Mark B – A cornerstone in UK Hip Hop goes Desi!
Words by Ashanti OMkar
Pictures by Josh Cole
UK Hip Hop owes a lot to Mark B, who is synonymous with bringing to the ears of Hip Hop fans, the music of the streets, in his own special way. With his latest offering, ‘Move Now’, featuring the inimitable vocals of Asha Bhosle, from a vintage 1960’s Bollywood movie and Tommy Evans, his revered rapping partner. This has made waves in a big way, hitting the Desi market and being a much-played tune on the airwaves and clubs. It was even named ‘Single of the month’, by respected magazine, Touch! Mark was an architecture student, with a flair for technical drawing, who has turned his passion for graffiti patterns and geometry, which were hand in hand with Hip Hop, giving a voice to those in the ghettos, to full time music, bringing a real ‘life’ into UK Hip Hop – he not only set up his own record label and worked in promotions but is now a star in his own right. Mark discloses his ambitions, hopes and much much more, in this colloquial, detailed and real interview into his life and works.
Reveal to us, your background, upbringing and heritage?
My background is I’m from Kingston in Surrey or as I’ve now re named it the 'K Boro' which is the name of my record label, I've lived here all my life & it’s a nice place to live with a good vibe. I got into hip-hop music through hearing & sharing cassettes of 'electro' music (early break dance music) & seeing graffiti art back in 1983, back then every kid was tagging walls / bus's & battling crews in the local shopping precinct at breaking. It was good fun & very different to the nowadays equivalent of hearing new music on MTV etc.
Education wise, did your Parents advice you not to go into the music business and get yourself a ‘solid’ job?
Nope definitely not, my family has been behind me all the way & always encouraged me with do what I believe in & stick to what I love doing. Only negative thing would have been when I got my first turntables & big sound system speakers they were always shouting for me to turn it down though (laughing) I’m sure every kid goes through that though.
How did you get involved in the ‘Urban music scene’? The great ‘Urban’ debate –would you class it Black music or Urban music? How do you feel about the term Urban?
Actually I think that nickname 'Urban' sucks, in my opinion the British music industry doesn’t know how to develop & market rap/garage/R&B & drum & bass music so they throw this word in to try & make something sound 'trendy' & 'fashionable' 6 years ago it was 'trip hop' & 'downbeat' they don’t understand these music culture's at all, its just a new marketing tool for them which makes their jobs easier. I don’t really wanna get too pulled into that term cos what I see myself doing is just making quality classic hip-hop music, which isn’t a passing trend it's gonna be around forever.
How did you get started in the music business?
I put my first release out in 1996 though a friend’s label called 'Jazz Fudge' which is DJ Vadim's (from Ninja Tunes) label, which I helped him, set up. I learnt very quickly that the putting records out & being a talented artist wasn’t necessarily about just having a good record, there's so much more involved in the music industry that people don’t or wont ever see, you definitely gotta have a good business sense about you cos it's pretty cut throat (laughing) & a lot of BS & politics are involved cos people aren't real to themselves in this industry & just wanna save their jobs & playing safe with who they sign.
I am sure you get asked this all the time, but for the record, how did you choose Asha Bhosle and the Bollywood track?
Well to cut along story short I was playing Tommy Evans some records I had & he really loved the sample & then persuaded me to sample it. At first I was a bit dubious of using it cos of the tempo turned out to be 134bpm, but he gave me such an instant vibe & energy I made the track right there in front of him & the rest as they say is history.
Being a Londoner, I take it you would have been to Southall, am I right? What’s the experience like and do you go to the music shops often?
Yerr I’ve been to Southall & surrounding area's a few times looking for records, sometimes to car boot sales & shops. The manager of one of the stores down there was kind enough to put me and a mate onto a couple of his record dealer friends and the 'Move Now' sample was a result of many dusty, dirty and long hours looking through boxes of old LP's in a warehouse in west London.
Tell us about Tommy Evans – what’s his background and how did you get to collaborate with him?
Well Tommy is an old mate who I saw him around on the hip-hop scene quite regularly, he came on stage at a couple of show's with myself & Blade a few years back. I bumped into him late last year & he told me he was working on his album (which gets released on Nov 1st & features Move Now) so I offered to help out & produce a song for him, the result was Move Now. He's actually from Leeds & has his own label called YNR (Young & Restless).
As an underground hit, how do you feel about its ‘mainstream’ potential?
