Marley Marl sound tracked my youth. He’s a legend. Only a few Hip Hop producers ever achieve such legendary status, becoming bigger than the rappers they produce, their sound so distinctive. They become the headline act.
During the mid eighties Marley Marl was the man, producing some of the era’s seminal tracks. He threw down the gauntlet for others to follow and defined Hip Hop’s sound.
In ‘88 Marley Marl dropped In Control with an impressive roster of his Juice Crew affiliates. It remains a classic. Released through his Cold Chillin’ label Marley Marl displayed some of his finest work, proving he was a super-producer – and quite probably the first time a producer has taken the limelight from the featured rappers.
The cover artwork for In Control depicts Marley Marl as a pilot – at the helm and steering his luminaries to greatness. He propelled an impressive roster of rappers into my consciousness, including MC Shan, Steady B, MC Craig G, Biz Markie and Roxanne Shanté to name but a few.
“Crashing snare, scissoring hi-hats, reverbed and delayed bass drum and vicious scratching dominated the Marley Marl sound,” writes David Toop in the liner notes for the excellent Beat Classics compilation album. This sound chimed with me as a teenager – at times crude, hard on the ear and booming, it had an edge. And whilst I was growing up, I wanted to feel a bit of attitude and Marley Marl’s sound was packed full of it.
Here are five fond Marley Marl memories from my youth:
The classic Marley Marl produced Roxanne’s Revenge blew me away. Rumoured to have been recorded in one take in Marley Marl’s flat it is a confrontational piece of crashing Hip Hop attitude dealt with battle rap blows. Roxanne Shanté’s full-on vocals smack like a girl gang happy slapping you in the street.
It was also one of the earliest diss-response tracks and a direct answer to UTFO’s Roxanne Roxanne, spawning the “Roxanne Wars” – a series of nearly 100 tracks dissing Roxanne and pushing her story further and further along. It became a little tiresome to be honest. But Roxanne’s Revenge remains a classic.
The era of the diss-response track had arrived and appealed to me as a teenager – the rappers’ haranguing of each other resonated with the piss taking that took place between my friends.
There’s no better example of the speed and verve of diss-response tracks in the mid eighties than the Marley Marl produced Steady B track Take Your Radio. In response to LL Cool J’s I Can’t Live Without My Radio, Steady B rapped: “I walk down the street a JVC I see so I can snatch it up, throw it against the concrete.”
And whilst LL Cool J’s I Can’t Live Without My Radio is rightfully a rap classic, you always knew LL’s clean cut looks, more manufactured style and conventional songs were going to end up somewhere bleak like I Need Love. So when Steady B dissed LL surely we all smirked (go on, at least a little)?
Here was a young rapper who dressed in track suits and baseball caps. He seemed more accessible – he had the look of kids around me; the way we dressed as breakers and poppers. (Yeah, ok, everyone wanted a Kangol too, just because LL wore one.)
I really liked Steady B at the time. He possessed smart lyrics and I liked the fact he was a freestyler coming with raw and sharp battle raps; he had attitude. His sound was steered by Marley Marl and the brilliant instrumental for Just Call Us Def features on the Beat Classic album.
MC Shan’s album Down By Law is a bonafide Hip Hop classic. Produced by Marley Marl the album contains The Bridge, which was the track to kick-start a bruising Hip Hop beef. The track sparked a battle of words with Boogie Down Production’s KRS One, who accused MC Shan of claiming on the track that Hip Hop was born in Queensbridge.
But this handbags argument detracts from the fact this album is a classic, being listed in The Source’s 100 Best Rap Albums.
Marley Marl remixed two tracks – My Melody and Eric B Is President on Eric B & Rakim’s Paid In Full album. The album is one of the best Hip Hop albums of all time and Marley Marl steals it with his remixes.
Listen to: Roxanne’s Revenge by Roxanne Shanté, Take Your Radio & Just Call Us Def by Steady B, The Bridge by MC Shan, and My Melody & Eric B Is President by Eric B & Rakim
Watch: The Symphony (taken from Marley Marl’s In Control album):