Marco Polo - Port Authority

Posted May 21, 2007
Tags: Marco Polo,

With a name like Marco Polo you’ve got to be an explorer, and like his ancient namesake New...

Port Authority Album Review

With a name like Marco Polo you’ve got to be an explorer, and like his ancient namesake New York City producer Marco Polo charts some new territory without completely redrawing the map on his new album, Port Authority. Hailing from our frozen northern neighbor (Canada for the geographically challenged) Marco immersed himself in NY’s gritty boroughs and rumbling subways. After spending years perfecting his soundboard skills, Marco has dedicated his album to bringing back NY’s signature boom-bap sound, and for the most part he succeeds.

Port Authority is not a mixtape. Marco has crafted a producer album more in the vein of Pete Rock than DJ Drama, it’s more than just a collection of beats for MCs to spit over, and it’s a unified vision. Marco’s production style is never overpowering, he consistently balances sharp percussion with light synth harmonies and string sections, a far cry from today’s ringtone-ready beats. In addition he’s recruited a roster of predominately New York MCs, from legends like Kool G Rap to up-and comers like Jo Jo Pelligrino, with the mic skills to match his carefully honed beats.

At the heart of Port Authority is the idea of hip-hop’s resurrection, a look back at a time when it was a culture, not a marketing campaign. The most obvious example of this memorializing is the track Nostalgia featuring Masta Ace. The beat is built around a drum loop and a mellow harmony perfect for a stroll down memory lane with Ace’s carefully written wordplay. The track is undeniably dope, but it also illustrates the central paradox that comes with nostalgia; by remaining too focused on the past the present becomes overshadowed. Artists fixated on back-in-the-day styles run the risk of sounding like your grandfather, “In my day we had to walk to school and we loved it.” There’s a fine line between remembering what came before and ignoring the future. Marco walks it admirably.

It’s 2007, and that means the term “old school” now refers not only to Kool Herc and Grandmaster Flash, but mid-90’s acts like the Brand Nubians and Tribe Called Quest. Marco brings some new “old school” MCs on Port Authority for razor sharp tracks like Time and Place with Ed O.G. and The Radar, a cut built around a rumbling drum and interwoven guitar lines for Large Professor to drop a nearly flawless flow over. Kool G Rap stops by to lay down some concrete-hard rhymes on Hood Tales, a darkly shadowed song that doesn’t devolve into melodramatic gunplay; it’s a fistfight not a massacre. Hip-hop’s a young man’s game, but Port Authority proves these “old-school” MCs are alive and kickin’ flows fresher than most young rappers.

Track after track about how much better things were back in the day gets old as fast as the most materialistic booty rap, but Port Authority switches it up enough to keep things moving. Speak Softly is a cinematic cut full of violins and a repeating vocal sample that Jo Jo Pellegrino fits into his tight rhymes, and the similarly constructed All My Love has Jaysaun putting down verses about race and fatherhood with the heat of a battle rapper. The standout track on Port Authority, and its unofficial anthem, is War featuring fellow Canadian Kardinal Offishall. Marco gives the intimidating intelligence and hard flow of Offishall room to maneuver with a beat that’s a sure anthem. This is the song the underground’s been waiting for, a banner of war they can march behind.

For all its talk about the good ol’ days, Port Authority itself is proof that artistically driven hip-hop is being made outside of corporate boardrooms. There’s a time and a place for booty shakin’ materialism, but Marco Polo’s a reminder to all the heads out there more concerned with their checkbook than their rhymebook that hip-hop culture doesn’t need ‘em. This means war.

For more information on Marco Polo, you can read or listen to his interview with's Nathan S.

DJBooth Rating - 4.5 Spins

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Posted May 21, 2007
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