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Marco Polo Updates The Past With His Vintage New York Sound On New Album

XXL: What is it like working with Big Daddy Kane and Rakim?
Marco Polo: Um, it’s awesome. [Laughs] It’s like a dream come true, right? Kane I met through Masta Ace, Ace just called Kane and we got in touch and we did a joint, and it came out really good. And with Rakim I met him through Nick Wiz, who used to produce for him. I still talk to them on the phone, and it’s like butterflies like a little girl. Me and Kane don’t have any other new songs, but me and Rakim are steadily working and it’s awesome.

How do you approach going into the studio with guys like that?
Well with both of those, unfortunately, it was all done over the phone, which I fucking hate. But with them, I made some exceptions to work with them. But generally, I have everyone come through my studio and I’m very hands-on, very involved in every project. It’s not like just doing a beat, send it. I’m very involved with the content, how they deliver it, I’m very up on all that shit. Some people really appreciate that, and some people do not. [Laughs]

It’s weird that not many people do that anymore. You can’t make something like “The What” with Biggie and Method Man without both of them being in the studio together.
Absolutely. And you can tell. You can feel it in the music. That’s why there was such a drop in classic stuff that lasts. ‘Cause back in the day, everyone went into the studio; if you listen to a Leaders Of The New School track, or Tribe, it’s like 14 of them yelling in the booth. It was the good old days! There’s no groups left—groups used to go into the studio and trade two bars, four bars, and it was exciting. You felt it, and it makes an epic difference. And now it’s just like, “You email me a 16, we’ll slap it together.” It’s just not the same thing. There are people doing that though, now, I just feel like they’re always under the radar.

Tell me about PA2.
It’s my pride and joy. It’s the follow up to my first producer album that I put out in 2007 on Rawkus and Soulspazm, Port Authority. It’s basically a continuation of that—it’s me doing all the beats and reaching out to MCs that I like working with. It’s a mix of Golden Era and new. I think a lot of people, when they look at my catalog, they think I’m stuck on working with Golden Era artists, which isn’t the case at all, I just work with people I like. If you rap well, I’ll work with you. This one I feel like stepped it up; it’s like an improved version of the first one.

All these songs were literally supposed to be on that first album, but I’m just really particular about certain things fitting into places. All this stuff is awesome, it just didn’t necessarily fit that project. So I essentially made 2-3 albums worth of material; PA2 is the final one, and this exists because of that recording process. So I’ve been working on this for about five years.

What’s changed for you since you first started working on it?
I think what’s changed in my work routine is I’m focusing a lot more on licensing. Licensing companies will just keep an eye out for good music and they’ll reach out to you, and we stay in touch. I have all my beats playing on all the MTV Shows, like Jersey Shore. There’s like 30 shows my beats play; I just send them beats, and I’ve been doing that for a while, it’s just not something we really advertise like that. And half the time, those bring in so much more money.

Is licensing an untapped revenue stream?
I wouldn’t say it’s new—it’s been happening for a while—[but] I put like 10 percent of my time into sending companies my beats, and now that’s gonna change. That 10 percent of my time I spent on licensing is bringing in more revenue than the 90 percent of my time I spend on other things. [Laughs] So I’m like, if I shift it 50/50, I can still make my albums and music, but still make money.

But a lot of licensing stuff, people that try to make music for something specific, it always turns out wack. Licensing companies love licensing the music you make for your own stuff; that’s what they want. It’s like, “Hey, we have a theme song, we need you to make a song about winning,” and then you go and try to make a song with a rapper about winning and it’s just the corniest shit. The song you made naturally with none of that in mind, they’ll always gravitate toward that.

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