When you think of hip-hop's biggest talent pools, New York, Atlanta and Los Angeles are just some of the areas that quickly come to mind. But New Jersey has been growing its own underground scene over the past couple of years. One of the bright faces from the Garden State is Zeke Mar Lee, a Plainfield native who's been steadily putting in work for the last two years.

Zeke's family is blessed with musical talent — his cousin was a part of Parliament-Funkadelic — and the budding MC, along with his live band, have been traveling all over the tri-state area preforming music to spread their movement. He recently released a solid mixtape titled the MAFiiiA tape earlier this year. Now the focus is all on Zeke's debut album.

"I’m working on my first actual album," he tells XXL. "I put out a few tapes and have people opening their eyes on me. But right now I’m working on my album. It’s not just one sound, I want a thousand people to hear it and all have a different favorite song. I’m really focus on making an undeniable project."

Get to know Zeke Mar Lee.

Name: Zeke Mar Lee


Hometown: Plainfield, N.J.

I grew up listening to: “I grew up on everything my mom was listening to. My mom listened to gospel heavy. My older brother was into rap, he was into Nas and he was really big on Biggie. But being from Plainfield, it's like the home of Funk. So I listened to Parliement-Funkadelic, playing a lot of that stuff growing up.

"My mom bought me my first tape. It was 'U.N.I.T.Y' by Queen Latifah and my first CD was The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. That was the first project I listened to. The first rap album that I listened to was Illmatic. My brother had a bootleg copy of it and we played it until it didn’t play anymore.

"I used to rap in middle school, during recess. As I got older it progressed to on the bus after high school sports. Around then I started to notice that I was good at it. I took it a little more serious in college when I met some people and was able to network. But I would say I really took it serious as like a career two years ago. But I’ve been rapping all my life."

Most people don’t know: “I play three instruments. Any drum set you can give me I can play. I also play the trumpet and the trombone. I come from a family of musicians. One of my closest cousins was apart of the Parliament-Funkadelic."

My style’s been compared to: “Big Sean, Wale, J. Cole, stuff like that. I like authentic hip-hop but I like how hip-hop has evolved to in different areas. I don’t feel like your sound has to be geared off the area you’re from. You can pull from everywhere. My sound is kind of taking from real rap but also still interesting and still creative. It’s right in the middle."

My standout records or moments to date have been: “I would say I did a show in my hometown. I have a live band and we did this concert and it was like the first time my hometown had seen me in about a year. After the show people in my hometown were going crazy. Getting the love from home was reassuring. You always need that."

My goal in hip-hop is to: “I want to change people’s lives. I like the feeling when I perform with my band; I like seeing people’s energy. I want to make people feel like they can do whatever they want to do or whatever they choose. You don’t have to be boxed in. I want to see the world and perform my music. There’s no ceiling for me on what I want to be. Just push my brand and make music that people can relate to and feel."

I’m gonna be the next: "I would say the next Allen Iverson of music. When sports wanted you to be a certain way, Allen Iverson showed he can still be himself and still be as great as they thought he can be. I feel like music is making that turn and it’s coming back to music with substance. I want to be the change that helps put that further."

Follow Zeke Mar Lee on Twitter and SoundCloud.

Standout: the MAFiiiA tape


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