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Mars Ill

Before the infamously long-delayed release of their stellar Gotee Records album Pro*Pain, sat down with Dust and manCHILD of Mars Ill to discuss a little about their past, their struggles with getting the record to the public, and their thoughts on the current rap scene...
This interview took place on: 4/4/06.

  • Jesus freak Hideout (John DiBiase): I have a ton of questions about the new record, Pro*Pain. Before we get started, can you say your names for the tape?
    Dust: This is Dust from Mars Ill. I'm a producer / DJ.
    manCHILD: This is manCHILD from Mars Ill.

  • JFH (John): How did the stage names originate?
    Dust: Dust kind of just came from when I was sitting around with a friend and we thought it sounded kinda cool. Didn't have any significance or meaning or anything. manCHILD does.
    manCHILD: Yeah I think manCHILD, I'd heard it from a bunch of different uses, but Shawn Kemp - played for the Seattle Supersonics - I heard the announcer call him Manchild and I think that's when it kinda stuck. And I attached a spiritual meaning to it later. Y'know how I'm a tall guy; physically a man and childlike in my faith.

  • JFH (John): When did you get started as Mars Ill?
    manCHILD: We met in Summer of '98, started touring together in January of '99 full-time. We were in a group together called Dead Poets Society. Actually, it was a group that Dust was in that I joined for a little while. There was another guy in the group named Rilo (he goes by Black Soil Project now), and when I came on it was kind of like, "We need to change the name because there are a lot of Dead Poets Society's around." Y'know, it's just kind of a natural thing. So we toured for a year and then it ended up just being me and Dust and he came up with the name and that's where we started. We made Raw Material in the beginning of 2000 and put it out.

  • JFH (John): How long have you guys been doing hip hop?
    Dust: I got really interested when I was in high school when I was fourteen or fifteen. So that's seventeen years ago. And I got my first turntable somewhere around there too. But I've been a fan since seventh or eighth grade, so it's been a long time. *smiles* Greg?
    manCHILD: Yeah, I've been a fan a long time and I started writing seriously in '95. So I guess about eleven years.

  • JFH (John): How'd you get hooked up with Gotee?
    manCHILD: When Grits came out on Gotee, when they first got started, that was a pretty important record. So we kinda had our finger on what they were doing, and never necessarily thought there was going to be a fit for us. So I remember I'd met Toby [McKeehan] and Todd Collins and Grits when we had done a hip-hop show in college when I was in school, before I even started rhymin', and interviewed them and met Toby... And Dust and I would come to GMA just to kind of do press here and there and to just do showcases (Dust: Now this is after Raw Material)... just do some independent showcases and we were always street teamin' and always did our own stuff. We'd be invited to do a showcase and help promote it and we'd come and just give out a ton of fliers. So that night we did a showcase and earlier that day they'd done another hip-hop seminar where they asked "What's wrong with hip hop?" and we'd all talked about what's wrong and what's right with hip-hop and why Family bookstore doesn't shelve it right and why Christian radio won't play it. [We were] just getting sick of those kinds of talks and so Mars Ill's name kept coming up: "Well, Mars Ill does this and Mars Ill plays bars and they're opposite of Cross Movement" - kind of almost creating beef between us but there wasn't any. And Toby was in the meeting and he kind of said, "Man, I really like what you guys do - this and that," so later that night he was at the showcase and we were just so starkly different than anyone else on stage with our stageshow and our music. And he came up and dropped like ninety or a hundred bucks at the merch table, and he's like "I know you guys wouldn't want to sign to a Christian label, but if you ever did, let's talk." And I said, "Well, OK!" So over the next year we really talked and by next GMA we had signed to the label. (Dust: Signed our life away.) Signed our life away! (JFH's Amy DiBiase: And that was after '98?) Yeah. Actually, we signed with them in 2003, right before Backbreakanomics came out. We had the record finished when we signed. So it wasn't a Gotee [release]. I think a lot of people were scared our sound was going to change when we signed with Gotee. (Dust: I don't know if we could change.) I don't think we could. What's been really neat is Gotee's just let us be who we are and never wanted to change who we are. Joey [Elwood], and Toby, all of them have been really wonderful about wanting us to stay who we are.

  • JFH (John): Although we're a little familiar with the basics over the delays of your latest record on Gotee, Pro*Pain, in your own words - What happened? Cause it's been two years, right? Album cover
    Dust: Yeah. It's five hundred and thirty three days. I counted... *laughter* We were getting ready to put the prerelease together and I was typing it up and I'm like, "How many days has it been??" That's just like from release date to release date. That doesn't really count... I was finished working on the production of that like January '04. So it's past two years for all that stuff, but originally what happened was the original release date, October 17th, whatever it was - they called us about three weeks before, "Hey, umm... did you sample 'such and such' for this song?" And we knew something was wrong, cause y'know, you're supposed to say everything you sampled but being at the level we are, sometimes you just sample stuff and just say "Oh we're not going to worry about it because why would they care," y'know? "We sold ten thousand units on the last record" or whatever. *laughter* But what really happened is EMI as a label started getting really interested in the record. They thought is was going to be something. And the people that were doing publishing stuff with the songs started asking. And one of the guys recognized the sample that he'd heard from when he was a kid or somethin' and that's kind of what stopped it initially. We kind of figured out "we gotta clear this sample!" and it wasn't possible to clear it before the release. So we had to push it back. We were devastated. So we said, "OK... February! February! We'll be done." February rolls around, nothing got finished. The samples didn't get cleared. Everyone was kind of passing the buck on it. Then June rolls around when it was supposed to be released for real and we get like two weeks away and the one sample was cleared but then the lawyers were starting to question everything. They just felt the liability - even though it really wasn't much to speak of. I think they kind of got spooked on us because of that. So they had to crush of the units. We had like ten thousand units... and that's how you got your copy... so that was the last delay. And then they were thinking, "Oh early '06 we'll put it out." And you know how things happen at a label, they put things off and here it is. It comes out in May. So I mean it's been a long, long road with this fiasco, but they're finally doing it. It's coming out.

