DJ MLK has racked up frequent flyer miles and ripped nuff pavements by whip and kicks, traveling with superstar rapper T.I. as his personal show DJ.
Born Marlon LaTodd King, MLK decided in the fifth grade that music would be his grand hustle and the turntable would be his double barrel shotty. "I'm a country boy from Washington, Ga.," MLK told The Shadow League in a one-on-one interview. "It's a small town an hour away from Atlanta. But, growing up there taught me to go get it."
Known as an original and more formidable presence in Atlanta’s hip-hop movement, which over the last decade has replaced NY as the home base and leading pulse of hip-hop culture. MLK is considered king of Southern DJ's and is an original representative of the Hood Rich and Grand Hustle movements. The 29-year-old has carved a niche for himself in hip-hop’s crowded and coveted hierarchy.
His affiliation, dedication, hardbody grind (which includes rocking for 100,000 heads per week at various venues) and companionship with T.I. - one of the most controversial, talented and polarizing artists of today - as well as his intimate and earned connection to Atlanta’s crop of A-list rap bandits, has slowly elevated MLK’s prominence, visibility and stature in the game.
When asked by The Shadow League what the key to his longevity was, MLK replied, “Just staying down. Like I say, I have been waving the same two flags forever. I’m part of Hood Rich and Grand Hustle.”
Hood Rich is a compilation of Atlanta’s most influential and party-rocking, do-it-all DJ’s. Dabbling in everything from management to production to radio and TV, Grand Hustle is T.I.’s musical movement which has continued to expand despite the rapper’s hiccups with the law. We know the artist doesn’t shy from confrontation and his latest beef with boxer Floyd Mayweather at a Fatburger joint in Vegas, involving a dispute concerning T.I.’s wife tiny. But based on his history, that's just Tip being Tip.
Long before T.I. was hip-hop’s “King of the South,” he was Clifford “Tip” Harris, a teenage drug dealer trapping, capping and immersed in a hood life he would later detail through music. "Tip" has struggled to totally abandon the street life and his career may be a roller coaster ride. But MLK has walked the straight and narrow with “Tip” from jump learning by observing.
“Just staying down and sitting back and watching,” MLK lists as his recipe for success and his obvious bond with T.I. “In my opinion, you can only take advice from somebody that’s doing bigger and better things from you. So I played my position. “
His position has naturally escalated to being a veteran, key cog, vibe seller and taste cultivator for the entire Grand Hustle movement.
“Well you know TIP had to sit down a few times. So that’s when you find out who's really there for you and down for you,” MLK insisted. “At the same time, we stuck together and sent a message that regardless of what happened to us, we’re still standing. It’s a strong bond and a strong movement, but nothing is given. You definitely have to go out there and get it. No hand outs by no means, you know what I’m saying?”
Through hard work, a keen music, business sense, and his ability to support not only Southern music, but bringing artists all over the U.S. into his musical mix; MLK has risen through the ranks and expanded his resume. He's been rewarded by T.I. for his consistent grind with a second A&R position on the rapper’s anticipated new project “Paperworks.”
BET has listed it as one of 2014’s most anticipated albums.
“When TIP really noticed I had an ear for music,” MLK told TSL, “was…there was a song he did with Kendrick Lamar, BOB and Kris Stephens called “Memories Back," he says. "It was a real huge record and I actually put the record together. It was supposed to go on Tip’s last album, but we had some legal issue and couldn’t get it released, but the video was dope, the fans loved it. It was crazy, radio play and everything. The social media views are through the roof.”
“That’s when Tip was like ‘damn’. I mean, I contributed to the last album as well,” MLK proudly confirmed, referencing a song with Tip and Meek Mills called “G Season.”
“He told me I had an ear for this, that and the third, so he approached me when we were on tour over the summer and offered me a position.”
MLK gets hyped when he talks about T.I.’s new album. With all of the accomplishments he’s racked up along the way, this project provides the next level responsibility and lucrative opportunity MLK’s been seeking. When Colombia inked Grand Hustle to a fresh deal for the album Paperwork: the Motion Picture (formerly known as Trouble Man II), MLK was “locked in.”
“I manage some of the producers and I pretty much handled the direction of the entire album,” MLK said. “The arrangement of it and most of the features. We’re talking Travis Scott to Iggy Azalea. I was responsible for bringing both of them over here for him to sit down with them.”
