“Honestly, I want whatever’s coming to me. That’s it.”
To borrow from the title of one of his latest Mv Riot laced bangers, it’s certainly a no-brainer to declare that rising North Carolina native emcee, Mark Steele, has definitely been on a “Wave” as of late. Late last year he released his sophomore album, Almost Time, the follow-up to his 2014 breakout project, Sumthin For The Wait.
Already featured on ESPN with two songs, a young lyrical genius in the flesh, Steele comes correct on his music and when he performs. Need further proof, check the credentials…
Parlé Mag: When did your love for Hip-Hop first begin?
Mark Steele: I’ve always been a lover of music, like a fan of music, you know. Like just growing up, you listen to music around the house. Mom and dad played a lot of Hip-Hop music, and I always was kinda like rapping the words in the backseat of the car, free-styling, or rapping with my cousins at the cookouts and stuff. So I think through that… my uncle he was a party promoter back in my city and he decided to start his own record label, kinda like independent record group, and just encouraged me to join him. So I started off doing that and I was in a group, me and my best friend who’s actually—we still make music together now. He transitioned into just producing. He produced a lot of records on a lot of my projects most recently. He produced a lot of records on Almost Time as well, but he’s in a rap group. So I started real early like trying to do it professionally; from like fifteen, and I’ve been doing it ever since.
Parlé Mag: Is that when you started to take the craft more seriously?
Mark Steele: I guess since fifteen, when I stepped into a real studio, we created an album. I think when it really got serious for me was when I landed Unsigned Hype in The Source, it was like print, and it was back when I was still in high school. So, yeah, and from that, that’s when I really knew I was like, “Man, I saw my picture in an article about me in a credible magazine,” and I thought that was the dopest thing. So from there, I was like, “Man, I think I can really do this!”
Parlé Mag: The undisputed Unsigned Hype column in the ‘Hip Hop Bible,’ doesn’t get much better than that, does it?!
Mark Steele: Yeah, man, yeah that was real dope. It was, like I said, it was when I was in a group, myself and my best friend (and current lead producer), Mike [Bannon], and we went by the rap duo – the title, the stage – name was Mic & Rep. Just something I always wanted to do.
Parlé Mag: Coming up in North Carolina, whose music did you grow up being a fan of?
Mark Steele: Yup, born and raised in Durham, North Carolina. The funny thing is I really like Jay-Z, that’s my guy! I came up on like nineties rap, like mid-nineties to late nineties rap, so all the people that were in mainstream that I could hear on the radio and stuff like that, because obviously this was before internet, so it’s like whatever was on the radio, like whatever was big was what I was listening to. So Jay-Z’s still like my favorite artist of all-time; he’s the G.O.A.T.! I like DMX a lot. I really like the Fugees… I like some Down South – obviously I’m from North Carolina – so I like Southern rappers, too. Ludacris is great. Mystikal is—it’s funny, but he’s definitely probably my favorite Southern artist growing up. I don’t know, man, I just love good music.
Parlé Mag: Categorize for me your sound…
Mark Steele: So in the process of becoming an artist myself, and like transitioning from being just a complete fan of music to trying to create the music and stuff like that, one of the biggest questions that I would get asked is: “How are you going to separate yourself?” Like, “What makes Mark Steele different?” And I thought about the fact that it’s only one me. Like it might be a bunch of similarities in people, but I’m the only one on earth. I’m the only Mark Steele ever, as far as like DNA and all that stuff and experiences, life… so I was like, “Okay, well why don’t I just tap into me?” I’ma make music about life experiences about myself, and the great thing about that, the great irony about that, is that even though there’s only one of me it’s a million people like me that go through the same type of situations or go through the same things so they will relate. I know that they’ll relate, so I rap about my life, my life experiences and the way I interpret the world. And then I hope that people like myself get to hear it, and they’ll relate. Soon as they’ll hear it, they’ll love it.
Parlé Mag: It’s my understanding that veteran producer 9th Wonder has been instrumental in your career…
Mark Steele: 9th Wonder was my college Hip-Hop professor at North Carolina Central University. And, yeah, from there he became like a mentor for me, and I would go to the studio all the time, like every day after class, and I would just soak up game. He helped a lot in just the understanding of the industry, and sonically the type of artist you should be, and what you should bring and how to find yourself. He was real, real, real pivotal in my molding of the type of artist I am today.
Parlé Mag: Lyrically, where do you draw your inspiration from?
Mark Steele: Honestly, I could like—for instance this conversation that you and I are having right now, I could feel inspired to create a record about that. Maybe something we talked about or having interviews is still fairly new to me so I could talk about that experience because I used to always want to know what it was like and how it should feel, what comes after that, the consequences. So maybe I could make a record about that because I know there’s somebody else that’s pursuing music, too, and maybe they have the same wonders, and I can be a vessel for them. So I don’t know, I just draw from life; life experiences.
Parlé Mag: How did you even manage to come to the attention of the powers-that-be over at ESPN?
