Marc His Words: Brian "Sene" Marc on 'Hoodrat: Stuff With My Friends'
Hoodrat offers the warmer and gentler side to rapper Brian Marc's overall art, where the rhythms are bouncier and the grooves edge closer to electropop.
Hoodrat: Stuff With My Friends
4 Feb 2019
Brian Marc introduced himself to audiences as Sene back in 2007, crafting an East Coast fusion of hip-hop and jazz. Given the nod of approval by one influential hip-hop maestro Blu after moving to the West Coast, the rapper began courting LA crowds with flows that relayed his life growing up in Brooklyn as he performed on a sharp and steep learning curve. An underground artist through and through, Marc released three projects, Beautifully Ugly and Pavement Special both in 2007 and A Day Late & A Dollar Short (with Blu) in 2009 before stepping up for a little more visibility overground with Brooklyknight in 2012. Minimal but hard, Brooklyknight remains a clear study in rough but well-crafted boom-bap, opting for a sound that is scant on melody but thick on groove. The album didn't set the hip-hop scene ablaze, but it did shine a light on a growing and curious talent.
As a young man with natural good looks and a suave, laid-back personality, he caught the attention of filmmaker Elizabeth Wood, who cast him as the lead in her urban drama White Girl, which made its debut in 2016. Marc proved to be at ease in front of the camera and continued with a series of film projects while, in between, releasing another album (this time under his own name) in 2016. Called The Extraordinary Pleasure of Being Someone Else, the album is a pivotal and transitional work; it pushes toward a more electronic sound (perhaps a by-product from his electronic R&B side project, Denitia and Sene) forgoing much of the heavy hip-hop vibes of his early work for softer, melodic textures.
Still retaining much of the rap elements of Brooklyknight, The Extraordinary Pleasure of Being Someone Else (Beau Novo, 2016) in fact, brings to surface Marc's nostalgic fascination with '80s synthpop, an influence that also heavily marks his latest work, Hoodrat: Stuff With My Friends (Beau Novo, 4 Feb 2019).
Admittedly, Hoodrat is an album that may divide the rapper's devoted following. It clearly skimps on much of the boom-bap elements that initially established him as an artist. But it offers the warmer and gentler side to his overall art, a side that was tellingly glimpsed on Extraordinary Pleasure. Rhythms are bouncier here and a number of the beats are likely to appeal to fans of Daft Punk.
As if to counterpoint the lithe grooves on the album, Marc injects a Brooklynese attitude of street-strutting all over the techno-throb. "Beautiful Minds", a glitching, broken beat suffused in the eerie, night-time atmospheres of deserted parking lots, still finds him flowing with b-boy grit. On "GhettoBirdAffliction", he locates a braggadocio slide in his rhymes that, nonetheless, ring tender and sweet. And the velvety thump of "Numb" pumps a hard rap while edging dangerously close to a sound that is accessible as any pop song.
The rapper speaks with PopMatters about the change in his musical direction on Hoodrat and the themes in his work that he is exploring this time around.
Hoodrat sounds like a complete about-face turn from your previous efforts. It favours a more electro, new wave synth sound, rather than the straightforward boom-bap production and rapping on Brooklyknight and the R&B influences on Denita and Sene. There's more emphasis on singing this time around. What were your influences going into this new album?
I can hear that a bit also when I take a break from the record and come back and listen to it. To that respect, what I'll do is listen a bunch when the album is coming to a close (as far as producing and recording) and then I'll take a break. Then I'll listen again on some fresh ears. Then once something is released I'll never listen to it again. Maybe a few years later, but often not that even.
I've been writing and producing for so many others over the years and trying to develop a sound or sounds for them and finding my own love for some of the styles in the process. Additionally, I've had different aliases that have had their own minor successes. So it wasn't an intentional about-face at all. What it really is, is finally just mixing all those sounds together under my own name for once. The Novellus work, the Denitia and Sene work, solo Sene, even some of the vibes I made with Amrit show on a track like "Thief".
Also, just getting away from the glass ceiling of expectations. There's always this thing artists go through (if they say otherwise, then they're not keeping it real) that you have to fight off, of giving people what you think they expect. I never wanted or want to be the artist that gives you the same thing every time. Once I've done something, I've done it. Why do it again? I say that respectfully. I'm not here to play it safe.
Also, there is rap on there!
What are some of the overall themes you are exploring on Hoodrat, in particular the title-track, which is the album's leading single?
While there are a bunch of different sonic feels, there's an underlying theme, hence, the title. People see kids that come up a certain way and they just get labelled. Labels like "bad seeds" or "hoodrats" or whatnot. Not analyzing what social circumstances have made them that way.
I wanted to make an album where I talk about all these different issues without just being an on-the-nose rap record. Using all different genres to touch on these issues that are typically only addressed in rap. And working to make them good songs versus being only either a good song or a socially conscious song. They can be both. It was wildly fun to get a verse back from Andy Allo unlike like anything I've heard from her, lyrically speaking; just commenting on her own place as a woman in this cycle.
That's also why there's a dancier cut, like "Gutterboy", where all I say is an "I don't want stay in this gutter" refrain. And then my daughter says, "I'm not only what you see, I'm also what you don't see".
"Thief" is indirectly addressing all the times I've been creatively "stolen from" so to speak, and saying, "hey, y'all see us as little hoodrat thieves but really all of y'all are thieves." Not poor folk but predominately the affluent who come up by keeping others down. But instead of making it an on-the-nose, overdone socially conscious rap record, it's a punk record with a rap thrown in there.
So throughout the album, I'm on about everything from mental health to friends overdosing to selling drugs... without beating up the same things that have been done before by myself or others.
There's this terrible misconception that pop music means bad or corny. Pop just means popular. I had a friend say something to the effect of "I don't want to make pop records, I want to make honest good music," and I thought to myself, that's one of the dumbest things I've heard from an artist. Some of the most political songs have been monstrous pop records. Look no further than Bob Marley or John Lennon. You don't have to choose. It can be both pop(ular) and political.
"Numb" (single cover / courtesy of Beau Novo)
Tell us about the visual components that you have planned for the new album. What have you envisioned for your music videos and any live shows, if you will be touring the album?
Damn... honestly this might not be good to divulge but this is the least I've thought of some imagery. I mean the songs will build pictures in one's head, or at least that's the goal.
But I just wanted an honest record and being myself not some done-up version of myself. That said, I teamed up with [photographer] Aaron Vazquez, who's known me very well for a long time. He's someone I could trust with capturing my visual aesthetic honestly and he killed it for me on a video and the artwork. Love working with him and [director and visual artist] Pace Rivers as much as possible, creatively.
The video for "Hoodrat" is a reflection of the neighborhood kid I was, contrasted by the man I'm becoming. A lot of then and now; the reckless party sene (pun intended?) to now, where I'm far too intelligent to involve myself in some of the things I used to. Self inventory. Don't get me wrong. I'm most likely going to have some fun on more visuals. But I'm not going to do some contrived thing. Maybe on a future record it will be completely thematic visually where it calls for that character build. But here, I'm just being me. All I want to be is the best version of myself.
As far as shows go, I'm deciding on it now. I still get offers. But after 12 years on and off touring since a teenager, I've enjoyed the last year off. I miss performing but I'm also doing that in other mediums. So if it's all about fulfilling wants or needs personally there, then I'm pretty good as far as that goes.
Knowing myself though, I can't stay away from a microphone and stage forever. We'll see if I start picking up the calls on this concert thing soon.
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See also "Making a Sene: The Rise of Brian Marc" by Imran Khan (20 Sep 2016)