Chess is a strategic and competitive game where each move is not only time sensitive, but players must visualize multiple steps ahead to win. Detroit-based rapper Marv Won sees the similarities between the classic game and the world of battle rap where rappers outsmart their opponents in a game of rapid fire words.
In his video for “Clock On Em” off his latest release Sooner Than Later, released on vinyl by Houston-based label The What Of Whom, he uses a giant chess board as the backdrop for his encouraging yet strongly worded message to fellow rappers.
“I’m putting pressure on other rappers because we don't necessarily have time to be lollygagging trying to come up with grandiose plans, you gotta be moving now.”
Time being of the essence is the underlying theme throughout Sooner Than Later. Most songs lyrically deal with how we appreciate our loved ones in life and in death and how we should take advantage of the time we have because as this year has proven repeatedly, none of it is guaranteed.
“We are all dealing with our own mortality and the fact that time is one of the things that we can't control so I was being more cognizant of that and being more in the moment as opposed to thinking too far ahead. I just wanted to embrace the time that I was in that’s why a lot of the songs have that theme,” says Won.
“The concept of time itself is absolute so no matter what genre of music or what lifestyle you live, that's the thing you can't control.” If anyone needs a song to push them further with disregard for anyone in their way, look no further than the banging track "GTFOTW."
Though the songs were written pre-COVID, the message of mindfulness and intentional use of time is only more powerful this year when as Won says time has been “snatched” from us all in a way and even when we are sitting still, it continues to pass.
Won describes his decision to go ahead and release Sooner Than Later during a time where the traditional approach to pushing an album does not apply.
"This year has been so trying and it's been so hard to navigate that I just felt it wasn't a definite that I would be here or that anyone would be here to hear it the kind of year it was going."
Won has been a mainstay in the battle rap circuit for years now gaining attention with his work in the group Fat Killahz and in Eminem's 2002 movie 8 Mile where the extras in the film were all Detroit-based rappers.
Won’s exchange with Eminem was featured as the bonus scene when the film was released on DVD pushing him into more mainstream exposure. “I’m forever grateful to everybody who allowed me to be one of the main selling points of that DVD, says Won. “It was a great experience for me, it was like going to school. It was incredible,” he says wholeheartedly.
Battle rap and rap music in general is a highly competitive environment by nature and Won does not shy away from this. “It’s always super competitive. Rap was born bragging and boasting and singing ‘you're the best this’ and ‘you're the best that’ so it'll always be rooted in that.”
Listening to Sooner Than Later it’s clear that despite the process of recording being less high stakes than live battles, Won is a master manipulator of the English language and his strong lyrical abilities shine bright on this album.
“In battles you're trying to touch the people in the room immediately. When you're doing songs, you have the ability to flush it out a little more and you also have the help of accompanying music so it's a little bit easier to do songs than to battle for me because I've been an artist first and a battle rapper second. It’s different worlds, I've been lucky enough to know how to navigate between both of them for a pretty long time.”
Sooner Than Later not only shows off Won’s lyrical prowess but also features beautiful and balancing beats with piano riffs that do not take over the songs, but ease listeners into his words and stories.
A perfect example of this dyad is the track “Lenny Cooke” inspired by the life of the former high school and professional basketball player and the documentary film about his life by the same name.
“He got full of himself and made some decisions that basically changed the course of his life and he never really lived up to his potential so the metaphor was talent not being more important than a work ethic. It was very easy to draw some parallels between music and basketball,” explains Won.
This is the second time Won has teamed up with The What Of Whom, a label which founder Kim Hill has intentionally created to reflect his own diverse taste in music and to provide a platform for many different types of artists.
The two previously collaborated on releasing Won's previous album Soundtrack Of Autumn on limited edition vinyl including hand picked leaves from Houston's memorial park in the pressing. The final product was so sought after it is now considered a collectors item and fetches some high price tags.
“I think what draws me to artists really is obviously, the music needs to be good. They need to be hustlers for lack of a better word but deeper than that, I seem to be drawn more to music that is introspective and autobiographical in some respects,” says Hill.
“Whether it's intentional or particularly overt or not, you can always tell that something about what they are doing speaks to who they are as people. I find that the artists that I end up working with are people who are trustworthy and good people to work with and in some cases, despite what their outward persona might be, are really just stand up people. After a couple of exchanges with Marv, aside from the music, I could just tell he was that type of person.”
Hill continues, “During non pandemic times he is one of the harder working underground hip hop artists I've seen. From what I’ve seen, he is one of the few battle rappers who also makes good projects. One of the things that draws me to his music most are his stories.”
“I’m really heavy on that,” says Won of his ability to juxtapose and play with words creating poetry and stories. “I love the English language. I love words and being able to manipulate it to construct an idea that people will get has always been my thing.”
In 2020, Won participated in and was a finalist in a major battle rap competition, he can’t wait to hit the stages again saying, “I’m chomping at the bit. I cant wait to get back on the road, I miss it so much.”
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