Bay Area Artist Marteen Heats Up With “No Thank You”

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Photo by: Yared Gebru

The Bay Area isn’t necessarily known for pop, but Marteen is here to change that.  Hyphy music, a genre that dominated the local scene in the early to late 2000s, has become a cultural movement that the current generation of Bay Area artists looks to for inspiration.

Although the Bay Area’s talent is mostly comprised of independent acts, Marteen is signed to Warner Bros. Records…yet he still manages to have an indie flare. Labels once acted as a one-stop shop for emerging artists, shaping their image, sound, and message, while stripping their ability to express themselves. Marteen’s latest release No Thank You is a coming of age story that doubles as a message to labels that want to take away an artist’s agency. We spoke in-depth with Marteen about coming into his own, songwriting, and collaborating with JR Rotem & P-Lo.

Y: Congratulations on the project, it’s amazing! You just released your first project, and it’s this anti-pop album, against the industry pop album, how does it feel to be this renegade pop artist as a young person coming up in the industry?

M: Yeah man, I feel like music, in general, has changed so much over the years obviously, especially a lot of old heads (laughs) I guess want somebody like me to be you know like traditional. Like a traditional pop artist. You make these cheesy catchy you know bubblegum songs, I don’t really feel like I fit that. So I wanted to let ppl know that I’m gonna be me regardless. You can’t put me in the box.

Y: Do you think that comes the Bay Areaness of your identity?

M: I think that’s for sure part of it, I mean, my style and the culture and everything has influenced me.

Y: Since we’re both from the Bay. I’ve always wondered where are you from?

M: I was born in Berkeley but I grew up all around the Bay. I’ve lived literally everywhere but SF, probably. Like Berkeley, El Cerrito, Richmond, Oakland, Vallejo…

Y: So, what has it been like working with other Bay Area artists? We definitely have our own sound and our own lingo. Everything is just super authentic.

M: Yeah, I think it’s super cool. I feel like everybody just connects naturally, you know? Just out the Bay, with like you said, the lingo and the culture and everything. It’s been pretty easy.

Photo by: Yared Gebru

Y: Who are some of your favorite music inspirations?

M: I’d say I have like two categories. I got my 90s R&B ones, which is like Musiq Soulchild, Lauryn Hill, D’Angelo, and then my more modern ones are like Kehlani, of course, Tori Kelly, Ty Dolla $ign, Miguel. I can go on forever. [laughs]

Y: What’s your ideal collaboration?

M: I fosho want to work with Ty Dolla $ign. I feel like he has hella soul. Like I said, Tori Kelly. I think she’s hella dope; a dope songwriter and stuff. Pnb Rock…I really like Pnb Rock, Blackbear.

Y: Oh, yeah, that’s tight!

M: Yeah, you feel me? [laughs]

Y: How did music shape you as a teenager? ‘Cause I know for me, it can change your perspective on a lot of things and you’re kinda able to use music as a way to understand life around you.

M: I think it’s helped me just realize things that are going on around me and write stories about it and just be able to express it in a different way.

Y: I agree. Do you write your own music?

M: I do, yeah. I have people helping me sometimes.

Y: Like a team.

M: Yeah. Exactly. I think it’s different every time but for the most part, I go into a studio and when we start something like super fresh we just lay a bunch of melodies and then we’ll choose the best ones. You know, sometimes we’ll come in with a concept that I already have whether it’s from my own life, or just something I see, and we’ll start with that. But it’s really different every time.

Y: Through your words and your lyrics, what type of message do you want your fans to receive through your music?

M: I think that I definitely want it to be really fun and make people feel good, but at the same time I want it to be really positive, ’cause a lot of young people, I feel like, are depressed and, you know, there’s things going on in their lives that they feel like aren’t fair and they should just know that it’s gonna be okay…

Y: What have you learned from being on tour over the past couple months? How different was it from your regular life?

M: Crazy

Y: Yeah haha?

M: Yeah, crazy. Every night was just a movie. It was cool just to see everybody, you know, from all these different states, places I’ve never even been, going crazy for me when they don’t even know me, you know? It’s just like showing love, so I appreciated every bit of it.

Y: Yeah, I had a question. One was like a crazy tour story that you probably could expand on?

M: That I’ve had? Or you have one? Crazy as in any type of crazy?

Y: Crazy funny, crazy wild. Like –

M: Well, shoot, I mean, besides the traveling–the traveling was crazy cause we don’t have our own tour bus, it was me and my dad and my DJ, so we were just whippin’ around in a car for like the whole West Coast. Like we went to Utah, it took like 11 hours. I was in the back all smashed up, you feel me? I’m lightweight tall so–[laughs]–We were in Florida and my DJ got bit by a bug. We didn’t even know what it was. It swells up hella big. We had to go to the hospital, he was throwing up, he couldn’t stand up. It was crazy, and they couldn’t even tell him what it was. He was there for like four hours and they were like, “It could be anything,” like, what? Nah. But it’s like a jungle out there so I guess that’s normal, but that’s one story.

Y: You’re sixteen, making music, progressing and making better music than you did before and you’re just growing as an artist…and to have that experience is pretty legendary.

M: Yeah, it’s a blessing.

Y: Did you open up at the You Should Be Here Tour?

M: I didn’t. Nah, I didn’t. I went to a bunch of the shows but I didn’t open. I opened for all the Tsunami Christmas shows. Cause we had like three, I think. Two were at The Fox, and then like some LA shows and Santa Ana. Bryson Tiller came, Super Duper Kyle, um Lil Uzi came to the last one. It was a movie.

Y: What has it been like working with all these different producers? I know you’ve worked with P-Lo. How has it been doing that?

