(Photography by Florian Roeske)
MW: Thanks once again for agreeing to this interview. The world is eagerly awaiting Your new project with Masta Ace. With him You created Your biggest hits, like "Nostalgia" or the tracks from "A Long Hot Summer". You've also been touring with him many times. How did this collaboration started?
MP: I met Masta Ace for the first time at the Cutting Room studio in New York. When I first moved to New York from Toronto sixteen years ago, I was an intern there - so I was basically cleaning bathrooms and making coffee... But there were a lot of great artists recording there, like Mos Def and Talib Kweli, De La Soul, Kanye West before he blew up... Ace came through there and I gave him a beat CD. A week or two after he called me and asked if he can use some of my beats. That's how it started - on that beat CD there were "Do It Man" beat and the "Nostalgia" beat. Ace didn't have money left to pay for the beats, so I said""No problem, take the "Do It Man" beat and then instead of paying me You can do a song with me". And he did record the song - "Nostalgia", so it was a really good trade for me! It's the song people know me the most for in the underground.
MW: In Your discography You have many different project You've produced for one artist, like Torae, Hannibal Stax - or Adam, O.S.T.R.... Your latest project is with Milano Constantine, right?
MP: Yeah, for those who don't know - Milano Constantine is a really dope rapper from Harlem, he was down with Diggin in the Crates crew. Me and DJ Skizz - a great producer, one of my closest friends - we produced the album for him, Skizz did most of the beats actually, I did three. Before that, I produced an EP with young A-F-R-O, called "A-F-R-O Polo". I definitely love working with one artist. It's just easier, things happen faster. When I did the "Port Authority" albums, it took forever. "Port Authority 2" took me 4-5 years to make!
MW: How do You decide on which artist You want to work with? What's the criteria?
MP: He's just gotta be dope and I got to like it. I'm not gonna do a whole album with someone I don't like. With Adam - honestly, I wasn't familiar with Polish hip-hop, he sent me an e-mail. I didn't know who he was, I asked my Polish friend Michalina if she knows him. She said yes, and that I should check his music. I don't know Polish, but once I started checking him up, I realized he wasn't just popular, he was talented too. It was and honor that someone on his level would want to do an album with me. He was the only one I was unfamiliar with, everyone else I knew before, like Torae, Ruste Juxx, Hannibal Stax, A-F-R-O.
MW: What about the rappers from Italy?
MP: Oh yeah, Bassi and Ghemon! I met Bassi in New York, and we discussed working on an EP. That was dope. They're my closest friends, especially Bassi. My parents were born in Italy, so it was very special for me to go to Italy and perform. When I work with artists from another country, it gives me an opportunity to see more of the country besides the main cities. When an American artist goes to Poland, chances are they perform either in Warsaw, maybe Cracow or Katowice - they're not going to Sopot or Poznań... Same with Italy - as an American You go to Milan or Rome. But with Bassi and Ghemon I did a 21-city tour in Italy, all these small cities, it was amazing. Same with Adam - he took me to a lot of Polish cities a lot of American artists would never see.
MW: Just like Your namesake, Marco Polo, You travel a lot, touring with Your music. You're going to Colombia and Chile next, and then even to Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. When You're in a foreign country, do You take Your time to do some digging, check out local music?
MP: No. Sometimes I do, but we're there for business, the promoters want us to do the job and then You gotta go. Sometimes they'll keep You for some time so You can hang out... I've been in so many places I haven't seen so much. I've been in Colombia before, and I had the time to go explore the cities - Bogota, Medellin - and the culture and do some digging. It'll be my first time in Chile though. If I do have time, I always take advantage of it. I love to eat and buy records, so that's always what I'm looking for.
MW: Do You always try to discover and research new genres of music from foreign countries?
MP: Always. If You want to do hip-hop, You have to keep learning. The moment You think You learned everything, You end Your career. I always try to discover new stuff from all over the world, it helps You make better beats. That's the way it is.
MW: You mentioned working in the Cutting Room. Do You have a favorite memory from that period?
MP: Definitely meeting Pumpkinhead, Rest in Peace. He was the first person I've made a full album with. I didn't meet him at the Cutting Room exactly, but we did record and mix the album, "Orange Moon Over Brooklyn", at the studio. Doing that album there - that's my special memory. Also seeing the people I grew up listening to, like Kweli, all the Rawkus people... I've met a lot of people there, Common for example. I remember Kanye West came in to play beats for De La Soul, that was crazy.
MW: I wanted to mention that album later... I think "Orange Moon Over Brooklyn" is my favorite album You produced. The chemistry between Pumpkinhead - or PH - and You was amazing.
MP: Thank You. It was interesting for me to listen to because I was still learning how to make beats. Even when I listen to it now, I love some of the samples I've picked for the album, but I can also tell I was still learning how to make my drums knock. It doesn't really matter, it was all relevant, it was a point in time for me. A lot of people discovered me through that album, so I owe PH a lot for that one.
MW: I saw on Facebook that recently You also had the chance to meet Bob James.
