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One of hip-hop's first (and finest) superproducers, Marley Marl was an early innovator in the art of sampling, developing new techniques that resulted in some of the sharpest beats and hooks in rap's Golden Age. As the founder of Cold Chillin' Records, Marl assembled a roster filled with some of the finest hip-hop talent in New York: MC Shan, Big Daddy Kane, Biz Markie, Roxanne Shanté, Kool G Rap & DJ Polo, and Masta Ace. His production work for those and many other artists generally boasted a bright, booming, and robust sound that -- along with his ear for a catchy sample -- helped move street-level hip-hop's sonic blueprint into more accessible territory. Most important, though, were his skills as a beatmaker; Marl was among the first to mine James Brown records for grooves and also learned how to craft his own drum loops through sampling, which decreased hip-hop's reliance on tinny-sounding drum machines and gave his '80s productions a fresh, modern flavor.
Marl was born Marlon Williams on September 30, 1962, and grew up in the Queensbridge housing project in Queens, NY. He became interested in music through local talent shows and neighborhood parties and became an accomplished DJ during rap's early days. He did mixing work on a number of singles for the old-school hip-hop/electro label Tuff City and started up his own Cold Chillin' label, which he initially ran out of his sister's apartment in Queensbridge. Marl set about recruiting for what became one of rap's first talent collectives, the Juice Crew. He caught his first big break in 1984 when he produced Roxanne Shanté's "Roxanne's Revenge," one of many answer singles inspired by U.T.F.O.'s underground smash "Roxanne, Roxanne"; luckily, "Roxanne's Revenge" was the biggest and it put artist, label, and producer on the map. Marl trumped it by helming "The Bridge," an ode to Queensbridge by his cousin MC Shan that became the unofficial Queens rap anthem and inspired a spirited feud with Bronx native KRS-One. With Marl's success came the opportunity to produce artists outside the Cold Chillin' stable, which he did with the monumental Eric B. & Rakim single "Eric B. Is President," as well as full-length albums by Heavy D & the Boyz.
The end of the '80s is often referred to as hip-hop's Golden Age, a time when the form's creativity was expanding by leaps and bounds. Marl's Juice Crew was an important force in ushering in this era thanks to its advances in lyrical technique and the distinctive personalities of emerging stars like Biz Markie and Big Daddy Kane. With business at Cold Chillin' booming, Marl put out the first full-length release under his own name in 1988 (he'd previously recorded the single "DJ Cuttin'" in 1985 with the alias NYC Cutter). In Control, Vol. 1 was mostly a showcase for various Juice Crew affiliates to strut their stuff, most thrillingly on the legendary, larger-than-life posse cut "The Symphony." Marl scored his greatest crossover success in 1990 by helming LL Cool J's Mama Said Knock You Out; bolstered by Marl's state-of-the-art production, the album restored LL's street cred while becoming his biggest seller ever, making Marl an in-demand remixer. 1991 brought the release of In Control, Vol. 2, which unfortunately displayed signs that the Cold Chillin' talent pool was being depleted.
After working with TLC on their 1992 debut, Marl remained mostly quiet for a few years; 1995 brought the release of House of Hits, an excellent retrospective of his best productions over the years. Splitting off from Cold Chillin', Marl spent several years in a legal battle over money and ownership rights that, in 1998, finally resulted in his being awarded control of all the songs he'd produced for the label. In the late '90s, Marl's status as a high-profile producer was restored thanks to his work with artists like Rakim, Queensbridge's own Capone-N-Noreaga, and Fat Joe. In 2001, Marl put together another compilation of original productions with guest rappers for the British BBE label, titled Re-Entry.
Marlon Williams (born September 30, 1962), better known as Marley Marl, is an American DJ, record producer, and record label founder, primarily operating in the world of hip hop music.
In the 1980s, Marley Marl was an innovator in the art of sampling. Marl was the first to sample a breakbeat and reprogram it. The sample was the The Honey Drippers' "Impeach the President" breakbeat, and he used it on the MC Shan single "The Bridge" from 1985. Marl was also among the first to mine James Brown records for samples.
On his early records, Marl's trademark sound—fairly unique at the time—was a combination of synthetic beats and samples. One production technique he used was triggering short samples loaded in 3 Korg SDD-2000 sampling-delay units through the trigger out of the Roland TR-808.
In the late 1980s, Marl's records became more sample-heavy, the rhythms less electronic; drum samples and sampled patterns became more prominent.
In 1994, Marley Marl was referenced on Biggie Smalls' track "Juicy" as being one of Smalls' early influences. Marl's music has also influenced RZA, DJ Premier, and longtime friend Pete RockBiography
Marl started his career by working for Tuff City Records, where he debuted as an electro producer, working on "The God-Father" by Spoonie Gee, among others. He was also affiliated with Andre Harrell's Uptown Records—Marl was featured on the label posse cut "Uptown is Kickin' it" and he produced for Uptown artist and friend Heavy D and the Boyz. The next year, Marl also recorded a diss response to "Roxanne Roxanne" by UTFO, with female emcee Roxanne Shanté.
Marl produced many songs for other artists, including King Tee, LL Cool J, and Lords of the Underground, and Eric B. & Rakim's first hits "My Melody" and "Eric B Is President". He was also the house producer of the Juice Crew, which included Big Daddy Kane, Biz Markie, Roxanne Shanté, Kool G Rap & DJ Polo, Craig G, MC Shan and Masta Ace. Juice Crew was known for advances in lyrical technique and the distinctive personalities of its members.
Marl founded Cold Chillin' Records as a home for his productions, and filled its roster with some of the most prominent hip hop talent then working in New York: MC Shan, Big Daddy Kane, Biz Markie, Roxanne Shanté, Craig G, Kool G Rap & DJ Polo, and Masta Ace.
In 1985, Marl recorded and released his first solo track, "DJ's Cuttin" under the pseudonym "NYC Cutter". Marl put out the first full-length release under his own name in 1988, In Control, Vol. 1, which was mostly a showcase for Juice Crew members.
Marl scored his greatest crossover success in 1990 by producing LL Cool J's Mama Said Knock You Out. The album became his biggest seller ever, leading to Marl becoming an in-demand remix producer.
After working with TLC on their 1992 debut, Marl's production activity slowed. He separated from Cold Chillin' and spent several years in a legal battle over money and ownership rights that, in 1998, finally resulted in his being awarded control of all the songs he'd produced for the label.
Later in the 1990s, Marl's status as a high-profile producer was restored due to his work with artists like Rakim, Lords Of The Underground, Queensbridge's own Capone-N-Noreaga, Da Youngstas and Fat Joe.
In September 2007, Marley Marl received an award from the Berklee College of Music for his contribution to music.
Marley Marl has long been a radio deejay, debuting alongside Mr. Magic in the 1980s on the Rap Attack show on WBLS New York, and later on In Control with Marley Marl. Marl started his own radio show called Pirate Radio, later hosted by Pete Rock and K-Def. Another(?) radio show was called Future Flavas, an online station and radio show that bounced around from New York radio stations like Hot 97 and Power 105.1. Now Marley is currently back where it all started, WBLS, with his radio show called Golden Era Radio.
Marley is still touring the world deejaying, playing his brand of funk for fans of hip hop's "Golden Era", the late 1980s.
He is also producing a film called The Vapors, based on Marl and the Juice Crew.
On June 5, 2007, Marley Marl suffered a heart attack. He was released from the hospital a few days later on the 8th. According to an interview in The Source, he blamed the heart attack on stress brought on by his worries about being a good father.