I2G chilled with legendary producer and musician, Mark Batson, for a exclusive interview. We discuss his start in hip hop, working with Dr. Dre and much more so check it out.
I2G is here with the one and only Mark Batson, how’s it going?
All is well. I’m feeling blessed.
How did you get your start in music and who are some of your musical
influences out there coming up?
That’s always a pretty intricate and involved question for me. I started learning classical piano when I was 4 years old. My father worked at the Post Office but was also a part time opera singer. I grew up in Bushwick projects in Brooklyn. It was around the time of the birth of rap and I was exposed to hip-hop at its early stages. In the projects, on Saturdays drummers would come from many different neighbors and have a drum circle that I could hear from my window on the 5th floor of 811 Flushing Avenue. I just remember that one year guys from the projects came down with some turntables and plugged them up to the street lamp to start playing hip hop in the park. I heard those first raps from my window but later on would go to Harlem to see the Imperial Master DJ Jazzy J, and then later on Grandmaster Flash, the Coldcrush Brothers and Romantic Fantastic Five. Me and my brother collected tapes of them and listened in our apartment until the tapes were worn out. Master Don and Death Committee, Funky Four +1, Busy Bee Starski and Spoonie Gee and the Treacherous Three were also some of my favorites. I studied their styles and used to get on the mic with my brother in our projects and rap and also all over in Marcy, Sumner projects or at Bed-Stuy block parties.
At the same time I was taking classical piano lessons with Maude Cummings Taylor who taught in Bed-Stuy on Hancock Street. Me and my brothers and sisters took lessons on Wednesday and by the time I was 12 years old I was playing major classical pieces at Carnegie Hall and Brooklyn Academy Of Music. The four of us kids were all kind of child prodigies. I also played in church on the weekend as a my job and played in a few local bands. My musical start was well rounded and extremely diverse which makes it comfortable for me to blend into many different environments today.
That was a different time in NY. Last year NY had around 300 murders but back in those days NY in 1980 had 1800 murders that year. That’s the environment that hip-hop was born in, hot, strong, tense and violent. A lot of parties and jams would often end in gunfire am people saying “they shooting” and running like on the Nas record. I had a gun in my book bag when I went to high school, even though I went to Brooklyn Tech, which was one of the best schools in the city. It was before the crack era so the number one way for gangsters to make money back then was strong-arm robbery of sheepskin coats, leather bombers, gold medallions and ropes and Cazal glasses. There weren’t a lot of organized gangs in those years, just what neighborhood you repped and the Five Percent Nation, which wasn’t a gang but often threw down like one. All of these memories influence my style of piano, my style of beat making and that fierce and ferociousness is what attracted Dr. Dre to my style. I was the classical and jazz piano player that approached beats like Wu-Tang.
How did you make the transition from Jazz to Hip Hop on the production side of things?
When I was 16 years old and living in the projects in Brooklyn, I got a scholarship to Howard University to play jazz in the HU jazz program under the tutelage of the great conductor and trumpet player, Mr. Fred Irby. I also got a job playing piano for the Smithsonian museums African-American culture department. I had an 18 piece big band that played Duke Ellington music and I also played the music of many great jazz and ragtime pianists. My ex-wife was one of the heads of the department and hired me to perform that music and also spend time studying big band charts and arranging them for ensembles at the museum. I am forever blessed from that musical experience. At the same time, my brother and I had a rap group called Get Set that was doing shows in New York with hip-hop and a live band. We eventually got a deal and signed to Polydor records to make an album as well as got hired by the Hendrix estate to do a reworking of Hendrix music in a piano trio with Geri Allen.
When I got out of college my first gig was some programming work with Eric B and his artist Brett Lowry who I knew from high school. There was never really a transition from jazz to hip-hop as my creative process always included a little bit of a lot of styles.
How did you link up with Dr. Dre?
