Words by Daniel Isenberg (@StanIpcus)
There are a handful of scribes in the rap journalism world that I highly respect, and one of them that I’ve always considered somewhat of a kindred spirit is MTV’s Rob Markman. I’ve never met him in person, and aside from a couple brief Twitter exchanges, we haven’t interacted much since I started writing professionally. But I’ve been a fan of his work since he was at XXL (him and NahRight founder eskay were brief co-workers), and always admired his passion for the culture, and refined taste in rap music. Plus we both used to rap, and coincidentally once shared the same bill opening up for Slick Rick in Manhattan back in 2005 without crossing paths. And when I saw him last year on MTV bigging up Joey Bada$$ early (I was stuck on “Waves” at the time), and tweeting about how one of my personal favorites—Group Home’s Livin’ Proof LP—is “the greatest produced rap album ever,” it made me pay even more attention to what he was contributing to the culture.
In 2013, Rob Markman remains one of the most important follows for hip-hop fans. He holds down MTV News daily with breaking articles and interviews, and also is the co-producer of MTV’s RapFix Live, a one-of-a-kind live hip-hop talk show hosted by Sway that airs weekly online and on MTV Jams with no commercial breaks, featuring appearances by all the biggest superstars in the game, past and present. It’s the only “must watch” talk show on television for hip-hop heads, and his influence is all over it.
So for today’s Heavy Rotation feature, we reached out to Rob, and asked him to break down the five songs he’s feeling the most right now. There’s mad new shit out, so we were definitely hyped to see his short-list, and hear why he chose the records on it. Check his picks out below, and stay tuned to Mr. Markman on Twitter for briefings and opinions on all the latest happenings in the hip-hop world.
1. Mack Wilds “Own It”
Rob Markman: “I’m a huge hip-hop head, obviously. But I’m a big R&B fan, too. I remember when it was taboo to cross hip-hop and R&B. And then, you had the old Ron G tapes [that would blend hip-hop and R&B records together]. And obviously Diddy was very instrumental in bridging the gap and actually figuring out the cross-section between hip-hop and R&B. So the Mack Wilds song reminds me a lot of that, with the ‘Eric B. Is President’ drums. It’s just the melody of it, and the words [are] dope. Ne-Yo actually wrote the song with Mack and [producer] Salaam Remi. I think it’s just a dope song.
“It’s funny, I was in the studio with Salaam, and he played me the record, and didn’t tell me who it was. Just to get my general thoughts and feelings. And later, I found out it was Tristan Wilds [from The Wire]. That was like the icing on the cake. But I liked the song before I [knew it was him], because that’s how they’re going to sway my opinion in either direction. And it feels right for summer.”
2. Jay-Z “Jay-Z Blue”
“I don’t think this is the best song on Magna Carta by any means, which is an album that I really, really enjoy. But I’m just impressed by [it]. One, I’m a dad. I’ve got two kids, so I can relate. It’s great to see Jay stepping into his place and being a father. And sometimes fatherhood, and just being a parent, isn’t all sunshine and roses and days at the park. That’s a real dark song. He dropped that song ‘Glory’ a couple days after Blue Ivy was born, and it was full of hope, and his excitement about being a dad. It was dope. And now that it’s set in, he gives you ‘Jay-Z Blue.’
“It’s a little darker. Him talking about his relationship with his own pops, and his fear of failing as a father. That’s something very real, and I think a lot of men don’t admit it. I commend him on that. It’s an album where on the surface, there’s a lot of rich talk, ‘Picasso Baby,’ high art. But this is one of those tracks that’s kind of deep, dark, and a little scary if you think about some of the things he says. He says a lot of things that people didn’t expect him to say, which is great. We always look to rap for that. And the Mommie Dearest sample is dope. And I’m from Brooklyn, so anytime you employ a B.I.G. sample, I’m with it.”
3. Heavy D “Now That We Found Love”
“I’ve been really into Teddy Riley lately, and his production. I don’t think Teddy Riley gets enough credit. This is a man who had a whole genre of music—New Jack Swing. I think when we talk about the greatest hip-hop producers of all time, his name never ever comes up. One day, I was going through Teddy Riley’s production, and he had something to do with the production of this record.
