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Teens of expression: Marcus Miller

Saturday, August 4, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 11:55 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008
Marcus Miller mixes beats and writes raps in his home studio.

COLUMBIA-Marcus Miller, 17, writes songs, but it took him a long time to be comfortable sharing his music.

“I used to never take anything out and play it,” he says. “I have hundreds of songs I’ve never played for anybody. But once I finally started, the naysayers didn’t bother me too much.”

Poetry by Marcus Miller

Untitled

by Marcus Miller I wrote this tune in the key of aqua-maroon Sounds at the boom shatter the room, Images faltter in and out like ya gone on the shrooms'. AM music written at 3, but It sets is about 11:30 Juxtaposed music clean but diry Philadelphia influenced so you know it's early Slang gets appropriated from all different regions, Then lodge in my brain like the four seasons. "Bobsalaboopy Cuz," what it do man? Attracting boppers without a proper whip gave super sick fame, for all my dunnyies. Friends still only come round when they need krill or money. My flow ill so it can't be so sunny, battle barages of verbs I thought you knew dummy. Multisyllabic, twistin' like the slab get, when you a play a cassette by Mr. Magic and Mr. Ninety 4 says it was a good year, so punctuate it wit' exuberent cheers, like...

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His reluctance to express himself through music was even more acute at Hickman High School, where he thinks the social climate can be stifling; someone who wants to share a part of themselves doesn’t and, as a result, there is little expression to speak of.

“Most people don’t genuinely express themselves because they’re afraid to,” he says. “People are so judgmental a lot of the time — it’s hard for them to say whatever it is they want to say.”

He sees freedom of expression as one of the most important freedoms people have.

“Different perspectives allow people to evaluate things in the ways they normally wouldn’t,” he says. “That evaluation moves things forward.”

Marcus comes across as soft-spoken, modest and subtle. He follows international politics and is excited to vote in the coming primaries. He listens to National Public Radio and watches the BBC for most of his news. Though his intellect and curiosity take him many places, music is most central to his identity.

He attributes his love of music, something he wants to turn into a lifelong career, to his father, Mark (aka Dread-I), the host of the weekly “Reggae Party” on KOPN/89.5 FM.

“Since I was 3 or 4, I was up at the radio station. That was the beginning of it,” he says.

“To me, (music) is my escape from everyday, mundane chores,” Marcus says. “It’s a way of expressing yourself that’s open.”

Whether it’s rock, rap, reggae or electronica, Marcus’ musical tastes serve more than to just fill the quiet times.

“I have moods of how I’m feeling,” he explains. “I can go from a genre or artist that’s better at expressing that mood. ... Music should always be based off of feeling.”

He’s been creating his own music since junior high school.

“I was in a band called the Castro Catastrophe. It’s really bad actually,” Marcus says almost apologetically.

He played keyboard for the group, which he describes as “avant-garde” and, in it, found a wholly creative outlet he hasn’t found anywhere else.

Beyond experimental music, Marcus has more traditional musical expressions. He’s written more than 500 raps and has produced almost 300 “beats” — the music that someone raps to — using a software program on his computer.

Marcus seems easy to relate to because he’s such a good listener, but he feels frustrated with classmates who conform.

“I don’t like anybody that’s following what the crowd’s doing,” he says. “I understand why people feel the need to follow a trend. ... It’s just irritating how apathetic other people are.”

Even more bothersome for Marcus than apathetic young people is being treated like one.

“People don’t necessarily listen to you cause they think, ‘They’re not old enough to know all the issues.’ Teenagers have just as valid of opinions as anyone else,” he said. “Everybody has something that they can contribute.”

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