Marley Marl & Craig G: Search And Rescue
All of this is not lost on Craig G and Marley Marl. The pair is now decades removed from their years of Juice Crew dominance. Yet, to hear them talk to each other is to re-live the excitement of hearing what made you fall in love with Hip Hop in the first place. They don't speak of taking back Hip Hop as a threatbut as an invitation extended from one generation to another. The game has changed, but these two friends are still chasing after one of the few things that will always remain constant: the perfect chemistry that is created when a dope beat pushes an artist to compliment it with the perfect rhyme. It's really that simple.
HipHopDX: I guess we should start with the title. Naming the album Operation Take Back Hip Hop makes it pretty clear how you guys feel about the state of the game and your position in it.
Craig G: Ive always been saying that Im not the only one that feels this way. Its been said over and over again. The funny thing is, when a rapper says it everyone looks at him like a hater. At the same time, no one wants to talk about it. I just want to get the dialogue started about why the game is lopsided right now and why theres no more balance in the game. Even from the beginning, theres always been wack Hip Hop, but theres just no balance anymore.
There was a point where if I wanted to hear some hardcore shit, I could go listen to N.W.A. I could go listen to A Tribe Called Quest [click to read] if I wanted to chill. There was Public Enemy if I wanted to get political, but we dont have those choices anymore. Thats pretty much my problem with it, and I dont even blame the rappers. It aint really the rappers faults. The machine thats pushing Hip Hop right now feels like were under communist rule. Thats basically why the title of the album is making that statement.
DX: When you look at a Stakes Is High or Hip-Hop is Dead, how thin is that line between constructive criticism and complaining?
CG: Like I said, Im a fan. Dont get me wrong, there is good Hip Hop out there. As far as the mainstream level goes, 80% of it is just [copying] the last thing that was out. Theyre not looking for originality anymore and thats whats killing us. I dont personally believe what Im saying is the most original thing, but I just felt it had to be said.
DX: Ive heard you shout out Bon Jovi, Def Leppard and a bunch of other stuff, Craig. When we look at all these other genres, there isnt that negative stigma attached with being dominant in an earlier era.
CG: That disgusts me, man. If it was up to me I would banish the term old school. I think its real condescending. If you look at The Rolling Stones, The Eagles or any of these dudes they call "Classic Rock," they sell out arenas without having product out on the street. The Eagles just sold seven million off that last album independently. The fans of that genre hold their artists in a higher regard. As far as Hip Hop and the powers that be making it so youth driven, its almost like they push us to the side. I wont say its all of us, but theres a whole bunch of us from our era that are still great artists. We dont get the time to be looked at because were labeled with that word old school. Why cant it just be "classic"?
Marley Marl: Or just call it retro.
CG: Yeah, old school almost sounds like an insult. In these other genres, these dudes made songs that were timeless. Timeless. Theyre fans will step over their mothers to get tickets to their concerts.
MM: The funny shit is Rolling Stones old school stuff is outselling everybody new. [Laughs]
CG: [Laughs.] Exactly. And to me its a bad thing. It is what it is, but at the same time it makes me want to prove myself.
DX: One record that really stands out is Made the Change. As much as people claim Hip Hop kept them off the streets, no one seems to ever address it directly like you do in that song.
CG: That song was basically me thinking about where I would be without dudes like Marley and without Hip Hop. Its not really about bragging about how your hood is, but a lot of people where were from in Queensbridge only saw one ending. They were either dead or in jail. I feel like I owe Hip Hop, because who knows what Id be doing if it wasnt for it. Thats why that song is important to me. And the beat is like an aluminum bat to the back of the head.
For me it was more or less talking about coming from nothing and finding something, or something finding me. [Hip Hop] allowed me to go all over the world, and it hasnt made me a millionaire, but it allowed me to be able to make different choices in my life. I didnt want to glorify anything; its about glorifying Hip Hop and making me change what I could have been. A lot of my friends were hustling; a lot of my friends were running around shooting people and what have you. It was funny to me that when I was 16, the hustle game was crazy and a lot of my friends were getting mad money. Wed be shopping, and Id have the same amount of money, if not more than them, and I didnt have to lift a finger on the block. Thats what was dope about it, and thats what inspired that song.
DX: With people who represent Queensbridge like Prodigy and Tragedy Khadafi serving time right now, I imagine it really hits home.
CG: Like I said, I love Hip Hop, and the thought of not being able to do it would really kill me. The simple fact that I can go in the studio with Marley and have him paint that canvas with the perfect beat is priceless. The best feeling making this album was sitting back and listening to songs. Once they were done Im watching Marley scrunch his face up thinking, Yeah, I know he likes it. Marley doesnt really tell you if he likes the song, so youve gotta look. To me, being creative is the craziest thing to me and I dont know what Id do if I was unable to do that.