“I think when you look at Pitbull and Flo Rida now, they get a bad rap for being ‘pop rap.’ Heav was that early. But he always had hip-hop ties, being from Mount Vernon, and being Pete Rock’s cousin. Heav always had the hip-hop roots. And as he progressed and evolved years later, he took it somewhere else.
“This was such a big record. It had the heavy dance beat. It’s kind of like what’s going on with hip-hop now. So when people [diss] Flo Rida or Pitbull [and say they sold out, it’s kind of unfair]. ‘Cause Pitbull used to battle people in the streets. Flo Rida started out on DJ Khaled tapes. Maybe they sold out, but it’s nothing new. Hip-hop has always had that aspiration of being pop music. And Heav was the earliest prototype. And he did it so well. You could never question Heavy D’s hip-hop ties, and his roots. No one ever did. And that had to have been incredibly difficult, to balance it.
“It’s crazy, because I was at the BET Hip Hop Awards, at the taping. And I was super excited when he performed, because that was the first time I’d ever seen him perform. And then a few months later, he died. I was thankful to BET for being in the crowd, and being able to see him perform before he died. And he still was dope. Almost twenty years after that record came out, he was still bouncing and moving across the stage. That was amazing. It wasn’t with Aaron Hall, but Tyrese filled in, and he did a cool job. [Laughs.]
“It’s just a fun record. And when you talk about the kind of records you’re feeling right now at the moment, it’s feels like summer to me. Growing up in New York, house parties, and things like that.”
4. J. Cole f/ Kendrick Lamar “Forbidden Fruit”
“There were people that were mad at this record because of the ‘Electric Relaxation’ sample flip. But that record is twenty years old, when you think about how long ago Midnight Marauders [came] out. I think it’s dope that Cole could flip it, put Kendrick on it, make it his own, and still make a younger head, like a [kid] who’s 13 years old now, go back and discover A Tribe Called Quest. That’s what was ill about hip-hop in the ‘90s. It made me discover music from the ‘70s and ‘60s that maybe I wasn’t up on. Because I heard RZA flip a sample or something, it made me dig back. So I don’t think there’s anything wrong with taking those samples and flipping it. It’s an education process.
“Aside from that, the bounce on this record is crazy. I think Cole’s flow on this is retarded, and Kendrick laid a perfect hook. I’m hoping they drop a remix with a Kendrick verse on it. That would be ill.
“We can say a record is dope, but, the proof is in the pudding. I find myself playing the Cole album a lot. Not consciously thinking about it, just going to press play. Like when you turn on the car, it comes on, and you just let it rock. It’s a good length, too. I drove up to Yonkers this weekend, and it was a little bit of a trip for me. And the CD actually spun one and a half times. And I didn’t stop it. I just let it play back. The replay value is high for me.”
5. A$AP Ferg f/ A$AP Rocky “Shabba”
“The video for this just dropped. It’s just such a fun record. It’s not the most lyrical thing in the world, but hip-hop doesn’t always have to be [about lyrics]. It’s just his flow on it. I’m really interested to see where he was going to go with it. It seems like it was so much fun to make. I think hip-hop loses that. We don’t have to all the way dumb the shit down, but it can be fun. The house party, and the whole A$AP Mob in the mansion in the video, wildin’ out. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, but at the same time, these kids know they’re onto something, and know they got something.
“Again, if we’re talking about right now, summertime, if I go to a party, or to a barbecue, I want to hear this record. I hope somebody’s playing this record. It could be a big summer song. It definitely has the potential. I don’t think fans and DJs are over ‘Work’ yet, with the ‘Work (Remix).’ You still hear ‘Work’ everywhere you go. But this could be one of those defining records of the summer. It kind of reminds me of—and I hate to make comparisons to Wu-Tang because they get that alot, mostly just because they’re a big crew—but it kind of reminds me of an Ol’ Dirty Bastard energy. It’s wild, and free-form. There’s structure to it, but no real structure to Ferg’s style. I don’t know what he’s going to do next, which is fun to watch.”
Previously: Heavy Rotation with Deniro Farrar