MERK la Familia is pioneering new ideas about what it means to be an artist in the twenty-first century. Bound together by blood and spirit, the genre-flexing hip-hop group is at the center of an ever expanding family of artists, fans, and ideas.
We caught up with MERK after the release of their first video, produced by Convicts “Sunglasses at Night,” a contemporary redux of the New Wave classic. We got their word on the hustle of New York, the wisdom of P. Diddy, and the the beat-making heart of MERK la Familia.
What’s going on, gentlemen? To start, can you tell us how you all met?
We’re brothers. Share blood. I don’t think we really talk about how we met. It’s really just how we be.
Where did MERK, the name, come from?
MERK is our family name. It’s our last name and it has just grown and people have absorbed it and it’s become bigger than us.
You guys seem to approach MERK as a lifestyle, almost: like the way you look, the way you dress, the way you carry yourselves, the way you make music, the aesthetic that goes with that. Is that planned or does it just come naturally?
I wouldn’t say planned, but still very aware. A lot of it comes from the fact that MERK is very international, right? Like we represent the whole planet and our whole thing is going after all seven billion, instead of going for a small demographic of cool kids.
Can you talk about that international aspect of MERK?
The international thing-that wasn’t a metaphor. We have international background in our bloods. South American, Zimbabwean, European, even Vietnamese. Merk’s remixing of cultures, remixing genres.
What’s the most important thing to MERK la Familia?
Sound, production. We have an expanded notion of production. The traditional conception is “Oh there’s the producer and there’s the artist and there’s the engineer and there’s the executive producer” and so on and so forth, whereas for us production is very holistic. We are an in-house production collective, so we do everything, design and visuals included, so production isn’t just beat makers. We’re not just here circulating beats on the internet to strangers. We execute all production from scratch in-house.
What music are you guys listening to on the day-to-day?
Just everything. We all grew up in different ways and got pushed to different things. It’s like Tupac one day, maybe Bob Marley the next. But whatever it is, it sounds good.
How do you deal with the trends that define so much about music and fashion and internet culture?
Trendiness is…something that is really stupid, but inescapable at the same time. Especially in fashion and music and how much one influences the other. Increasingly a lot of kids these days really take trendiness as a priority and we don’t, however, we’re still conscious of it.
Tell us about your fans and your audience.
A lot of the people who like real time support us and are wherever we are, are people who really care about music. Music junkies. Then outside of those characters are people who share a vibe, whatever vibe it is, where there’s just good times and energy. Some people just like fly shit: Like, “Okay I see you, you’re fly, I’m fly too, so let’s be fly.”
Talk about New York a bit. What’s Merk’s relationship to the city?
Sheesh. New York City man. New York City’s beautiful. There’s a magic out here. Anything can happen anytime. You run into people you last saw thirty years ago on a different continent. That’s what New York is: anything, everything. You cash that anything factor in on the music. You can have rapping over rock n’ roll, a blending of completely different things, things that don’t seem to make sense next to each other, but actually do make sense next to each other. We’re blurring the lines between uptown and downtown.
Talk about New York and your productivity. You guys are in the studio working all the time. Is the city a distraction? How do you guys stay on top of it?
The city keeps you on track. You don’t want to be in the city doing nothing, so you’re always going to be trying to do something that moves you forward. That’s a common understanding in the city….Hustling. Also, we ask ourselves: what would Puff do? A lot. That’s a good question we ask.
Totally. What would Puff do. Would he party all weekend and not get anything done? Nah. That’s our motto, whenever we see each other slacking in any capacity we’re like ‘Look at yourself in the mirror and ask: what would Puff Daddy do?’
Respect. Talk a little bit about what goes on in the studio and your creative process. What does that look like?
I’m ghetto poet. Nah, I’ve been on that for a minute. I have a different vibe for whatever point of the day it is. If it looks like a dreary day then the aesthetic is going to be mad eerie like the sky. If there’s sun, if it’s a bright day then that’s the vibe so I go off of that. I’m always writing and I can’t really stop myself. It’s nature.
How do you record it? Are you writing it or are you recording it? Like how do you actually document your writing?
On some millennial flow on my phone. It’s more compatible to write on your phone and really get inspired by that point in time. Song writing is kind of in my blood at this point ‘cause I don’t be stopping. I don’t really pay attention to people. I’m just be writing and writing and writing. I be in the street like this, literally. Like on the way here, I’m constantly getting these sound notes, right, every single day it’s like 32 bars of like A Capella with taxis and cop cars in the background.
How long have you been doing this for together?
A damn while.
Do you think if you were in a different era, MERK would still exist?
Twenty years ago would we be making…well, obviously the sound would be different, right? But if it was the same characters in the same room, we would vibe the same way and the energy or the heart or whatever that fire is would still be the same. The only difference would be how it looks.
And that’s MERK right?
Absolutely. Timelessness really drives us. Across history.
Anything else, boys?
MERK la Familia, that’s what the fuck it is.
Right on, gentlemen. Best of luck, and stay good out there.