"New York Together Is Unstoppable”: An Interview With Rapper Marlon Craft

"People recognize me on the street and I could sell out a show, but sometimes I feel like there’s nothing for me to do but stay in my room and drink and make this music."
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Marlon Craft

Marlon Craft is the most poppin’ broke rapper you know, homie, as he declares on his latest EP, A Dollar In Quarters: 50c.

Scores of fans discover the proudly New York-based rapper through his viral freestyles and remixes of Billboard hits, but anyone who comes for the bars will immediately be hooked by his ear for melody and understanding of song structure. His 2017 album, The Tunnel’s End, proved that the artist could capture the classic grit of his city without sacrificing new age swagger and the unexpected ease of his raspy singing.

Only three months into 2018, Craft has already delivered two of four EPs from his A Dollar In Quarters series. While his personality is present in all his music, the latest, 50c, captures a new side of Craft through four slightly tender, slightly coming-of-age vignettes. In particular, lead single “Friends” is a perfect example of Craft’s ability to take the local to the global level.

As he explains, the single is steeped in “the feeling of being alone even when it seems that everyone is around, or that things are going well and a lot of people know you, is part and parcel of some of this shit.”

"People recognize me on the street and I could sell out a show, but sometimes I feel like there’s nothing for me to do but stay in my room and drink and make this music, because there’s just not a lot of people that I can relate to,” Craft says. "I think a lot of New York people can relate to that feeling. New York is the most social, anti-social place on earth. ‘Friends’ is an embrace of the coldness—that’s NY in a nutshell.”

In that breath, and all over this EP, Craft is the NYC everyman we can all relate to: he loves rhymes, basketball, whiskey, and looking pensively out the window. He is as self-aware as they come and unafraid of the not-so-glamorous phases of the come-up.

Moreover, the project is obsessed with space and navigation, how Craft moves around as a “Hell’s Kitchen baby” on “Corner Store Stories” pairs well with identifying himself as a white man operating within a Black culture on “Hold Your Horses.” He is tactful in his admittances, avoiding the performative nature of white guilt for an honest critique of his own privilege.

His honesty, then, makes him a resounding authority on the mic. When Craft spits, you listen, and more importantly, you believe him. He’s not too hard to admit he sometimes feels slighted or isolated, he’s not too hard to check his boyish insecurities, and he’s not too hard to admit sometimes he acts tough and lets important relationships putter out of his control, like on “Kevin Durant’s Interlude.” If wisdom is derived from knowing you know nothing, the languid “what do I know?” driving this cut makes Craft one of the wisest on the rise.

With that knowledge, we can return to “Friends” and its New York brand of loneliness. The single inspired a conversation between myself and Marlon Craft, wherein I hoped he would be able to unpack the dog-eat-dog mentality that marks the current NYC hip-hop scene. As Marlon sees it, there is one major issue that hinders the growth of the hip-hop community: a lack of physical spaces for artists to connect and evolve their culture.

“The major issue is simply the lack of physical spaces for hip-hop to live and breathe,” he explains. “Where does a young, aspiring hip-hop artist go to develop fans? Where are the quality open mics and jam sessions, by and for young people, that occur with frequency and draw an audience and have real present-day cultural relevance? Where are the places that, if I’m a dope upcoming emcee from NY and you’re a dope upcoming emcee from NY, we go to meet and know each other?

“Those spaces need to exist for New York artists, and they need to be dope and they need to be curated in a way that prevents them from being oversaturated, but still inclusive. There aren’t none, but they are few and far between.”

A scarcity of creative resources shouldn’t obscure the truth of the matter, though. In Craft’s own words: “New York together is unstoppable.” Between all of Pro Era, Flatbush Zombies, and The Underachievers, when everything comes together and resources are shared, the Beast Coast is a force to be reckoned with.

“The funny thing is, there’s so much love and respect amongst upcoming NY artists,” Craft contends. “I know it because I see it, I receive it, I give it, and I feel it. But the infrastructure is not there. It’s not about everyone working with everyone all the time—there’s too many people for that. But it’s about everyone knowing everyone, sharing resources, and truly wanting everyone to win. It’s about a sense of community.”

Craft points to Chicago as a prime example of a local community rallying around its upstarts. The upper echelon of Chicago hip-hop, the Chances, Sabas, and Nonames all attended—and continue to facilitate—the same open mic events, can point to the same mentors, and have complementary visions of the city. It’s not that NYC artists don’t have complementary visions, mentors, and a desire to work together, but that the scarcity of these resources encourages a borderline unhealthy solitude.

As Craft points out, there is a level of cynicism amongst New York rappers, partly because the industry is quick to screw a green artist for a check, and partly because we quantify success as so finite. 

“In a culture where artists know that opportunity is scarce, and that you could deserve opportunities and still not get them, it encourages an attitude of solitude and of keeping opportunities to oneself,” he explains. “It enhances skepticism to work with other people and partner on opportunities because you simply can’t trust the system.”

No matter how flawed the industry may be, though, Craft defiantly believes New York will always be responsible for what’s considered hot in hip-hop. “It’s important to note that regardless of the direction that the culture takes at any given time, NY is always at the forefront,” he tells me.

“Cardi B is from the Bronx. JAY-Z still doing JAY-Z things. The entire A$AP Mob, Joey, etc. Regardless of whether you love where certain music goes, New York is always a major player.”

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