October 1, 2009



Illustration by Pearl Rachinsky
I saw Giovanni Marks in 1999 in a crappy Californian suburb in some random club. I remember he was wearing some weird Hawaiian shirt and shorts and was easily the tallest fellow in the room. What stood out even more than that though was that his delivery was weird and monotone and his presence created an awkward geeky sense of comfort. I totally enjoyed his set. Marks has been pushing the boundaries of hip hop and synth freaked production projects including Labwaste alongside Global Phlowtashuns collaborator Adlib, and a duffel bag of remixes (Sole and the Skyrider Band, From Monument to Masses, Daedalus, etc.) for a hot minute. 10 years after seeing his show, Marks, better known as Subtitle catches me up on his latest projects, synths, tapes, fashion and more synths.

It seems like there’s a distinct style to “Subtitle” and some of your other projects. What are your thoughts on the intersection of fashion and independent music?

I feel like all music intersects with SOME part of fashion at some point during it’s development. There was never ever a rapper in the history of rap music who wasn’t dressed well for their respective scenes. You aren’t going to let a hobo into your office for a 1,000,000 dollar deal, nor are you going to let them into your studio or venue in most cases. Rock music and pretty much every other music is within the same parameters. Even when people choose NOT to wear a label, they choose to make a fashion statement.

You are tall, how tall? Is it hard to find suits? Do you find it’s more difficult to rock a microphone when you’re tall?

I’m 6’8” and if I go get a tailored suit then I’m on deck. I think that if Bushwick Bill and Shaq can rap whenever they feel like it, then I’m way cool. I don’t like when the hunchback style kicks in and I start crouching to avoid lights and stuff, but it’s cool. I would say that it is harder doing stuff like the live playing in Labwaste because I have to hunch over all night!

How long have you lived in L.A. and what are your perceptions of the scene there with respect to Goodlife/Blowed?

I lived there on and off for my whole life. I viewed the early stages of the whole post-good life/pre-big money battle scene, which largely revolved around the whole tape culture that was prevalent at the time. After everything became a battle and there were less than 6 independent hip-hop labels in L.A., I felt that the scene kind of became lost in it’s own genius or whatever. There are still rippers city wide and Blowed is still an elite workshop that produces amazing talent, I just think that the focus has strayed from the progression that the west coast was known for across the board.

The recession is supposedly going to end in 4-5 years. How have you seen the LA underground change through the years with respect to the state of the union?

People stopped buying underground music so you saw less rappers. Beats are extremely economic, so you don’t have to bring some dude to a spot to wreck a show. The scene is revolving around people versus places or things. This is what gives it a cult of personality type of thing. If the world lasts in its present condition in 5 years, then maybe there will be room for everyone to work together.

What projects are you working on? How do you decide between different modes of production for your solo works, whether it be choosing someone else’s beats to freak or rocking your own?

I am halfway thru my 16 month plan and just finished part one of a two part EP entitled LA Cita Strobe. Coincidentally, other people are producing this record! The production modes have varied throughout every record over the last years. The records that I produce are more personal in regards to the methods and ways I go about getting the song together. I have been lucky enough to work with extremely talented producers on the over the counter records that have dropped over the years, so I am pretty much working with people who I really want to work with or people who I want to work with that are really undercover with great material. We also have to be friends as well. This is more exciting to me because the song is wholly dependent on the content versus the names in the liner notes. I’m working on this record Trunk Bomb Beta that I produced and rapped all over and I have been working on it for a while. I spent a year in europe getting my beats down to the point where other producers will actually give it up for the beats before the rhymes and that is a dream come true! Well, it is unless my rhymes have degraded over the time…

What kind of response have you gotten for the less hip-hop oriented products?

Now that underground rap is back in rare form, I am working on a bunch of that like I would normally do. The stuff that I refer to as ‘decoys’ like the dance remixes and whatnot is well accepted by the people who like that stuff and have use for it in their personal or business lives. I like working on all sorts of stuff and I have been working on a couple surprise projects while doing all of this other stuff that should be entertaining if people are still paying attention. The biggest project that I am working on these days is the b.e.a.r. group, it’s artists and labels. We have a lot of stuff dropping that will cross more than one boundary and strait and I want to make sure that people get it the first time around.

How do you engineer and create your more synth driven concoctions? What about synths appeals to you?

I do a lot of patch programming and filtering, etc to come up with what I do. If I find myself in the same area as some equipment for longer than a day, then I start tracking since I carry the laptop all over. I love how synths make noises that are so unreal but instantly relatable if provided in certain familiar context. You can make a lot happen with a synth.

You have more eclectic taste in music than your average MPC 2000 abuser. Do you play any other instruments? What other types of music are you influenced by?

