Pop is a four letter word.
Or at least it is for many serious music lovers. But the truth is that while shallow pop music has a well-deserved reputation for being, well, shallow, great pop is really nothing more than a great melody, and a great melody transcends barriers – geography, language, culture – like nothing else.
Marc E. Bassy’s always loved a great melody. Growing up in the Bay Area he was surrounded by Mac Dre, E-40, Mac Mall and all the other local heroes that comprised the Yay’s unique hip-hop climate. But he would also spend hours alone with headphones pressed to his ears, listening to classic R&B from Sam Cooke, Donny Hathaway, gravitating towards some of the music his mom filled the house with like Tracy Chapman and Annie Lennox, and of course having his mind blown open by Tupac. It was a diverse array of influences, but the bridge that connected them all was story and melody.
But all that time Bassy was only a music lover, not a music maker. There were no piano lessons, no childhood auditions for Star Search. It wasn’t until some kids heard him doing spoken word poetry and invited to be a part of their band, 2 AM Club, that Bassy got his first taste of making music and was instantly hooked. In retrospect it was the perfect environment for a young songwriter and singer, giving him the space to make mistakes, learn and develop his own style.
“I had never really sung before, but you can’t be afraid, you have to just do it,” he said when we spoke. “I practiced, I practiced, I practiced. And then I found Musiq Soulchild, he had a lower register, had a hip-hop cadence, it was just the way he told stories and talked, it clicked. I knew I could be in that pocket.”
So after one year in college Bassy moved to L.A. like so many sonic dreamers before him and found himself in a circle of similarly melody-obsessed musicians that included fellow Bay Area native, producer and his current roommate, Nic Nac. That circle connected him to his first real forays into the music industry, writing Top 40 hits for artists like Pia Mia, but he also quickly realized just how shaky the ground under a songwriter’s feet can be.
“Over the last two years I wrote probably 200 songs,” he said. “And A&Rs, label people, would come in and treat songs like a commodity. They pick that song, don't pick that song. There's so much bullshit that goes into it….I felt like my music kept getting lost in translation. I would write the song, someone else would cut out, and it wouldn’t sound like [what] I envisioned.”
Of course the obvious solution to a songwriter’s artistic frustrations is to simply put out their own music, and so Bassy turned towards also building his own career. The feeling of writing a song, being able to control every detail of the final product and putting it out without having to get permission from anyone else was liberating. But when you’re making music for yourself you have to figure out who you are as an artist, and that’s what Bassy has been working on figuring out with his music so far, including his Only the Poets (Vol. 1) project and East Hollywood EP.
“Music changed my life. It formed my opinions about society, politics, gave me a way to connect to say many people,” said Bassy. “And when I look around at my friends, music did that for them too. I love to turn up, but there are artists out there digging deeper, saying it's ok to be smart, to cultivate your talent, that's the next wave that's coming. That's where I want to be, where I see myself. So I want to be part of a wave that does that for the next generation.”
His chance to truly reach that next generation will come next year, when his debut major label album with Universal/Republic is due to be released. He’s currently hard at work on that project while continuing to write for others and play shows like the Roots Picnic, but no matter what happens, whether he eventually becomes a superstar or creates in obscurity, he’ll never stop making music. He’s simply too deep into his love affair with melody to ever stop.
“If you have an option to do something else, do something else,” he said. “Being an artist is brutal. It’s reserved for people who can’t see themselves doing anything else, and I could never do anything else.”
[Nathan S. is the managing editor of The DJBooth and a hip-hop writer. His beard is awesome. This is his Twitter.]