Well when I make music I don’t really ever set out to make an underground or mainstream song, I think that can really kill your creativity as an artist. I just do what I do & I think it’s great that it can have potential to get to as many people as possible by having that mainstream quality to it. Speaking as an artist I want to get my music to as many people as possible by whatever means there are radio / TV / internet & concerts etc.
How would you classify the term ‘producer’, these days – with every kid on the block claiming to be one?
Well personally I feel anyone can call themselves a producer or go 'produce' or make a beat, but to really sit down & produce a song or an album with an artist is something completely different & I feel people can really get the two meanings of a producer mixed up very easily. I classify the meaning as someone who works with & has such a rapport with an artist it brings out the best in them both, perfect examples being Dr Dre with Snoop or Neptunes with Jay Z or Mark B with Blade (laughing)
Tell us about your partner, Blade. How do you work as a team and what are your specific roles?
Well it was just the simple producer & mc set up as a group. Blade has now decided to release his own self-produced album that is out now. I think as a team we worked well, Blade is very experienced in delivering his vocals in the studio & is very open for ideas about his flows. I feel to work well as a team you have to separate business & friendship, which is what we done well.
Single of the month, in Touch magazine – always a good sign – how does this feel? Is this your 1st foray into the mainstream market since 2000? If so, why the long gap?
Yerr I feel 'single of the month' in any magazine is a good feeling for any artist releasing music. Its always very appreciative to know people are feeling your music, especially journalists (laughing) The 'big gap' is another long story but basically I couldn’t release any music for a while cos I was on a major label who had very different ideas to what I was doing & tried to change my musical direction. I was signed & they wouldn’t drop or release me from my contract, which is understandable to a certain extent cos it's all about business. In the end I walked away & now I’m back on my own label doing what I believe in which is British hip-hop music.
What was it like, performing at festivals like Reading and Leeds festivals? Would you do it again?
Yeah doing those festivals was a great experience & I would definitely do it again with no hesitation, it's always good to see who exactly is buying & feeling your records cos the festival crowd are very different a crowd when you perform in a club.
Tell us about your record label, K Boro.
I set the label up in 1996/97 with my then partner DJ Vadim, I’m pretty impatient & don’t really believe records labels will come to you for your product, I wanted to bypass all that from day one & show people you can make it by yourself with a little hard work, perseverance & determination. I felt I needed a solid foundation to release my own material, its worked well & gained me the vital experience you need as an artist to see how things go on in the press, radio etc. Thus by showing that I’ve gained two records deals.
How would you describe ‘Move…Now’? Is it in line with your usual sound? How would you classify your ‘sound’, with so many terms floating about these days, funk, Bollyfunk, grime e.t.c?
My sound is very funky, energetic & in your face, I just see it as classic hip-hop music really, like I say I’m not really going to try & categorise & market it to make it sound trendy cos I’m not no passing fad (laughing), yup its in the same line as what I’ve always been doing a nice sample & a rapper that delivers with perfection.
When Mr thing said “I don’ t think the UK is ready for this one”, what is he implying and do you see this as a positive comment?
Well (laughing), I kinda took the comment both ways, as well being a good friend he is one of the top most respected hip-hop DJ's in the country so I know he definitely meant well with the comment & he is behind the record 100%. He has also produced some songs for Tommy Evans new LP.
It seems like you support home grown talent – wonderful – how do you see the future of UK artistes and UK music?
Yerr I’ve always from day one of my release's back in 1996 supported UK artists to the fullest. There is so much talent here but it just needs to be heard, I also feel its such an easy route to bring in a 'rent a rapper' from the USA, that’s no challenge to me whatsoever & it's not going to help UK music develop one single bit, all I see that good for is to boost a producers ego. The future of UK music is back up on the rise once again, everyone has now realized that the best way to release their own material is through their own record labels, what I also see growing right now is our own UK hip-hop industry, we don’t need any major record labels involved anymore wasting our time.
You have toured with the likes of Eminem and other big acts; tell us about your experiences.
Yerr we performed at some great venues with some great people in the past, Eminem, Xzibit, Feeder to name a few, every concert was completely different in size from 300 to 75,000 people. Personally I prefer the smaller more intimate venues where you are close to the crowd, it always helps with the stage diving we do.
Any messages for your fans?
Yerr I would just like to thank everyone who has supported any of my releases, especially Move Now, the album is coming soon, release date should be around March 2005.