Filed under: Flushing's Finest,Interviews,Radio...Suckas Never Play Me,Steady Bootleggin',Unsigned Skype
Written by: Robbie Ettelson
Marlon Williams, Jr. is the son of the greatest hip-hop producer of all time, Engineer All-Star Marley Marl. That’s a lot of pressure to deal with. Nevertheless, this classically-trained musician eventually found himself drawn into the world of beats and rhymes. His last couple of instrumental projects – dedications to Dexter Wansel and Alan Parsons demonstrate that he’s been able to develop his own individual sound. We discuss Future Flavas, his relationship with his dad and of course that elusive TJ Swan album!
Robbie: What part of New York did you grow-up in?
M. Will: When I was 5 or 6, we moved to Flushing, Queens. I lived in The Bronx for a little bit and went to school in Manhattan forever.
What made you want to make music?
I was into classical music as a child, and I was around my dad a lot when he was making a lot of stuff – late 90’s, early 2000’s – when Future Flavas was wrapping up, at the height of that. There was a lot of beats going on. I would be in a few sessions, just staying at my dad’s for weekends. They would record Future Flavas there live, every weekend when it was broadcasted on Hot 97. I wouldn’t necessarily be in the studio but I would be in the house. Those experiences steered me in the direction I’m going in now.
Most kids want to do the opposite of what their parents are doing.
My dad was like, “You need to play the classical, none of this hip-hop shit!” I got into hip-hop being defiant to my dad. I got into my defiant years when I was like 14, until my dad got sick and had a heart attack after the tour with KRS. That’s what really turned it around for me.
Having such as accomplished father, how did you get the courage to play him your music?
It’s kinda tough. When I was really, really young I wanted to do something in the studio, I just didn’t know what it was. I asked, “Hey dad, can I rap something or do something?” I didn’t know anything, I was in my classical education and I was kinda sheltered from everything he was doing. He was like, “Hell no! Are you kidding me?” I was shut down. Later on my dad would be somewhat encouraging, getting me in the studio. My dad’s not a keyboardist – he was a genius ear – but he would want me to play on stuff, ‘cos he knew I was classically trained. I would play on things and go home with a beat tape of some things he made when I was 11 and 12. When I got my first laptop for school I made this remix of that Biggie and Tupac freestyle with Big Daddy Kane, and I totally synced it perfectly, with no help, at age 12. My dad was on iChat and I sent it to him and he totally flipped, because of the fact I blended everything perfectly. I played a piano riff on it, I created a brand new beat off Garage Band. From then on, he was totally encouraging of it. He got me Reason, showed me how to put things into the sampler and let my fly. Then I started making beats.
What was the first project you released?
My first co-production credit was a song off of LL Cool J’s album [“You Better Watch Me” from Exit 13] that me and my dad put together for fun. I didn’t know he was going to do anything with it. Illroots.com put out my first three projects. My first big project they helped me with was A Journey Through Space and Time. They helped me A&R it and helped get a couple of artists involved.
What was the inspiration behind using the Alan Parsons stuff on As Above, So Below?
I made the first draft of that when I was in ninth or tenth grade, a lot of that’s been a real work in progress. My foundation is Hip-hop, that’s my lense, how I see through music, but I love all kinds of music. Progressive rock is something that’s stayed with me my entire life as well. I thought it would be cool to put together two contrasting genres in a fashion that shows the unity of music. Alan Parsons is my idol, for what he did for The Beatles and Pink Floyd and music in general. His ear and aesthetic as a musician is something I admired as I was learning about music. Dude’s concepts are like off-the-wall, I’m like, “Dude is a genius!” He started as an intern at EMI the same age as I did.
You mentioned that you were offended by MC Shan’s comment’s about your father in my interview with him. Can we talk about that?
The MC Shan shit, the reason it pisses me off so much, it clearly shows the lack of integrity that existed back then. That’s what I want to ascend from as a business. We should not hold on to these crazy grudges, it’s just ridiculous. If you hold onto it, you’re just going to continue falling. I don’t want that for Shan. If you care about music, it should mean something that you have a connection to someone on a record. If you don’t value that connection, then there’s really no integrity there. C’mon dog, y’all made some magic together. Y’all made the fuckin’ Bridge! Are you kidding me? Stop.
Did you ever hear the TJ Swan album?
[laughs] I’ve never heard anything about that. After the whole Cold Chillin’ madness, Craig went through Atlantic and Tragedy went through A&M. Maybe they did give him TJ Swan? Cold Chillin’ was like, “Oh, we have to keep Kane!” There was Russell and Lyor’s interest with Kane and a big pull for those other artists. I feel like my dad, to this day, feels like they really screwed him over big time.
What are your best memories of the Future Flavas days at your dad’s house?
The show was broadcast all over the house, so you always heard Future Flavas coming out from somewhere.
For some reason I’m imagining you go down to the fridge and find the Boot Camp Click eating your ice cream.
[chuckles] J. Force was around, K-Def. We had to stay upstairs and play video games as much as we could. We were playing Playstation upstairs, playing Driver and Grand Theft Auto. There were people there all the time. When we started getting older we would try to sneak downstairs and dad would go, “Yo! Go upstairs!” They’re all down there, they’re chiefing, doing their thing. They’re smoking – we’re not supposed to be anywhere around that. My most distinct memory is Big L’s phone number written on this wooden part of the wall, next to the booth and shit. I always remember KL from Screwball, rest in peace. I went to his funeral and all of that. He was really tight with all of us. Craig G was always there. I’ve seen LL come up a few times, I remember that Common session. Pete Rock and all of them, 9th Wonder and all of them when Justice League would have their show, Evil D. The first ever J-Dilla on New York radio was played on Future Flavas. My dad actually gave me Future Flavas – that shit belongs to me now. My dad doesn’t really have that interest to preserve it, and I feel that’s a lot of what my purpose is.
What’s some of the history of Future Flavas?
It was online radio before there was online radio, back in ‘94. People could log in and listen all over the world, and that was such a big deal at the time. It was also broadcast on Hot 97, and when my dad left there it was brought to Power 105. It was being broadcast out of a hip-hop crib in upstate New York – it wasn’t at some crazy studio. This was raw and gritty – made off hip-hop money. My dad literally helped build the studios at Hot 97. Some big inventor friend of my dad’s ended-up having a couple of extra transmitters, and he got his hands on one. The whole closest was filled with mad computers and mad electronics. It was this big-ass DVD player looking thing, and it made this mad noise. There’s a load of tapes that are recordings of the show, all in tape racks in my dad’s crib – Pete Rock remixes, Lord Finesse, Jay-Z. A lot of artists that never quite made it, that were just ill. The craziest shit is Black Thought freestyle with Q-Tip and the whole Tribe Called Quest, Consequence, Pete Rock, and my dad freestyled!
LL Cool J – “You Better Watch Me”
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