MLK says the new T.I. album will be more serious and of course, more trap music. Always producing bangers, T.I.'s past year’s has brought a flurry of dramatic experiences to craft a supreme album around; from the sudden death of one of his Grand Hustle recruits, Doe B, to another stack city year for B.O.B.
It’s a must listen. Smoke on some good Jamaican and let the music move you. “You're going to get the hood T.I. and the more laid back persona, said MLK. “Really just him being him.”
Cats with a work ethic like MLK are a dying breed. Social media has flipped the music game and changed the way artists go about pursuing their dreams. Being born in the early '80s has given MLK an advantage over younger movers and shakers. While he understands and utilizes the new opportunities social media has provided for artists, he keeps his oldschool, grassroots, get-out-and-get it work ethic.
"I’m pretty sure you’re familiar with hip-hop years ago like ‘95. The game has changed from real artist development and hand to hand sales on the streets out the back of a trunk; A guy pushing his music in the streets and then waiting on MTV or BET to play your video.”
“Now with social media," he continued, “guys can just make a mixtape and send a link out. You know what I’m saying? Artists used to get out there and get their music in people’s hands and actually meet the person who might be a fan of their music. And it’s kind of just made artists lazy, because it kind of takes away from real, genuine artist development and that’s what usually helps artists sustain long careers and not be flashes in the pan. [On the flip side], it’s good because artists have easier access to fans.”
When asked about T.I.’s personal struggles and rap sheet, MLK predictably doesn’t have much to spit on the matter. These guys didn’t rise to the top of the game by snitching on the homies. MLK reflects on his Grand Hustle general with reverence, respect and undying brotherhood.
“I mean for me man…shoot…It’s like traveling with family," he said. “It’s nothing out of the ordinary. Just like hanging with your brother…shit…nothing major.”
MLK says T.I. is often misrepresented in the media, but The Rubber Band Man is a hero to his family, friends and co-workers.
“In a nut shell he down wit’ it,” MLK said. “He says what he means. He puts his pants on one leg at a time like everyone else. Nip it in the bud…humble dude man. Humble cat. I can go on forever talking. Of course the media is going to twist and turn what they see, but he’s a standup guy, man.”
The future for MLK is bright and his hometown of ATL is the spot. A true appreciator of hip-hop history, MLK doesn’t see Atlanta’s “new” generation of hip-hop dominance as an indictment on East Coast rap. He has the utmost respect for rap’s all-time pioneers and is versed on his musical history—regardless of demographics.
“I think it was Talib Kweli that recently said, ‘conscious rap…real rap is going to last forever,’ MLK recalls. “Those songs will be the ones that will continue to be successful. I’ve been a fan of hip-hop going back to Black Moon and Buckshot and Brand Nubians, Wu Tang, the whole Mobb Deep.”
“But now the attention span is really short because there are so many new cats that are hitting ya’ everyday. But the real cats in the game—the significant East Coast and West Coast rappers. The Midwest legends…you know those cats that really grinded and put in that work from Day 1… They are going to shine because of the catalog they produced. Look at Wu Tang. They’re about to drop another album. Look at Outcast, Nas. Look at ya’ boy Jay Z still going. You got Jeezy and TIP and 50. Certain guys are still moving and that goes back to real artist development. Look at Lil Boosie. Look at Gotti. People who actually put their work in over the years. You can’t take that away for nothing.”
MLK sees the South’s gradual hip-hop takeover as a supply and demand-generated circumstance more than anything.
“At the end of the day…I’ll just put it like this man, If it sells, you can’t do nothing about it. There’s no specific reason. If it sells. Shit. What can they do? And that’s with everything; the rap game, fashion world, whatever," he says. "Me being a hip-hop fan ...I respect the history man. There was a time when the East Coast was rocking…then down south we were snapping and had a different vibe. You know, I’m sure you’ve been to Atlanta before. The vibe is like the stock market man. If everybody’s rocking over there, then that’s where all the money fina’ go. Know what I’m sayin’? If it sells you can’t do nothing about it.”
And the competition can’t do much about MLK’s space ship of a career. He’s blasting off and feeling more than confident about his progression.
“I’m working on an EP releasing my own album," MLK proudly says. "But besides that, just trying to really wrap my hands around this. Since I have one foot in this corporate world my focus is turning this DJ profession into something real solid. Just connecting the final dots.”