Marley Marl ~ In Control Volume 1 (1988)

Posted on February 24, 2013

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Over the last three decades, as rap music has evolved, the producer has become both a vital component and a celebrated commodity within the artform. This trend started slowly in the mid 1980’s, as the first generation of gifted beatsmiths began to emerge in rap; including Long Island native Rick Rubin, the founder of Def Jam Records and the progenitor of Miami bass; Kurtis Mantronik, the Manhattan mastermind who became the forefather of eletronica; and Dr. Dre, the West Coast icon who gravitated from electro hop to gangsta rap, and has stunned listeners since 1985 with his production wizardry. Also included in this charter class of sound architects is a funk doctor from Long Island City, Queens; who’d influence legions of Hip Hop producers with his sonic innovations, found the most formidable brigade in rap history, and foment an incomparable legend in the rap world. His birth name was Marlon Williams, but to the Hip Hop nation, he will forever be known as Marley Marl.

Born and raised in the Queensbridge Houses, a housing project that became a talent hotbed in the worlds of both sports and music, DJ-producer Marley Marl became an aural monarch during rap’s Golden Era, but his indoctrination in Hip Hop began more than a decade earlier; in the mid 1970’s. It was then that an adolescent Marley took to the turntables and mixer owned by his older brother Larry, who belonged to a Queens sound crew called Hi-Fidelity. By the early 1980’s, Marley had become a seasoned DJ, whose turntable prowess led to him producing records; starting with “Sucker DJ’s”, a 1983 single inspired by Run DMC’s “Sucker MC’s”, and recorded by Marley’s then-girlfriend Dimples D. From 1982 through 1986, Marley moved in multiple directions at once: becoming a radio DJ on Mr. Magic’s Rap Attack, a show hosted by New York personality Mr. Magic; producing singles for indie labels Pop Art Records and Nia Records; recording and producing for Uptown Enterprises, a production company formed by Bronx impresario Andre Harrell; and founding the Juice Crew All-Stars, a team of solo emcees he’d nurture and produce, each of whom would be immortalized in later years.

Between 1984 and 1987, Marley Marl assembled the Juice Crew from across NYC’s five boroughs; starting with Queensbridge resident and battle baron MC Shan; and later including Roxanne Shanté, Craig G and Tragedy Khadafi a.k.a. Intelligent Hoodlum, three talented teens who also hailed from the Queensbridge Houses; and moving onto Kool G Rap, a Corona, Queens lyricist introduced to Marley by mutual acquaintance DJ Polo. Besides the Queens recruits, Marley gathered a troika of future immortals from other sectors of New York: Biz Markie, a madcap multi-talent from Long Island; Masta Ace, a Brownsville, Brooklyn laureate who met Marley as the first-prize winner of a rap contest; and Big Daddy Kane, a suave mic wrecker from Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, who’d come into the Juice Crew through his friendship with Biz Markie. In 1987, both Marley Marl and many members of the Juice Crew began to align with Cold Chillin’ Records, a label owned by Mr. Magic’s radio partner Tyrone “Fly Ty” Williams; and that same year, the Crew’s Marley Marl-produced albums started to roll off the assembly line. After the release of 1987’s Down by Law (MC Shan), and 1988’s Goin’ Off (Biz Markie), Long Live the Kane (Big Daddy Kane) and Born to be Wild (MC Shan), Marley noticed that an abundance of heat-rock recorded material was left over from the Juice Crew’s recording sessions, and with the enthused support of both Cold Chillin’ and its parent label – Warner Bros. Records – Marley reworked some of these surplus tracks, added a few new selections, and issued them as an album under his own name in the fall of ’88, called In Control, Vol. 1.

In the hands of a lesser talent, In Control Vol. 1 could’ve easily become a hodgepodge release, with no central theme and no real direction. But with Marley Marl presiding over this album, the finished product is first-rate, and each track melds together seamlessly. In Control Volume 1 has the same format used on most of 1988’s classic albums, with ten songs, no filler to speak of, and straight heat from start to finish. Each Juice Crew member gets time to shine, starting with Craig G, who opens with “Droppin’ Science”, a funky mid-tempo cut where the 16-year-old Craig shows extraordinary skill and seasoning for his age; while DJ Marley Marl spatters scratches throughout Craig’s verses and the choruses, and fills the backdrop with dope edits and a spry loop of James Brown’s “Make It Funky”. The next selection “We Write The Songs” features the only non-Juice Crew performance on the album: from the Overweight Lover Heavy D, an Uptown Enterprises compatriot of Marley’s, who joins the Diabolical Biz Markie in a slick, spirited bouncer set to the drum line from Joe Tex’s “Papa Was Too”, and filled out by the atonal singing of Biz Mark, who reinterprets the Barry Manilow hit “I Write The Songs” for the hook. Percy Chapman, a.k.a. Tragedy Khadafi, makes his first appearance on “The Rebel” , under the name Percy/Tragedy. As Craig G did before him, the 16-year-old Tragedy does sweet justice to a James Brown-inspired track, spitting laser-guided bars atop the driving groove from James Brown’s “Hot Pants”, and flowing as if he was born with a mic in his hand. Up next is “Keep Your Eyes On The Prize”, a dose of reality and sociopolitical depth courtesy of Masta Ace – then called Master Ace – where the Master addresses societal ills and a morally bankrupt world while his DJ Steady Pace works his fingers on the wheels, and Marley Marl supplies the rhythmic bounce of the Detroit Emeralds, taken from their song “You’re Getting A Little Too Smart”. And Brooklyn meets Queens on “The Symphony”, to create arguably the greatest posse cut in rap history. Over the course of six minutes, Marley Marl invites Masta Ace, Craig G, Kool G Rap and Big Daddy Kane to smash single-file, over a cobblestone drum program and a bluesy saloon interpolating of Otis Redding’s “Hard To Handle”; and one after another, the lyrical giants give tutorials on how to handle a microphone, and slowly tear Marley’s track to shreds.