DX: That chemistry between you two resurfaced in 2003, when you guys did Lets Get Up. Is there any difference in the chemistry and the approach to doing a song together versus an entire concept album?
CG: Nah, not to me. The album kind of grew into its own, but as far as me and Marleythis is like my brother. I look at him as the dude that put me on. We do a lot of shows together and wed make music together regardless. When we started this it wasnt even about doing an album. We were just making joints and it happened to grow into an album. When me and Marley work together it just like, Lets do some hot joints, B. Thats how it always comes about, and it keeps going and going. Before you know it were looking at each other like, Damn. You know weve got like 30 songs here, right?
MM: Plus when we get together its like, Alright, lets see where were at. Im looking to see where youre at lyrically and you want to see where Im at beatwise.
CG: Ill be like, Alright, man. Let me see what you got. Hell tell me to hold on for a minute and start playing with stuff and cueing the beats up. And as soon as I hear that one, Im like, Hold on, whose beat is that?
MM: Its yours if you rock it right.
CG: Then I go, Okay. Hold on. Give me like an hour. Thats our approach.
DX: So you two are still trying to push each other to bring out the best after all these years?
CG: Yeah. I mean, Marley is like the Svengali when it comes to this. As early as I can remember hed be like, Yo, I got this beat, but youve got to rock it. If you dont rock it Im giving it to Biz [Markie].
h Youve got to think about it. We did Droppin Science [click to read] together. There arent too many records that came out before or after that I can say were fuckin with that. Its still here, so I guess we keep trying to top Droppin Science.
CG: Yeah, exactly. I believe lightning in a bottle can be caught twice, but sometimes it just takes working.
MM: Son was on The Symphony [click to read]. Come on!
DX: [Laughs.] So the bar was raised so high from the beginning that it just stayed up there?
CG: Sometimes you need that. I can honestly say that Marley pushes me, and not a lot of producers do that. I respect that because its easy to get content. Theres mad takes on this album that I had to do over.
DX: Thats a good point. Being in your position its easy to say, I was on The Symphony. I shouldnt have to lay that verse down again.
CG: Thats the other thing for us. Its great that we did those songs, and those songs are etched in time. Ill speak for myself, but Im pretty sure Marley feels the same way when I say this. We still got heat, man. Its almost a shame to not want to hear it and be pigeonholed because of the classics we made. Its like riding a bike. When I go to the studio or to Marleys crib and hear him throw on I beat, I just smile to myself. Im just sitting there thinking, This dudes still got it. Aint nothing changed. The only thing thats changed is that Ive got to write harder to keep the beat. Come to think of it, thats always been the same too.
DX: When people visit overseas they always mention how Hip Hop is still practiced as an entire cultural movement. Do you guys experience that as artists?
CG: Ah, man. When I disappear for good, Ill be in Amsterdam with a record shop. Ive never been places, like how Ive been overseas, and see a Jeru The Damaja song make everybody jump on the dance floor. You wouldve thought they were playing [Its All About the] Benjamins. Ive never seen that, and it still amazes me to this day. For some reason, theyre not as pretentious about their music over there. They dont care if you dont like it. As long as they like it, thats it. Theyre not trying to like it because everyone else does. Its a good feeling. Whenever we come back, I always tell my brother, Check your superstar bag at JFK cause were back in America.
DX: So its safe to assume that Amsterdam is your favorite spot?
CG: Amsterdam, Copenhagentheres a lot of cities that make me almost not want to go home. Marleys got me into Japan now, so Im heavy into Japan too. Its amazing that, even with such a language barrier, the people know the music better than some people at home.
DX: How about you, Marley?
MM: I love going to London.
CG: Yeah, London is dope too. Theyre so pure as far as the music is concerned too.
MM: France is my second [favorite].
DX: While were talking about live shows, the A3C Festival exposed the Juice Crew to a whole different generation of fans. How did it feel?
CG: Marley and a few other people in the crew were the ones who really got me thinking it was time. A lot of groupsa lot of collectives based what they do on us. I could sit up and complain saying, We never got the shine we deserved. But, when I got out on that stage and saw the reaction I was like, Maybe Im wrong. Maybe it was the timing and we didnt get the feedback before, but the vibe was just real appreciative this time around. Marley is really hard at work trying to turn this into a tour and Im just waiting. For that first show, Ive never been more focused in my life. Once I saw Marley scrunching his face up on the side of the stage, I was like, Okay.
DX: Another thing that is reintroducing you to todays fans is this upcoming movie, The Vapors.
CG: Ill let Marley talk about that. I dont wanna say too much about that.