Mark Steele: Yeah, so I was putting out mixtapes, you know, shooting my own videos and just putting ’em on YouTube, and somehow someway ESPN got whiff of one of the videos, a record called “Not Like Yall”, and they hit my email and was like, “Hey, we liked that record. We want to use it on ESPN First Take.” And I was like, “Wow!” I didn’t even think it was real, but when I found out it was official I was like, you know, “Yeah, definitely!” And from there, we just developed a relationship and they always looking for music. They’re always looking for ways to be involved in Hip-Hop, which I think is a beautiful thing, too, ’cause sports and music are both universal in all walks of life. Love those two. So it was great to see ’em merged together. And then it just so happened—the funny crazy part about “Greatness,” which is the record you just asked about, was I made that record before I even knew about ESPN or we had a relationship, and to see years later – I think it took three years later after I actually created the record – but to see it three years later and see what ESPN turned it into, was like monumental. Man, it’s still probably one of the highlights of my life; like it’s so crazy!
Parlé Mag: October 2016 saw the release of Almost Time—what’s the significance behind the album’s title?
Mark Steele: Just kinda like going back to what I told you before, so all of this stuff is new to me, but I been wanting to do this my whole life pretty much. So I finally felt at a point where I felt like I’m getting close. The ESPN thing just happened, and I get to walk in my living room turn on the TV every day and hear my song or hear people talk about it. And then, I just thought about the contrast in that, which was I feel, you know, I guess you kinda get this idea of like, “Man, when you gonna get your big break and everything’s gonna change and your life just changes instantly?” And it hasn’t been like that. It’s funny, I still gotta clock into work everyday, still gotta live a super regular life and figure out how to pay the bills or what I’ma eat tomorrow, that same type of stuff. So I was like, “I want to talk about this period in my life ’cause eventually it’s gonna go all the way there, but before I get there let me speak on this.” And I named it Almost Time, and it was also…I don’t really tell people this much, but Almost Time was almost time to speak things into existence. So a lot of the records I talked about was like me fast forwarding… fast forwarding to what it would be like when I do finally get that ‘Big Break,’ and things do change and my life does go to me living out the dream that I’ve been trying to live forever. And I started writing about what those may feel like or what it might feel like, and it’s actually helped me progress.
Parlé Mag: How exactly does Almost Time measure up against Sumthin For The Wait?
Mark Steele: Almost Time differs… first of all, the growth as an artist is a big differential. I grew so much as an artist and the type of sound I wanted to have on the project, to the beat selection to the content and just where I was at (that) period in life. Like I felt like I had a clearer vision versus Sumthin For The Wait, where honestly I just kinda took a leap of faith. I was like, “I’m tired of doing mixtapes, like lemme go out there even though I don’t know if I’m ready.” It was like, you know, just kinda like, “Aiight you know what, it’s time. I’m gonna push off the ledge and hope it works.” And, yeah, sonically, I’m proud of Sumthin For The Wait but I love Almost Time.
Parlé Mag: What’s been the key to your success?
Mark Steele: I think a couple keys to my success I’ve had so far is really just learning from my mistakes and never quitting, never giving up, ’cause it’s been a lot of times where I’ve just been completely frustrated with the process. And I think a lot of artists go through that in the beginning, and I think, man, you can’t stop. Like another example is when I made “Greatness,” that was where I probably experienced the worst financial and living situations in my adult life, as an adult where I’m taking care of myself, and I was three months behind on the rent, people break into the house. I’m living in a super ‘hood, I lost my job. Everything was going bad for me, and it was like a whole six months span, and I really wanted to just like straight give up and try something else, try something new. And then when those things happened, like even some of the people around you that are some of your support, they might even—because it may be pulling them down—I had a couple people tell me like, “Man, you need to just quit that. Like you need to just get your life together and do something else.” And something just told me, “Nah, weather the storm, man, keep making music,” ’cause all I still had was my computer and my studio equipment. And I made records like “Not Like Yall” and “Greatness,” and these are before I get ESPN and stuff like that. I made these records and I’m like, “Aiight, I’ma still just keep doing that. That’s like my therapy, and I won’t stop that.” And then, it’s crazy that those are the records that are big cinder blocks in my climb. So to answer your question, some of the things I’ve learned is just to never give up. I’ve never stopped. And learn from my mistakes, and to just keep going.
Parlé Mag: During those trials and tribulations where did you muster the strength to push through?
Mark Steele: Yeah, I mean I got a relationship with God and it’s my faith and somehow—I don’t wanna throw all the spiritual and religion stuff out there like that, but I think you just take the word faith and it’s like believing without seeing, and just knowing that in the end it’s gonna happen. If you already know the results in the end, then no matter what happens in between that, you will be fine; like if you know that. So I think that’s what was making it easy for me to just not quit. I knew that eventually things were gonna get better, and they have.
Parlé Mag: What’s next for Mark Steele?
Mark Steele: I just wanna continue to help push the world forward artistically. I feel like intelligence and technology are driving the world now, but, you know, we still need art. And I feel like art represents expression. I feel like we still need that; that’s a big part of our lives and I just wanna in whatever ways they come about, I want to help contribute to that continuously. And I’m an entrepreneur. I’ma be a businessman. I wanna be a vessel and a channel for other people to pursue their dreams and stuff, too, but I don’t even really want to get too specific because I don’t see that bridge in the near future. I got a lot of other obstacles ahead of me now, and right now I’m focused on being one of the greatest artists of my generation. That’s my goal.
Parlé Mag: Any final thoughts?
Mark Steele: Yeah, man, if you got something that you’re trying to achieve in life, whatever it is—even if you don’t think you can do it—go for it. And when you do it, after you do it and while you’re doing it, don’t quit, don’t ever quit.
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