Canadian engineer and producer Marco Polo now resides in New York. Coming up through his internship at the Cutting Rooms where he engineered tracks by Talib Kweli, Fat Joe and Carl Thomas. At this time he was working with Jean Grae, Block McCloud and Pumpkinhead. He then connected with Master Ace for the ‘Do It Man’ beat on ‘A Long Hot Summer’…
Time passed and after hard graft and little social life Marco Polo released his debut ‘Port Authority’ which reads like a who’s who of what’s hot. He’s just tryin to take it back to the essence.
Lady Jay UK: How you doin?
Marco Polo: I’m good, how are you?
Lady Jay UK: Little bit hung over, too much tequila last night, you know… You had an internship initially at the Cutting Rooms, so I wanted you to tell me a little bit about it because I know you learnt a lot while you were there.
Marco Polo: Right.
Lady Jay UK: And how’s it contributed to getting you to where you are now?
Marco Polo: Definitely. You can go to school for audio engineering, and spend a bunch of money… but really I learned more at the Cutting Room in two weeks interning than I did in like a year and a half of school. It definitely jump started my career. The most important thing about it is that I met people; the connections I made through there. I met Master Ace , Pumpkin Head, and a lot of people that I worked with earlier in my career was all people I met through the Cutting Room.
Lady Jay UK: How long were you actually there for?
Marco Polo: I’d say about two and a half years.
Lady Jay UK: What made you initially go into production?
Marco Polo: Um, just getting to the point where I was a fan of music, and I wanted to do more than just listen and collect records and like, listening to DJ Premier and Pete Rock and that style just influenced me. I was like this is dope, wanna try and do this. It’s as simple as that really.
Lady Jay UK: And what happened, how did that begin?
Marco Polo: My whole initial thinking was after high school I knew there was nothing I really loved except music so let me try and make money with music. But, let me just follow that, I went to school for engineering. I kinda figured out from there. Then I learnt along the way that you can’t really be taught production.
You can be taught engineering and technical terms and studio terms, and that’s what I learned at the school, but the production thing is something you need to get from other people, and just listening and practice… and thats what happened.
Lady Jay UK: So it’s just a matter of time, and doing it. Seeing what works and what doesn’t?
Marco Polo: Exactly. You can’t teach someone how to make beats. You show ‘em how to use a machine and give ‘em pointers, but it’s not something you can be taught in a class, and get a A+ on it, it just have it or you don’t.
Lady Jay UK: So what did you use initially, and what equipment do you use now?
Marco Polo: The MPC you see here is the exact same one I bought eight years ago. With my first student loan, I bought this and my first Mac computer. I don’t have the Mac anymore, but that’s the same MPC I’ve been using. So that’s why it’s so fucked up.
Lady Jay UK: When you’re creating music, I guess it’s a daily thing for you, that’s what you get up and do…
Marco Polo: Yea, it’s a factory over here. I get up, I clock in around 9 or 10, I get a cup of coffee, and I start making beats. That goes until about 8 or 9 at night. I’ll probably have my first meal of the day, which is really not healthy, and that just happens about five days a week. And the weekends I literally chill.
Saturdays I make beats, Sunday I usually don’t I go digging or just hang out.
Lady Jay UK: Something related! And have you found some good spots?
Marco Polo: Yea, there’s definitely a couple spots in New York. If I tell you I’d have to kill you though.
Lady Jay UK: Aaaah, I know your not gonna tell me. It’s worth a try though init! Tryna get some secret information
Marco Polo: It’s all good, the one spot I go to a lot is called Academy in Williamsburg. It’s not big secret to people, but for me, it’s the most consistent spot in New York. The prices are right. I’m over paying $30 and higher for a record, I’m done. Spend $4, $5, $10 maybe but that’s it.
Lady Jay UK: I want to know what made you move to New York in the first place?
Marco Polo: I’m originally from Toronto, shouts to Toronto. We got a great scene, but it’s small. There’s only so much you can do. New York’s the Mecca, it always has been; in terms of what I grew up listening to. I knew I had to move here and make it happen seriously. Like I wasn’t even known for producing in Toronto. Like I came to New York, and literally started making beats here, and I think it made all the difference in my career.
Lady Jay UK: It’s been quite a quick progression really, in terms of you’ve set your mind to it and it’s happened.
Marco Polo: Yea, I still got a long way to go, and I’m still plugging away. Definitely the success and the things that have happened, definitely happened in like the blink of an eye, the last five years.
I put everything I have into this so, I’ve sacrificed a lot of things for this music shit so…
Lady Jay UK: Really, like what?
Marco Polo: A social life! Family, people, money, I’ve really put everything into this ‘cos I love it, my desire to succeed, and leave some sort of musical catalogue or a legacy behind like Premo or Pete Rock, you know, and I got a long way to go.
Lady Jay UK: So that’s the plan, Can you think of, or tell me about any heavyweight recording sessions that come to mind?
Marco Polo: There’s a few of those off Port Authority. One of the memorable sessions, was Large Professor. He came through the studio right here, my boy Theo was here and we recorded the Radar, and that was just an experience. I grew up listening to Large Pro, and to have him as a peer now, a co-worker, you know what I’m saying, it’s crazy.
He came through and his energy was crazy, in a good way, like, he was so hype when he was rhyming, and excited about the track. That made me excited, and it was like shit, this is what it’s all about right here. So that was definitely a monumental session right there.
