"We're chasing dreams/And making wishes/I'm a shooting star." "You Got Me"
A combination of old and new school, with a sound that combines pop, R&B and
hip-hop, One Block Radius is comprised of three music veterans ready to make
their mark on their major label debut for Mercury/Island Def Jam.
The trio, made up of Chico, CA native Marty James, Indiana-born DJ MDA and
San Francisco's MC Z-Man, counts among their influences hard-core prog-rap
pioneers like The Pharcyde, De La Soul and Cypress Hill, ska-rockers Sublime
and classic '80s soul crooners Stevie Winwood, Hall and Oates and David
Bowie, sythesized into a melting pot that effortlessly crosses genres. This
is a group equally at home sampling the White Stripes (which they did for
the song "Mama's Heart") as they are A Tribe Called Quest.
"Every single style of music is represented in what we're doing," explains
James, who founded the group five years ago with MDA, a DJ who worked as a
graphic artist and designer at the Beastie Boys' Grand Royal label, and
Z-Man, an underground staple MC from the Bay Area, part of Del tha Funkee
Homosapien's legendary Hieroglyphics collective. "We didn't set out to do
that intentionally. It's just something that happened naturally. Different
drum beats send me in different directions. I'll hear an old song and think
what it was about it I liked, then try to make something with that same core
"This is the perfect song for us as the first single," says Marty. "It's
about trying to live up to your dreams, having these ambitious goals, but at
the same time trying to keep your loved ones, your biggest supporters, those
you're closest to, at the forefront, knowing that you're all in it
"It's got the hint of an '80s ballad to it, a mix of R&B and hip-hop" nods
MDA, who Marty describes as the group's "backbone, the glue that makes
everything come together." "We just thought it made a lot of sense as the
"I thought it would be a good song in terms of getting us out there on a
wider scale for people to hear," says Z-Man, whom Marty says adds "the
flavor" as the group's "Kramer."
The rest of the album, recorded at One Block Radius' home North Hollywood
studio and creative headquarters, lovingly dubbed "The Dump," is similarly
wide-ranging in styles.
There's the playful, bouncy "Choc-o-lat," with its Eddy Grant "Electric
Avenue" techno-island vibe, "The Truth," about walking away from a one-sided
relationship that you've put everything into, and "Everyone I've Ever
Known," a self-realization that you can't blame other people for your
There are also some "sexy ones for the ladiesŠbecause they love us,"
according to Marty, like "All on Our Own" and "Then She Fell in Love," which
details a relationship that seems cool and noncommittal until your partner
starts making demands.
"We all have a lot of experience with long-term relationships," says Marty.
"We also have experience being playas running through freaks. Basically, the
album touches on the normal stuff dudes like us experience."
It's been a long time coming for Marty, MDA and Z-Man, who have more than
paid their dues, to get to this point.
Marty came down from Chico in 2001, and was introduced by mutual friends to
MDA, who was working at Grand Royal at the time. The two put together
Scapegoat Wax, a hip-hop group signed to the Beastie Boys' label until it
went under, before releasing an album on Hollywood Records. The group is
probably best known for the single, "Aisle 10 (Hello Allison)," which was
part of the Xbox video game Jet Set Radio Future. Another single, "Space to
Share," was included on several motion picture soundtracks, including
Clockstoppers, American Sweetheart and 40 Days 40 Nights, as well as an
episode of TV's Malcolm in the Middle.
When that outfit disbanded, the pair, looking for a lead rapper, hooked up
with Bay Area hip-hop legend Z-Man, a charismatic MC, whose four-track
cassette mixtapes attracted their attention for their "animated 3D cartoon
quality." He also released a solo album, Dope or Dog Food, on the Bay Area
Hieroglyphics Imperial label.
"I'm bringing what I know," explains Z-Man, whose own favorites include
Digital Underground, Too Short and Big Daddy Kane. "I'm always up for
challenge. I wouldn't get down with this if I didn't believe in it and it
didn't grab me. It's tasteful and playful, but it's still hard. There are a lot of emotions in it."
"We just started hanging out, chilling, playing basketball together and talking about music," says MDA of One Block Radius' formative days.
The trio released Long Story Short on their own label in the summer of 2005,
then followed it up with the underground Internet mixtape Cut Some Static a year later.
"We started from scratch," says Marty, "trying to learn from the mistakes we made in Scapegoat and doing it the right way this time. We didn't want to go with a major. We wanted to come out independently, get in a van on the road, pay our dues and do what we had to do to get our names out there on a street level. I just wanted to make good songs. I didn't think about anything else."
They played more than 200 dates, opening for a who's-who of hip-hop acts, including De La Soul, The Pharcyde, Living Legends, Matisyahu, KRS-One, Aceyalone, Peanut Butter Wolf, Pigeon John and Trick Daddy, selling their CDs, T-shirts and giant foam fingers along the way. They were shot at in
Albuquerque, had their van broken into in San Francisco and experienced a
power outage during a set in Phoenix, but they kept at it. Several tracks
from Long Story Short appeared in film and TV projects, including American
Gun and 50 Pills (with Marty as music supervisor).
The group got their big break when Marty was tapped by Rick Rock to sing
lead on The Federation's hit single, "I Wear My Stunna Glasses at Night."
"It brought my voice to the forefront, and showed how it could be acceptable
on radio on a bigger scale," he says.
That led directly to a flurry of production/songwriting work for Marty,
including a co-write on the Baby Bash hit, "What Is It," featuring Sean
Kingston, as well as projects with JR Rotem, Diane Warren, DJ Felli Fel,
E-40, Lil Jon, The Grouch, Paula DeAnda, Luckyjam, Mozella and Turf Talk, among others.
"It was a matter of finding the right connections and the right opportunities," says Marty. "I just took that and ran with it."
A label deal with Mercury/Island Def Jam followed, with David Massey and
IDJ's Antonio "L.A." Reid personally recruiting One Block Radius and giving
them free reign in the studio.
"We're working on our own terms now," says Marty. "I didn't want to go to
the majors looking for a handout. I wanted some leverage, so that they
trusted us. They can see we've been doing this for awhile. We're focused on keeping the music true to what we do. I don't want this group to be
pigeonholed, for people to see us as just this one thing. I want them to
think of One Black Radius as making some cool, creative, different types of music. You never know what to expect except quality. It's always going to change, but it all has a common thread. I'm not trying to make us something we're not."
"We want this group to dominate in the areas where today's music is
lacking," nods Z-Man.
"We all have goals in this business," says MDA, who designs the group's
logos, the fliers and the 12" covers. "I want to combine my graphic skills,
painting, drawing cartoons and maybe at some point do a singer-songwriter
album. And I'm going to continue to rap my ass off."