I’m influenced by everything and everyone who makes art. I spent a lot of my early and later years in music industry jobs and whatever, so I have a broad taste when it comes to music. I play keyboard and bass guitar and when I was little I took violin and woodwind instruments in elementary school. I don’t think that helped me, to tell the truth!

What is your sampler weapon of choice: 8, 12, 24 bit? Why?

Good one, I have a hard time answering that because I could deal with all of those bit rates and have done so in the past. I would have to say 24 because I can do all sorts of dumb shit to dither it down to 6 bits or whatever……

What would a Subtitle signature synth feature?

Without getting too nerd-o with it, it would be a suitcase (or briefcase) synth with inverted white and black keys, the sounds of the evolver, sid station and moog voyager modules, vacuum tubes that can be easily replaced, curtis filters, roland’s space echo/reverb chips and the arpeggiation clock of a linn drum. also a 16 step, 8 track sequencer that can sequence drums with a audio in for other stuff to run thru the filter. MIDI and USB as well wit the editor/upload patch program that nord has for the G2.

“I like to believe that the free download has taken over the cultural place of the cassette tape in the context of obtaining new music to share.”

How did the How To Beat the Beat series of tape come about? Was there a main idea you were trying to convey?

Not really, hahahahahaha! I was young and cocky at the time and I thought that by hanging out with all the wild dudes of the day, I needed to come with some kind of flamboastful (sic) title in order to make myself known or whatever. Once I more or less passed that test, I was all vapored out on the idea of the concept rap and all the things that came with it like wild titles, artwork, etc. The one underlying thing that I had going with the How 2 series was that I would go do a version directly after I did a record with an “outside” producer, like a magic banishing in so many words. Once I wasn’t working with anyone for a couple of years, the series stopped and I started doing stuff like analog gut and delete the elite. After I did my due with GSL and Alpha Pup, I had to go thru a rediscovery mission to let people rediscover what I was really all about pre-2003 and I figured that how2 03 was the best way to go about it because I could just clown. I felt like no one was really checking for me outside of my dedicated base of listeners, so as long as they understood me then I was cool.”

Will you record tapes again? If so in what capacity?

I intend to do tapes like I did them before, in numbers that never exceed 200. Now that it can be an alternative format and fetish piece, (along with the fact that underground recording techniques have VASTLY improved since 97) it can live a new life in the world of pop collectors and audiophiles alike. They are still relatively inexpensive to make in low volumes in comparison to CDs, so you can do them as an afterthought and box them with shirts and other merchandise. I like to believe that the free download has taken over the cultural place of the cassette tape in the context of obtaining new music to share. Where you might have made an ill mixtape and put it on consignment at your local record store or pager shop before, you’ll make a podcast or playlist now and just post the songs somewhere on a blog.

Speaking a little more towards your point of underground hip hop, where do you place Young Dangerous Heart as far as your projects are concerned?

It was my version of a underground crossover record. With the exception of Weekend Science Experiment, all of my stuff before that point was self recorded and produced either entirely by me or by me and the beat makers in the crews that I rolled with at the time. I was required to work with other producers for price point purposes on some “sell records” shit, so I was lucky enough to be able to work with a good mix of active and new artists. Everyone on there was a friend and personally lent a hand to the completion of that record, so it was really dope to see it come to pass. The record got erased while mastering the first version of it, then I had to re-do it and those songs ended up being Lost Love Stays Lost. Once it finally dropped, then I was already in agreement to do the Alpha Pup record because I was on GSL for like 3-4 years by then and I dropped 1 record and 1 EP along with a couple of singles.

What is one event in your childhood that contributed towards you wanting to make beats and rhyme?

My algebra teacher decided to bring his keyboard sampler to class when I was in 7th grade. I saw that and figured out that it was the same thing Ferris Bueller had in his movie and I thought it was tight since I had a computer at the house. Once I learned that you could make beats on it, I was sold since I was already rapping in secret and wanted to deejay so I could mix. I thought that you made beats on the turntables with the mixer! I found out that I was 0.5 percent right and that was that.

Do you have more fun rapping or producing? Which one allows you to best express yourself?

Obviously rapping is the best way to express myself in a really straightforward manner. However I think that there are a lot of emotions that can be covered without talking and this is why I like production more. As much as I’m down to jump on a stage and rap whenever, I think that hiding out in some kind of domicile with weed and equipment on a rainy day is really the way to go.

State your crew affiliations and talk about how they relate to the Futur du Gangster.

I can claim the b.e.a.r. group, Labwaste, Tall Boyz, Project Blowed (of course), Fall Fashion, Key-Up Gang, Th’ Corn Gangg, CG&G and the seperatist/t.i.e. to start. Extended family includes Shapeshifters, Islands, Lucky Me, Les Gourmets, Hit & Run, Amoeba Music and I don’t have clearance to say more.

