Comin' Back Around, the talented musician's return to his own Marimelj label and first release since 1998's critically acclaimed Chocolate City Groovin', is a self-produced amalgam of styles and moods. From his smooth cover of Eryka Badu's "On And On," to the hypnotically mid-tempo "Through The Spirit," to the infectiously upbeat "1223 Chillin'," Johnson creates an overall mood that can best be described as seductive. "That's definitely the vibe I was going for," he says. "I wanted to create a mood so romantic that you pop in the CD, hit repeat, grab your significant other and let the music flow with you all night long."
The fact that Marcus Johnson could fit so comfortably in both worlds makes all the sense in the world given his background. His age makes him a true product of hip-hop culture who, like his peers, was weaned on the rhythms of rap. He also, however, grew up listening to a broad variety of musical genres: his mother played classical piano and his first memorable concert experience was an Earth, Wind & Fire theatrical extravaganza that his father took him to. His jazz inflections surfaced when he began tinkling the keys at age thirteen (his step-father won Maryland's "Pick-3 Lottery" and used the winnings to buy Johnson's first keyboard) and found himself studying both traditional and contemporary masters (Joe Sample and Thelonius Monk are two names he frequently cites).
Being a uniquely well-rounded musician wasn't enough for Marcus Johnson. His innate entrepreneurial sense, evidenced early on when, at age ten, he established a neighborhood lawn care service and later, as a teen, an auto detailing company, led to a passion for business that rivaled his passion for the creative. In order to facilitate his dream of becoming a recording artist, Johnson, while studying for his dual degrees, established his own firm, Marimelj Entertainment Group, Inc., and eventually released two independent CDs that topped the best-seller charts at Tower Records stores in the Washington, D.C. area.
Marcus Johnson's growing reputation attracted the attention of n2k Encoded Music. The company signed him and released last year's Chocolate City Groovin'. Johnson, however, returned to his independent status for Comin' Back Around. "The vision of stardom is nice but if you have to give up all your control, what good is it?" he asks thoughtfully. "Besides, it's time for a new black paradigm. We need to understand it's okay to invest in our futures so we can cash out when the time comes. Both my parents are psychologists so I've learned how to be cool and deal with things in their proper time."
The result of his hard work and dedication to self and craft is Comin' Back Around, an all-encompassing disc - Johnson's words - that represents his past, his present and glimpses of his future. "What makes this my best effort yet," he says, "is that I was involved in all aspects. I produced it. I wrote it. It's on my label. Essentially, I seized the opportunity to control my own destiny. Win, lose or draw, it's on me. I'm comfortable with that."
In short, Comin' Back Around is a project that all three Marcus Johnsons - the musician, the attorney and the businessman - can, and should, be proud of.
Urban Groove, the talented musician's fourth album, and second to his own Marimelj label and follow up release to the 1999 critically acclaimed Comin’ Back Around, is the latest step in Johnson’s interpretations of urban sounds. Once again his goal is to create an identifiable Urban Groove sound. As heard on the sultry track “18th Street Loungin” to the mid-tempo “Sandy Point,” Johnson’s Urban Groove theory can best be felt on “Is it Good to You” - a groove that can be best described as seductive.
Johnson’s unique ability to seamlessly blend varying musical styles should not come as a surprise. It’s a philosophy he lives by. A self-tought keyboardist who draws inspiration from Quincy Jones, George Duke, Gerald Albright and other “musical entrepreneurs,” Johnson, in 1997, graduated from Georgetown University with a Law Degree and a Masters in Business Administration. “Don’t ask me how I did it,” he says, laughing at the memory of grueling all night study sessions. “The will, desire and determination to succeed is a gift from God through my parents.”
It’s those same attributes that make Urban Groove such a stunning piece of work. Johnson has created the perfect conduit between his built-in core audience of smooth jazz aficionados and, as he puts it, “the high end of the 18-24 hip-hop crowd.” His ability to touch two seemingly diverse listeners is rooted in the music being what he likes to call “ instrumental R&B. People hear the instrumentation and they’re ready to label it contemporary jazz. The two should not be confused,” he emphatically explains.
The fact that Marcus Johnson could fit so comfortably in both worlds makes all the sense in the world given his background. His age makes him a true product of hip-hop culture who, like his peers was weaned on the rhythms of rap. He also, however, grew up listening to a broad variety of musical genres: his mother played classical piano and his first memorable concert experience was an Earth, Wind & Fire theatrical extravaganza that his father took him to. His jazz inflections surfaces when he began tinkling the keys at age thirteen (his step-father won Maryland’s “Pick-3 Lottery” and used the winnings to buy Johnson’s first keyboard) and found himself studying both traditional and contemporary masters (Joe Sample and Thelonius Monk are two names he frequently cites).
Being a uniquely well-rounded musician wasn’t enough for Marcus Johnson. Johnson established Marimelj Entertainment Group, Inc. (MEG) for the purposes of developing exceptional creative works in the music and music publishing arenas. It is a production entity that prides itself on blending a delicate mixture of Contemporary Jazz, Alternative and R&B to create the Urban Groove.
Since its founding, MEG has demonstrated a continued forward momentum, a dedication to success, and an unequivocal level of professionalism. MEG releases have generated sales of over 80,000 units. Projects such as Strength of a Woman (a tribute CD to Dr. Betty Shabazz in conjunction with BET and Emerge Magazine) reached the hands of an additional 40,000 people in the United States. Marimelj’s ability to produce quality sounds landed a distribution agreement with the Warner/Elektra/Atlantic (WEA) which will put Johnson’s music in record stores worldwide.
The result of his hard work and dedication to self and craft is Urban Groove, an all-encompassing disc - Johnson’s words that represent his past, his present and most definitely his future.