Greensboro rapper releases EP, working on first full-length album
Marley Pitch is careful about choosing his words. Which makes sense. He spends hours crafting lines, writing and editing verses, and eventually rapping and singing his words. He knows that words have a lot of power, and so in conversation he often thinks and rethinks the details of his speech, sometimes pointing out that he intentionally avoids certain words because they seem too strong or not strong enough, or they have weird connotations, or the energy just doesn’t seem right.
Pitch is a Greensboro-based rapper and musician. He released his debut EP, “Asphalt,” earlier this year, and he’s working on his first full-length album, tentatively called “Aurora,” aiming for a release in early 2019. Pitch spoke with me last week by phone from his home in Greensboro.
On “Big Dweeb,” released in late July, part of a string of singles he posted on Soundcloud and Bandcamp on roughly a monthly basis up until this summer, Pitch said, “my town’s a let-down, but whose isn’t?” It’s a rhetorical question that suggests Pitch, 22, has a worldly perspective on people’s relationships to where they live. He knows that you can find locals talking trash about every city — even the best and biggest ones — moaning about how things aren’t as good as they used to be, or how the influx of new arrivals has changed the vibe, or how everyone leaves to go to that other place with more happening, etc. He knows the feeling. He knows that it’s easy to idealize other places, so long as it’s not where you live out the routine rhythms of your own life, somewhere else — anywhere else — always seems pretty mysterious and alluring.
“I definitely have a love/dislike relationship with my town,” Pitch said. “I won’t say ‘hate,’ because ‘hate’ is too strong a word.”
Pitch has spent much of his life in Greensboro. He attended Western Guilford High School. But he’s also gotten a sense of life in other places. Pitch was born in Atlanta. His mother was from Ghana in West Africa, and her family had moved to Southern Africa, and for a time Pitch lived with grandparents in Zimbabwe as a boy. He came to Greensboro when he was around 8 years old.
When Pitch got into hip-hop, by the time he was around 10 or 11, he had an uncle who made a point of introducing him to the music of some of the early masters of the genre, such as Eric B and Rakim. From there, Pitch discovered iconic groups such as A Tribe Called Quest, while also responding to contemporary artists such as Kid Cudi and Drake, rappers that explored emotional candor, vulnerability and mental health. Eventually, he started taking inspiration from electronica-tinged indie rock bands such as Passion Pit.
Pitch’s music is part of its own corner of the world of SoundCloud rap. The bubbling petri dish of hip-hop in 2018 is constantly churning up new sounds and names. The music, often made in bedrooms on laptops, has morphed into a zone of solitude, one that’s bridged with technology. Streaming platforms, fan sites and social media are where a lot of this music gets consumed, and really where it exists in its most real context and thrives. (Pitch connected with Justice Der, who has produced some of the Greensboro rapper’s tracks, through their involvement in a subreddit devoted to Frank Ocean.)
“I grew up as an internet kid. Everything I’ve ever idolized has been on the internet,” he said, by way of explaining how no place and nothing in real life has ever really seemed quite as right as the bright pixelated world online. Pitch recently started a new band project called Call More, made up of musicians he’s connected with online. When I ask him about performing live, Pitch, who has recorded and performed under different aliases and as a part of now-collectives, said that he’s mostly content to focus on making music and releasing it online, as opposed to trying to also perfect the dynamic for live shows.
The backing tracks on Pitch’s songs can be abstract and atmospheric, with drooping, slightly woozy phrases on a guitar or keyboard, and minimalist beat-suggesting ticking, finger-snap sounds and rim-shots. He’s definitely not hugely into the boom bap. Listen to “Lapis,” released in July of this year. It starts with backward-sounding textures and slides into a hazy pattern.
“I know some kids who feel haunted ‘cause they just knew they were goners,” goes one line.
Pitch pays attention to his phrasing, never getting locked into a too-rigidly articulated rhythmic pattern. He generally changes up the stresses and accents after a few bars. And he often avoids a predictably syncopated verbal flow. He said he just gets bored too easily.
The idea of struggle and hardship threads through a lot of Pitch’s songs. You might hear a connection to rappers such as Juice Wrld in that regard. Impossible car payments, overdrawn credit card accounts, paranoia, purposelessness, loneliness and dysfunctional family dynamics all make appearances. But that might be changing on the forthcoming record.
Pitch said he was at a low ebb last year when he was writing and recording the songs that ended up on his EP. He said he’s feeling a little more optimistic and energized now. Pitch is into honesty and truth-telling, and he likes being able to rap about his bouts with depression, but he also embraces the idea of offering uplift and inspiration to show people that those lows can be transcended.
There are, in Pitch’s music, flashes of mysticism, and plenty of moments of uplift and optimism that bring to mind artists such as Macklemore.
Pitch said that one of the things that led him to make his own music was his early interest in comic books — writing, drawing and reading about characters with special powers. That storytelling bent and the idea of extraordinary individuals flowed naturally into his music-making.
“I want to be a hero,” he said. “I want to be able to stand up when people can’t.”
Listening to Pitch’s music, you get the feeling that just his speaking out about his existence is brave.
On “Twilight,” the last track off of “Asphalt,” Pitch raps about being bisexual, and about being scared to pursue his own desires. He also raps that, in essence, his father has told him that he’d kill him if he ever found out he was gay. “If they kill me ‘cause I’m me, fuck it, what a way to go,” raps Pitch.
Marley Pitch’s music is about soul-searching, trying to figure out who you are in relationship to other people, and to culture, but also in relationship to the cosmos. Pitch has rapped about experimenting with things like psychedelic drugs and with meditation as a means of exercising his mind, and of coming to terms with life, and where he wants to go. Rapping is another vehicle of exploration.
“For me, now, it’s so easy to talk about my deepest darkest truth,” he said, “now it just flows through me. As I’ve gotten older, I just try to get closer to the truth.”
Pitch isn’t focusing on hardships. He wants his music to have the power to nudge people toward realizing their potential.
“It’s not all about speaking on trauma,” Pitch said. “It’s about also just finding the beauty in life and being able to display that.”
John Adamian lives in Winston-Salem, and his writing has appeared in Wired, The Believer, Relix, Arthur, Modern Farmer, the Hartford Courant and numerous other publications.