  • JFH (John): What song had the sample?
    manCHILD: It's a song called "Wicked Ways."
    Dust: It was just a vocal sample. That's one of the only songs on the album that's still completely intact from the original version, oddly enough.
    manCHILD: Yeah, we get sick to our stomachs when we hear that song. *laughs*
    Dust: Yeah, well, y'know, it caused so much delay...
    manCHILD: But the good thing about it is we had time to sit with the record, and we took a couple songs off that were weaker, I think, and changed 'em, and put a couple new songs with good guest spots on it. And I think it made it a stronger record.

  • JFH (John): So there are changes to the record?
    manCHILD: Mmhmm. There are a few changes. There are a few subtleties with samples that we had to change.
    Dust: Yeah, people probably won't notice that much.
    manCHILD: And since then, we have a manager that's really good. We have two videos that we shot after the delay that Gotee shot for us. And those things we wouldn't have had in place originally. So I really feel like God's going to do something special with it.

  • JFH (John): What have you guys been doing then in the past two years while you're waiting for the record to come out?
    Dust: Well, we did a lot of stuff grassroots style, kind of like how we did before Gotee. We put out a record called Pirate Radio...
    manCHILD: can't really call it a record. It was a collection of songs.
    Dust: It was a CD that had songs on it... through our website, and that did well. People liked it and it was a lot of fun. We've done shows and stuff. I put out a remix version of Backbreakanomics. I did a Christmas album with somebody, it was fun - one of our deepSpace5 buddies. And Greg's done a lot of different things here and there. So we were kind of filling in the time until Pro*Pain...

  • JFH (John): What do you hope to do with the new record now that it's finally coming out?
    Dust: 400,000 is our goal, right?
    manCHILD: First week! *laughter* Just get the word out that it's out. It's a great record, we're really proud of it, it's the best thing we've done and I think that to some people the idea of it is old because they heard about it so much. To the people who don't know, though... And some people have just patiently waited and I'll be glad to give them the record and at the same time, those who have never heard it I think it'll make them stand up and take notice.
    Dust: Yeah, we have a small dedicated fanbase. To those people, yeah, "It's been two years, oh wow this is old!" But in relation to the world, if you look at it in perspective, they don't even know that it even existed anyway. So that's kinda how we feel about it. We really want to capture with this record, hopefully, a little bit different demographic. Cause the rap kids and the rap genre, I don't know... We almost work better in more "music lovers" - people that like in-depth music. People that like the more serious, more interesting music than even like in the rap culture. (manCHILD: Pop / Pop/Rock). The pop/rock culture. Not like, y'know, the indie hip-hop scene is mostly guys like us. So we would love to capture the indie rock kids - kids that like good music. So, we'll see...

  • JFH (John): Do you feel like God has taught you anything during the delay?
    Dust: Yeah... it was a series of like "wait" and try to be patient with something that's fully out of your control and understand that God has his plan for your life. I mean, honestly, I really hit a brick wall when it kind of all stopped. Cause we were moving fast and things were going well, but then it just kind of went to nothing and I really, really have to come to terms with the fact that I'm not really in control and it really taught me a lot about myself. Do I really rely on God one hundred percent? Or do I try to do it my way and hope that He'll be down for it. So that kind of forced me to take a look at where I place my faith. It's probably similar for Greg, too. Cause, y'know, that was like our career at that point and we had to kind of stop and say "Whoa, what are we doing now?" So... how about you?
    manCHILD: I think patience in a certain sense but not necessarily related to the record but just what our priorities are. Primarily, y'know, I just need to know myself. And what I mean by that is, at the end of every day, to be able to really examine my conscience and know what I can do to draw closer to Christ. If I'm not allowing the Holy Spirit to really teach me things then I'm kind of just blowing through life and I'm not really letting the Holy Spirit do its work in me. To be aware of what my tendencies are so I can guard against those. That's kind of been the latest lesson I think.

  • JFH (John): What are your thoughts on the current hip-hop scene?
    manCHILD: If you're talking about sort of what's in the mainstream... pop rap: we don't like it, pretty much. I mean there are some guys who are skilled, but I don't like their music. But a lot of them are clowns. Industry clowns. But there are still guys - the forefathers - those guys are still doin' it. And a lot of people like us are really still doin' it, bangin' it out, and making good music. I mean, there's a lot of them we respect.
    Dust: It's like any music genre, there are people that are just... (manCHILD: ...clones of what the record labels think that people want to hear.) Executives are like, "We need another Third Day in here! Who can we get that sounds like them?" And then there are artists that just are what they are. And there are plenty of those guys, but usually, it's labels that are trying to find out what's hot and duplicate that. (manCHILD: Find another five bands...) Unfortunately, hip-hop is no different. There are so many clones.
    manCHILD: Since everybody raps, it's easy to find them. It's easy to find 'em and shape 'em and make 'em. (Dust: Say "yeah just do 'this,' it's hot!") (Amy: What's pop rap?) The popular stuff. Nelly, 50 Cent... anything on pop radio. Anything... *mimics announcer voice* the latest in hip-hop and R&B! It's pop rap. I mean there are guys like JayZ and Oz who exist in the mainstream market and are real emcees, but I'd say more and more and more, these guys, this Mike Jones, these guys that are just... best way to say it is, it's almost like 'glam rap.' 'Glam rock' - but with rap. They're pretty and they got makeup on and really look good with their shirts off but there's really no substance whatsoever.

    Mars Ill


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