Hip-hop is at war with itself. The animus between the foundation-builders of the old school and the zeitgeist-shaping mumble-rap lightning rods is very real. But all around OG and musical sage DJ Nu-Mark is not one for taking sides. Whether in his solo capacity or as the wielder of the wheels of steel for hip-hop institution Jurassic 5, he’s been acutely instrumental in adding to the sheen of the canon’s golden age. Thankfully for us in Singapore, he’s one of the banner acts of SING JAZZ 2018 and before he elevates your consciousness with his All Fore One musical light beam, heed the words he shared with us in a recent chat.
How has 2018 been treating you so far?
2018 has been a lot of work. On Facebook, I release Zodiac tracks and that has kept me busy. It’s DJ series that I release every month on my page, where I collect some of my favourite artists and relate them to the zodiac sign of the specific month. It keeps me on my toes because sometimes, I can’t get the right birthdays. So, essentially I piece them together in a mix which goes by easily but the birthday part is tough. I do this on just about every vinyl size. When I released zodiac tracks for season one, I was brought on for a TV show on the TBS network hosted by Method Man from Wu-Tang Clan. It’s a show called, Drop The Mic, which kept me very busy as well. I laid the theme song for that and I’ve been the DJ for the show. So to answer your question, I’ve been very busy.
You will be performing for the SING JAZZ festival. What are you most looking forward about coming here?
Well, honestly, it’s the chili crab. I’ve been a huge fan of the King Crab that only Singapore dishes out properly. I can’t wait to go back and I’m spending one extra day there just to eat. I enjoy Singapore and the order of Singapore. There isn’t much order or cleanliness or efficiency in the US. And obviously, I’m looking forward to playing the set for SING JAZZ. I’ve never played the festival before, so I’m interested in seeing how the crowd is like and play every genre I can. I’ll be performing right after Ms. Lauryn Hill, which I’m excited about and I can’t wait to see her and the rest.
“I feel like it should all be hip-hop and celebrated as hip-hop. I just really like the idea of synergy and the all-for-one vibe.”
Are there any updates in the Jurassic 5 front?
There haven’t been any updates. I probably know as much as you do at this point.
Have there been conversations about doing something together?
Yes. There have been conversations but nothing has come into fruition.
Given your massive record collection, how do you keep track of what you have?
For vinyl, I keep it organised by first name, album and kind. I’ve got two rooms filled with R&B and hip-hop. I used to do it by style, beats and labels. But when I looked through, I couldn’t find the artist I was looking for, so I stopped that.
How do you prep your sets? Do you have a fixed approach?
Sometimes, it’s overwhelming to tell you the truth. But it’s the same as how I approach Zodiac tracks. So it’s 40 to 50 songs to 11 to 15 songs and it becomes easier to pick with less choices. I don’t know how to answer this question right because most of the time, I go by feeling. Usually, I let the music do all the talking and one step leads to another. That’s why I love music: It’s always going to be the master guiding me through. I don’t try to force anything. I play everything under sun and I like drawing similarities across different genres in my set. It’s about bringing everybody together and that’s my number one goal.
As a hip-hop OG, what are your thoughts on mumble rap?
I’m from a different belief system. I feel like it should all be hip-hop and celebrated as hip-hop. I just really like the idea of synergy and the all-for-one vibe. I think there is room for all of us. People should really explore their minds, have fun and break new sounds because ultimately, we need to let hip-hop flourish like how it was in the late ’70s, ’80s and ’90s.
What words of wisdom do you have for the young blood?
Well, research the history and pay the respect to the people that came before you. In the middle school, which is what I consider the era I came up in, I saw a really beautiful transition from old school to middle school, where we were getting feedback from our elders and the people who paved the way. I’m not seeing much of that now. What I’m getting at is I would like to see more collaboration between the middle school and new school artists and the torch being passed cohesively, so the culture remains strong and continues to give back to the community like how it is has been in the past. This can happen by sharing experiences with the next generation. I know the new school has a lot of to offer. With the crumbling of record industry, we understand what struggle is. It’s not the same as theirs during our pre-Internet era.
That’s refreshing. Old heads like Ebro just hate on the younger artists and they respond in kind.
I’m a positive person, don’t get me wrong. But what’s upsetting is when I see journalists write click bait and sensationalise titles with less celebration around the releases and more on antics. A lot of time there are controversies or violence involved for someone to get a click. It’s a time where you have to have controversy or a reality TV kind of theme to draw people in and I think that’s unfortunate. I would love it to get back into the music and people’s sound.
“What’s Golden” is a true hip-hop classic. What three new hip-hop songs that you think will become classics?
Thank you! I’m really bad at this. I don’t really think like that. I used to in the ’90s but not anymore. I don’t know if you know this but I was the first person to put Kanye West on vinyl. So, I had an idea that record he produced was going to be a classic hit but I’m not good at this now. I think it’s all about the musicality and how it makes me feel. Sadly, these days artists get judged by their looks. Back then, there were a lot of people, who, not to be rude, were not attractive but are mega superstars. Janis Joplin was not a pretty woman. You’ve asked a very complex question. The other thing is, there’s a big focus on age right now and record companies are now focusing on much younger artists. When I hear music from that age group, it’s watered down for a guy like me who has been listening to music for so many years. I like more refined music since I’m not at that age.
I think, right now, people have their money on Kendrick Lamar.
Yes, he is keeping the culture alive by keeping the lyrics alive. The art of writing cohesive rhymes is shifting away from us in the mainstream. So, Kendrick Lamar is almost single-handedly holding that up. He has true lyricism and has proven that it has worked. It’s all about balance.
SING JAZZ 2018 takes place from April 6 to 8 at Marina Bay Sands. Tickets on sale from February 1, 12pm. For ticketing and more information, visit sing-jazz.com.