Marlon Craft talks Funhouse Mirror, his love for Toronto, influences & more
Every now and then, we are blessed enough to come across an artist destined to make an impact in this thing we know as hip-hop. Hell’s Kitchen native Marlon Craft is defined by this point.
The young artist burst onto the scene in 2015 with his self-released, thought-provoking project Pieces which garnered him a ton of early praise from the hip-hop community.
Craft followed Pieces with his second and third bodies of work the so, what are you doing? EP, and his 2017 mixtape, The Tunnels End. The latter featured the singles “The Feels” and “New York Shit” (featuring Ramadiz), and charted briefly on the second spot of the iTunes Hip-Hop Chart just behind JAY-Z’s thirteenth studio, 4:44.
“All you need to focus on is getting your shit amazing and undeniable.” – Marlon Craft
Although the seasoned MC had built up an extensive catalogue of big songs and videos such as “He Looked Like Nothing,” Craft would drop a few more EPs and singles before really piquing the interest of mainstream listeners and industry executives. In 2018, he signed with Same Plate Entertainment, a Sony Music-backed joint venture lead by Jonathan Master.
In June of 2019, Craft released the fan favourite “Gang Shit.” The single, as well as the music video that dropped shortly after, views Craft taking on three separate roles: a racist white police officer, a member of the Ku Klux Klan, and a black man serving prison time for an armed robbery.
“Gang Shit” was included on his album debut, Funhouse Mirror, which dropped on June 18 through Same Plate/Sony. The album featured appearances by Dizzy Wright, Nyck Caution, Ricky Motion, and Evan Crommett. Not only did it reach the No. 1 spot on the iTunes Hip-Hop Albums chart the week of its release, it has also received recognition from artists and community activists like Killer Mike, T.I., Shaun King, and La La Anthony.
The New York rapper has continued to turn heads and gain new fans with a steady campaign of unique and skill-bearing initiatives. He dropped a crazy NBA-themed freestyle on Statik Selektah’s Shade 45 radio show—mentioning every team in his rhymes—and recently bodied Sway Calloway’s famed Five Fingers Of Death segment.
This past week, Marlon Craft stopped at The Drake Underground (at The Drake Hotel) here in Toronto for his Fuck It We Out Tour. He put on a high energy memorable intimate show for his core Toronto fan base. Starting out with a breathe taking freestyle to kick things off, the New York MC left it all on stage, performing older tunes such as “Brainiacs” (The Tunnels End), as well as songs from his album debut.
Assisted by his childhood friend (and fellow New York artist) Ricky Motion and Craft’s drummer, he blew away the entranced Canadian fans who had made their way to the landmark Toronto venue. After leaving the stage, it was clear fans wanted an encore, and Craft was quick to oblige. He returned to the stage for one final high energy performance that culminated with him interacting and performing within the crowd.
Before the show, I had the chance to catch up with Craft to speak about his humble beginnings, his love of music, his album debut Funhouse Mirror, and everything in between.
Check that out below.
Q&A: Marlon Craft
HipHopCanada: My first question for you is how did you get into music?
Marlon Craft: Oh man, music is in my DNA, My dad is a jazz musician so he’s been putting me onto music. So really, it’s just the culture in New York. Like, I was a ball player, so just playing sports when I was growing up, hip-hop and basketball go hand-in-hand. Hip-hop in New York is different, everyone including the older homies. I just wanted to be cool and be down, so I started listening to hip-hop.
HipHopCanada: Who would you say influenced you creatively growing up? Who do you like vibing to? Who influenced your style?
MC: Man, when I first got into hip-hop heavy I was really young and I remember Nellyville was the popping album at the time; that and The Eminem Show. From there, I spent time in Harlem as a kid so Dipset was a religion; 50 Cent, G-Unit and that whole era. So really, it was a lot of D-Block. I got into a lot of gangsta rap shit because that’s what everyone was listening to at the time and that shit kinda shaped my style. Although I always liked Jay, Nas and Big… when I got older I started digging back into the older 90’s shit and that type of stuff. I think that’s how I get my approach. Even if I rap about some political shit or some deep shit, I’m always rapping that shit on some gangsta rap shit.
HipHopCanada: Lets touch on The Tunnel’s End. I took it in and think it’s an incredible body of work, especially from a New York type of perspective. What inspired it?
MC: I was trying to put together a cohesive body of work. And everything is real New York-centric at the time because I was back from school and I was trying to get back into the whole New York scene again. That’s what was driving me. I had this idea one day in the shower where the whole album would be like this train ride. So I have the skits at the end with the wise men and it came organically, I just thought of it. Like all my best ideas just pop into my head, that one just popped into my head but that whole project I recorded in my room. That was my baby before my baby but I didn’t call it an album. The reason I called Funhouse my debut album is because I had the resources to do things I wanted to do. Like being able to get into the studio with musicians, it wasn’t just me in my room recording. Like that project, I’m extremely proud of.
HipHopCanada: I wanted to ask about “Brainiacs.” Where was your mindset when you were writing the record? It really resonated with me and I know a lot of people had the same impression.
