If Mark Merren‘s music career for some reason doesn’t pan out, it won’t be due to lack of motivation.
“In my opinion,” Merren says, “the reason why people fall on the wayside is because they lose that self-confidence. They’re not motivated, they’re not fully confident in themselves and it translates into what they do.”
If that’s the case, Merren has determination to spare. He’s had it since he wrote his first rhymes at age 9, while competing in local talent competitions as part of a group that included cousins and other family members. It remained with him when he joined the ambitious Boston-to-Tokyo hip-hop collective, Agari Crew, in 2007, and he quickly became one of its most recognized ambassadors. (His long dreadlocks also help with that.) And so, logically enough, when the 29 year-old rapper and Dorchester-native released his solo debut album in May, he titled it Motivate—a deeply personal collection of songs aimed to sneak some much-needed medicine into the typical rap diet of boasts and punch lines.
“When you are young, you listen to all these grown-ass rap songs. You listen to them in a certain way and you like it: you like the beat, you like the way he’s rapping, but you don’t necessarily understand everything that’s being talked about. Something snapped for me: I started listening to the songs I’d been listening to, even old Tribe [Called Quest] stuff, and these dudes were saying some stuff I didn’t realize that they were.”
A consistent message links Motivate’s 13 tracks together, from the grimy, lyrically driven battle raps of “Last to Know” to “Wait a Minute,” a soulful head-nodder that showcases his personal aesthetic (“they was fronting, they love hating on me, I tell ‘em respect it or check it, more or less I’m just me,” he quips on the track, produced by Rain).
Merren acknowledges that his uncompromising approach towards music has encountered some resistance from radio and mainstream outlets, but in his own words, “I want my mother to be able to say ‘that’s my son’ and listen to my music.”
explains Merren of his album’s themes. “Now I believe and I want to share it with everybody. Most rappers put themselves where they are the ones to be looked up at.
I’m like, ‘Nah, I’m right here with y’all.’ I think the same shit that y’all think on a daily basis, but I have to have these conversations with myself to get through it, so maybe it can work for you.”
Merren credits a large part of that belief to his extended Agari Crew family.
“In a lot of ways, Motivate was born out of Agari Crew. The album culminates all my experiences, but that was the final fire under me that made me realize people are receptive to what I’m doing, that I have a responsibility and a voice.”
WITH FAMOUS NOBODIES, MECCA CASHIER, DJ CREW AND SPECIAL GUESTS