Planet Ill caught up with producer extraordinaire Marco Polo on the cusp of releasing his third project of 2013, Port Authority 2: The Director’s Cut. The album boasts 40 emcees and a wide range of beats to satisfy just about every underground Hip-Hop palate. From an Organized Konfusion reunion to a grouping of West Coast legend, the album has it all. We talked about the construction of the album, Marco Polo’s inspirations and much more. Sit back and relax. Authoritarian Hip-Hop
Planet Ill: So you’re dropping the Director’s Cut, Port Authority 2…
Marco Polo: Yes I am.
Planet Ill: What made you go back to the scene of the crime? Was it that you had so much good stuff on the first one that you had to let it all out or was it just designed to be part of a series?
Marco Polo: Good question. I never thought it would be part of a series. But that was my first album that in my mind, that was my first independent album that had success. And I always planned on doing another producer album after it but so many projects came after it like Double Barrel with Torae and The Executioner with Ruste that during all those albums I was recording for Port Authority 2. It just was a slow process. It was something I wanted to take my time with.
So once I finally had enough material, it came to be and yeah, it took like five years to record but it was like no rush; it was on no time clock. Yeah man. Here we are now.
Planet Ill: That time, was that what allowed you to get such a range of emcees? And that range, was it also by design?
Marco Polo: Yeah, man it’s really just working with people that I respect and love their music and the people that love and respect me and like my music. You make better music that way so over time it allowed me to get more and more artists. I recorded two albums worth of material. And that’s why I put out another album this year called Newport Authority cause I had so much dope shit. So I made two albums. It was a beautiful thing.
Planet Ill: In the construction of this album did you look at previous producer albums like say The Chronic or Good Music’s Cruel Summer, some of those things where the producer has groups under them? Or was it just your own direction to see how it turned out?
Marco Polo: No we always, me and my brother Shy Lo who executive produced it with me, these albums with me, we always look back in the history books that’s very important. Pete Rock’s Soul Survivor, I’ve always mentioned as like the main inspiration for the Port Authority series. But I don’t rap, Pete raps…
Planet Ill: Pete don’t rap either…
Marco Polo: [Laughs] We use that album as the blueprint; I just think that’s the perfect…that was a very important influential album in terms of producer albums; the whole concept of it. Even though it had been done, he didn’t start the idea but the way Pete did his. And you know we look back, of course Dr. Dre and then Marley Marl who I think was the first one to really do that concept
Planet Ill: The In Control series…
Marco Polo: Yes, exactly.
Planet Ill: How is it different working with one artist on a full project vs. all of these guys? Do you ever get a chance to be in the studio with them anymore, or is it like “I’ll email you the track?”
Marco Polo: Sometimes it is, due to geographical locations but whoever I can get into the studio with, I get into the studio with. I always prefer that. And if I’m emailing a track to somebody then I make sure I get on the phone with them and build and talk just like communicate with people because if you just leave it to the emails and you’re not hands on with the shit, you’re not going to get what you want for the record.
And that’s what the difference is sometimes, when you have 40 emcees like on Port Authority 2. You know some of them don’t live here so I have to work extra hard to really make sure I’m letting them know what I’m looking for, what the verse is about, what the song is about.
With Double Barrel, that is one of the things that’s doper is that Torae’s Brooklyn so we were in the studio every day together communicating and it happens much faster and quicker in terms of knocking out the project.
Planet Ill: Are you ever able to use technology, like say Skype to where you may not be in the studio with each other, but you’re kinda in the studio with each other?
Marco Polo: I haven’t had a Skype session like that. I definitely use Skype for things LIKE that. I remember when I was doing the album shoot, my art guy is like in Portugal and my photographer was taking pictures of me so I Skype din the art guy from Portugal to kind of oversee the pictures. But I don’t know if I ever did that with music. I definitely Skype with people to talk about shit but like live session shit naw. But it’s a great idea; I’m sure eventually I will.
Planet Ill: You got your emcees, you got your production. Are you tailoring your production to each emcee or are these beats that they go through and are like I want to be on that one?