Lady Jay UK: Did you have to check yourself, like, yo this guy’s in my house!
Marco Polo: I still do that to this day!
Lady Jay UK: ‘Can I just take a picture of you, so I can take it to show my mum’?
Marco Polo: Yea, and we got the wall of fame here. Lotta people through here. It’s been a cool ride.
Lady Jay UK: What did you grow up listening to?
Marco Polo: Everything. I didn’t really even start listening to rap first, it was rock. Frank Sinatra ‘cos my dad would play it. Yo he listened to everything from jazz to rock. Pop to Italian music. My parents were born in Italy. So I was all over the map with my influences, but he actually bought Tribe Called Quest’s first album. Because he loved Bonita Applebum. He loved that song. Heard it on the radio and he was like ‘I love this’, and I was like ‘what is this crazy shit?’, and he brought it home, and that was like my first glimpses into a hip hop album.
What a good way to start. That’s a classic album. At least to me it is.
Lady Jay UK: Do you think that ecclecticness influences you now?
Marco Polo: Absolutely. ‘Cos it keeps me open minded with records. I’ll look through any genre of music to find samples, just good music. It definitely helps my digging and my production.
Lady Jay UK: Tell me about Port Authority then…
Marco Polo: Port Authority man, that was two years in the making. I really feel like that album describes, or it’s my life over the last three years. It’s like me moving, the whole move from Toronto to New York, and the things that happened along the way documented.
Although it’s not always verbally communicated through the lyrics, ‘cos they do their own thing, for me, the memories, and just the making of the album is like a journey. Moving here, scared out of my mind if I was gonna make it happen, I was actually gonna make beats, and succeed at doing it, and Port Authority was like a historical part of my life that I was able to record on a CD and give out to the people.
It includes some of the people I grew up listening to. You know legends, and up and comers and great talent over my production.
Lady Jay UK: Tell me about who’s on it, and some of the tracks. How it worked and how you got things together?
Marco Polo: It’s featuring Master Ace, Kool G Rap, Buckshot, O.C., Sadat X, A.G., ED O.G, you got Low Budget Crew on there like Kev Brown, Supastition, JoJo, Kardinal, like I went over the top with it. I was like, let me go crazy with it.
Soul Survivor, Pete Rock’s first album was definitely an influence on me when I was making this one, ‘cos you know, the vibe of that album.
How I made a lot of the tracks happen, is just my hustle. Giving artists that I like beats, them picking stuff, and instead of stressing money, like, how much you want for this, how much you want for that, they’ll be like, you do your track and then you can do something for me. But I stayed really involved with what they did for me. It wasn’t just like here, here’s 40 beats, pick one and rap to it.
It was like, here’s two beats that I love, pick one, and lets work on it.
I tried to stay really involved ‘cos I feel like a lot of new producers are intimidated by the artists. I understand ‘cos you’re new and you really wanna get in the door, so it’s hard to be like really honest. Yea, it’s like, ‘whatever you do is great’. But I just wanna make a good album. And sometimes that means re-doing the song, and telling someone you grew up listening to, hey, I think you could do that better. That goes both ways too you know. If someone wasn’t feelin’ my drums or something, hey, you know, fix that.
That’s the short version of the story.
It dropped May of last year, so this May it will be one year since it was officially released.
Lady Jay UK: Have you got a favourite track on there? I know it’s hard to say
Marco Polo: It’s different days, different tracks.
Lady Jay UK: You worked closely with Shylo and DJ Links putting it together is that right?
Marco Polo: Yea those are my homies from Toronto. Shylo is the one who taught me how to use the MPC, and he really helped me map out the blueprint of this album along with Links.
Links was like the scratch captain on this one, he did most of the scratches.
Lady Jay UK: Haha official title ‘Scratch Captain’.
Marco Polo: I stole that from my room mate who calls his DJ the cut captain. He did all the scratches minus a couple guests like Revolution Tactics, DP1. Shylo really helped me pick out beats for certain artists, he has a real great ear from knowing – that beat should be with that person rhyming on it. Because he is an MC, he’s been rapping, making beats, and DJing for years so… I consider that my team.
Like Dr Dre has his team of producers and engineers, that’s my team right there. A little underground, independent hip hop team right there.
Lady Jay UK: So you work very closely together?
Marco Polo: Absolutely. I have no problem admitting that to you. It just brings so much to the table, and to my projects it’s a no brainer for me.
Lady Jay UK: What you working on now?
Marco Polo: There are a couple things in the works. The main thing is the album with the MC named Tourae from Coney Island, that’s really been getting a lot attention lately. Him and his guys did a couple tracks with DJ Premier, and I met Tourae at Master Ace’s studio and he came through and did something for my mixtape before Port Authority dropped… we’re working on an album now. It’s called Double Barrel. It’s just me on the beats, him on the rhymes.
We’re taking it back to the classic hip hop group with one producer, one MC. I’m really excited about it. That’s almost done, look for that 4th quarter of this year maybe first quarter of next year.
After that, I’m gonna start working on Port Authority 2, if I decide to call it that. That’s just gonna be another… thinking about starting it is overwhelming me! That’s gonna be the move after Double Barrel.
Lady Jay UK: What else?
Get at me, I run all my own sites. I ain’t Hollywood, I respond to everybody so get at me.