For the remainder of In Control Volume 1, Marley Marl keeps a firm grip on the steering wheel; but he and his supporting cast get a little looser as they wreck shop. On “Live Motivator”, Tragedy Khadafi zones out lyrically; using alliteration, metaphors, and Rhodes Scholar vocabulary to flex his skills, while Marley moves limbs with a crisp drum program, and a sleek sampling of the Collage hit “Get In Touch With Me”. “Duck Alert” is a dousing of sucka repellant from Craig G and Marley Marl; set to a loop of James Brown’s “Funky President”, and aimed at two of Marley and Mr. Magic’s radio nemeses: KISS-FM personalities Chuck Chillout and DJ Red Alert, with Idol Makers producer Hurby Luv Bug catching a collateral damage spraying along the way. “Simon Says” is a vintage Golden Era dance burner; with Masta Ace putting an adult twist on a child’s game, and ordering party-goers to follow his suggestive directions, over a clanging funk track that samples Kool and the Gang’s “Chocolate Buttermilk”. “Freedom” features MC Shan in his sole appearance on the album, and Shan is razor-sharp as usual: throwing measured rhyme jabs like a middleweight champ, over a sparse back-alley track with elements of James Brown (“Escape-ism”), Freedom (“Get Up And Dance”) and Marley Marl scratches spread throughout. And Roxanne Shanté, the Juice Crew’s resident drama queen, closes the album with “Wack Itt”, a danceable parody with a herky-jerky beat similar to Salt-Ni-Pepa’s “Push It”, and purposely silly lyrics from Shanté, that are meant to mock both Salt-N-Pepa and West Coast bubblegum group JJ Fad.

In Control Volume 1 was the last of four dope albums Marley Marl produced in 1988, following MC Shan’s Born to Be Wild, Big Daddy Kane’s Long Live the Kane, and Biz Markie’s Goin’ Off, and it confirmed Marley’s rep as the most prolific producer in Hip Hop during the Golden Era. As with the Juice Crew releases that preceded it, In Control Volume 1 was an immediate street-level hit; selling several hundred thousand units across the United States in its first pressing. In later years, Marley Marl would state that his only mission during this time period was to make good music, and he’d certainly succeed on that end; as he’d join his Juice Crew disciples as a household name among the Hip Hop faithful in the Golden Era. But Marley’s singular focus on music making may have hurt him financially; as he’d later accuse Cold Chillin’ Records of defrauding him of more than $500,000 in royalties; and litigation over these unpaid royalties would cause him to sever ties with the label. At the dawn of the 1990’s, many of Marley’s Juice Crew progenies would begin producing their own records; but Marley’s groove wouldn’t stop after they left the mothership. In 1990, the same year the Juice Crew started to splinter, Marley linked with St. Albans, Queens legend LL Cool J to produce Mama Said knock You Out, Uncle L’s 1990 full-length that would revive his career, sell more than 2 million copies, and score Marley Marl a Grammy award in 1991. Through the 1990’s and early 21st Century, Marley Marl would enjoy a multi-faceted run in the game; doing production work for R&B luminaries Bell Biv DeVoe and the Force MD’s, discovering and producing the New Jersey rap trio Lords of the Underground, and partnering with both KRS-One (2007’s Hip Hop Lives) and Craig G (2008’s Operation Take Back Hip Hop) on true-school revival releases in the early millennium. Though he hasn’t received the due he deserves, Marley Marl has had an enormous impact on the world of Hip Hop. Besides birthing the Juice Crew and giving LL Cool J’s career a lift, Marley’s production mastery would inspire several iconic followers, including The RZA (of Wu-Tang Clan), Pete Rock, and Gang Starr’s DJ Premier, who has touted Marley as his favorite producer, and has sampled this album frequently in his own productions. And Marley is widely recognized as the creative father of the Queensbridge Houses, the residential talent farm that spawned future icons like Nas, Mobb Deep and Cormega. For a composite look at rap’s greatest year (1988), you absolutely must check out In Control Volume 1. It’s as impressive as any rap release from that year; and it’s a banner moment in the career of Marley Marl, Hip Hop’s immortal funk doc.

To listen to In Control Volume 1, click here.

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