DX: You can weigh in real quick. What was your reaction when you heard the story of the Juice Crew was coming to the big screen?
CG: Its about damn time, basically. You know whats funny, though? One of my favorite movies is [The Temptations]. Without divulging too much, I can say that our story is crazy. For us all to still be here and for people to still recognize it is crazy to me. I think the story needs to be told. Marley and them are the ones behind the scenes taking care of that, so I can just sit back and wait for my check. I know its in good hands. Im just a willing participant, because I feel the story needs to be told. Marley can explain all the other aspects of it.
DX: So what kind of progress are you guys making, Marley?
MM: Theyre still on the funding tip right now. As soon as we get all of that together we should be doing some dates. The funny thing about it is, now that the word is out, other production companies are starting to get in touch with me in regards to that too. Its still moving forward though.
DX: How did Furquan Clover get involved?
MM: He worked with me on another projectone of my earlier movie scoring projects was the Wendy Williams movie. He was involved with that, and one day I told him about this idea for The Vapors when we were sitting back chillin. The next thing I know he was sending my lawyer a contract.
DX: There were rumors of Cuba Gooding Jr., David Banner and others being cast [click to read]. Is any of that true or is it still being worked out?
MM: Its still in the works right now.
DX: As far as your stories, you guys come from a completely different era of Hip Hop. Aside from anything in the movie, is there one particular thing that stands out as a favorite memory from those days?
CG: For me personally, Ive gotta say getting in the studio with Marley for the first time. I was a kid and it was all exciting. Back when we were doing it hardbody you really had to be a good rapper to make a record. You couldnt just say, Ah, man my cousin works here. It was exciting because I felt like I was chosen for a golden opportunity.
MM: Id say being back in the beginning and hearing myself on the radio for the first time. When I first heard my song on the radio, I remember thinking someone was playing it in their own box or off of a tape. Thats what bugged me out the most, and thats the aspect of the game that really got me into it. When I saw the reaction my music could give people it kept me in the game.
DX: You can make an objective argument for the Juice Crew being the most talented collective in Hip Hop history. How do you rank some of the crews who came after you like Death Row, Wu-Tang or the Dungeon Family?
CG: The one thing I could say about Wu is they always readily admitted that they based it on us. A lot of collectives know they did the same, but Wu were the only ones who said, We looked at The Juice Crew and we wanted to do that. In terms of then and now, the finances were different in terms of how Hip Hop makes money. By those standards wed probably be considered the greatest. Everything is based on finances with the fans these dayswho sold what and whos making this much. We came at a time when it wasnt really about that. It was just about leaving your mark. So, I would honestly say the Wu because they readily admitted it. If you look at all their early interviews they shouted us out.
MM: The great thing about Wu-Tang was that everybody was able to stand on their own as an individual artist. Thats the whole premise of The Juice Crew. Everybody was able to stand on their own as an artist and do what they had to do. Thats why I would put [Wu-Tang] up there with us as one of the top crews to ever do it; damn near everybody was dope. Everybody had their own moment.
DX: Last year, Nelson George gave How to Kill a Rapper so much love. He said his only beef was that younger, more mainstream artists didnt make records like that. Any thoughts?
CG: To me its
MM: I got this one, Craig. You know what it is? Its the ignorance of the audience right now. It seems like the dumber the subject is, the more youll sell. The more ignorant, the stupider and the less [coherent] it is, the more likely it is that people will jump on it. I think How to Kill a Rapper is too intelligent. It doesnt seem like the most intelligent concept, or the smartest thing to talk about, but even thats too intelligent.
Look at songs like [Hurricane Chris'] A Bay Bay, and stuff like thatthats peoples IQ level. In rap right now, if you talk about something too intelligent, thats clouding up the brain. If its something stupid, or it has a one-syllable chorus, it seems like people are all over it. People are more ignorant now than theyve ever been.
CG: I agree 100%. People would rather get silly these days.
DX: Wouldnt you say thats true of society in general, not just Hip Hop?
MM: Yeah, thats what Im saying. Its not our fault as a people, because education is not there for us. Most of the people are kind of dumb. College niggas cant be rappers, man.
DX: I almost forgot. When you mentioned the machine earlier, what does it take to change that part of our culture?
CG: Stop complaining and support real Hip Hop. I understand everybodys going to download albums, or what have you, but if you really like it buy it. What happened to the days of buying an album and reading liner notes? We need to get back to that.
MM: Thats too intelligent, baby. [Laughs]
CG: [Laughs] I guess well just have to make a DVD with the liner notes, thank yous and all the credits. Ima do a little Smack DVD with only the album credits
DX: [Laughs] Or you might just have to put it on MySpace.
MM: Yeah, there you go. Just throw all the album credits on MySpace.