I toured a lot for many years with a lot of different alternative bands. At one point I started getting more serious about doing production work and songwriting and my first major album success was with India.Arie on her Acoustic Soul album that got nominated for Album Of The Year at the Grammys. After that, I produced and wrote an album with Seal and was spending more time in LA than in my apartment in Harlem. My good friend Che Pope, who is now the president of Kanye’s G.O.O.D. Music was working with Dre and introduced me to him. He asked me to stay in LA and make some music and I never turned back. It was the best working experience of my entire life, where I learned the most, earned the most and had the most fun.
In collaborating with Dre on so many projects, what is the recording and creation process like in working with Dr Dre?
He is a perfectionist workaholic and never settles. Out of 100 pieces of music that you’ve heard from him there are many, many thousands that you will never get to hear because they haven’t been perfected on his level. You have to remember, he was the person who single handedly brought modern and high end sonics to Hip Hop music. He was the engineer that wrote, produced and also mixed the records that made hip hop the international radio phenomena that it is today. It is amazing that I see these movies that show Dre drinking, laughing it up, partying and chilling, and have not yet seen one visual that documents the fact that Dr. Dre puts a ridiculous amount of hours into studying and perfecting his craft in the studio and is a sonic engineering genius. How could you make a movie about a scientist and not study him in the laboratory? His ability to master the use of frequencies in modern recording is unparalleled and unprecedented. There is not one music scientist in the game that comes close to what he has accomplished with crafting urban sound to be presented on the global level.
Do you have a particular favorite studio session that sticks out to you from the rest in working with Dre?
I’ve had so many great experiences that are too many to mention. Working on Gwen Stefani’s Rich Girl when it was the number one song in the entire world, being close to the creative process and talking with Eminem and 50 Cent during studio sessions where they were making what would be classic recordings and then winning two Grammy’s for best rap album with Eminem. However, the greatest experience would have to be to sit in a room and watch Dr. Dre at work making music tracks and then mixing them on the SSL console that he prefers to operate for music…how much more of a part of history could a person be?
My favorite beat I ever made with Dre is ‘Get You Some’ on Busta Rhymes Big Bang album. We made it in Hawaii when I was enjoying the beautiful life and dating some beautiful women. It was our last day on the trip and that beat perfectly sums up the vibe I was on. As soon as it drops you know something is about to happen… hard but still sexy.
What did you think of the Compton album Dre put out a year ago?
I think it’s a testament to his greatness as a producer that he could come out with a record 16 years later than his last and it would still bang so hard when you put it on. I also think it’s a testament that as far as finding and developing talent that he’s still coming up with and developing the biggest and best talent in the game… and I mean just Kendrick Lamar, Anderson.Paak and Eminem are three names that nobody is fucking with right now.
What projects are you currently working on that are getting ready to drop in the near future?
This is an exciting time for me. I just put out an album with Anthony Hamilton called “What I’m Feelin” that has a number one single on Urban AC. I just also worked on some of Skylar Grey’s latest album that has a duet with Eminem that is at 7 million listens on YouTube with no visual. I also produced most of Leann Rimes new album with Darrel Brown. Leann goes down in history as one of the best country singers who ever performed that music and one of the most stellar voices ever recorded. Her album is coming out October 28th in the UK. I also produced with Swizz and Alicia Keys the majority of her album, ‘Here’ that is coming out on November 4th. The three of us, and Harold Lilly wrote most of it. We call ourselves the ILLuminaries when we come together to create. Alicia, like Dr. Dre is one of the most talented and hardest working artists that I have ever seen.
There were talks of a book coming out. Is that still in the works?
I write graphic novels. I have one that is a limited edition series called LOADED: The Story Of A Ghost. It’s a 282 page story book with art. It’s about a kid who grows up in gangs and winds up in the military and really excels at covert operations. It reviewed great and we are looking at turning it into a cable series some time next year. I have a sequel to the book called The Story Of Sin that I have never released yet. I want to drop that with some visuals very soon as well.
Thanks for spending this time with me. I’m excited for next year to start releasing some Mark Batson Presents albums. My hopes are to present music I have created with Anthony Hamilton, India.Arie, Seal and Dave Matthews Band that no one has ever heard