M: It’s been really dope, I mean it’s all like family ’cause it’s still people, you know, that I know like Kehlani and just like– I mean the producer I work with right now–JR Rotem. I don’t know if you know him.

Y: Yeah I do haha. What was it like working with a super producer like JR Rotem? You know, he’s produced hits for Destiny’s Child, Gwen–

M: Everybody, Yeah, he’s super cool, like, he’s one of those producers that’s super rare, that just wears his heart on his sleeve. He’s just super real. You know, a lot of people in the music industry are snakes and just want what’s best for themselves and they don’t really care about you as much, but you can really tell that he genuinely cares about the vision.

Y: It’s really hard to find that, especially in the industry.

M: Hella hard. Yeah, you wouldn’t think so, but for sure.

Y: Do you think the industry is ready for a pop artist of your nature? Usually, we don’t see pop artists from the jump, we usually see them while they’re hitting their stride. Whereas you still have this indie flare.

M: Yeah everything is changing so much. Nowadays if you just be yourself, you’re more likely to win, ya know. I feel like there’s a lot of people where a lot of stuff have been so mathematical. It’s all radio and it’s all a facade, and people are just appreciating the realness now.

Y: Yeah, like, a career that’s lasted like twenty years almost.

M: For sure, like a level up, yeah.

Photo by: Yared Gebru

Y: And not many people have that type of mentorship, what was that like?

M: I mean, before, we were just making stuff, you know, people we knew, people my dad knew, producers and stuff, but then when we started doing that it was for sure a whole new wave, like, just all his experience and everything he’s been through, everything he’s put into me, and you know, just taught me a bunch of things and we just kinda–we’re growing together, you know? We’ve been working for like two years since I was fourteen so it’s kinda crazy to think about that, actually [laughs]. Yeah, super cool

Y: Has that helped you in any way, as far as when it comes to communicating with other people and respecting overall space in the studio? Every space is pretty much different, how did that help you?

M: Yeah, I mean it’s like–it’s also helped me to have a lot of fun in the studio, too. Like, they’re hella funny. We just be joking around in the studio all day. I never take it too seriously. We have our system that works really well and that’s just showed me what to do in other circumstances, too. And just, like helping me with talking to different people and stuff.

Y: I know you were so young, where did you get your drive from & when making music become a thing for you?

M: I started singing when I was like twelve and Kehlani was actually really being an inspiration for me because we both moved to LA around the same time, so I would go over to her house and hang out with her. I remember one day we did a Vine, and we were just playing around and I sang on it–we both sang on it. She was like, “You’re actually pretty good,” and I was like, “Forreal?” I didn’t know, you know? So I decided from there–I was a baseball player until then, for like five years. You probably would’ve never known, but I fosho thought I was gonna be in the MLB or something. [laughs] be on the A’s or something. But, yeah, I started making singing videos, so I deleted all my private stuff off my Instagram. My dad was like, “You gotta delete all your stuff, you know, so nobody sees it–stuff you don’t want them to know,” so I started making Instagram videos every day and from then it just kinda grew

Y: What position do you play in baseball?

M: Man, I played a couple different positions. I was third baseman for a second, which is like the hardest position, damn near. ‘Cause you know, people hit super hard into the corner. I was center-fielder. That was probably my favorite position cause I love diving hella much, for balls and stuff. And then I was a catcher for a minute. That was cool too.

Y: Was that like, I guess, the kind of push that made you leave baseball and pursue music?

M: Yeah, I mean, honestly it was like super out of the blue. It was one of those things, you know, that just happen for a reason. You may not know that reason yet, but you’re gonna find out.

Y: How do you feel about collaborating with newer artists?

M: Newer artists? I love collaborating with new artists. I think it’s super cool to work with people that are on the come up just like me. You know, I’m not poppin’ yet. I really like it, you know, Rexx Life Raj and YMTK, those are like my boys. They’re on the come up too, so I feel like working with them, especially cause we’re from the Bay, it’s just a cool feeling.

Y: How did the collab with Rexx Life Raj come about?

M: I made the song originally with P-Lo, he produced it. Honestly, after I finished it, I just felt it was a great vibe for him to hop on this record. He was like “let’s get it”. I’ve been homies with him for a min, worked with him a couple times, his stuff is crazy.

Y: What’s your favorite song on the project

M: My favorite song umm, I guess I like them all for different reasons. 2 Days I really like, it’s really fun to perform. No Thank You, of course, bc of the subject. All of them really, We Cool bc it gives it a little more insight into my life, and what I’m trying to achieve.

Y: What advice would you give to somebody who wants to be in your shoes at some point?

M: Just to put yourself out there. Social media is a huge thing right now and I feel like if you wanna be a singer or a rapper or just an artist, do it every day. Just work really hard every day. Never stop until you get to where you wanna be, whether that’s singing videos, or just like–putting yourself out there, fosho.

Y: What type of instrumentals or beats really catch your ear and influence you to write?

M: I think for sure soulful/R&B beats, just cause that’s kinda what I grew up on, you know, Musiq Soulchild and all that. So, that definitely drives me. Really soulful chords on the piano and stuff.

Y: If your fans were to describe your music, what would you want them to say? What do you want them to get from the music?

M: I just wanted to impact people’s lives, you know? Inspire people to do what they want to do and just live their lives how they want, you know? Be happy, just in a positive way.

Y: Well, that’s all I had, unless you wanted to say something to the people.

M: Man, download the album, man, No Thank You out now. You can catch me live at Brick & Mortar May 3rd. Follow me on Instagram/twitter @marteenestevez, yeah.


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