MP: Yeah! Bob James is the guy that used to make the stuff for hip-hop before hip-hop even existed. "Nautilus", "Take Me to the Mardi Gras"... An incredible keyboard player, he was sampled a million times. It was an honor to meet him and see him perform.
MW: You mentioned A-F-R-O. For me, he's one of the most talented MC's of the younger generation. Do You follow the new players from this generation?
MP: Absolutely. I think that's where my career is going to go in terms of who I work with. I've just worked with this kid Marlon Craft from New York City, I think he's really dope - his album just dropped and I produced three songs on it. It's called "The Tunnel's End". I think Marlon is one of the few kids from New York that raps with substance and has New York energy. He's not limiting himself, he's doing both old school and newschool type hip-hop, he respects the timeline and incorporates it to make his own sound. Who else... A-F-R-O is dope, obviously. I like this kid Mad Squablz from Philly. One of my favorite "new" rappers is Conway from the Griselda Camp. I hope one day we'll work on something. He's probably my favorite from the up-and-comer generation.
MW: What do You think of the boom-bap Golden Era sound, where it is right now? Do You think it's still there, or people start to forget about it, when it comes to mainstream?
MP: If we're talking about what's playing on the radio - no, it's gone. For the underground - it's always there, as long as I'm here, and a lot of other producers that love that sound are there, guys like Apollo Brown, Jake One or even Nottz. All the greats are still there too, like Preemo. It's interesting - everything's going in cycles, right now hip-hop is going through a lot of changes.
MW: Soon, a very interesting event will take place: Timbaland vs Swizz Beatz beat battle. What's Your take on beat battles in general? Have You done something like this?
MP: I hate battling. I've done it before, but it's weird - I don't want to be known as a producer who just battles, I'd rather just produce music. When I make beats, some of them aren't meant to be played as an instrumental that's meant to be turned into a song with a rapper. I've been in battles, I took part in Red Bull battles some 8 years age and made it to the finals. It was fun, but it's just not my thing. What I did like was The Beat Society - that was an event that helped my career. It started in New York, it was a platform for 4 producers to play beats - it wasn't a battle, just 4 producers hanging out, playing beats for the crowd, chillin'. I did a couple of those, the last one I did featured me, Statik Selektah, Pete Rock and Hezekiah... So You know I had to come with some hard stuff.
MW: How does Your beatmaking process look like now?
MP: Usually what I do - I get up, I go to the gym for an hour, then I go get coffee, come back to my flat and start listening to music, hip-hop, my records or Apple Music... If I find something that hits me, I start working on the MPC. Either I start chopping up samples, or doing drums. Sometimes I go on a video chat with my boy Shylow from Toronto - he's the one who taught me how to sample, he's part of the crew called First Division, they put out an album with a single produced by Preemo. Shylow makes beats too, they're dope - he would play me what he's working on, we would just vibe... Nothing too crazy. I got my coffee and my Newports - I'm good.
MW: Doing beats every day, don't You ever feel You're gonna lose Your motivation eventually?
MP: That's a very good question. Honestly, this whole month I haven't made any beat that I liked. It happens all the time, I'm bored. When I was younger, when I moved to New York, I was so excited to be here and trying to make a career in music that I was just sitting here and making music. I had motivation, ideas, creativity flowing. Now, after all these years, with all my contributions and projects, I put the pressure on myself to do something that's not the same. That's the challenge with every artist - how do You wake up every day and feel inspired, how do You keep making music that touches people. It's very challenging. And lately it's been very hard for me. I'm working, and my new beats aren't bad, but I feel like they're mediocre. I set up my bar too high - one day I want the people to look at me like they look at all the greats. That's all I think about. Now it's more challenging, I have to find inspiration the other way. I don't know what this way is, that's why the last couple of years I've changed my life, started going out more, going to the gym too. Some producers just get up and make 8 beats a day, like Nottz - he's crazy. I can't do it like that. I don't know what's the answer to the challenge is, I'll have to find out.
MW: Maybe challenge yourself musically, incorporate some live instruments etc.?
MP: I've done that, I’ve worked with a lot of musicians. But yeah, You're right - sometimes the key is to make something completely different. I just gotta figure out what that would be. Maybe take some more risks. You know, sometimes as an artist You have that fear that when You start doing new things, Your fans are going to reject You. But I have to do it for myself. Some of the best artists kept evolving, changed every album.
...But I won't do any trap shit. Unless it comes to me naturally and I do it in the way I think feels dope, that's not the style that inspires me. There is actually some trappy stuff I like, but it's usually because there's musicianship and melody incorporated.
MW: I think among the hip-hop fans You are already considered one of the greats.
MP: If people think that, that's amazing, and I'm blessed. But - one of the problems with the generation now, the younger cats is that they call themselves legends before they put out anything. The only ones that can call artists legendary are the people. You can't call yourself a legend. I would never do that. If people think like that and they call me a legend one day, that's a blessing. Thank You for saying that, but it's the people that decide it.
MW: Speaking of legends - You've worked with so many veterans of the game, like Rakim, Big Daddy Kane... For "Port Authority 2" You even brought back Organized Konfusion! Is there still an artist You want to work with and haven't yet done it?
