Real Name: Marlon Williams
D.O.B.: September 30, 1962 Queens, New York.
Label: Cold Chillin’ Records
Marley Marl is a radio DJ turned super producer and Record label CEO representing the ethnicity of Queensbridge New York at a time where the only vibe on the street stemmed from the Boogie Down South Bronx constituency. Heading up The Juice Crew, Marl propelled the careers of some of the greatest hip-hop icons of the culture. He was an innovator of his production techniques with synthetic beats and sampling unique to the industry standards. From influences in electronic production to complex sampling Marl carried this trait through the work of The Juice Crew who was assembled to support this novel blueprint in hip-hop.
Marl’s earliest influence came from his own home his older brother was Larry Larr, member of Hi-Fidelity a park performance group who would keep equipment in the basement. After cautioning his brother not to touch any of their gear, Marl would switch on the power and warm up the turntables in order to imitate his brother’s work. He was ten to eleven years young. In the city of New York, he was a hyperactive child and therefore sent to a special education school that housed anyone from dyslexic to abusive bullies. It was at Manhattan High School where Marl met Breakout from the Bronx who carried with him tapes from a crew of DJs and MCs honing their undeveloped skills. Impressed with this, Marl formed his own crew called the Sureshot Crew in 1977 who battled other crews, representing the Queensbridge had started the campaign.
During the following teenage years, Marl would spend evenings spinning disco records and rap jams at River Park or the Jacob Riis recreation hub. His first break would come via his girlfriend Crystal Smith who was down with Marl’s DJing prowess and became increasingly inspired to start her own rap career as Dimples D. Marl would later produce her breakthrough hit. During 1982 Marl had secured an internship with Unique Studios under the wings of Arthur Baker whose production credits include remixing Afrika Bambaataa’s early recordings, Madonna, New Order and many more. Marl was schooled off Baker’s production techniques and had worked on Crystal Smith’s ‘Sucker DJ’s’ track taken complimentary from Run DMC huge smash hit, ‘Sucker MC’s’. Convinced he should sell the rights to the recording, Dimples D’s one time hit became the rights of small label, sold for $6,000. With his cut Marl purchased a Roland 808 drum machine. Every time Marl earned any money he would inject it back into buying more equipment in which to diversify his skills as a studio lab technician.
Two years later Marl had joined up with flamboyant and very arrogant radio personality, Mr. Magic who aired his show on Friday and Saturday evenings 9pm till midnight on WBLS called ‘Mr. Magic Rap Attack’. This was a pioneering hip-hop show on a black owned radio station known for its predominantly R&B promotion. Marl would assume duties as resident DJ ‘Engineer All Star’. This show rivaled DJ Red Alert’s own radio show aired on KISS-FM. Mr. Magic’s show overshadowed the airwaves becoming the most influential hip-hop program in the tri-state area. As Magic’s DJ Marl was forced to play the brightest stars of the moment, and the spotlight belonged to Kurtis Blow who was already becoming a powerhouse in production working for Russell Simmons’ Fat Boys, AJ Scratch and LL Cool J projects, Marl did not appreciate the weak inferior sounds characteristic of Blow and felt compelled to put his own techniques out and establish his hometown on the map and reformat the escalating tornado of hip-hop crashing through every mainstream trend. Marl had converted his sister’s Queensbridge apartment into a basic recording studio he called the ‘House of Hits’. Insisting on altering the format of already established trend of production set by Kurtis Blow following suit of late disco and smooth party jams, his crackled speakers and popping vinyl scratches gave Marley marl the distinctive reputation for raw, dirty sub-par quality recordings contributed by his inner city surroundings of screeching subway trains and traffic. In ‘Hip Hop America’ Nelson George called this a dusty quality of production. Marl picked up an essential part of his repertoire while studying underneath Baker at Unique, sampling records. When trying to extract a vocal off an emulator a sneer sound was captured, he then realized instead of relying upon the DMX bland beats he could rip off any drumming from a record and re use it for his own production. Immediately he went out and bought a cheap sampler he still uses to this day. At this juncture there were no sampling laws so the selection was endless. Marl assembled the Juice Crew to demonstrate and execute his new ideas of production and sampling.
Still driven to promote his Queensbridge neighbourhood Juice consisted of varying personalities and home-grown virtuosos Biz Markie, Roxanne Shanté, Big Daddy Kane, and later joining were Kool G Rap & DJ Polo, Masta Ace, Craig G and Tragedy. This unparalleled producing was starting to be recognized through his stars performances. Most producers and DJs at the time took a back-seat with the light shining on the MCs alone. Marl’s distinctive techniques forced him to be acknowledged as an integral member of Juice Crew. This in turn gave accreditation back to aspiring producers and DJs who worked tirelessly behind the scenes to give the glory to the performers. Mega star producers like RZA and P. Diddy their careers and those under their production on the early 80’s workings of Marley Marl.
