Hip-hop is never devoid of creativity. To turn heads in 2017, artists have to stand out from the pack with a new spin on the genre, superior musical ability, or some other method of trendsetting. Latino emcee MRG, who hails from Queens, stands poised to make his own mark.
The Westvilla Music signee has released a noteworthy records in 2017, in anticipation to his debut EP, Live From The Hurst. Such songs include “Like I’m Lonzo”, an ode to Los Angeles Laker Lonzo Ball and his family for promoting creative and financial independence, and “Feidin Santana”, a track written from the perspective of Santana, a Dominican immigrant who recorded the killing of Walter Scott by police in 2015.
With every release, MRG pays homage to his Dominican roots, at times interchanging between English and Spanish lyrics. He lives the message of “Like I’m Lonzo” through the relationship he’s built with his label, Westvilla Music, founded by cousin and Harvard Law School alum, D.White. Reminiscent of Chance the Rapper and Joey Bada$$, MRG is representative of the new wave of independent music. Consider yourself warned. MRG will be a force in the music industry for years to come. Learn more about him in the interview that follows.
What inspired you to pursue a career in music?
“I grew up an athlete. Being Dominican, baseball was my main sport. In my hood, music and sports were always tied together in my life, particularly hip-hop. I remember the first full album I listened to on the way to a baseball tournament – 50 Cent’s Get Rich or Die Trying. That’s when I first fell in love with hip-hop. Whether on the road, in the dug-out, pregame warmups, everywhere.
Music was always there and it slowly crept up as a passion. I tore my ACL playing football my sophomore year of high school and was sidelined for 10-12 months. This injury took sports away, something I did daily. All the free time that I dedicated to sports shifted to music. One of my best friends put me in contact with his best friend, who invited me to join their rap group. We freestyled at parties and had fun, nothing too serious. For that 12-month period without baseball, music filled the void, and it became my new passion. When I returned to sports, the passion just wasn’t there. I was on the field but the love for the game just wasn’t in my heart. I knew I wanted to pursue music.”
What does music mean to you?
“Music is my passion, and a competitive outlet. I’m super competitive, whether I’m on the field, the court, or playing connect four with my little sis. When I tore my ACL, it was during when a lot of my teammates were visiting schools, and attending recruitment tournaments. I saw teammates, some of whom are still playing today in MLB farm systems, doing their thing. I felt like I was one of the top players on the team. To miss out on all of that was devastating. But, I realized that I wasn’t trying to take the professional baseball route. I realized baseball was just my girl, and music became my wife.”
What do you bring to rap? What is your sound?
“My sound is influenced by my Dominican roots. As an artist I feel like I bring out my Latino pride. I love to use a little bit of Dominican slang and culture in my music. There aren’t many rapper that put on for the Latino culture. Fat Joe puts on for Puerto Rico, and Cardi B puts on for Dominicans – so I rock with her from the jump.
I bring my culture to every track and show what I’m about. As far as what I bring to music, when I’m talking about police brutality or The Ball Family, I really dedicate the entire song to the topic in a positive way. I keep the message true, but I keep it simple as well. It’s important to have bars but you really have to get your message across in the right way, and it can be hard to find that balance. Sometimes songs are really complex and they require you to sit down and listen and analyze bar by bar. Sometimes they’re straight to the point. I try to find the middle ground.”
What distinguishes you from other artists?
“There are few Latino rappers in the game. With that said, I’m still different. I’m Afro-Dominican and white. Being biracial and bringing Latino pride is different from most artists. I reflect that in my music as well, growing up with a black father and white mother.”
What is the first MRG song new listeners should listen to and why?
“That’s tough. I think of myself as versatile, so it depends on what the listener likes. If you’re a basketball fan or a fan of Lonzo Ball and Lavar Ball, listen to “Like I’m Lonzo.” If you think #blacklivesmatter like I do, then listen to “Feidin Santana.” A general listener looking for something new should listen to “Stuntin.” That song has a very relatable theme of getting back at people who doubted you.”
In your bio, you mention Kanye, Nas, and Daddy Yankee as your musical influences. What do you appreciate about them?
“J.Cole is our generation’s Nas, so I love both of them. Nas is the GOAT in Queens. Nas is my favorite rapper, but Kanye is my favorite artist. I look up to Kanye’s fearlessness because he opened doors for people who weren’t just rapping about that street life. ‘He wasn’t talking bout coke and birds, it was more like spoken word’ is one of my favorite Ye lines. He had the polo on, and even though he dropped out of college, he still had that college type swag that J.Cole and others rock with today. One of his first singles, “Jesus Walks”…that joint blew my mind. He really had a religious type track constantly playing on Hot 97 and people were really in the club talking about Jesus!