You mentioned the b.e.a.r. group a couple of times…can you elaborate a little more on what the b.e.a.r. group is doing and how folks can tap in to what you guys are cooking?

What the b.e.a.r. group entails is 2 labels named Matte Black Editions and Briefcase Rockers, along with about 30 people who all do something or another. You can get into what we are about by checking out briefcaserockers.com or matteblackeditions.com as well as copping that LEADERS. compilation on digital format september 30th and the free Matte Black Editions comp coming out soon after. We have blogs, free downloads, all types of ting.

Any tours we should catch you at?

The campaign that I am on is a long and lengthy one so I would say to catch me at a city near you during some stage of this new material testing that I am doing on the current populace. Check out my myspace page for any posted dates and follow me on facebook and twitter for the secret black ops dates…

Any last shouts/thoughts/square wave transmissions you’d like to add?

Thanks to all the homies who I would obviously thank from my family and immediate gang along with all the supporters and interested people who have come and went throughout the years. Thanks most of all to the fallen folks that we do it for.

For more subtitle check out myspace.com/subtitle

19 Responses

  1. Dope interview! I loved the still nerdy “without getting too nerd-o with it” answer, haha.

  2. Overall dope interview but:

    “You have more eclectic taste in music than your average MPC 2000 abuser.”

    That’s a pretty bullshit statement to make on multiple grounds, least of all from the position of a “journalist”.

    1. SKZA, you realize if you call me on bullshit you sort of have to explain why because I don’t pick up on things quickly. Thanks for reading and understanding.

  3. I didn’t quite understand the MPC 2000 thing either, seemed like an odd thing to say……… good interview tho:):)

    east side stainz represent.

    1. i did not mean for the question to be odd or bullshit, i was showing a little unjournalistic partiality because I’m not a journalist, I’m a fan. glad you liked the interview.

  4. thanks to everyone who dug the interview and didn’t think I was some giant douche like kanye for what I said. I think the whole MPC question was coming from a good place, even though I know where chris and skza are coming from/going with their responses. a good amount of people who make beats listen to stuff that “beatmakers” listen to, like breaks that have become standards or certain jazz records that have become standards or certain rock and electronic records that have become standards. Since my favorite music groups that I quickly namedrop are autechre, sonic youth, ariel pink and jay dilla (of course), people feel like I’m some kind of well rounded freak of nature when that really isn’t the case. I just love music with all of my heart.
    RE: amoeba vs. aron’s- I’ll just say this…
    1. my OLD JOB that I didn’t name (aron’s to you) watched me come to work more than once with no food, septic blood sickness due to my tooth infection, (that I had to go to the dental school to fix due to no insurance, and then go BACK to work the same day, only to be sent home because I was dripping blood everywhere) let me be an assistant hip-hop buyer (the store needed it, it had no flavor whatsoever except for the flavor bestowed upon it by it’s staff and patrons) while working 35 hours a week (versus 40 so I could still work full time but get no insurance) and living in a 7ft X 9ft drum practice space, all for 7.00 an hour.
    2. my LAST JOB (amoeba to you) fed me, fronted me probably 4,000 in advances for everything from my teeth to my rent to equipment, immediately started me off at 9.00 an hour AND let me go on tour for as long as it made sense to them to do so. they also threw lots of company events and fully encouraged the employees to meet and mix with celebs in order to network (and sell stuff) efficiently, thus helping out their careers.
    while I have friends for life from aron’s along with lots of musical knowledge, imagine if the owner of that piece of shit store decided to actually take the people working there as serious as he SHOULD OF taken the product he was selling, maybe they would have stayed open and MAYBE they could have had a rad label composed of the store’s employees like poo-bah’s in pasadena or amoeba (even though they don’t use their label to support their employees, they use their store…)
    imagine a label with:
    -me (who cares)
    -moving units (when they first came out)
    -take 1 (cold, cold production in the whole flying lotus vein)
    -no age
    -devendra banhart
    -milky wayne (tony da skitzo’s OG producer, still sitting on all sorts of golden age bangers from all those san diego dudes)
    -shannyn sossamon worked there, so we can probably throw warpaint into the mix too…

    if you guys trip off music like that, you probably know all these people and what they are doing today (with the exception of shannyn and her bad choice in film selection) in their respective fields. since we all came out from under the same roof, we were one big family of orphans being presided over by a confederacy of dunces called our bosses. this is why I didn’t mention aron’s……..

    1. autechre is dope, i love most of that early/mid 90’s warp records stuff, they put out some great tunes.

  5. Post that picture of you in your ginch holding a wizard cane and wearing some kind of mask.