When Weekly Alibi received an e-mail late Friday afternoon, offering an exclusive interview with up-and-coming hip-hop artist Mark Battles, you’re dang straight we jumped at the opportunity.
After all we listen to it all. And our recent exposure to Battles’ rap-tastic musical vision led to musical research inquiries about the vernacular currently popular across the genre, which is a laconic flow outta California, epitomized by the work of Kendrick Lamar and Vince Staples.
Battles, from Indiana and so heavily influenced by Detroit, East Coast and Southern rap, sounds contrary in expression. His confessional, deeply and emotionally articulate flow is deepened by groovy R&B samples and a profoundly and roundly felt bottom end.
We thought we might learn something in conversation with this artist. Listen in here to the talk we had about hip-hop narratives, nuances and notes to reality.
Weekly Alibi: So Mark, I’ve been listening to your music this morning. I’m kinda glad you called a little bit late because I wanted more time to figure it out in my own head. But maybe I’d rather have you tell me all about it.
Mark Battles: I think it has a lot to do about where I’m from. Me, being from Indianapolis, the music we grew up on was very soulful.
Did you listen to stuff from Detroit or Chicago?
Right. I think it’s a mixture. We have a lot of Southern influences, too. We’re just 150 miles from Chicago, so that scene is really present. My music is a mixture of everything. I grew up listening to soulful music, listening to Eminem and that’s how it comes out, it comes out in my production mainly. I love the soulful samples.
Yeah, I dig those soul music samples. They work well with your narratives.
I get people who tell me, “This is a guy whose music has a message and you can hear that message if you listen.” Discuss.
It wasn’t a thing that I intentionally set out to do. I kinda just feel that I wear my heart on my sleeve. What I’m dealing with at the time—explaining it in the music—I realized that so many people were relating to those things I was dealing with. I felt the need to push it even further. I’m the voice for a lot of people that didn’t feel like they had one.
That seems like those themes of social consciousness have made a difference in your career, right?
I mean, I guess I don’t know if that’s really for me to say. I just put it out there. I put myself out there and however it’s received, it’s received. Like some people might say that held me back some, that I could have done some more mainstream things. But a lot of people say that since I’ve started digging deeper into that [soulful, emotional content and grooves], it’s cemented me as an artist who is going to be around for a while. I get different opinions on that. So I don’t spend time focusing on that. I do what I feel is right for me, and I just give that to the world. Whatever happens after that is not up to me.
What’s important to you musically and artistically?
I’m on a mission to find out how realistic it is to pursue happiness. Do you know what I mean? I think it’s important to me to put into words, to document my journey musically. There are a lot of people who don’t have the freedoms I have. I am trying to find a way to paint the picture while pursuing it.
If someone who had never listened to hip-hop came out to one of your shows and totally freaked, running up to you afterwards to shout, “What was that and why do I love it so much?” what would you answer?
Man, that’s a cool question. I think it’s just self-expression. I think it’s me, just expressing myself. To piggyback off of what I was trying to say earlier, it’s me trying to document my journey on the way to happiness. All the mixed emotions, all the ups and downs you get on that path, that’s all that I’m giving you. If you listen to some of my songs, I’m on top of the world. Another one could be really introspective. But that’s everyone in the world, bro.