After-dark inquiry: Marc "MK" Kinchen
One of house music's seminal artists releases a compilation of classic tracks.
Tue Dec 6 2011
The man behind such beloved and influential tracks as "4 You" (produced under the 4th Measure Men moniker) and "Burning," now based in L.A., is rediscovered by a new generation of clubbers.
I've been a fan forever; I still have my vinyl copies of all your early-'90s tracks, like "Always," "4 You" and your Dub of Doom remix of Nightcrawlers' "Push the Feeling On."
That's so funny—I don't have any of my vinyl!
Don't tell me you got rid of it all!
I didn't get rid of it, exactly. I had a house fire in New York before I moved out here to L.A., then I got divorced, then a bunch of stuff just came up missing.
That kind of sucks. But you seem to be back on the house scene—a collection of your seminal tracks, Defected Presents House Masters: MK, was just released. What took so long?
I have no idea, really. The way I deal with music is like the way kids deal with those baby turtles; I just do what I do, leave it and go on to the next thing. I literally don't even have a proper discography. I personally never pursued doing a compilation, and if anyone else ever thought about it, they never contacted me.
That's hard to believe.
Well, Defected finally did get in touch with me, and the timing seemed right, so why not? It was their idea to release them as a collection of separate tracks, too, rather than a mix.
The DJ contingent will certainly appreciate that.
Exactly. I thought that was a good idea myself.
It really seems like your old tracks have been getting a lot of attention in the past few years, perhaps even as much as they got when they were originally released.
I know that now, but I wasn't aware of it until I was recently in England. Everyone was telling me about that, and I was like, "What?" People have always gotten in touch with me about my house tracks on Facebook or whatever, like two or three a day, but it's hard to gauge if that amounts to anything.
I assume you are aware of Maya Jane Coles recent remix of "4 You."
Yes—and I love it, actually. I really like what Maya is doing in general. It's refreshing to hear someone else doing a remix of one of my tracks, since I was always kind of known for my remixes of other people's music.
I imagine you're also aware of clubland's swing back toward deep house over the past several years.
Yes, and that makes me really happy. That electro thing wasn't really doing it for me. I've actually started deejaying a bit more. People have been saying, "Oh, Marc, you've gotta deejay"—and I've always answered, "But I don't want to deejay!" But I've finally gotten an agent, so I'm going to be on the road a lot now.
You never really deejayed much when those records were new, did you?
I think I deejayed a total of two parties through the '90s. I was always in the studio—it was easier to just stay home and make a record, which back then paid twice the money that deejaying did. Of course, when it comes to house music, now I can make more deejaying. Just this last trip, I played in London, Leeds, Manchester and Amsterdam.
It makes sense that you're playing a lot in England. Even though Todd Edwards is generally credited with the development of the U.K. garage scene and its offshoots, I think your music was pretty influential in that world as well.
I have heard that before; even Todd has said it to me. So I guess it might be true!
You started your production career in Detroit, but it really kicked in when you moved to New York, and you can hear that in those classic tracks; they split the difference between the technopop of Kevin Saunderson's Inner City material, and the kind of deep house that New Yorkers like Todd Terry and Masters at Work were making.
It was a literally a bridge between the two. The funny thing is I never really liked Detroit techno. But I did like Kevin's stuff, and he was kind of like my mentor. His music wasn't all that techno to me—it was a little more soulful. And the sound of New York just swept me off my feet. The beat mixed with those melodic chords—that's where I wanted to be.
You mentioned your remixes earlier. Your version of Nightcrawlers' "Push the Feeling On" was one of house music's all-time biggest tracks. But you never directly profited much from it, did you?
Not at all. That's the way it works with remixes, even if the remix gets big—the writers are the ones who do well. That song is so well-known, I can hum a bit to anyonoe, not just house people—and they'll start singing it. They're always like, "You did that?," and I'm like, "Yeah." John Reid, the guy behind Nightcrawlers, basically made a whole career off of that one song. The last I heard—which was in the '90s—it had sold something like 4 million.
I've read that the label rejected the first remix you submitted.
That is true. The thing is, I loved John's vocals on the original version, and I didn't want to do a dub. I really wanted to use those vocals. But the label didn't want that—they wanted a full-on dub, so I just gave them what they wanted. I did it really quickly; since I was so into the track, it was easy. Sometimes, if you like a track, everything you lay down falls into place. If you don't, you can spend many hours just trying to come up with a bassline. But then again, if I got a track with really bad vocals, for instance, I would look at that as a challenge and really chop them up to see if I could make something cool out of it. And sometimes that works great too. The only thing I couldn't make cool—and I tried and I tried—was that Elton John and RuPaul song [1994's "Don't Go Breaking My Heart"]. I was like, "I just can't get this record right!"
Even you have your limits.
At one point, I was told that Elton John hated my mix. I was like, "Yeah, whatever." I didn't really care about that one, I have to admit.
I imagine you were a bit more enthusiastic about, for instance, the Nightcrawlers mix.
I still am! In one of the sets I just played, I put on, like, a second of it and then turned it down, and the whole party started singing the horn line. That was pretty cool.
Of course, Pitbull sampled that horn line on "Hotel Room Service" a few years back. And now you work with him.
I actually met Pitbull through that song. That's when I wasn't doing any house stuff at all, but I wanted to get into it, and when I heard that song, it seemed like the perfect chance. I mean, I have a lot of songs with horn parts in them! [Laughing]. So I finally got in touch with Buddha, who is Pitbull's A&R guy, and said, "Hey, I'm the guy who did that horn line." And he surprisingly said, "Yes, I know who you are. I have every record you ever did." I'm thinking, How does this guy know who I am? But he was a fan, we ended up talking, he brought me in, and he ended up signing me to a deal with Pit where I'm one of his producers.
That certainly worked out well. But despite Buddha knowing who you were, I suspect that most R&B and hip-hop people don't know about your house career at all.
It's kind of weird, because I'll talk to some of the hip-hop guys about doing a house mix, and most of the time, they're like, "Nah, we don't like that stuff." They have no idea that's what I come from.
You've worked a lot with Will Smith—and now you're working with Willow Smith, right?
Yeah. I produced "Fireball," that one with Nicki Minaj. We just did the video, and that should be out pretty soon. She's going on The X Factor tomorrow to perform it.
Between your house work and your R&B material, it's like you have two totally separate careers going at once.
That's the way it is. I feel like I'm two entirely different people. And like I said, the weirdest part about it is that the R&B--hip-hop people don't know at all. It's funny—there's all this talk about how big dance music is in the R&B world, and I'm like, well, if the R&B guys just knew how to utilize dance music better, you'd be in a lot better shape. Like with the Willow track, I've been like, "Let me do a house-music version. Let me do an MK version. Trust me!" And they're like, "We're not sure if we wanna do dance music with this one." I'm gonna keep trying, though.
The kind of dance music that's been embraced by the R&B community is such a shiny, slick version, like the kind of stuff David Guetta does. You think they would be into a rawer house sound.
Eventually it's going to happen. I just have to do some more convincing.
Defected Presents House Masters: MK is out now.