One of his most influential and slept on projects is 808s and Heartbreaks. Some people, including myself, were so disappointed after the first listen, but now I see how much of a masterpiece it really is. It opened doors for people like Lil Uzi Vert, Kid Cudi, and other current rappers, including me. Kanye even went head to head with 50 Cent in his prime, and won.
Daddy Yankee is the Drake of reggaeton. I should probably say Drake is the Daddy Yankee of hip-hop, since he was doing the singing and rapping thing when Drake was still Wheelchair Jimmy. But shout out to Drake though – he’s been running the game for a minute. Daddy Yankee had a mainstream hit, “Gasolina,” but if you listen to his albums, you know that he had bars too. We have a similar story with how we started making music. He was also a serious baseball player but got hurt. He didn’t tear his ACL like me though, he got shot.”
You mention Queens often in your songs. What does Queens mean to you?
“It’s corny to say this, but it’s true. You can take me out of Queens but you can’t take the Queens out of me. I’m just proud of where I’m from. It’s humbling being able to walk around my hood after spending a lot of time in completely different neighborhoods from middle school through college. Queens is simple. When I went away to college, I missed the little things like going to the bodega with Monchy & Alexandra playing in the background, and just hooping with my boys in the park where we were raised at. I plan to keep a crib in Queens–it’ll always be my home.”
How did you and Westvilla founder D.White connect?
“He’s my cousin on my mom’s side and my God brother. He’s always been around showing support – for example, when I was applying to colleges he helped me fill out applications. When he heard “Feidin Santana” he thought I was the real deal and wanted to support me before anyone else did. He went from being my cousin to being the big brother I never had. He mentors me on everything in life to be honest.”
How has D.White helped your music career?
“Administratively, he took me from Soundcloud to all major platforms. He’s also been a great executive producer. He oversees the mixing and the sounds, making sure to always give honest feedback. He’s my right hand, and he’s the one listening to every single track I record. Even though he’s in Los Angeles while I’m in New York, he’s still a major part of the process. He also makes sure that I stay true to myself in my music. When I second guess myself, he keeps me straight.”
You mention your mom on a few of your tracks as well. Can you tell me a little about your relationship?
“My mom used to work, but after she had me she stayed home to raise me since my dad worked until pretty late every day. I didn’t see my pops unless it was late at night, or at baseball games. My mom was my best friend, especially after third grade when I entered a scholarship program. I wasn’t wise enough to see the doors that this program opened, but my mom helped me see this opportunity and more at a young age. She’s always looked out for me. If there’s anything I learned in life it’s that moms is always right. She also gives the best advice when I ask her about the women in my life so shout to her. She’s my best friend.”
What can we look forward to on Live from The Hurst?
“It’s like an appetizer for what’s to come, a taste of my versatility and the lanes I can go to musically and creatively. I’m putting it all on the table. I’ve had projects before that weren’t as serious but this is definitely my first official release. I’m finally putting on my jersey. I was scrimmaging before, but now I’m in the game.”
What goals do you have for the rest of 2017?
“Currently, we are wrapping up the EP. Since this is my first true project, we want to have it on vinyl for our first true supporters. We really want to take time to appreciate this first project. I also want to spend the rest of the year finishing my next project. Right now I’m planning to call it Live from the Hurst 2.”
What will the next 5 years look like for you?
“It’s funny, one of my friends hit me the other day and said ‘MSG [Madison Square Garden] 2020.’ Shout out to Sweeze. Although that’s three years away, I would love to perform at MSG within the next five years. I’m currently working on the side to pay school loans off and I’m helping my parents with their bills, but in the next few years I want to be exclusively focusing on music, 150% an artist. I also want to have a joint on the Billboard 100 within the next five years. I hope to go on a nationwide tour and work with some of my favorite artists. It’s also very important for me to keep my creative and financial independence, like Lonzo and Lavar Ball.”
MRG is refreshingly honest – both personally and musically. Similar to how Kendrick Lamar and J.Cole weave their stance on current events and race into their music in an easily digestible and equally catchy fashion, MRG does the same. Live From the Hurst is set to be an introduction to the game that you will not want to miss.
Get into more of MRG’s music via SoundCloud.