Interviews

An Italian in New York: Mondo Marcio Gets Fresh

Press photo from Marcio's Facebook page.

Italy's favourite rapper mines the crates of American '90s hip-hop on his latest work.

Possibly the hardest working MC in Italy, Mondo Marcio can proudly stand among his contemporaries of Italian hip-hop, weighted with enough albums and mixtapes under his belt to keep him from falling off the wayside anytime soon. The rapper has returned this year with what is his most ambitiously American-leaning album thus far. His 2014’s Nella Bocca Della Tigre flirted heavily with the sounds of ‘60s Italian pop (courtesy of interpolations of the works by Italy’s Mina, a ‘60s pop diva). This year’s La Freschezza del Marcio finds the artist mining the feel-good radio vibes of a ‘90s American hip-hop record.

Much of the album was written during Marcio’s travels to the US, where he often convened with a number of American producers. “The album has a lot to do with the music culture [of the US], and just culture in general, really,” he explains. “The US, especially big cities like New York, has a much more open way of approaching new sounds and styles and music genres. I felt very inspired by that. Nella Bocca Della Tigre has a sound of its own; it lives in a world of its own. It's my creation, but still... I had to let it take me somewhere else. This album is very exciting for me because it's very '90s–ish, but still it has a lot of new influences in it.”

Much like Italy’s number one hip-hop export, Jovanotti, who has made friends with the likes of Michael Franti and the Beastie Boys in his 30-year career, Marcio’s willingness to engage outside of the insular hip-hop scene of Italy has rewarded him with opportunities not afforded to his fellow homeland rappers. La Freschezza del Marcio’s lines are stark -- the work of American classicism which relies on an approach uncomplicated and direct. The album parlays a bluesier formation of sound into a crisp swing of dense grooves. It pushes for the ground soil whereas Nella Bocca Della Tigre paints frescos on the ceilings of Italian grandeur. His last album employed a palette of considerable colours; he’s now working chiefly in black and white here with a cold streak of the blues -- hues he gets a lot of mileage out of.

“[The album] is about having songs that actually say something, like ‘Questo Cuore Queste Stelle’ -- very private and very genuine songs -- and still leave a spot for being a virtuoso,” the rapper explains. “It’s a lot of fun for me. It's like an actor who can do both theatre and blockbuster movies. The only difference is that in my case, it's not an act. I'm talking about real things.”

Marcio has always found a way to counterpoint a decidedly American influence of strut with the continental vibe of Italian savoir-faire. La Freschezza del Marcio refers to such designs; it’s a party record crafted and delivered with the abandon of a Daisy Age rapper. Think early Brand Nubian doing a summer-long stint at Finale Ligure. Of all the Italian rappers, his music seems most to express male aggression through the basslines. His latest work explores boombox dynamics with a deathly bottom end, grounding the rhythms in an aesthetic pointedly European.

“It has to be there,” Marcio says, speaking of the album’s excessive and heavy bass. “Something about low frequencies...I love the fact that they can actually move you. Like literally. You can feel the bass in your stomach and bones; the right 808 can make your car shake, and make everybody in it shake as well. Don't even mention live shows... the crowd goes crazy.”

On the album, political issues also take hold, which is nothing new to his listeners. Marcio isn’t exactly a stranger to matters of bureaucracy. His 2012 album Cose Dell’Altro Mondo examined such issues, focusing on the polemical nature of Italian politics. La Freschezza del Marcio approaches the topic more lightly, but the ideas of economic and cultural stability still resound with the rapper. His time spent living in the States on and off has given him a window into the always contentious scene of American political ideologies.

“I see in Trump what Berlusconi was 15 years ago,” he deliberates. “People like Trump rise from blind ignorance and suffering and pain and hate. Then they use all these things as tools for their campaign. Berlusconi rose in a time when people needed jobs and hope and wanted no more half measures. He based his act on that.

And it worked. It always works. Desperate people make desperate choices, and seeing that the US has some major problems, Trump is going to use all these problems and turn himself into the answer. A lot of people have voted for him. That's not the first time, and it won't be the last... Only thing I can tell you is that men like Berlusconi, Trump and others -- they always leave the country shredded to pieces. No other country will take your country seriously for a long time; they will not want any business with you -- because your people put that man in power.”

For now, Marcio’s restless nature continues to lead him down new roads of his career. He recently completed a book entitled La città fantasma, a pulp ghost story that has been picking up steadily with Italian audiences. He;s also currently recording demos for his first full-length English-language album after hooking up with several New York and L.A.-based producers. He raps in impeccable English and, judging from the breezy vibes of the demos, he’s been mining, once again, the crates of early ‘90s hip-hop.

“I get bored kinda quickly, just in general,” he says. “I grew up on English music all my life. I think it's kind of the natural course of actions. At first, it felt kind of strange. Now I just love it. So much fun!

I met some incredible musicians in L.A., like Mr P. Simmonds; he's from London. He really took this album (La Freschezza del Marcio and the upcoming English-language debut) to the next level. But everybody is going to L.A. right now, the industry is there. There are a lot of reasons for that; probably New York just got too expensive. Sad but true, I guess. That being said, there's no place like Gotham. The kind of inspiration and energy I get when I'm in New York is just great, almost mystical, I might say. I have a very strong connection with the city. I guess I have a little bit of a Bruce Wayne in me -- if you take away the billions and the cape.”

Marcio turns 30 this year, another rite of passage that the rapper will enter since the beginning of his career at the tender age of 16. With the amount of success he’s had in the last decade or so, he isn’t entirely perturbed with the prospect of getting older. Averaging at about one album per year should give one a clear idea of the kind of outlook that has carried him thus far. "I'm still very young," he maintains, "and very hungry!"

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