The history of hip hop was paved primarily by a mix of innovative approaches to technology and politics that sprang from the experiences of Black urban communities. In a sense, it has always been a form of activism that calls out systemic inequities while also building upon elements of funk and R&B that came before it. And that’s what DMV-based rapper, Marc 2ray finds himself building upon as he pushes the boundaries of music’s ability to affect social change in his local community.
“I really got into hip hop when I was kid” he says surrounded by a wall with an impressive array of LP’s, many of which belonged to his father. “My dad was a big music collector, and my grandma was a concert pianist. So, I was big on music when I was younger, but I had a friend with an older brother who was into hip hop.” Through that friend, he was introduced to some of the biggest names and albums in hip hop citing Biggie’s Ready To Die, Public Enemy, NWA, and even Rage Against the Machine as big influences on his musical upbringing.
These are the kinds of hip hop artists who brought that edge of political awareness to their message-based lyrics, so when 2ray’s first album, Fresh Air, was released in 2020, he was dead set on honoring the groundwork that these artists built. “For the most part, the general message was staying true to hip hop’s roots having more message-based content and how that is something that bring listeners in. Many of the tracks are storytelling type songs that emphasize lyricism, like with the song “1915”, which really helped expand my fanbase and helped me realize the importance of emphasizing the storytelling part of hip hop.”
When you listen to “1915”, it’s very easy to get transported to 2ray’s old school influences while also getting some fresh perspective on the Armenian Genocide – a topic of personal consequence for 2ray’s family with his grandfather being a survivor. The mix of history and hip hop will immediately bring aesthetics of the popular musical, Hamilton, to mind for some, but it’s also refreshing to have an artist (outside of System of a Down’s bombastic takedown of genocide deniers and perpetrators) acknowledge a critical socio-political issue that remains unresolved.
Marc builds off the momentum of songs like these that bring historical context into the fray by pushing them to be built into curriculums. “A lot of the song’s that I use in curriculums are more based around subjects of history and the humanities, like ‘1915’ with the Armenian Genocide, ‘Dear America’ which talks about slavery and genocide of Native Americans, and other songs about race relations.” Now, the song “1915” has been featured at 26 different schools as part of courses in social studies in both public schools and colleges. This is an interesting niche for an artist to capitalize on and demonstrates 2ray’s affinity for translating message into action.
A little over a month ago, I wrote about Marc’s work using play-based approaches to music therapy with autistic children at the Floortime Center. So, this time around, it was exciting to hear how his musical activism is multi-pronged, which gives him different pathways for his musical output to flow.
“I think music has such a power to not only inform and educate, but also empower. Get people activated about current events, which is something I try to maximize with my platform. I’m part Armenian, my grandfather is survivor of the Armenian Genocide, and the perpetrator is still denying that to this day, 107 years later, so it’s something that is very relevant and important to me. But, really, any type of racial injustice and humanitarian causes like that are very in line with me. It’s important to stand up for injustice anywhere no matter who is being oppressed.”
“I’m also working about songs about autism” he continues. “It’s another subject that’s very important. A lot of times there can be a lack of understanding because people on the autism spectrum communicate so differently […] and then also with the music therapy as well, it’s something that has a lot of potential for kids on the special-needs spectrum, but also for anyone. Music is a way to help convey emotions. As I do more talking engagements and presentations, I want to emphasize that it’s a great way to regulate emotions.”
Looking towards the future, Marc is getting ready to release a slew of new music including a collaborative EP with NiccoFeem in early 2023, with whom he previously worked with on the single “Perspectives” in 2020. He also shared that he has a new single, “Tick Tock Tick” coming out later in the year with ZOB Beats. Even closer than that, he will performing at the “DMV Music Benefits All” Inaugural Benefit Concert and Showcase by the DMV Music Alliance on December 8, 2022 at the Songbyrd Music House in Washington, D.C.
“I’m just working on the next big thing” he said confidently at the end of our interview. “Working on songs that really empower both youth and adults, and building that trifecta of being an artist, therapist, and educator coalescing into one entity.” Be sure to follow Marc 2ray on all major social platforms for updates on future releases and events like Spotify, Facebook, and Instagram.
Charlie Maybee is a dancer, musician, educator, and writer based in Charleston, South Carolina who currently teaches with the Dance Program at the College of Charleston. His primary work as an artist is with his performing collective, Polymath Performance Project, through which he makes interdisciplinary performance art that centers tap dance as the primary medium of expression and research. He also currently plays rhythm guitar for the Charleston-based punk band, Anergy, and releases music as a solo artist under the name Nox Eterna.