfect example as all of that stuff is a by-product of my life experiences at that time so I’ve got to make it tangible in some way.

Who would you love to work with?

It would be really cool to work with Q-Tip, if I had to pick a favourite producer without a bias I’d say in terms of the hiphop aesthetic that I really appreciate the most it would definitely be Q-Tip. God bless the dead, if I could bring Dilla back I’d love to work with him. Pete Rock I still haven’t worked with and would love to. Another rapper that has unfortunately passed on, Charizma from Peanut Butter Wolf and Charizma. That’s like the dopest swag right there. And of course Nas. Large Pro. My friends Ratking. I’d love to work with Stevie Wonder or some shit. I’m a big fan of Robert Glasper, Thundercat, Flying Lotus I love that shit. I really really really like Thundercat and Robert Glasper.

Joey Bada$$ is pretty cool, but I turned down being a member of Pro Era because they didn’t want to set me up right. They wanted me to do like five gigs for free on some real sucker shit and I wasn’t really bout it. But you know, that’s still a homie. We still hang out aside from music and shit. We got a close circle.

Is there something you’re trying to achieve with your music in particular?

I’m not sure, I guess it’s a little ambiguous but I think as long as you’re able to get something from it. I mean, I’m putting so much stuff into it. Everything from knowledge to just some cool sounds but as long as you like something that’s what I’m cool with. I think I just want to preserve and teach what I know as the truth or what I know as reality from my perspective and hopefully I can help create and cultivate an enlightened culture through hip-hop or music in general. Sun Ra is my dude and I really love what he stands for and I feel like him and I are on the exact same frequency in that regard. I know we have the same birthday but just in terms of the power of music and what it can do for humanity. It’s a great, great tool and I want to help cultivate, refine and make it as best as possible.