When people speak of that classic '90s house sound, whether they know it or not, they're pretty much refering to the sound of seminal producer Marc Kinchen. His legendary dubs are the blueprint for today's transatlantic house: soulful yet brooding bass-heavy four-on-the-floor funk.
MK's highly-coveted studio skills would see him take a hiatus from EDM for the last decade to focus on hip-hop and pop, hooking up with recording magnate Quincy Jones and producing for the likes of Jay-Z, Will Smith, and Pitbull. But in 2009, he made his grand return to house with a live appearance at Detroit's Movement Festival.
We caught up with MK ahead of his performance with Hot Natured at the Electric Pickle on Sunday night. The topics: Studio magic, meeting Quincy Jones because of a $20,000 watch, and getting back in the EDM game.
Crossfade: How did growing up in the techno capital of Detroit shape your early musical development? Were there other notable DJs or producers who guided you along the way?
MK: Well, growing up in Detroit, it seemed like every song I heard even when I was younger was some type of song people loved to dance to. And Jaun Atkins played a big part in that. It seemed like Detroit was all over his sound. When I turned 17, I started working with Kevin Saunderson, and that's when I started learning about techno and producing dance music, he was kinda like a big brother to me during that time -- he made sure I was taken care of.
What prompted you to move to NYC and how did it impact your music career and sound?
Well, I started putting my own music out and "Burning" was the first one. A few months later, someone from Virgin Records called me at home and told me he loved the record, and I told him he could sign it if he wanted. (Laughs) I was only 20, I didn't really know what I was doing, and he replied "really!?" So they signed me to a label deal and I moved to NYC and started working with Marci Webber and Barry Taylor as my managers, and at that point the NY garage sound just took me over. I loved that sound much more than Detroit techno but the Detroit sound was in my blood so I was able to combine the two.
At one point you had a very lucrative career remixing by commission. What made you step away from it?
Well, I was doing around 1 to 4 remixes a month at anywhere from $12,000 to $20,000 per mix. But some labels didn't understand what they wanted -- that's where the "MK dub" came in. The labels told me what they wanted so I gave it to them -- but then I also gave them an MK dub because that's what I wanted. Anyway, I became bored, plus I wanted to focus more on producing, not to mention there wasn't any royalties with remixing.
How did you first hook up with Quincy Jones and what projects did that lead to?
I met Jay Brown (now partners with Jay Z) in NY. I was at Motown Records and I had on a $20,000 watch, and he asked what do I do, and I told him I produce, and he asked to hear some music. So I met with him later that day and gave him a CD. Two days later, he called me from LA and said "Quincy Jones wants to sign you and I want to manage you." From that point, Jay had me working on everything. Just a few are Tevin Cambell, 702, SWV, Tyrese, David Hollister and Jay Z. Jay Brown introduced me to Omarr Rambert who is over everything Will Smith, Willow, Jaden, to musically who I currently working with.
You made your grand return to the EDM scene just in time for 2009's Movement Festival in Detroit. What prompted the return?
In 2009 I just started getting the house bug again. And after Pitbull sampled my version of "Push" the feeling was on -- that was my final sign to return.
What have you been working on since? Any forthcoming projects or releases?
Well right now I am signed to Pitbull as his producer. Right now I have 4 songs out that I produced for him,"Alright", "Mujeres", "Guantanamera", "Amorasa" and a new song called "Where Do We Go" featuring Chris brown on the Planet Pit album. I am also working on Willow Smith, Frankie J, and starting on Jaden Smith soon. And I have started to remix again. I just did Pitbull and T-Pain's "Hey Baby", Lloyd's "Lay Your Head Down", Ellie Goulding's "Lights" and 4th Measure Men "4 You" which happens to be my own song, but it is being re-released on Defected Records.
How has your studio production evolved from a technical standpoint since the '90s? Do computers and software play a bigger part or one at all?
I starting making music when I was 14 because of technology, so I have always been two steps ahead as far as that goes. Since the '90s, I can do everything way faster, and I can do things I couldn't do before, even something as simple as tuning vocals or using Melodyne to make my own harmonies on vocals.
There seems to be a great nostalgia for '90s house prevalent in the EDM scene right now. And your back-catalog, among others, seems to be very influential to a lot of new producers. What's your take on this current throwback to the past? Are people avoiding progress, or just reaching for a sound that was great to begin with?
I don't think people are avoiding progress. I don't have opinions on how people make their music. People should make it however they want and not care what other people think. That's what I do.
What are some of the classic cuts that have never left your crate and which new artists or records are you digging?
Anything by Men At Work. (Laughs) I love those guys.
What were you up to in 2010 and what do you have going on for the rest of 2011?
2010, I pretty much spent the whole year working with DJ Buddha and Pitbull.
How did you hook up with the Hot Natured crew for the showcase on March 28?
Do you want a cool answer or the real one? I'll give you the real one: Facebook.
What does the future have in store for MK?
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A lot more MK house records for sure!
Hot Natured Miami. Sunday, March 27. Electric Pickle, 2826 N. Miami Ave., Miami. Doors open at 11 p.m. Ages 21 and up. Call 305-456-5613 or visit electricpicklemiami.com.