Editor's Note: We'd like to welcome local hip-hop artist and writer Jaron Ikner to Up on the Sun. You're probably familiar with his Black One project, and now he's bringing his voice to the music blog here at New Times. Salute!
Longevity and consistency are two things that are considered a rare find in hip-hop music, especially in this current climate. As a veteran to the scene, Marlos Hill, A.K.A. Blaze Rock, has contributed more than most.
With a staggering 22 musical projects under his belt since becoming active in the Arizona hip hop scene in 2002, Blaze Rock has a more clear and pronounced perspective then most when it comes to not only hip hop as a whole, but the still developing Arizona hip-hop scene as well. After taking a long break from releasing music, Mr. Hill has returned with his aggressive and hard hitting project The Misery.
In recent interview, I sat down with the articulate emcee/maven in hopes to gain a little more insight about hip-hop and more from someone who has been around the block.
Up on the Sun: When did you first get involved in creating and releasing music?
Blaze Rock: I started writing poems and commercial jingles when I was 12. My man David -- who's now a producer with Bangladesh, basically sent me home with a couple tapes and it opened me up to making music. Around 15, I stared trying to put together mixtapes and rapping over other people's beats. The rest is just evolution and hopefully progression.
You just released you latest album The Misery. What was your approach with this particular project?
I wanted to do something different. I wanted to do something that was just aggressive, not artsy or gangster or trendy -- just aggressive, straight forward, and different. I took a long break from hip-hop, so coming back, I felt like I had to make what I wanted to make, something I would listen to that wasn't just a loop and dupe of what's popular or the norm right now.
I didn't want to make a concept album - I wanted to use a concept. So The Misery was put together just like that. When I first spoke to [producer] Paco about doing something, my only request was "Let's make something aggressive, straight forward and different." So you could look at the album as a stream of what I was feeling and thinking -- comic book style hip-hop, aggressive lyrics and beats, and quick setup punches and kicks...because that's ultimately what felt good to get out. I'd like to believe we succeeded.
How many "big" acts have we had in the last two years that are nowhere to be found? -- Blaze Rock
Because of the longevity of your career, some would call you a veteran of Arizona hip- hop. How do you feel about the hip-hop climate in Arizona?
Without dating myself, I'd say it's still very hard to read Arizona hip-hop. I started getting active in the scene in 2002. It was fragmented, disconnected, unaware of its lack of pull with consumers and unsure of how to proceed or progress to the next level. It's now 2013 and I really feel like we're in an evolved state of the exact same issues. There still aren't enough venues that support hip-hop; there are not enough weekly events that are credible, a complete lack of journalistic credibility, and a lack of a central "hierarchy."
It's still a mess. However, musically, I think we've grown and continue to evolve. There are also a lot of strides being taken toward that enriching credibility: awards shows, magazines, websites are showing up more and more - and that's a good direction. There's a lot of good music and exceptional artists around here. Unfortunately, we've got to get the business and culture in tune to make some real strides towards being self-sufficient.
With that said, how do you feel about the current state of the music industry?
I think the music industry as a whole has devolved from creativity to simple, ignorant popularity. What I mean is, popularity has always driven the music industry - popularity equals sales. However, now with social media and other methods of entertainment taking the position of importance from music, the industry has turned to circus acts. Think of it this way: the industry used to at least cook real food to go with the junk food. Now however, it feels like nothing but processed fast food.
The truth is though the music industry continues to try to adapt to the tastes of the consumer - that's where the desire starts. So I feel like the shallow, simplicity and lack of creativity really is because music taste has changed. In hip-hop, a lot of listeners aren't trying to be inspired, encouraged or anything with depth - they just want to party and dance and forget about it. It mirrors life. It can be very discouraging as an artist that does more depth and effort and emotion. The downside is that artist's position or shelf-life is shorter and shorter. An artist now at the top will be practically non-existent in 18 months or less. How many "big" acts have we had in the last two years that are nowhere to be found?
If I were to go through you IPOD right now, what music would I find?
The Man With the Iron Fists OST, Skyfall OST, Alicia Keys' Girl on Fire, Freddie Gibbs' BFK, E-40's Block Brochure Triple, Marvin Sapp's Here I Am and Thirsty, JJ Doom, Aarabmuzik's Electronic Dream, a bunch of other stuff like the score to The Dark Knight Rises, Curren$y's Stoned Immaculate, Flying Lotus, every Wu-Tang Clan group and solo album -- you name it.
Which artists, if any, from the Arizona hip-hop scene do you listen to?
It's kind of a small list, especially right now; I spent so much time away from the scene that it is taking a lot to pull me to an artist. I listen to Random (MegaRan); I think he's one of the most talented cats in Arizona. I like Gods and Monsters, The Society of Invisibles, the Writer's Guild has some dope stuff. I still listen to Cinque, Mic Devious, and Big Meridox. There are some songs from different Tucson cats like the Starstruck Collective that have got me really wanting to spend some time down there as well. I guess my taste in music is so strange that it can be hard to FIND artists to listen to. I'm hearing dope songs all over lately.
Nas or Jay-Z? Any particular reason why?
Both. I know that's not the popular answer or the direction the question took but they are such completely different artists. Both incredible...but very different in purpose. For what it's worth, there aren't many artists that I have every album in their catalogs - I have every Nas album and every Jay-Z album. I consider both of them to be essential hip-hop listening material...even Nastradamus... and even In My Lifetime, Vol 3.
What advice would you give to a young lad trying to start his career in hip- hop?
Learn business. Not "hip-hop business" but sustainable business. Profit, cost, revenue, promotion, marketing - be knowledgeable about as many aspects of your business. View yourself and your music as a brand - not a catch phrase. Work hard... connect with like-minded individuals not just who's in the in-crowd. Learn your craft, love your craft. Be honest in your craft and in your business.
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What's next on your agenda?
I'd like to say I have a huge 2013 ahead. The Misery is the lead off and is doing well as we start up our promo work, next I have a collaborative mixtape with DJ Big Serg, a full-length with Gods and Monsters as Black Talon, a collaborative project with Lost Perception and Judgment called Ghosts of Sparta centered around the God of War video game series, a new Western Block album, the follow-up to The Misery called The Victory, a collaboration with designers The Clink Room, as well as a guest stint in Span Phly's Spy vs. Spy series and two other projects that are still in the building stages. Should be fun!