Making a Sene: The Rise of Brian Marc
Brian Marc, AKA Sene, manages a minimal but heavy discipline of turntablist groove; his dream-washed music appropriates the rhythms of a casual stroll through city streets.
Sene didn’t so much burst as onto the music scene as he materialized on it. After a few failed plans, the rapper wandered into fortuitous circumstances with the casual and curious ease of a drifter. The young Brooklyn native began his career rapping at open mics after moving to LA, and it wasn’t until his encounter with fellow rapper Blu (of Blu & Exile fame) that Sene truly stepped into his own as an artist.
Sene and Blu’s musical partnership resulted in the collaborative effort A Day Late and a Dollar Short (2009), an album of moody hip-hop for the late-night crowds. Featuring elements of cloud rap, R&B and the tweaked, moonlit jazz of an ‘80s-era LA nightclub, the album introduced listeners to the talents of a hard-edged though bemused transplant from the boroughs of New York. Against Blu’s chilled delivery and production, Sene’s rhymes came earnest and direct. It was an experiment in laying down his vocals, which would give the rapper a defined sense of his abilities in creating in a studio environment. A Day Late And a Dollar Short was a critical success -- and Sene had just begun to hit his stride.
His debut solo effort, 2012’s cleverly-titled Brooklyknight, is a purple-fogged, homebound-nod toward his East Coast days as a child. Dream-washed in the plumes of sonic melancholia, the album manages a minimal but heavy discipline of turntablist groove. Brooklyknight appropriates the rhythms of a casual, pedestrian stroll through an urban jungle; the beats swing and pound like feet on pavement and Sene employs a lyricism to match time to the pace and stride of city dwellers.
The jazz-flecked title track struts with sampled film-talk and the threads of electro-pop. Sene’s flow is thorny but precise; he hits his mark with practiced accuracy, plastering the no-nonsense groove with graffiti-layered rhymes. On the strings-backed minimalism of “Backboards”, the rapper trades verses with Blu for a brotherly exchange of hip-hop camaraderie. Sometimes the more melodious elements of Sene’s style surface as relief amongst the concrete grey of the blockbusting beats. “It’s Been Said” offers a burst of electrified funk, which carries atop of it a skewed singsong chorus.
On “Cult Classic”, Sene sends his beloved borough of Brooklyn up into space, his stories of street crime swirling amongst the sonic nebulas of ambient dub. On the New Order-meets-Q-Tip of “Holyday”, he services Denitia Odigie’s sultry croons with a chilled verse of languid city life moments.
There was much to expect in a follow up to Brooklyknight and Sene did deliver, though not in the way that most assumed. His decidedly more R&B-based project with Odigie (who record as Denitia and Sene) offers less street-strolling and more lounge-slumming. Over crisp grooves, Odigie and Sene layer iridescent harmonies of glossy pop, turning in airily lush tunes for the after hours crowd. Here, Sene proves himself a producer of selective pruning, sculpting beats from only the most crucial materials of club grooves. Sharing vocal and lyrical duties, Odigie and Sene ensure that the pathways to hip-hop elegance are clear at all times.
Currently, Sene has redirected his artistic impulses to the silver screen, where he stars in filmmaker Elizabeth Wood’s gritty romance drama White Girl (clip below). It isn’t exactly a new exploit as it is an expansion on the characters of his homebrewed hip-hop. Already a buzz has been stirring about Sene’s performance (using his birth name of Brian Marc here) and if his solid turn as a troubled but empathetic youth is any indication, there should be more projects on the horizon.
His first passion, music, has not been left for the gutters. Now recording as Brain Marc, he’s been mining the record crates for fresh beats this past year. Having just premiered the tracks from his 2016 sophomore solo album, The Extraordinary Pleasure of Being Someone Else, the rapper continues to broaden his palette and scope for sounds that are sure to capture the imaginations of his most ardent listeners.
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Please tell us about your life growing up in Brooklyn. How did the very first elements of hip-hop begin to enter your life in your earlier years?
I'm from Sheepshead Bay. Which is in the south of Brooklyn and neighbors Coney Island. I just kind of ran around the neighborhood there, keeping busy and getting into trouble as kids do. My parents were split; they both worked full time so it was kind of a situation of taking care of yourself. So you can imagine Brooklyn has a lot of entertainment for a young kid without rules.
You moved to the West Coast, first with plans to study and work. When it didn't work out, you decided to pursue music. What do you remember of that time when you were first rapping at early shows?
I remember, for my very first few shows, I was rapping with my eyes closed. I was just focused on what I was rapping. Horrible! I had met my friend (and soon to be roommate) Jon Kim in Santa Barbara and he would invite me weekly to freestyle on the college radio station [KCSB] after he heard me do so the first time. So I kept fine tuning. I would rap everywhere! I got extremely comfortable on stage, finally. After that it was just like holding court with friends and telling them a story.
