Even though he hasn’t gotten wasted in over ten years, I get the impression that Marco Polo used to get tore-up with the best of ‘em, so I’m willing to give him a pass from my standard “Don’t trust anyone who doesn’t drink” policy. Fueled by a constant intake of caffeine and loosies, MP has followed in the footsteps of Pete Rock’s Soul Survivor project and collected his favorite verbal technicians to cut loose over some certified dope tracks for his debut album.
Robbie: I noticed you had Rock Marciano from the UN on the album. It’s good to hear from him again – I’m guessing you were a fan of the group?
Marco Polo: Oh hell yeah. That album was one of the most slept-on for the last five frickin’ years.
Whenever I mention them to people, no one’s ever heard of them.
They were on [Carson Daley’s] 4,5,6 label, and now I believe Rock’s got a deal with SRC. I bug him all the time to see what he’s up to, and he said he’s got a couple of albums recorded for his major label situation. I’m just dyin’ to hear new music from him, ‘cause I’m a fan. Hip-hop needs that type of shit. Me and him were ‘sposed to work on a project too. Him and his crew and that album was great – people slept on it, it fell through the cracks, and it’s a shame.
You did an internship at The Cutting Room studio – is that a Pro-Tools set-up, or reel-to-reel?
Actually we had two-inch machines at The Cutting Room. We had half-inch, two-inch. We had two rooms – one was a digital board, one had an SSL in there. Both also had Pro Tools. I remember syncing up two-inch tapes and aligning the tapes heads and all that crap. [laughs]
It’s all a pain in the ass I guess.
It was a pain in the ass! It’s not a pain in the ass when you pay someone to do it for you and you get to record to two-inches – it sounds incredible – but when I was interning or assisting, that shit gave us a pain in the ass.
Does clearing samples play a big part on deciding what tracks go on the album?
I make a habit of not sampling anything too big. There’s defiantly a couple of tracks on my album that are a little bigger than usual that I would sample, but for the most part in indie hip-hop we don’t really stress it. We don’t ship enough records into the stores to even sweat it, you know what I’m sayin?
I saw Deep Crates 2 the other day, and there was a segment with you rocking a surgical mask and shit. Have you breathed in some nasty asbestos-type material looking for records?
[laughs] Yeah, I’ve been in some grimey places, ya know? Sometimes you’ve gotta take some extra precautions – I’ve flipped a record here or there or moved a crate, and some sort of dust has come up, and that shit’ll fuck you up! As silly as it looks, I’ll take the extra precaution.
Yeah, you don’t want to breathe some of that Jurrassic Park dust. People have called you a “Boom Bap” producer – do you feel like that term has become clichéd? Or is something you’re happy to be associated with?
I don’t mind the “Boom Bap” association, I don’t even mind people calling me a “throwback” producer – as long as it‘s in a positive light. I didn’t sit down and make this album to fuckin’ bring it back to 1993! I just wanted to make some frickin’ music I wanted to hear. I wanna make some hip-hop I can listen to as a fan of music – ‘cause it’s not coming out right now, and it hasn’t been for a long time. Yes, there’s a couple of artists from the underground that make hot shit, but overall, in general, it’s severely lacking. When I made Port Authority over the last two-and-a-half years, I just ignored everything that was playing on the radio and TV and just got into my zone. Kept diggin’ in them crates and stayed in a certain zone. When people say that, I take it as a compliment. For all the people that think that I’m stuck in the past or makin’ “old school” music? That’s bullshit. I feel like my music is classic hip-hop, or has that element to it, with a current sound.
The Large Professor song has about twenty cuts on the hook. Not enough people are doing that kinda shit – they just wanna chant on the hook, but chorus scratches can never get played-out.
I love scratches, and that one’s special ‘cause it’s DJ Revolution, and he’s pretty much the greatest DJ in the world on the chorus cut.
Were you a fan of Maestro Fresh Wes and Saukrates?
Absolutely. Still am, always will be. Maestro, Michee Mee and a lot of the early Toronto pioneers. Everyone was dancing to their music back in the day, and it wasn’t even in a cheesy club way – it was in a hip-hop way. Maestro was one of the first hip-hop pioneers in all of Canada. Sauks is still doing his thing now; I think everyone’s a little disappointed he could never get his situation together and release another album, but he was definitely an influence on my production.
He got signed to Def Jam and then put on the backburner…
Exactly, and nothing ever happened. That’s what I mean – it’s more frustrated on the fan side of things. Canada was behind Saukrates – he had a lotta fans waitin’ on him, and he signed with Redman through Def Jam, and nothing ever happened! It was real frustrating, as Canadians trying to make moves in hip-hop, and here’s this artist that had the potential to really blow-up and he kind of never came out.
Was it tough trying to hunt everyone down for the album?
I knew who I wanted to use and who I wanted to get at for the album, so it was a matter of organizing everything and getting people to the studios. The hardest things to do on the album were the posse cuts. The track with Sadat, AG and Ju-Ju was a pain in my ass. The Low-Budget All-Stars with Kev Brown, Ken Starr and that whole clique, those were the tracks that took the longest to do, ‘cause you’re trying to organize three people or five people’s schedules, and get ‘em to lay down their verse. But as far as reaching out to people? That was just the dudes I grew-up listening to – Kool G Rap, Large Professor, OC, Buckshot – those are all no-brainers to me. Regardless of me making the album, those are dudes that I always dreamed of working with when I moved to New York from Toronto. I’ve been in New York since 2002.
Who did you really want on there that you weren’t able to for this project?
Elzhi from Slum Village and Freddie Foxxx. I was supposed to do a track with Freddie Foxxx, Blaq Poet and Teflon.
What’s your tools of the trade when you’re in the studio? Do you have a bit of a smoke of get into the beers?
Just coffee and cigarettes, man. All day long.
What are you like on the decks?
I’m actually the only producer that doesn’t DJ.
You’re also working a lot of other projects, right?
There’s a Bootcamp song that I did that didn’t make The Last Stand, that might come out on a compilation they’re doing this year called Casualties of War. I also did a track on the new Heltah Skeltah album, if they ever put that out. I did a track for Large Professor’s new album – I know he’s got a bunch of albums he’s working on, but one of them I’ve got a track on – I did production of J-Live’s new album, Ed OG and Special Teamz. I did a track on the new EMC album, which is Masta Ace, Punch, Words and Strick…definitely working.
When I first heard about you I thought you were the guy from INI. But I guess not, huh?
I’ve actually never met him. My buddy Ayatollah, who’s a really dope producer – I’ve known him since I moved to New York – started calling me Marco Polo, just cause my real name’s Marco and he would just joke around, and for some reason it just stuck with me and I ran with it.
So it wasn’t anything to do with a Ralph Lauren fetish?
Right. I really just used it cause I like people calling me by my name and not just some show name. When people say “Whattup Marco” it’s actually my real name. [laughs]
Not fuckin’ “Beats2K” or some shit.
“Funky Fresh Beats and the Funky Bunch” [laughs]
Marco Polo feat. Masta Ace – “Nostalgia” video:
Behind the scenes:
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