MARS ILL - Interview

The much talented Mars Ill (ManCHILD, and Dust) are the authors of Raw Material, one of last year’s must-have hip-hop albums. That was just one good reason to ask for a short interview with them. But we little atheist French people couldn’t help asking some nasty questions about the christian content of some of their lyrics, fearing that they would not be welcome. However, ManCHILD, the emcee, accepted to answer them and we must admit he did it quite well.

The international hip hop community discovered you through Raw Material. What is the story of Mars Ill before that ?

Dust and i met in a dirty back alley in Lower Eastside Atlanta. I was frightened at first, but he ended up making really dope beats, so i got over it.

You recently participated to Hip Hop Infinity's compilation Fishin' in Troubled Waters, and your track is the best of the album according to many people. Do you plan including it to your next album?

You know, we haven't really thought about that. Especially since that joint appeared on two compilations. The re-served records comp as well as the HHI one. We were real pleased at how the song turned out, but I don't want people to get our next album and be like, "that song, AGAIN?!!?"

HH Infinity has a strong identity and a huge influence online based on unusual hip hop artists. What's your position concerning this scene?

Internet geeks, you mean? Hate em. Nah, it's cool. The internet is good and bad. The good part is it allows independent and low-budget artists to get their music heard by a massive amount of people without spending a ton of money on promotion. However, it's a bad thing when this community is or it becomes an artists' only link with hip-hop. Many times it turns into kids in their bedrooms making irrelevant music. However, some of those hermits make pretty dope records. So, forget everything I said, I cancel myself out.

Raw Material begins with some words from Blackalicious. Are you connected with them?

No, they were just nice enough to give us a shout. I think their music is pretty incredible, so i guess that's a connection.

Some of the album tracks are produced by Scott Matelic, the man behind Sole’s best song (according to me), "Year Ov Da Sexxx Symbol". Are you connected with the Anticon crew as well?

Again, no. I've met sole a couple of times and he's a really cool person. Moodswing is a good friend of ours and there will be collabs there in the future i'm sure. We met scott at a show in Indianapolis a couple of years ago, heard his work, and it was on. Scott's really talented. He has a song on Sage Francis' upcoming album.

ManCHILD also participated to another compilation: an album with hip hop versions of some famous praise songs produced by MG the Visionary. Can you tell us about the project and your own contributions?

Met MG! in april of 2000. At that time, we had the mixed version of Raw Material that we were sort of shopping/showing around. He really felt what we were doing and felt who we were as people. So, two weeks later, Uprok Records flew me out to seattle and I stayed with MG! for a couple of days and recorded my parts. It was a little rushed, but it came out cool. As far as the project, if I look at strictly as a hip-hop record, I wouldn't necessarily rank it really really high. However, when I listen to it and hear all these nasty emcees speaking to God in their verses and truly giving credit where credit is due, it moves me. Playdough's joint, 'Suffering', and the last posse cut song are probably my favorites on there.

If I remember well, you classified God as your first center of interest just before hip hop on one of your tracks. I guess you will accept me to ask too many questions on Christian rap, which is almost unknown in France.

Christian Rap is a silly term really. I don't classify us as such, but fire away.

Christian Rap used to be considered as a copy, something not innovative, a kind of hip hop equivalent to Diet Coke. But Raw Material got very positive reviews in 2000 and Braille's album as well the year before. Do you think that Christian Rap is now musically mature and relevant?

Again, "Christian Rap", silly. But Christ is relevant. I think the bottom line for me is that God is the center of my life (Dust as well). So, when i go about making music and imparting what's inside to people, God is there in the midst of it all, as well as the driving force. I think Braille makes honest music as well and shows people who he is and who God is to him. I material that is musically mature and relevant is made by people of all walks of life. Likewise, i think trite, crappy music is made by people of all walks of life, belief systems, etc...

What's your position concerning non Christian rap, and more specifically rap whose lyrics are against the Christian moral principles?

I listen to good hip-hop music. Many times, the artists' philosophies and view of life seem bugged to me, but it doesn't make me dislike them or their music. I wish the world was a perfect place and that everyone had a proper perspective on God, but that's how it goes. It won't be the end when everyone is unified on what they know to be true.

You declare "Love is not Abortion" on ‘Love’s not’. What would be your opinion on a song such as Digable Planets’ ‘La Femme Fétal’ ?

Playdough's going to kill me. What's the song about?

I have a friend who told me recently that he had a problem with Mars Ill's lyrics, even if the beats are really good. He told me that gangsta lyrics were more hurting than Christian ones, but according to him, it’s easier not to take them seriously, whereas someone like you MANchild really thinks what he says. Aren't you afraid that your Christian lyrics sound too ideological?

Tell your friend we hope he likes the next album.

Who are the best Christian rap artists at the moment, apart from you and Braille?

All my Deepspace5 bretheren, LMNO, some of the Oldominion Cats, DJ Epic (Manny), Jurny Big, Future Shock, Othello... Too many people to name, I guess.

Let's finish with my standard questions: what is on your playlist right now? Hip hop or non hip hop?

Bigg Jus maxi single de (prelude to the Lune TNS album)
Can-Ox, The Cold Vein
Aesoprock, Labor Days
Qwel & Typical Cats, Junk
Eyedea and Abilities, First Born
Playdough's solo (unreleased), Lonely Superstar
Sage Francis, Sick of Waiting Tables
Jax (sur Binkis Tecords), JFK (Jax Forever King)

Also went back through my collection and re-discovered the Fondle 'em EP's for Siah and Yeshua, as well as the Juggaknots. Both incredible.

What do you know of French hip-hop?

Not really. Just was telling us there's some nice material, but I'm familiar with nothing.

Would you enjoy playing in France? Do you think this would be possible in a short or middle term?

We'd love to make it happen. It's tentatively in the works for Mars ILL and some others in europe, but we'll have to wait and see.

Most of French people do not understand English lyrics. Does it bother you as an emcee with strong messages?

Of course you'd prefer to be understood, but then again, any fan is a good fan.

Any final message or statement to end this interview?

Yes, pick up the Mona Lisa 12" soon available through Landspeed Distribution. Already available through Foolblown and BP Distribution. Also, we're working on a 7 song EP that will be released in early 2002 through ILL Boogie Records as part of a series they're doing. Next full-length, Backbreakanomics to follow that.


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