Marco Polo’s story is a hip hop fairytale: make beats, go to recording school, score an internship at a studio with some of the biggest names in rap, then produce a debut with said rappers and get accolades for days. That’s the abridged telling of the Canadian producer’s rap career thus far. Garnering an impressive roster of rappers for his official debut, 2007’s Port Authority, Polo has been busy touring as well as producing his next effort Double Barrel alongside Coney Island rapper Torae. The album drops June 2 on Duck Down Records.
Introduce yourself, affiliations etc…
Marco Polo producer from Toronto, Canada, now residing in Brooklyn, New York, I’ve been here for the past 7 years. Formerly down with Rawkus records, now on Duck Down Records, Double Barrel.
Why did you move to NYC in the first place?
I wanted to produce for a living and have easier access to the artists I wanted worked with; I didn’t just want to wait ‘til they came to Toronto to do a show and you know, chase after them backstage. I just wanted to be in the mix more. Toronto is a dope city and has a lot of good artists, but the scene is small and NYC is where it all started and a lot of people I wanted to work with were here. I got an internship at a studio called the Cutting Room and made the move.
Is it impossible to be a rap producer in Canada?
It’s not impossible – it’s definitely difficult. It depends on what you want to do; if you want to make pop music or big hip hop records, you can do that anywhere. If you’re trying to do some authentic hip hop (I hate to use the word ‘underground’), but that type of stuff: sampling, the way it used to be. There’s not a lot of money in it anymore.
What kind of work did you do at the “Cutting Room” recording studio?
When I got there, everyone (to me) was working there: Mos Def, Talib Kweli, De La Soul, Kanye West before he blew up…man all the Rawkus artists were working there towards the end. Pharoah used to come in there, Beatnuts, Masta Ace (that’s how I met [him] through that studio). Busta Rhymes…it was crazy, just imagine a kid from Toronto listening to all these artists and wanting to work with them, then you’re in a place where they’re all there.
Obviously you got started in Toronto…
I didn’t do a lot of production in Toronto, I had like one independent 12” come out with this kid Scientifik that was really local – I don’t even know if I have a copy of that shit. I was an unknown before I came to New York. So I consider my production career starting when I got here.
What is your setup?
My setup is real simple it’s pretty much just [a MPC], my records, a turntable and a mixer.
How much do you worry about getting pinched for using a sample?
Nah, I never worry about it…maybe I should. The moment that producers begin to worry about samples, the music always starts to suck. To be honest, usually I’m never with a label that’s going to ship more than a certain number of units; I’m always under the radar anyway.
Do you find yourself sampling jazz and soul?
I rarely use soul and jazz to be honest, I stay away from it. Not because I don’t like it, I love listening to it, but I like to be a little bit different most of the time. I like my stuff to have a street, hard, dark, edge to it and while soul and jazz definitely can find those things, I’m always looking for different genres. It could be Spanish, French, Italian…I always like to dig a little bit differently. In terms of sampling wax, I love to keep it on wax; I go digging every week and that’s my first choice just because the sound I get from it is a lot warmer and thicker. I’m not opposed to the more convenient ways using technology for making beats. People call it “e-digging” – I put my time in the crates, so you know…the nerds might get mad to hear it, but I’ll sample an mp3. If I can’t spend $700 on a rare record that I can find in a 5 minute download, I’m going to use the mp3.
Was Port Authority your debut?
Yeah, Port Authority is my introduction to the world – as far as I’m concerned.
You have a new album that’s coming out, what’s the deal?
It’s a collaborative effort, so it’s Torae (an emcee from Coney Island Brooklyn) and the album is called Double Barrel. Dropping on Duck Down Records June 2nd.
You recently shot a video for the album, you want to talk about that…
One of the singles is called “Party Crashers” and it’ll be dropping in the next month.
What’s the whole experience behind making a music video?
I’ve been blessed to do 2 videos. For “Nostalgia” and “Party Crashers” I used the same directors. It’s really like being on a professional set. We got make-up artists, wardrobe people, the Steadycam person, runners, production assistants…it’s crazy you know? But it’s a good feeling. It’s really hectic, it’s a lot of staying on time, you’re renting locations and if you go past, you have to pay more, so it’s exciting and fun, but just really hectic and shit’s gotta get done when its supposed to.
How much touring are you planning with the new album?
Everywhere. Me and Torae have already did 2 tours in Europe, we opened up for Masta Ace in who went across Canada…so with this one, we’re planning on going back to Europe in October for 2 or 3 weeks, do a bunch of shows, try to hit Australia – just try to hit as many new markets as we can.
A Canadian artist usually has to prove themselves to the world before becoming successful at home…do you notice this tendency?
A little bit. It’s hard for me to say that because I wasn’t really doing it fully. If I had given my beats to everybody in Toronto and they were shitting on me…and then went to New York and did it – that would be one thing. I feel like I started here. But I do agree with you…Toronto can be really unsupportive, so yeah, I definitely think that some of that is going on.
I’ve heard anecdotes about Brooklyn and how the neighbourhood rallies behind this one artist…do you find that tendency?
Yeah, you get support…people support here…they look out for each other. The prime example is Biggie. Biggie actually lived about 6 or 7 blocks from where I live right now. The neighbourhood and the burrough stood behind him even when he passed away and they drove his body through the street. It was like a parade, people were cheering and crying, waving flags…it’s definitely something that needs to happen in Canada with our own artists…everyday support. Our music would make bigger moves if we moved as a unit and had that scene. It’s not really there…I didn’t want to deal with any of that shit, so I left.
What do you have in terms of long-term goals?
I just want to keep building my catalog. I feel like I put out 2 incredible albums…I just want to keep making good music that people can enjoy. I just want people to think automatically when they see my name attached to a record – they don’t have to think twice about buying it or listeing to it…they just get it. If I can keep staying on that path, I’ll be extremely happy, I don’t need to be rich or any of that bullshit, as long as my rent’s paid at the end of the month, I’m happy.
Do you have any instrumental projects?
I mean I had a record called Canned Goods and it was the first project I ever put out, just a bunch of beats. A lot of them are old, I don’t really like them; now looking back.
What would you say is the biggest non-rap inspiration for your music?
I’m inspired by balance. I listen to some rap, but most of the time I’m listening to crazy ‘80s, white folk rock music like Hall and Oates, Michael McDonald or Phil Collins…I can’t say that Hall and Oates inspires my music because if you listen to some of my new shit, it’s very deathly and it’s meant for emcees to talk about killing people, shooting guns – real street shit. I think I’m more inspired by feeding my brain balance.
Last words, shouts?
Ugsmag, your site…anyone in Canada that supports Marco Polo – a lot of people don’t know I’m Canadian, I’m a very proud Canadian. Shouts to anyone who supports good music, good hip hop and Marco Polo.
For more on Marco Polo check myspace.com/marcopolobeats