One of the toughest lessons to learn as a San Antonio musician that strives to make a living on their art alone is that no amount of shit-talking, backbiting or shade throwing will ever result in getting you to where you want to be. Sure, so-and-so’s music is complete shit. To you. The local music scene, no matter how pyramid-shaped it seems, is not built by climbing over the backs of other artists, especially if you’re tearing them down in the process.
Local rapper Milli Mars is adamant about this. Whereas other SA performers may jump to ridicule their fellow musicians, attacking them on the grounds of musical style or taste, Mars has nothing but love for San Antonio and his fellow hustlers. When he says he’s reppin’ the city, he doesn’t just mean himself but, particularly, our art and music scene, and Mars is aiming high.
“I want to open up a door here for whatever, hip-hop, whatever people wanna call the good music … I’m trying to take it serious, to create some kind of gate, just open up a flood gate of talented people just to run through it, ’cause San Antonio is beautiful.”
Several times in our conversation at Cullum’s Attagirl, Mars, whose newest album THE SQUIDS will be released digitally on Monday, June 27, tells me that he is into all kinds of local music. He drops names like Femina-X, Lonely Horse, fishermen and Mr. Pidge – not your typical shout-outs from a hip-hop cat. Incidentally, most of the artists he credits have all reached out to Mars expressing their interest in working with the rapper, so it’s no coincidence that the respect goes both ways. It should also be no surprise that, along with Mars, the bands that are inspired to work with an artist creating “fuck-shit music,” despite their surface differences, are some of the more popular in town. “You help me spread my message, I’ll help you spread yours,” said Mars.
This altruistic approach flies in the face of what comes natural to many artists working in the relatively small SA scene. Analogous to starving dogs fighting over scraps, the struggle to rise up the imaginary ladder of local talent is something we discussed heavily as well as it’s specificity to SA, the big city-little town. “If you’re good, people are gonna not like you … This shit is to break barriers … this shit is supposed to connect people … We shun each other so much that our city will never grow.”
And that line, when those words came out of Milli Mars’ mouth, I knew that what he was telling me was not just some zen capitalist bullshit – some new-age form of apologist profiteering so often heard in rapper’s bars and Apple commercials. Mars really wants human beings to be better connected, not just musicians working to facilitate a growth in popularity and cash flow. His hustle and grand aspirations are not just for himself – big piles of cash, fat asses bouncing in grinning faces – but for all of the city’s creators to push their art to a greater level, economically as well as spiritually.
“That’s what the album is really about. See, [the movie] Warriors reminded me of San Antonio. We’re fighting over this … little pieces of turf … The point of putting out this album was to bring this city together.”
The film to which Mars refers, like Scarface and The Godfather, is synonymous with hip-hop culture. However, even though Diddy, ODB, Aesop Rock and Ice Cube have all referenced the movie based on Sol Yurick’s 1965 book chronicling NYC youth gangs and their attempts to unite, none have made an entire album about it. Much less placing the location of the struggle to get back home, through rival turf and possible death, in an alternate version of their hometown, “River City.”
THE SQUIDS, with music by Murk Russell and co-produced by Mars, is a 12 track trip through a bizarre-o Saytown. In it, Mars aims to tear down the culture of exclusivity that never seems to taint our relationships as we unite under the corporate banner of a national sports team or our love of Big Red and barbacoa, but which we seem to conveniently misplace when it comes to our music scene. Sure, we’re not all gonna agree on what’s good shit. However, those that make up the scene do a disservice to our own aspirations if we can’t even unite to support that which is greater than us – the scene itself. And that is Mars’ main concern and struggle.
“I can promise everybody this: On this album, this go-round, I will be heard. I will be heard, San Antonio will be heard. They will know us for more than the Spurs, the Alamodome. This is gonna be a good thing.”
Milli Mars and Murk Russell’s THE SQUIDS Listening Party
Free, 8pm Sat, June 25, 111 Lone Star Blvd