My first introduction to Marcus Wolfe was during a panel at Anime NYC called Nerds on Hip Hop: Bridging Anime & Hip-Hop. TheWolvesDen, as he affectionately calls himself, is inquisitive, funny, and engaging a host. As I quickly learn, while checking out the Nerds on Hip Hop Podcast. Aside from that, he’s an avid gamer, Instructor, beatmaker, and all-around cool guy. I reached out for an interview and here’s what he had to say.
1. How long have you been producing(composing) music? And how did your journey begin?
Marcus: It really started around I think 2011. I had a brilliant friend from my radio station who lent me his MPC500 (shoutout Cobalt Violet). And for a few months, I was trying to work with him and a few others. I was really terrible, and really wasn’t consistently working through the pressure to create well. I gave him back the MPC. I wouldn’t try again until I hit the peak of my stress of my master’s program in 2013, and started to make beats and create a general emotional outlet.
2. From your perspective, what do you feel is the role of the producer?
Marcus: I think there are truly 2 ways to look at the role of a producer. Your beat should be a story or a feeling being communicated. And secondly, as you grow (and I am trying to get here), its to be able to support rappers or singers in their performances. Creating soundscapes that fit them, and providing a larger view of where they can take their skillset.
3. Name 3 albums that have had a huge impact on your life as a producer.
Marcus: This is tough. Charles Hamilton’s It’s Charles Hamilton is quite high on the list. Some of the flips there? My goodness. Charles can flip anything, and seeing stuff like Negative Zero and Starchasers on the same project? The range. I would also say Dilla’s Donuts. I never felt more emotionally connected to beats than with some of the chopping he did on that . I would def also say The College Dropout, early Kanye really created a taste for hip hop musically that I still feel like I am chasing.
4. Do you prefer digital or acoustic instruments?
Marcus: I have mainly history with digital instruments.
5. What is your DAW of choice?
Marcus: I originally started with Akai’s iMPC app on the iPad, my two beat tapes were made with that. This year I transitioned to Beatmaker 3, and honestly, I don’t think I will turn back.
6. Bridging the gap between Hip Hop and Nerd Culture is a popular topic. For as long as I can remember, I’ve indulged in both cultures, it’s helped mold a lot of my perception and how I see the world. When did you first take the leap into these fandoms? What was the moment that locked you into both?
Marcus: I really didn’t really fully become entrenched into hip hop culture until I moved to the states 2007. Prior to that, I was mainly in Nerd culture, my brother’s old Japanese recordings of DBZ really ensured that I would become a full nerd. Watching DBZ in Japanese with no subtitles during my 8th birthday stands out to me so much. In 2005 I heard the College Dropout in full and obsessed over that album. I read the booklet over and over again taking note of all the artists who inspired Kanye. When I moved to the States in 2007, I would really start to try to explore a lot of those artists and I would really deepen my love of hip hop. As for really being at the intersection of both? The first time I saw it? My brother did a song back in 2001 where he sampled the Chicago theme of Perfect Dark. I have always remembered that song, as I really started to make beats, I have always wanted to really flip the beats of my nerd background. I always thought the idea of Kanye sampling his Chicagoan hometown legend in Chaka for his main single was so special, and I wanted to honor some of the music I loved before hip hop, the anime and video game stuff. Many other artists really showed me how that could be done: Lupe, Charles, K Murdock, etc. Living at the intersection of these spaces is really who I am, that desire to explore that is what gave birth back to the old podcast Nerds on Hip Hop.
7. What is your earliest gaming memory?
Marcus: My earliest game memory is probably my 4th birthday watching my brother play Mega Man X.
8. Name 5 pieces of Nerd Media that hold a very special place in your heart.
Marcus: Pokemon Ruby, Tatami Galaxy, Xenoblade Chronicles, Genshiken, and Golden Sun the Lost Age.
9. We deal heavily in Anime, what are some of your favorites? If possible, please elaborate.
Marcus: Tatami Galaxy is my number 1 fave. It changed my life for a while, and I heavily recommend anyone who is ever having regrets about their decisions or struggling in college to watch it. It will replenish your energy and give you some great wisdom. I would probably suggest Princess Tutu as well, its a great story about rewriting self-narratives, and some of the last few episodes have some of the greatest amounts of dread I have ever experienced in anime. The next one I will mention is probably the Disastrous Life of Saiki K. The guffaws the series is able to generate and the way that they are able to really evolve the main character through what is essentially a compilation of 5-minute gags? It’s wonderfully made.
10. If you could sit down and have a drink with any fictional character. who would it be and why?
Marcus: I would probably sit down with Parriston from Hunter X Hunter. He is one of my favorite villains and would love to talk to him about the nature of people, he seems to have the pulse of people’s true actions in a red taped world. It would be interesting to hear what he would recommend for folks in crazy bureaucracies like academia.
11. What is something you’ve learned about yourself through content creation?
Marcus: I have learned for me that there’s freedom in embracing being bad. It feels like as I have gotten older that a lot of the things I have to do now require me to be good (school, work, etc). I needed to allow myself to be okay with making bad music, that it was okay, that what I had to create didn’t have to always be something wonderful. It’s freeing to really just allow myself to explore, it gives you a certain amount levity. It encourages you to really adopt a meaningful learning approach, you explore out of joy and mystery, rather than just discipline/duty/need. I have communicated more about my feelings in my beats than anything else.
12. We’re very community-oriented over at SDE. What are three tips you would give to any creative?
Marcus: Share your creations, don’t bury your talents or interests. Each time I thought that maybe I shouldn’t share my creations, I get surprised at the positive feedback. It’s easy to say that you aren’t great and thus shouldn’t share. However, the thrill of the first person to appreciate your creation gives you encouragement to continue and you then want to show those people something better.
Allow yourself to be bad, I mentioned earlier that I quit for a few years and some of that was self-imposed about not being good. It wasn’t until the second time I came back that I allowed myself to explore without the pressure of a great final product. It’s freeing when you create out of a positive space.
Place yourself in your work. There are some things that only you can make, on things you can say, only things you will want to sample, etc. It’s important to never lose what you bring to the table, situating yourself in your work is everything.
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