ALBUM REVIEW: Marsy Mars Takes Listeners Into His World of Juxtaposition on 'Our War & How We Won It'

Marsy Mars is an extremely talented musician from London, England. He asked me to give his lengthy project a listen. I decided to make this my first album review of 2022. It is entitled, "Our War & How We Won It", and it's worth a listen. Categorically, you could call it experimental hip hop, but it requires a more complicated explanation.

Upon first blush, with the piano, rapping, and the vocalizations, it feels like a cross between the Broadway musical, "Hamilton", that one dope coffee shop that plays old-school rap and lofi hip hop music, and Vocab by Fugees​. But I prefer the artist's own "Baroque-Hop" label.

Mars approaches his 'Baroque-Hop' music auteur-style, composing, performing and producing virtually every voice and instrument on his albums.

"This nation has made us both as we are..."

The 18 track, full-length project is choc full of musically explosive nuggets. "Our War & How We Won It" combines Mars' signature contrapuntal style (music made of multiple interacting lines) with a coming-of-age drama of grief, family and the pain and sacrifices demanded of the truly good.

It opens with One Eye of Blue, a mix of lofi, synthesized harpsichord-ish, graudal frequency changing sounds. It sets the tone for all that he unpacks on this unusual, intriguing, and innovate musical project. Marsy Mars, the emcee, makes his appearance about 2 minutes into the album on I Was Reading in the March of Time. He raps, "every morning in the mirror I see, the guy who tried to murder me." Yeah, he's on some next level sh*t, lyrically speaking.

One of the most powerful moments of the project (for me) was TrayvonMarti; it feels like an intergalactic echo chamber that is filled with spoken word, old-school basement rap, and an electric guitar. Although Mars composed, performed, programmed, and produced every aspect of the album, this track is one of three asterisks. The song is based on a theme composed by Zaytoven.

I was drawn to Chococaine by the name of the track, and it didn't disappoint. It's a trippy, underground rave kinda vibe. Another interesting song is (Do You Know the) Cherub's House Address?--with all its many elements still gives off a West Coast, 90s gangsta rap nostalgia.

Another track that caught me off guard was Fear of a Female Planet. He spits, "ma, you saw the fear in her face, you can make her safe without scaring her like that." Towards the end of the track, the piano comes in distinguishably heavy as it converges with vocal chants. Mars raps rather quickly which makes it difficult at times to catch some of his bars, but because of how many different ways the artist is communicating with your auditory senses, you can always catch his drift.

Many of the songs have a laid back yet electrifying energy. I found great admiration for an artist that can play the hell out of a piano, drop lyrically solid rap bars, and digitally navigate some out of the box juxtapositions.

Marsy Mars keeps a low profile, and his true identity is unconfirmed. I wanted to know more about him notwithstanding, and below is how we chopped it up...

So, I've listened to a number of projects recently where the creator behind it used an alter-ego or preferred to stay anonymous, wearing a mask even in promo pics. Whats the story behind why you decided to keep you true identity unconfirmed?

I’m not particularly fixated on anonymity; any fan of my work (all two of them) could figure it out without much difficulty if they wanted to. Ours is a society that doesn’t so much love images as subordinate all kinds of more substantive aspects of people’s works and character to how they look, and what particular demographic they might slide into. I find it intensely dispiriting, it being an essentially retrograde, anti-humanist tendency; so keeping image thoroughly secondary to the work is my gesture of protest to that. If you knew how I looked, you might assess some dimensions of the Marsy Mars project differently – suspending that, for now, allows for a purer experience of the world of this work for the early adopters.

You have dope track titled Trayvon Martin. Why was it important for you to include political topics like this on your project?

About a year after Mr Martin was killed I caught a video of Drake visiting Kanye West and Kim Kardashian’s mansion in Calabasas, all of them being serenaded at the dinner table by a girl called Pia Mia. Intuition suggested I juxtapose the two events side by side, and it became apparent then how wide the disconnect was – and, in many ways, remains – between those high visibility artists, growing ever more insular in their concerns, and the affairs of the wider world. 

From there, and particularly as the Black Lives Matter movement gained pace, I developed greater and greater interest in how communication and miscommunication facilitates the divisions that afflict us, and the song grew from being a simple, tragic juxtaposition of two specific events (the shooting and the dinner) and more of an enquiry into how people attempt to build knowledge from fraught sources, puzzle out the truth, and understand and love each other in our day and age. 

In the context of the album, the song also speaks to the protagonist themselves wondering about how all these terrible failures of communication arise, and how this, ironically, brings them to a rare moment of mutual understanding with their very distant father.

Tell me as much as you can about your upbringing and how it has influenced your lyrical content.

I was raised between a lot of different ‘lines’, and like many people whose experience of life is primarily liminal – whether those liminal boundaries relate to nationality, race/culture, class, sexuality, or some other vector – there remains in me a pronounced longing, probably unfulfillable, for community. 

Again thanks to my life experience between social layers and outside of common norms, I’m also interested in the lengths to which people can individuate, can go to lengths and overcome obstacles that, because they’re so huge or so subtle, others would presume insuperable. Most of the themes of my lyrics revolve to some extent around those twin quests, to find a community that values outcasts like oneself, and to change one’s stars and take control not only of one’s circumstances but of one’s mind and spirit too.

What is your creative process like? How long did it take for you to complete the album? Do you produce as well?

I put albums together at a rate of more or less exactly one per year. It all starts with a concept to drive the album – in this case, the ‘domestic epic’ of a highly tumultuous family unit and how one youngster completely defies the precedent around them and becomes a very different kind of person – which is then mapped against individual tracks, to determine their own character. 

I compose contrapuntally – every work, instead of working in the conventional dynamic whereby one line-of-interest (a melody, a rap, a hook) predominates and is served by the other elements, is composed of multiple lines that, while interesting on their own, combine to a more adventurous, challenging and hopefully splendid whole. I develop lyrics more or less in tandem with the music to ensure strong affinities between them both. 

Except where noted, everything on the record was composed and performed, as well as produced, by me. I’d be open to doing more work with other artists given the right circumstances.

How would you describe your sound to my grandma?

I’d tell her it gleams like Bach and it grooves like Brazilian carnival; it’s pop and it’s rap and it’s rock and when it stops, the lyrics will keep you in your seat a good while longer.

And then I’d congratulate her on raising a grandson who asks excellent questions.

Who's top 5 in your  Spotify playlist at the moment?

Dear Laika, Bell Biv DeVoe, UFO Fev, Burial, Huerco S.

If you like music, you will appreciate the art of this project. This is what happens when you give creative people talent, knowledge, life experiences, and courage.  Its a cool, chill-hop vibe and doesn't hold back on pretty much anything... But listen for yourself.


Twitter: @Marsy__Mars



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