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Interview: Yung Mars: Givin’ the folks ‘Something Fresh’

On April 19, 2010, I spoke with San Francisco’s own Yung Mars. The near three-thousand mile distance wasn’t enough to stop the dialogue between me and this musically-inclined emcee. We spoke about the power of collaboration, the “Almighty white emcee comparison”, and “Something Fresh Music”, which, according to Mars, will be comin’ at ya’ll soon.

Deev on the Takeover: In 2007, your self titled debut reached No.3 on the CMJ Hip-Hop charts, and it was the only self-released album at the time to chart. What do you cite as the main reason for your success?

Yung Mars: The college radio scene and the DJs that are in charge of the playlists and all the listeners are more interested in listening to real, organically based music— not really quite as commercial and maybe a little more thoughtful and thought-provoking. I think the first record hit because it was really different and had a lot of live instrumentation and it was something that was so far left of what the industry was calling mainstream hip hop. I think that's why I did so well.

Deev: I agree. And with the over saturation of poppish, cookie cutter mainstream music, how important is that college music scene as far as creating a more level playing field between the independent and the more commercial artists?

Mars: I think it's great for that. I made [Santa Cruz or Bust] out of my house and often used my mentor's studio and all the collaborators threw down their time for free. But, a cat like me doesn't really have a budget to do major radio marketing. When you get into the game and you start looking at how much it costs to actually get adds to major or commercial radio, you're talking a lot of dough that an independent person could probably never afford. I think it's really nice to be able to get the music out to a large amount of people and to see if they’re receptive, even on an independent basis. And, I think when you look at the CMJ charts and you look at who's doing well, it's a good way to always stay fresh and know what's going on in the independent and underground scene.

Deev: I was on your site the other day and I saw that a website compared you to the late Bradley Nowell of Sublime. Have you ever gotten any comparisons that you felt were really interesting or just really out there altogether?

Mars: My live set is a little more soulful, kind of neo-soul/R&B; I got a couple live vocalists and a horn section. A lot of times folks [are] on some Robin Thicke comparison; but he doesn't rap, he sings in falsetto the whole time, but I'll take it. Whenever anyone compares me to a musical artist that I've seen and respect, I take it as a compliment even if it's totally out of pocket.

Deev: Right at the outset, on your second track on Santa Cruz or Bust (“I Broken Heart College”), you said, "Unlike Asher, college wasn't quite right for me.” Did you do that to immediately establish any differences that you and he may have?

Mars: I thought it was a way to pay homage to that track (“I Love College”, Asher Roth). It's not a diss or anything. That song was kind of about partying and getting drunk and having random females. I grew up in San Francisco, so I had already partied by the time I got to college. When I was there I was there for a purpose. [Partying] just wasn't the theme for me, I guess, at the time. I think Asher Roth has come up with some cool raps and some cool tracks. Everyone always wants to make the white emcee comparison. I used to always get "Oh, you're like Eminem" or when Asher Roth came out "Oh, you sound just like Asher Roth." I think whatever hip white emcee is on MTV, they're going to compare me to after a show most likely.

Deev: When you're free from all of those comparisons and when you've individualized yourself in the music business over time, what do you see yourself doing in the music industry?

Mars: I want to get more into producing for other artists, songwriting and writing hooks for other folks, trying to be as multifaceted as possible. As for this front man stuff, I'm trying to form a big band. A live hip-hop show, really tight— twelve piece with strings, horns and a DJ. I'm in the process of starting a record label with a good friend of mine. We're going to be mining the Bay Area for all its talent, doing most of the production work and releasing singles, videos and compilations.

Deev: What do you plan on doing to the hip-hop sphere with your new record label?

Mars: I really want to push this classic [sound]. I really like melodic hooks and nice R&B stuff so a lot of the stuff coming out of the record label, which is going to be called 'Something Fresh Music', is going to have neo-soul hooks with a hip-hop feel and something that a diverse age range can get down to— keeping it a little bit street but a lot of it classy and melodic. I think it's something that a lot of folks can enjoy in the long run.