MC: That record, at the time I was just trying to make great music that was substantive. I would have these arguments with my friends because every time I would hear something that was wack I would call it wack, then it would be like, “You’re a hater,” or that “everything doesn’t have to be so sophisticated.” And I agree, but there’s also a time and a place for all types of stuff in hip-hop and hip-hop originated with partying and turning up so that’s part of the culture. But there’s certain shit that’s jus wack. I don’t know, I’ve always kind of been that guy in the friends group that gets treated like the hip-hop nerd or brainiac and that song really goes off when we perform it. Whenever we perform the song it’s a lot of fun. That video too is one of the best videos we’ve ever done.
HipHopCanada: Let’s speak about your album debut, Funhouse Mirror. Where did the name come from? Because that’s an interesting name.
MC: Basically, a Funhouse Mirror is a mirror that you look into and it gives you a distorted image of yourself, and I feel like that’s where we’re doing in society right now. We look at our phones, scroll down the ‘Gram, Twitter or whatever. We’re really just looking at reflections of ourselves, like how we see ourselves in relation to these things and then in the world at large. We see a lot of people looking at where they go for news about America, and what’s going on in my country as well as the world in general, and they are getting distorted images back of what America really is based on the Funhouse Mirror of what they’re really looking into.
So the album is kinda of like me figuring out who I am as a person and trying to break that mirror to learn the internal things about myself so you’re not getting a distorted image back and then figuring out where I sit in the landscape of the greater country and culture. That’s where I was going with it.
HipHopCanada: What would you say was the biggest lesson you took away from creating Funhouse Mirror?
MC: Man, that’s a tough one but I learnt so much, especially being in the studio with people. It was my first time being in the studio, so like running the show, knowing who you want there and who you don’t, learning how to get the most out of people, how to communicate with people. When you’re creating an album that way, you’re the coach and the team, you know what I’m saying? Each player needs something different to get what you need out of them and you have to figure all of that out as well as looking out for yourself. It’s like a player coach, you have to figure out what you need, it’s really like creating the moments that kind of catalyze the truth or inspiration. You’re never going to be ale to create those but how do you get the conditions for them? That’s what I took away from it.
HipHopCanada: What was the inspiration for “Gang Shit?” Can you break down how the song came together?
MC: The way I came up with that idea for it was I was literally trying to meditate outside before going in for a session when I was recording the album and that shit just popped into my head. I was like three verses: cop, Klansman and being locked up, so then from there I had the idea and I kept thinking about it for the next few weeks. Then I started writing it and wrote it. I mean I’ve always talked about things like political shit and institutionalized racism, going back to before anyone knew who I was. Even rapping from different perspectives… I’ve done that before on mixtapes in college that no one ever heard. I just wanted to make a statement in a powerful way about institutionalized racism in America and about a lot of other things, but I found that ‘show, don’t tell’ because that’s more compelling. I could just list a bunch of facts like a fucking textbook but nobody wants to hear that shit and everyone is just going to turn it off if they don’t want to hear it in the first 40 seconds. I just think it could be powerful and speak to somethings, and I think about the “I’m Not Racist” thing that Joyner did. That shit should’ve made every rapper think about how to make a profound cultural statement. I wanted to do it from an actual character standpoint. So yeah, there was a lot of inspiration.
HipHopCanada: How do you feel the tour been going so far and what has been the most memorable experience?
MC: It’s been incredible; this is the third show. Honestly it’s been different. I’ve done this before a couple of years ago when The Tunnels End came out. I did some small headline shows but this is just different. It just feels real—and not to say it wasn’t before—but people are singing every word, it’s just the passion and different energy. I feel like now more than ever we’re close to turning this corner, we just gotta keep pushing. This shit is really resonating with people and it’s just inspiring for me.
HipHopCanada: Can you give advice to any aspiring musicians that are coming up right now? Do you have any advice that you wish you had gotten early on in your own career?
MC: Don’t waste any time or energy frustrated about looks your not getting or opportunities you’re not getting. It’s just a waste. For the most part, I still feel slept on in a lot of ways but I feel like I’m getting to the places I need to be when I’m ready to be there. And I feel like if I had gotten to a lot of places or opportunities a couple of years ago that maybe I did or didn’t deserve on paper to be at, I might not have been ready to handle it and I still fight this battle myself. All you need to focus on is getting your shit amazing and undeniable because, the fact is, you might be right, you might be slept on and you might not be getting opportunities, but if your shit is undeniable you will win. So it’s like, if you get to the point where your shit is undeniable, that it takes three years longer than you wanted it to, you’ve still won if your endpoint is to be undeniable. Then keep thuggin’ it out and hustling. But yeah, that’s my advice: try not to waste time and energy on things you cannot control.
HipHopCanada: My last question for you is what can your Canadian fans can expect from you in the future?
MC: Yo man real shit, I just really fuck with Toronto. This is my second time being here and the energy is crazy. It reminds me of New York. People are mad cool and people show me mad love out here. Like I was walking down the street today and a construction worker recognized me and showed me love. So I know they fuck with me out here so I’m going to be back and as much as I can and soon. Like we’re going to do a small intimate show tonight but hopefully I can come back in a couple of months and this will be twice as big. This is a place I plan to give a lot of attention to. I mean look at who some of the artists out of Toronto are. Obviously Drake is one of the kings of this shit… and my homie TOBi, who was supposed to be here tonight but isn’t in the country. But this is a place where I gotta be.
You can follow @MarlonCraft on Instagram.
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