Murder Mark is 23, so it's not surprising he cites the "TRL" era -- the time in the late '90s when MTV's daily countdown show meant something significant musically and even culturally, or when Britney Spears and Eminem seemed normal -- as a major influence on his version of Baltimore Club music. Some of the touchstones are obvious. The Cherry Hill-raised producer born Marquis Gasque says the "fun and polished" sounds of Sean "Diddy" Combs' early hits are part of the reason his beats sound kinetic. The dark, near-Gothic undertones come from listening to his uncle's DMX CDs. But then Gasque, sitting at the computer desk in the small studio room in his Brooklyn home, takes a wide left turn. "When rap-rock was hot," Gasque said, "Limp Bizkit, Kid Rock. I still rock with it." That strange time of aggressive, ego-centric mainstream rock hasn't aged well, but Gasque talks about it fondly. "When you hear my vocals on the track, you can hear the rock influence in it," he said. "The raspiness in the voice. The grittiness. That's one of my favorite times -- watching 'TRL.'" Gasque has blended all of these sounds and more, and the results are some of the most exciting Club songs and remixes in recent years. In 2010, City Paper named him the best Club producer of the year, and he's kept the momentum going, most recently with his contributions to "Get Pumped Vol. 1," the local hit mixtape from 92Q DJ Angel Baby. For the past three birthdays, he's released a Club mixtape, and the plan is to release "AYO Vol. 4" July 21. Gasque first fell in love with rap's lyricism, and later, after studying K-Swift mixtapes he'd buy from DTLR, came around to Club. Sometimes, his love of the two genres combine and special moments happen, such as the time in 2011 when he remixed Atlanta rapper Waka Flocka Flame's single "Hard in the Paint." There hadn't been new Murder Mark material in awhile, and Gasque says he heard whispers of his downfall. "People were saying, 'Mark cant make the real Club music anymore,'" he said. With a snarl, he yells, "I go hard in the paint / I go hard in the Club / I don't care what you think, boy!" "It was so simple, but it's so deep," Gasque said. "It's like a poem. I know what it's saying: 'I dont care what none of y'all think. At any given time, I can come back and make the hard style Bmore Club record in my sleep.'" It's a rare cocky comment from the amiable, soft-spoken Gasque. It also explains why he's beginning to think beyond Club. Gasque says he's watched friends -- producers and DJs -- branch out from the genres they were first associated with. "I want to be more like a Swizz Beatz," he said. "I can play an hour [DJ] set. You can catch me in the studio conducting. You can catch me instructing how I want my graphic designs to be. I want to be a renaissance man." But first, Murder Mark will expand his sound by working with artists outside of Club. He's sending music to Nicky Da B, the New Orleans Bounce artist on the new single for tastemaking producer Diplo. The new opportunities excite him, but producing his brand of the city's trademark sound will always be part of what Murder Mark does. "I make Club music to continue the culture," Gasque said. "When Angel Baby made her CD, I said I wanted to be apart of it. I want Club music to stay relevant. I want there to be another me."
Lloyd Fox, Baltimore Sun photo