DJ Marley Marl’s New Podcast Legendize Sets the Record Straight
“I just had to do this podcast because there's too much misinformation out there—and misinformation is very popular”
Producer and hip-hop legend DJ Marley Marl has changed the rap game as we know it. From pioneering the practice of sampling drum sounds to starting the Juice Crew—and subsequently, Cold Chillin’ Records—he has been cited as a critical influence for artists ranging from The Notorious B.I.G. to RZA.
DJ Marley Marl has had a hand in production for a slew of classic albums including Eric B. & Rakim’s Paid in Full to LL Cool J’s Mama Said Knock You Out. With how integral Marl has been to music history, a foray into the podcast space was inevitable. Legendize, which premiered on June 1, features the esteemed personality interviewing artists like MC Shan, Big Daddy Kane and Naughty by Nature alongside co-host DJ Callie Ban.
He spoke with SPIN to discuss his new venture and some of the most notable moments throughout his career.
SPIN: With Legendize, you’ve made the transition from DJ and producer to podcast host. Why did you decide to try this out at this point in your career?
Marley Marl: I just had to do this podcast because there’s too much misinformation out there—and misinformation is very popular. People just say any fucking thing for likes…and looking stupid. Then people with podcasts get up there and act like they giving motherfuckers the true story. They wanna pump some bullshit just for clicks. It’s so corny right now. You know one fucked up thing about hip hop? So many lies have been going and niggas believe these lies because they’ve been going for so fucking long. You talking about what you’ve heard from a liar and you’re stuck on that because you’ve been getting fed that shit for years and years. I’ve been watching this shit my whole life. When something real happens and nobody says nothing I’m going to say something—fuck that.
Looking back on the rivalry between MC Shan and Boogie Down Productions, did you realize “The Bridge” would become the template for hip hop beefs to come?
When Shante came out she was going at somebody… Shan was going at somebody. I didn’t realize that we were making history and that it would be the prototype for hip hop beefs. Maybe not paying attention to that was the best thing because otherwise it would have been too much for me. Shan was doing commercials with Boogie Down Productions. He was doing shows with them, you know, when niggas was doing tours and shit. I was like no—fuck them niggas. I just didn’t want to see nobody get hurt because I took it all very seriously. I wasn’t playing. I wasn’t running behind that shit. So instead I started producing more. We not doing no shows together. I’m not calling you on the phone and smiling and crackalackin—we ain’t doing all that.
Can you talk about the chemistry of the Juice Crew? Between the bars, the fashion and the comradery, it was such a magical time for rap music.
This is what I feel about the Juice Crew. Back in them days, it wasn’t about everybody getting on. We were some of the truest, truest motherfuckers who was just putting on real talent. That’s why everybody was dope. You ain’t have to come over here and suck no dick. You ain’t have to come over here and get touched on, you get what I’m saying? You had to fucking have talent—you ain’t have to do all that dumb shit. And at that time, motherfuckers wasn’t getting put on. Juice Crew came out bad and that’s why they was dissing motherfuckers, not giving a fuck about the industry. We had to come out in a different way.
Come out in a different way how?
We couldn’t come out on that Def Jam way—they wasn’t letting nobody in. We had to go to Philly to get on…Philly really put the Juice Crew on not New York. New York blocked us out. When Russell and them was here they wasn’t trying to hear shit. For them it was “we running this shit, we the gatekeepers.” It wasn’t no Russell associated labels, none of that working with us. But I’m trying to make records. I gotta go to my house and make a goddamn record…make something better than them somewhere else. And they was sitting there wondering “what the fuck is he doing in his house?” That’s when I started doing LL’s album and they were like “Nah we don’t fuck with Marley Marl!” LL was like shit….aight. [laughs].
I’m sure not having that type of support only made you more determined to be successful.
Not to mention since I was in a battle with Red Alert and Chuck Chillout every damn weekend, I had to come with some freshness. I had to come with heat because a lot of artists, you know…they was playing that bullshit. But we got heat nigga. I got my own crew—fuck you. And we gonna rock somebody’s shit every fucking week. We breaking shit every week. So you gonna listen cause you a fan of us and we got the new shit over here…ya’ll playing that old shit over there. That motherfucking Kane shit, that G rap shit, a Shante, a Shan joint. We was dropping these motherfuckers.
You worked so closely with Roxanne Shante in the 80s and famously produced “Roxanne’s Revenge.” What was your relationship with her at that time?
It’s crazy because with Shante…she lived on the block and I didn’t really even know her like that. I just used to see her freestyling… it was always a circle going on every day. I thought—are they gambling? They was holding down the block. One day I went over there looking to see who the players were and two of them were Shan and Shante. When we did “Roxanne’s Revenge” she said “I got something for that.” I said, “okay, I’m gonna get the instrumental.” At that time, it was mostly guys rhyming and she was the only female out at that point, taking down guys. Rapping against Melly Mel and these motherfuckers and taking them out. I’m like, what?
Why do you think the response to “Roxanne’s Revenge” from other artists was so visceral?
She was a young, poor black girl talking her shit. Other people heard it and thought “Oh I’m young, poor and Black, too…I can talk my shit, too.” And look at how it made her an overnight sensation. We played that record a week before Christmas and by the time New Year’s Eve came, she was already a star. Everybody just loved it.
That must have been so fulfilling to you as a producer.
Yeah. I was definitely looking for talent and not realizing that these little recordings that I was making in this living room would become so big. We had Rakim coming through. A lot of rappers were being born in this space. Motherfuckers would come up there regularly and then two weeks later be a star.
Roxanne Shante paved the way for women in rap and it’s evolved over the years. How do you feel when a song like “WAP” becomes a huge hit?
How could the Latifah’s or anybody saying anything positive say anything after “WAP” was on top of the charts? To be honest, it doesn’t take that much talent to talk about what a guy wants to do to you but if you say it in the right way…it’s talented. But they ain’t trying to hear me…they tryna hear that “WAP.”
I think it’s about censorship. I listened to uncensored rap when I was younger, but wasn’t allowed to repeat the words.
Back in the day, we had X-rated records. We had Redd Foxx records, Richard Pryor joints. Them shits was over there. It wasn’t in our music. Somewhere along the line, everything got bridged in. Like niggas saying “niggas” in records. Then you in the club and the whole club is white and you looking around cause they gonna say it. But motherfuckers put that on the record so they normalizing the word right now. Rap has taken us into some different places.
What do you see when you look at hip hop now?
Jay Z said “I’m real intelligent. I’m smart. I got words. But when I do hip hop, I gotta dumb it down a little because I can’t go over everybody’s head.” So, I get it. I think hip hop is a young man’s game, but by it being a young man’s game they took the smartness out of it. They took the cleverness. It’s clever to some people. Yeah, they rhyming. But you know, even the music that’s getting pushed now…that’s music to dumb down our youth. There’s no Public Enemys. But maybe hip hop don’t need that because motherfuckers are marching harder than ever right now. Maybe it’s not needed.
But that doesn’t change how powerful it is.
This hip-hop shit took me around the world and has become so universal. It is so strong. Hip hop brought the world together and now it’s something we all have in common. From some poor boy living in France, some poor boy living in Norway, some poor boy living in London, some poor boy living in Harlem. Hip hop is putting everybody together because it’s something that was made from nothing.