Marco Polo: No we are tailoring. Say I make 30 beats in a moth. Me and Shy will go through the 30 beats and be like those few right there we need somebody loud. Who can we get on that? Maybe send that to Lil Fame or Billy or Black Poet or Smiley. This one here sounds like it needs a theme; needs a concept. Who’s good at doing that?
We always make sure that whatever beats we send to an emcee, it works for their style so no matter what they pick, we know it works. I’ve never sent and emcee a bunch of beats without thinking. Like, “Hey pick what you want.” Never do that. That’s the worse because 9 out of 10 times the emcee will pick the wrong beat.
Planet Ill: How difficult was it getting Organized Konfusion back together?
Marco Polo: I was doing a bunch of work with Pharoahe so that’s how that went. Me and Pharoahe were zoning out I have three joints on his upcoming album and we were really in a zone right now. He did something for my record and I asked him to reach out to Po.
To be honest that song, The 3 O Clock song was originally supposed to be Pharoahe and somebody else that I was a fan of. But they asked for so much fucking money that it’s just uninspiring. But everything happens for a reason. I’m glad that happened; I’m glad that other emcee asked for a dumb amount of money that was totally not worth it and I was like, “Yo, let me ask Pharoahe to hollar at Prince.” It was a blessing in disguise. Prince loved the track and jumped on it and there you have an Organized reunion to set off my album. Everything happens for a reason.
Planet Ill: When you put together this album, what was your starting point? How did you design it going through to the end?
Marco Polo: Because producer albums are harder to tie together, I think what we always do is we just start recording. We just start recording music with no real theme. We just try and get a good foundation; like a good batch of songs. And then e start moving from there. It’s almost like the pieces of a puzzle that’s on the table and don’t connect and slowly we start forming a picture. But it always starts with an initial base of like 5 or 6 really dope songs. That’s not enough to make an album, you gotta keep going but that is the starting process. You start with just getting a batch of really solid songs.
You always have to have peaks and valleys and sequencing is very important with an album; it’s a lost art so there’s a reason why we space albums out like that. Right when you think the album is losing momentum, we want to pick it up. Right when we just gave you made energy, now it’s time to bring it down for a second. All that shit is really important.
Planet Ill: So what’s next?
Marco Polo: Right now I’m working with a few emcees. me and my boy DJ Skizz are working a lot with Melano, who is down with D.I.T.C. He’s a dope emcee from the Bronx. Besides that I haven’t really committed to any new projects yet. Right now I’m just trying to get my beat stash up and work on some new things. Like I’ve been working with movies and licensing. I just did the theme song for the Brooklyn Nets. That played last season and it will play this season, too. So I’m just expanding the Marco Polo brand in other areas
I put out three fucking albums this year so I feel I deserve a little break from albums just to shift to other things right now. My favorite thing is always going to be working on albums so that’s always going to happen so but right now I think I’m going to take a little vacation to Thailand and get my thoughts together and get back on the beats and figure out what’s next.
Planet Ill: How do placements work? What kinds of inroads have you made towards getting that Marco Polo brand in different places other than albums?
Marco Polo: I work with a lot of people that do licensing. 9’ve always had my beats run on TV in the background. Like Jersey Shore and all those types of shows. I’ve been had my instrumentals, even in my early career, I’ve just been connected to good people that got me beats on a lot of TV shows. I’ve always done other things. I worked with this comedian named Russell Peters who’s huge in Canada and the world and I’ve been doing his music on his DVD’s. That’s something I’ve always felt was important and a lot of those projects keep my company Spaghetti Bender music afloat Because as much as I love doing albums and underground rap and it’s my favorite thing to do, it’s not always the most lucrative thing.
Planet Ill: You got anything you want to get out to the world?
Marco Polo: If you’ve never heard of Marco Polo, now is a good time to go check me out All my social networks are twitter.com/MarcoPoloBeats, Instagram MarcoPoloBeats, Facebook.com/marcopolobeatspa. I’ve put out quite a bit of music so definitely check out the catalogs or check out this new album I spent five years of my life making I think people are going to dig it. I think people will really dig it and hopefully that leads you back into my catalog to get the first one. Ceck out the stuff I did with Torae and Ruste and Stax and Newport. There’s a lot of stuff out there. If you feel like what you’re hearing rap-wise isn’t doing it for you and you need a change I think my stuff will inspire you.