In 1985 under the pseudonym of NYC Cutter, Marl released his début track called ‘DJ Cuttin’’ in an effort to showcase his newly honed skills as a producer and DJ. The Juice Crew started a campaign of battles against their peers in the industry starting with U.T.F.O. who, after promising to perform a jingle on Mr. Magic’s show, went over to rival DJ Red Alert on KISS-FM and performed the b-side track, ‘Roxanne Roxanne’ to which Shanté took as personal and answered with the infamous battle track, ‘Roxanne’s Revenge.’ Marl had urged a response to save face of his Queens image and employed the lyrical help of MC Shan and vocals of young, brash 14 year old Roxanne Shante to perform the comeback. Marl utilized the same instrumental as Roxanne Roxanne to return the attack. Marl made plenty of tapes and the Revenge hit was crammed through WBLS and supplied to jocks of willing radio stations through the area. This single-handedly gave Shanté the notoriety she wanted as a serious artist and established Marl as a fully-respected producer.
The first single released from Cold Chillin’ Records headed by Mr. Magic and Tyrone Williams (no relation) with Marl as the house producer was MC Shan’s Queens Anthem ‘The Bridge’. Marl’s bravado as King of Queens gave him the tenacity with Juice member MC Shan to produce the single promoting the hip-hop culture emerging from Queens to rival the Boogie-Down. Unfortunately this is just how Boogie Down Productions took this track as. During this period KRS-One claims Mr. Magic refused to respect BDP as a serious rap act and refused to sign them to Cold Chillin’ stating Juice Crew was far better. Members KRS-One, D-Nice and DJ Scott La-Rock answered this with their Anthem ‘South Bronx’. This started a feud between the motherland, Bronx and upstart Queens crews. Supporting radio stations showed allegiance to their side by refusing to play the other’s tracks… This like most hip-hop stunts only boosted the market of everyone involved.
Throughout the 80’s this was dubbed the “Bridge Wars”. Soon after the beef was settled by 1987 many of Juice had started solo projects with Cold Chillin’ with Marl producing their work. Marl produced Shan’s debut, ‘Down By Law’ only to find pressure in fame and fall prey to the life of drugs. He left Cold Chillin’ and his second album in ’88 was not produced by Marl, the album dropped like lead as failure. It was at this stage Marl had relocated the ‘House of Hits’ operation upstate to Chestnut Ridge, New York due to over-zealous Queens locals wanting the miters touch of Marl.
The first act to break in the new recording facility was Biz Markie who had a strong identity of being a cartoonish, chubby and comedic rapper who called himself ‘The Diabolical’. Marl used James Brown tracks to produce his hit singles. On ‘The Vapors’ track he used Brown’s bombastic, ‘Papa Don’t Take No Mess’. The single was a huge hit for Marl as well as Markie and earned heavy rotation on New York’s Video Music Box show. After the success of Juice’s final single, ‘The Symphony’ was released Marl found himself inundated with projects from Big Daddy Kane, Markie, Shante, Kool G Rap & DJ Polo all of whom were signed with Cold Chillin’ by 1989. Marl fitted time in for his own solo albums ‘In Control Volume 1 & 2’ which found him collaborating with most of the original Juice Crew members. The break up of Juice is hazy when finding a responsible factor, each blaming each other. It could all come down to a clash of blossoming egos. Marl continued his career as a super producer for the spin off acts.
Leaving the rest of the crew to fend for themselves, Marl helped establish the careers of Eric B & Rakim producing their first hits ‘My Melody’ and ‘Eric B. is President’ using his signature James Brown samples and synthetic beats. Marl produced fellow Queens native LL Cool J’s masterpiece ‘Mama Said Knock You Out’ in 1990. In 1998 Marley Marl was awarded sole ownership of his Cold Chillin’ produced tracks after suing for $500,000 in back royalties. Today he remains as a radio DJ with Pete Rock on NYC’s Hot 97. Marley Marl is still learning new techniques in the lab of upstate New York, living large and cold chillin’. He overcame the stigma of a novelty act when he could drop dope verses, scratch and spin 12” records alongside any of his peers. He was recognized as an accomplished artist when he dropped the single “Vapors” written by Big Daddy Kane in 1988.
1988 In Control Volume 1
1991 In Control Volume 2 (For Your Steering Pleasure)
1995 Marley Marl’s House Hits
1996 Marley Marl: The Queensbridge Sessions 2001 Re-Entry