MP: Yeah, there are many - Slick Rick, all the Wu-Tang guys, Ghostface, Raekwon, Method Man... There are tons of them from that era, also there are a couple of new guys I want to work with. It was my goal all along - to work with the guys I was listening to growing up. When I heard Pete Rock's "Soul Survivor", I told myself I'm gonna make a producer album like that and I'll have all my favorite people on it.
Speaking of Pete Rock, I want to clarify one thing. If You're hardcore hip-hop fan, You remember Pete Rock had a group called InI. In InI there was a rapper named Marco Polo - and THAT'S NOT ME. A lot of people think that. Shout out to that Marco Polo, Pete Rock and Grap Luva and all of the InI, but it's not me.
MW: Your songs were also used in different media. Your song with Torae was included on a "Kick-Ass 2" soundtrack...
MP: Yeah, "Danger". Torae didn't even want to use it on the album, Shylow and me had to convince him. That song made me and Torae more money than any other song we ever did. And it continues to get licensed. It's been in "Kick-Ass 2", it's been in the video game "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2", just last week it was in 50 Cent's show "Power"!
Another interesting story about "Danger" - when I made it, it had samples. Somebody wanted to use it, so I had to replay all the music with instruments, so that we didn't have to clear the samples. I hit up my man G Koop, he's from the West Coast, he plays guitar - he helped me replay all the music. Now G Koop - shout out to him - made the sample for "Bad and Boujee", which was one of the biggest songs of last year.
MW: One of Your compositions was used by Brooklyn Nets, right?
MP: Yes! I made the TV theme song for the Brooklyn Nets - on the arena they play a different song, but if You watch it on TV on Yes Network, they play my song. They've been using it for like 6 years now.
MW: Are there any other Your beats used like that?
MP: I have a lot of beats played in MTV shows, stuff like that. Also, I work with Canadian comedian Russell Peters. I used to do music for his first two DVDs, "Red, White and Brown" and "Live from O2 Arena". Russell is a big hiphophead, and he's hilarious. And also, me, Masta Ace and Wordsworth did a song called "I Refuse", the video for this song was made for Russell's DVD.
MW: How do You remember creating "Kartagina" with Adam?
MP: I'm gonna be honest - when we first started working on the album, I was sending him "good" beats. But once we started working, I started to understand the level of talent this man had, and I knew I had to step up the production, send him the beats on another level. I would send him beats, he would record it and then he would call me and tell me all the lyrics in Polish and then explain to me what it means. It was very difficult for me to remember because of the new language, but he was very good at telling me what the songs were about. Then we would have DJ Haem - who's a great dude, and he's fucking amazing with the scratches - do his thing. Then Adam would call me and say something like: "On this song, can we get Lil' Fame from M.O.P."? So I would call Lil' Fame.. And even he would come over, hear Adam's raps and say that he's dope, he could tell without understanding the language. Adam was really good at making sure I was involved, because as I said it's hard for me to critique something I didn't understand. He always kept me in the loop, we made sure the album was mixed and mastered the right way. I think Killing Skills helped with mixing, also one of my engineers did. It was a group effort, and Adam and me worked to the best of our abilities. It was great. Putting the album out and touring with it was one of the best memories of my life.
MW: Did You ever talk with Adam about doing the second part of "Kartagina"?
MP: Yeah, we did talk about it, it was supposed to happen, but then other things happened. I would say right now the timing to do that album is not right. I think Adam took his career to another plateau and it's amazing, I'm so happy for him. He knows if he ever wants to do another one, I'm ready. I would love to do another one, but who knows what will happen. If we don't do it, I'm still grateful we had the opportunity to do it. I won my first "Grammy" - Fryderyk - and earned my first platinum album with Adam, so I am always grateful to him and Titus from Asfalt Records for the opportunity.
MW: Do You have any message for Your fans in Poland?
MP: Yeah, I love You guys! I miss You, hope we'll see You soon on a new tour. Thanks for all the love, so many Polish people comment on my Facebook, when I'm doing live shows... I really fell in love with Polish people when I toured the country. There's a pure kindness about them, and true love for the music. They're fun, and even though I don't drink, they always want to give me vodka. Shout out to the beautiful Polish ladies, some of the most beautiful women I've seen were from Poland. The overall energy and culture of the Polish people is always nice. And You guys love to party, holy fuck.
MW: So, what's next for You?
MP: Masta Ace album is one of the main things, I'm doing a lot of work with Marlon Craft... And for me as a solo artist - I don't know. I think what I want to do is compile a new album just of beats. I released "Baker's Dozen" recently, but those aren't new beats.
MW: And You also released a couple of compilations called "Pad Thai"...
MP: Yeah. "Pad Thai" is not music, it's a tool for producers to make beats, it's all my drum sounds. There's four volumes of that, You can get them on my website marcopolobeats.com. Actually - every time I release a new drumkit, I hold a beat contest, and the second producer from my first competition was Polish - his name is Emapea, he's really dope.
MP: Thanks for the interview!