Issue 43 (2002)
Interplanetary Space rap or Contemporary Christian hiphop? The Atlanta based duo of Soulheir the manChild and DJ Dust, collectively known as Mars Ill, has heard both because of their innovative name and the perceived underlying theme that permeates the content of their releases. Neither statement, however, is an accurate description of what Mars Ill represents. After a listen to “Raw Material” and the most recent release, “Blue Collar Sessions,” one quickly realizes there are no extraterrestrial references to be found. As far as the typecasting of Christian hiphop goes, manChild feels it’s simply a way for people to attempt to put a label on the group.
“‘Love’s Not’ is a song that everyone points to on ‘Raw Material’ where we convey our faith and what we believe,” reflects manChild. “People are really eager to put things in categories, put qualities to it and define it in their minds, especially with something like Christianity where they have preconceived notions of what a Christian looks like, acts like, feels like and sounds like. We kinda go against the grain in a number of ways, so I think that’s why it’s such an issue.”
While many have dwelled on the negative aspects of being considered “Christian/Positive” hiphop it does have its definite advantages. Mars Ill benefits from that perception by reaching out to a younger crowd. While most hiphop acts are forced to concentrate on the 18 and over group, Mars Ill is able to perform for those around the ages of 15-17 who you wouldn’t see at your normal hiphop show at a bar or club. While on the surface it may seem to be unimportant, those sixteen year olds make up a large portion of the music consumers. It’s definitely a different avenue and while it is an option it isn’t one that they focus a lot of energy on.
What they do focus on, however, is making dope no nonsense hiphop. Together for almost four years now, Mars Ill hit the road in ‘99 and have been developing chemistry ever since. According to Dust they were way ahead of the curve. “I’d compare it to a relationship with a significant other. When we first met we started off at the year stage where we really knew each other and our musical tastes were dead on. I felt like I met the MC version of myself.” The chemistry building has been evident through the stream of work they have put out and has continued to evolve beyond their initial release. Both feel their first album “Raw Material,” came across as a muddled composition, because on some sections they were just getting to know each other.
“We had all these songs that we kind of vomited onto a record to get it out and made an album,” admits manChild. “I think the Ill Boogie EP is a much better representation of Dust and I working on arrangement and not a simple verse-hook-outro. We got more intricate with it and bounced stuff off of each other and by that point we’d known each other enough to truly make music together rather than give me a dope beat and I’ll rap to it. With the little bit of time we’ve been together it’s amazing what has happened so far.”
With the newest recording on the shelves in the “Blue Collar Sessions” EP off of Ill Boogie Records, manChild and Dust sought to extend beyond the boundaries of their past work. The circumstances were also much different this time around due to the fact that Big Juss volunteered his lab in Atlanta to Mars Ill to record and that brought new opportunities to the table.
“We only had seven songs to do,” explains Dust. “We did rough drafts of songs and came back and redid them. We worked on certain angles. We were able to do stuff we’d never done before. With “Raw Material” we only had six days to record eighteen songs. We were cashing in favors and people were taking time out of their day to record us and for [Blue Collar Sessions] it was more of working on our own schedule.”
With more concentration on musical creation than the logistics of recording both Dust and manChild were able to make certain strides as producer and writer respectively. While many of the concepts came from the purpose of presenting a different angle than some of the other artists in the series were coming from, others came from Dust and manChild testing their limits. In a sense Dust has been labeled as a “boom-bap” type of producer and he wanted to express himself differently and in turn this brought out new ideas in manChild and challenged him to make the same type of advances in his lyrics.
“Some people are good at writing narratives or good at writing storylines. For me, the easiest thing to do is piece together punchlines and abstract thought that doesn’t necessarily connect, but sort of connects. With the EP it shows my progression as a writer. I was trying to do different things and also write some narratives. There are a lot of them that I have that no one will ever hear. I’m trying to do something different so people won’t get bored of my abstract thought and little witty punchlines.”
To see an example of this progression one need look no further than the creative“2 Steps,” with its wild drum patterns and “” rhythms. Based on people’s misguided notions of their situations, “2 steps,” delves into the idea that we all feel that if we can just make one or two more moves we would finally be comfortable. Instead of preaching or simply taking a third person perspective, manChild throws himself in as one of the bunch with the last verse describing his life as a family man and an MC. Though he acknowledges the scenarios as unlikely he still establishes the connection with the audience, because he is in the same boat trying to take those next two steps to get where he needs to be. This song is at the heart of the message Mars Ill wants to get across to its listeners.
“All I can really hope to do is share our struggles and our everyday life,” manChild wholeheartedly proclaims. “That’s where “Blue Collar Sessions” came from. To be able to say this is what I go through and maybe you can identify with it, of the same token this is what I believe and if this can help you that would be wonderful. All we can hope [for] musically is to work to the best of our ability to keep pushing ourselves.”
With “Raw Material” and “Blue Collar Sessions” both in stores, the crew is already at work finishing their new album, “Backbreakanomics.” The idea is to improve on “Blue Collar Sessions,” which gave off a more serious vibe and aim at a lighter side of things. “We really like the feel of how the EP turned out and I think we hit upon something,” says manChild. “With the next album it’s about progressing even further and playing with tempos a little bit and not getting stuck in one mood. The EP came out very serious, but there is another side to us. We can be a little more playful with it and maybe a little more sarcastic. I think the next full length album will show every side of us from a production standpoint to a vocal one.”