Deev: When can the people expect the record label to be on its legs?

Mars: Well, basically this [Santa Cruz or Bust] was kind of our first release and we have to set up all of our media structure. I would say within the next few months you're going to be seeing 'Something Fresh Music' coming out and starting to talk about the new artists we're messing with and we're going to be putting on parties in San Francisco and collaborating with the talent. It's going to be a really great outlet for collaboration in terms of getting singers and musicians to help me with the tracks. There's really no limit to what we can do with all the talent that's around here in the Bay Area.

Deev: Even though you're based out West in the Bay Area, your music really knows no coast per say. With that said, do you have any plans of getting more exposure out here in the East?

Mars: I think the whole goal of putting music out on college radio is to follow it up and actually get out there to all the colleges that are enjoying it and trying to connect with the folks that are feeling what I’m up to. Hopefully within this year I'll be trying to make my way around to the folks that are really in to it and hopefully I can line something up to come out to the East. It's always a challenge though, for sure.

Deev: Who are some of the collaborators that you are thinking about working with or that you have been working with on "Something Fresh"?

Mars: I'm definitely going to try to involve some of the folks that were on [Santa Cruz or Bust]. This record was like a dream come true because I was making it so collaborative and inviting so many folks to come through. Like Cait la Dee; she's my favorite R&B singer in the Bay Area— a really versatile, really talented studio musician. I'm hoping to do some things with her and Mr. Jairo Vargas (“Rollercoasters”, Santa Cruz or Bust). I think Rollercoasters is a good example of the type of music I'm trying to put out on my label. It's like "future funk". It's got a little bit of synth stuff to it, but it's also got soul melody and "pocket rap". I like the sound of those tracks. I'm just trying to finally make music that I really kick back and listen to. The first album was a deluge of stuff from my head but this one was more focused on the vibe and trying to take the listener to the coast, on a drive and get them to just mellow out for a minute. To get away from all the hectic inner city stuff.

Deev: Speaking of the collaborators on your album, are all of them based out of the Bay Area?

Mars: Yeah, pretty much everyone. The only one who's not out of the Bay Area is Ivan Ives. He's from L.A. Everyone else are Bay Area collaborators. [Santa Cruz or Bust] was initially a mixtape-slash-album featuring even more rappers from the Bay. My album is still on my website yungmars[dot]com. There were twenty-five people working on the record at one point in time.

Deev: From what I've gathered, it isn't hard to tell that you believe in the spirit of collaborations. How important do you feel collaborations are in the musical sphere?

Mars: I think they're really important. I like to sketch out an idea for myself, whether it [is] a rhythm, or a certain melody. But, all the tracks really come alive when you bring in people who specialize in certain fields. I like to be the overall idea person, but someone can come in and smash out a bass line way better than me, play guitar way better that me, play keys way better than me and drums, everything way better than me. But it's about bringing all those homies together and trying to get it on recording. I put it in the utmost respect and I don't think it's easy to collaborate and make something a little more challenging but in the end it's a better product.

Deev: When can the people expect a new project from Yung Mars?

Mars: I'm going to be focusing on getting a new video out maybe for [“Rollercoasters” or “Ambiotic Fluid”. Then, I'll be releasing singles and people can connect with me. Folks hit me up and they say "I'm really into your stuff," and I usually drop 'em a single or some fresh stuff that I'm working on so they can tell me what they think. I think I'm going to be a bit more focused on singles and trying to drop solid tracks throughout the next year or so, before I get another large album project together.

Deev: Since we know how critics like to make comparisons [between established and newer artists] what are three adjectives that you could use to describe yourself and take that power back for yourself.

Mars: Clever, catchy... original, I don't know, something fresh

Deev: (laughs)

Mars: Something fresh, you know, like I say... something fresh for the folks.