Interview: Adrian Marcel Shed His Record Label To Rediscover His Vision As An Artist
Adrian Marcel wants to make baby-making music.
Legends such as Donny Hathaway, Maxwell, and Stevie Wonder have mastered the balance of power and control in their voices that this 27-year-old aims to emulate. He wants to return to the old school days of R&B when listeners were encouraged to love each other, rather than the crude and objectifying messages of more recent music. However, Universal Republic Records, Marcel’s record label at the time, had another path in mind.
“I think it definitely was a lack of faith in what we were doing,” he says. “We had music that we felt was strong and somewhere along those lines it just got lost; those songs weren’t good enough. Those songs didn’t make sense to them. It was about being trendy and being about what’s going on at the time.”
Lack of support and the inability to produce the music he felt best represented him as an artist left the father of two in what he refers to as a "dark place."
"My manager usually can get to me and talk to me but I was just in a real dark place," he recalls. "'Nah, I’m not doing nothing. I’m not going on Instagram, I’m not doing no Twitter. I’m not doing nothin.’ Every time I put something up somebody snatchin’ it. Somebody taking it and using it and we not putting nothing behind it so I can’t be mad. So it was just a lot going on."
When word of Marcel’s emotional withdrawal reached the ears of his mentor Raphael Saadiq, producer and former member of Tony! Toni! Toné!, the music icon spent some time bonding with his protégé before throwing him into the booth to get reacquainted with his passion.
“He said, ‘Yo, man I'm going to give you these keys to the studio,’” Marcel says, recounting the conversation with his mentor that snapped him back into creation mode. “‘You got like two weeks to do something. I’m going to Cuba. When I get back, I wanna hear something. I wanna hear what I’m used to hearing, though. Put me back in that space, and if it’s dope, I’ll come in and we’ll start creating. If not, you out of here.’”
With a 2-week deadline and the determination not to disappoint, the "2AM" singer threw himself into his work and emerged with a project that utilized only the writers, producers and engineers that he wanted to work with. Channeling the desperation for success that inspired his first mixtape 7 Days Of Weak, Marcel was able to find his way back to himself and the music he believed in. GMFU or Got Me F**ked Up is a sensual compilation of classic R&B vibes that still carry a uniquely Oakland sound.
“I was trippin’," he says. "I was allowing other people to lead the ship. I had to get things back in order. I had to snap myself back in check so I could line everything else back up…I wanted people to feel where I was, where I am currently and where I wanna go.”
Reflecting on the tumultuous past few years, Marcel shares that although “Eastside Story” is the last track on the album, it was actually the first song he wrote for the project. He was producing it when he got the call that he had officially been dropped from Republic.
“Everything I go through I just take it as a lesson/ Everybody out there showing love, you’s a blessing/ You were never real If I ever had to question/ Sh*t, I should never have to question,” he muses over a verse.
“It’s the truest song I’ve ever worked on,” he says, admitting that although he was grateful to be free from the confines of the label, the ejection left him wondering what he was doing and where his career was going.
The April 2017 release of his debut album has brought with it a rebirth of artistry that is allowing Marcel to let loose his creativity and have fun with his work. For example, the video for “IMAGINATION” is a dreamy depiction of his inability to get a special woman off his mind. It incorporates animation, a cacophony of clips and images, and a mesmerizing use of color. This visual was created with “revolt” against the norm in mind.
“I think everything looks the same these days,” he says. “A lot of videos do the same techniques, the same type of styles. Just a**, a**, a** all over the place. So I wanted to be more creative, and I wanted to put the listener and the viewer in the space of what the song is actually about.”
Moving forward, Marcel is keeping his vision for his music at the forefront. He recognizes that major record labels are still necessary and needed for some artists, but says that he now has a profound sense of self that he will not compromise on.
“I love the feeling of being free,” he says. “I love the feeling of being able to do what I do naturally without people trying to touch it and put they spin on it and tamper with it until it’s not organic, until it’s not original anymore…If a label wants to rock with me, they gotta genuinely love and support what I do, and they have to jump on board to what we already on. I run the ship. We’re a partnership. It’ll never get to the point that it was again.”