You would meet Blu (of Blu & Exile) and this was essentially a turning point. You've recorded an album with him and guested on a number of his works. Firstly, what are your memories of first meeting and then working with him? Secondly, the album A Day Late and a Dollar Short was very well received. What are your ideas about the working relationship with Blu that would result in that album?
Man, that is my big brother right there. Blu and I just clicked. Jon had come back to visit Santa Barbara and brought Blu. I had heard one song of Blu's and thought he was dope. Best song on the mix that I was given. He was asking me to rap but that day was my girl's graduation and I felt bad making it about me, so I was like "later, later".
We ended up going to Chumash casino and we were sitting outside and then I just started rapping. No preface or anything. I rapped. We went back to my crib after and drank and rapped for like three hours. Verse for verse. So whoever was there, was watching us rap for the first time together.
As far as the album goes, Blu called me one day and when I answered, he said, “I started making beats, listen!" and he started playing beats over the phone. I loved them and he asked, "You trying to make an EP?" So I said "Yeah!" Then, like kids would, we were talking on the same call like, "What about an album!” And we were amped up and he said "Why not start tonight?" So he had someone drive hours out to the desert, where I had moved, to pick me up and start working that night.
It was a lot of fun. Maybe the most fun I've ever had working on anything. All these old school melodies over those beats with raps squeezed between.
Your solo album Brooklyknight is interesting sonically. Firstly, I notice a minimalism in the melodies, which appear sparer here. The idea, I'm supposing, is to compress the vocals up against the beats -- to give them (the vocals/flows) a stronger unison with the rhythms. Secondly, I don't know if it was intentional, but the album starts out with the more minimal tracks beat-wise; as the album progresses, the beats grow heavier and deeper and the bass resonances fill out more. What kinds of impressions were you trying to make on the listener in terms of the way the sound is designed on Brooklyknight? What kind of ideas were you thinking of when it came to beats and then the melodies?
Very intentional. I had flown out to Switzerland to hang with the producer No Games. He had a full slate in his studio for a few weeks that I would be out there. But the first day I got there he asked me to play what I've been working on. So I played him all these roughs for Brooklyknight.
He turned from the mixing board and said "This is really great" in his great accent!
Then he sat in thought. Then he said, "Right now it's so straight. It's great but it’s the same steady ride all through these roughs. It should be like a ride: fast, then slow, then stop then go." He meant the production and how the album was flowing. At the time, all the beats were by Illingsworth, who is incredible. He sat again in thought and turned and said "I have to mix this. Absolutely. I'm going to cancel these sessions I have and we'll work on this." We did and finished that whole album that month. I re-recorded my rough drafts and wrote and sang and all that right there. The only song I did when I got home was “Time”.
In terms of presentation, there's this purple theme that runs throughout Brooklyknight. It's used for the album and it's also the colour filters used for the promotional videos. Can you discuss the visual motifs on the album?
Purple has always been my favorite color. It's dramatic to me for some reason. In a weird way I feel like it's the color I live in.
Denitia and Sene puts much of the hip-hop influences on the backburner. Where Brooklyknight pared back a lot of the melody, the albums by Denitia and Sene are flush with them. What made you decide to explore more pop-oriented work these last couple of years?
Even with my first album and who I was as an artist... I've always kind of stuck out. At this point in life I'm grateful for that. But it was awkward. With rap, I never wanted to just rap. I just don't write that way. My ear has always gone back and forth hearing both rap and singing.
The stuff with Denitia was just me being true to my ear. It wasn't an attempt at making something that was more pop. It was the turn of tides where I started being even more honest with myself; finally not being too timid to make tangible this other kind of music that had always been in my head. If I didn't start working with Denitia, I might've ignored that voice a lot longer. Maybe for the duration of my career.
Do you have any plans for another solo album, any returns to rapping again?
Had I done this interview earlier like I was supposed to I would tell you that a project was coming! Now, yes! It just came out and it's called The Extraordinary Pleasure of Being Someone Else. I worked on it and co-produced the whole thing alongside GeekSession.
You're also doing a new turn as an actor as one of the leads in Elizabeth Wood's autobiographical drama, White Girl. Can you discuss how you came to this project and also your role in the film?
Someone named Ben Gross, who works at Rap Genius, recommended that they audition me. They had been looking for a while and not happy with anyone and after a comedic first audition I got the call back. Then two more and they offered me the role.
Well, I freaked that the character's name is 'Blue', so first after reading the script the first person that I spoke to was my friend Blu. I hit him and told him the character's name and he laughed and said something along the lines of "Well, then he must be G!”
It's been the wildest, most fulfilling experience and I'm thrilled to be on board. Even after, now that we are getting ready for theaters, I'm still grateful to be part of it. It was a role that I related to and a story that needed to be told. I've made a lot of lifelong friends on that project. Elizabeth Wood is a very unique and powerful talent that has now been unleashed unto the world. Good luck, world!