Interview: One Block Radius
Tue, 16 Sep 2008 13:14:00
One Block Radius Videos
Even while hanging out at their label's New York office, One Block Radius manage to have some fun. After five minutes talking to the Los Angeles trio, it's clear that they could have a good time just about anywhere. That mentality comes through on their self-titled debut [Mercury Records]. Marty James, MDA and Z-Trip blend hip hop beats, R&B swagger, reggae style and even a little ska for a truly tasty musical cocktail. If Sublime, Cypress Hill and Hall & Oates had a kid, it might look a little bit like One Block Radius—keyword, might. More importantly, the songs have got soul, and these three are happy to discuss it—in between doing somersaults.
Since you're from the West Coast, do you guys like New York?
MARTY: I love it.
MDA: We love New York, especially when we're coming here to get money—that dirty New York money [Laughs]. Anytime we're here, it's for a good reason. Some of the highlights of my life have occurred in New York. It's brought a lot of opportunity to each one of us individually as well. We love NYC.
Would you say your music brings together a lot of different West Coast styles—from hip hop and reggae to ska and alternative rock?
MARTY: Our influences are Sublime, The Pharcyde and Cypress Hill. Those are all major influences that I've always tried to get inspiration from. I've been making beats since I was about 12-years-old. I was listening to Cypress Hill and House of Pain records, and I was just blown away by the sampling. You're absolutely right. We're trying to form a line to those classic West Coast acts. That's our ultimate goal. That's the way we want to go. Those are our major influences. Even Digital Underground, some of their stuff is an influence. A lot of that stuff has been really important to our music, obviously.
So how do the songs start for you guys? Do you come up with beats or instrumental ideas first? What's the creative process like?
MARTY: It varies. Normally, I start the creative process. Half of the time, I'll take a track and put together a beat. It always starts with drums. The beat is the centerpiece of all my productions. The beats have to have the right swing and the right amount off thickness. Then from there, I come and decorate the beats with the most creative and unexpected layers of sound. If I don't already have a concept, I'll see what the beat is and what the mood is. After that, I try to take an idea or something that's going on in my life and flesh it out in the song. Then I will point Z in a direction, I'll point MDA in a direction, and I'll hear the vibe a little bit. We'll just build it from there. We try to really put the OBR stamp on everything, instead of just my stamp or anyone else's individually. We really try to make it us. We need to feel comfortable that we're all 100% on board with what we're talking about. We have a few tracks by other producers on there. I feel like it's very hard for us to connect with other producers though, because I feel like our sound is very specific. But you know, all the other producers are people who I've really known for a while. It was like family basically. There wasn't a lot of outside force coming in. We made the album in a month—June 1st to July 1st. Everyday, we didn't even take a breath. We just kept going hard. I told the label that if they wanted to use our original release date of September 2nd and we wanted to make our mastering date July 11th, then they had to let us do it on our own—just like we did with the singles. They pretty much cleared the way, letting us do what we wanted. That's pretty much how the creative process works and the way that we finish it.
It seemed like there was one particular concept and vibe throughout. Would you say that's the case?
MARTY: Every song has its own little nervous system. I feel like they all have their own life, but they're all brothers and sisters. They all have a common thread. I don't know what it is. It's probably just us being us. I feel like the harmonies are something that really separate us from other groups. I'm more into the Steely Dan harmonies as opposed to the more gritty harmonies. All these tracks were made about the same time. They all have the common thread in them, and that's the heart and soul of One Block Radius. Each song is its own journey—from the weird electro shit to the crazy-type shit.
Z-Man: It's got a little ska in there too.
MJ: We wanted to make the most creative music possible. We put the catchy, big melodic stuff away and did something we haven't necessarily heard before. We want to bring good music into the world. We made something we always wanted to hear. The album talks about real life shit that people can relate to on an honest level—outside of just having nice rims. We all like nice rims and club chicks. There are a lot of people out there struggling who are just trying to get by like we are. We've been living like this basically our whole lives. I think we get along so well because we have similar backgrounds. It's really comforting. We don't come from a lot of money or anything. We come from a lot of love.
“Each song is its own journey.”
You cover a whole range of emotions from "Want You Back" to "Stand up." However, it's all still One Block Radius.
MDA: For "Want You Back," people just need to know that this is very genuine music. Every song we have, the messages are real. It's all about stuff we went through. It's very genuine to us. All we wanted to do was be us. Win or lose, we'll just be us. We never took our music to record labels. We took it to people. We toured and I started racking up the industry contacts because I started working as a producer. I got busy doing that. That was an outlet that I needed. Every label wants you to write a song like whoever is on the radio. "Give me the next this, give me the next that." I just wanted to make sure that our voice got heard. Right now, the music business feels so manufactured. I think that it'll change because of the real artists—the people who aren't in it to get rich. This is what we do. There would be nothing for us to do if we weren't doing this. People will sometimes say, "Did you ever want to give up?" Give up on what? We didn’t start doing it because we wanted to be on the Tonight Show or anything. If that was our driving force, we would've quit a long time ago. We do this because we want to get our voice heard. We love the art. We love the expression and music. We're born to be 100% OBR all the time.
It'll resonate with people because you give perspective on what's happening in neighborhoods. It's on the street level.
MARTY: I always tell the guys, "Let's make something exciting." Even if it doesn't work, let's take elements of things we like and bring them together. What is it about these Hall & Oates records that's so special? What about The Pharcyde? We find that stuff and add our own little twist. We try to have fun with it too. We've had minor success and a lot of failure. We've been told "No" a lot. To be in the Def Jam office with two guys that are like my brothers is incredible. We're living every moment and just thanking God for this incredible blessing. I just want to do a somersault right now. I'm going to do one, just for you.
Are you okay?
MARTY: I fell on my nose, but I'm fine [Laughs]. We don't just do it for all the girls we get. We do it because people like you listen to what we say and appreciate it. I love it when people are on that level.