From The Penitentiary To Columbia University, Marcus Ex Tells His Story Through The Music

Marcus Ex

Read below as we discuss Marcus Ex’s background, how he got locked up, how he bounced back and attended Howard and Columbia University, “Let’s Be Love,” his recording process, interning at Bad Boy and Motown records, the new project, and more!

Marcus Ex has one question: “why be a billionaire in five years if you can do it in one?”

Hailing from East Austin, Texas, Marcus Ex is a jack of all trades: An executive, recording artist, producer, author, and fashion designer all in one. His brand is called #Weallwegot-Marcus Ex and his story is one of admiration and resilience. To sum it up, Marcus Ex went “from the penitentiary to Columbia University”… and it’s his unwavering love and passion for music that has gotten him this far.

Marcus Ex views himself as a “Hip-Hop anomaly.” He explains, “I started out on my big brother’s Pioneer turntable, learning how to mix and scratch and ended up getting a scholarship to Columbia University. As well, that same journey led me to teaching myself the piano, and around that time, I found myself surrounded by hip-hop legends, including DJ Clark Kent and Chucky Thompson. I had to figure out how to play the piano from a hip-hop perspective because a lot of pianists back then weren’t hip-hop enough. Hip-hop is different, it’s not just regular R&B.”

Sonically, his sound can be described as “Chucky Thompson (of Bad Boy) mixed with El DeBarge, spiced with some Michael McDonald from the blue-eyed soul era.” And he credits Lionel Richie for getting him on the keys.

Now, Marcus is excited as ever to be releasing his forthcoming album titled #weallwegot-Marcus Ex, the same name as his clothing line. The project is spearheaded by the lead single “Let’s Be Love,” produced and sung by Marcus Ex himself.

AllHipHop spoke virtually with Marcus Ex, who was enjoying his time at SXSW in Texas. Read below as we discuss his background, how he got locked up, how he bounced back and attended Howard and Columbia University, “Let’s Be Love,” his recording process, interning at Bad Boy and Motown records, the new project, and more!

AllHipHop: Do you represent Austin, Texas?

Marcus Ex: I represent East Austin, Texas, for sure. East Austin is different from Austin. East Austin is predominately black, and at one point in time, whites couldn’t come there without getting robbed or beat up. It was very segregated. They would have advisories for UT (University of Texas) students not to come to East Austin, it wasn’t safe. So while Austin was segregated with Black Austin then. Two very different realities back then.

AllHipHop: When did you fall in love with music?

Marcus Ex: I remember my mom playing the Quincy Jones-produced The Brother Johnson’s records. I knew I wanted to play the piano ‘cause I was mesmerized looking at Lionel Richie sitting by the piano on a Commodores album cover. Because that’s what our ‘hood was listening to at that time. My mom and nem. As a kid you pretty much just wanted to copy what the grown folks was on. 

AllHipHop: Talk about going from the penitentiary to Columbia University and that journey.

Marcus Ex: You know, I came up a little fast. I was a young professional player. Basically, I was 17. I was in 11th grade,  and this girl was a white freshman in a predominantly Black school. I refused to have intercourse with her because she was white and chubby and after she moisturized my presentation (gave him head) she flipped the script by crying in in front of her friends later, people assumed because I was I was Black and thuggin, there had to be foul play on my end. The system did the rest.They waited until I was 18 and they filed a form of statutory rape, even though at the time of contact we were only two grades apart. This is how white folks weaponize their whiteness against the Black youth.

I also got caught up in another incident. Somebody in my crew jacked somebody’s chain. They finally found the guy, but because I didn’t cooperate, they gave me the felony too. That’s how they was moving . So, as a senior in high school I had two felonies. At some point I cut a deal with the judge to give me two years instead of 10 years probation. He agreed. I did my time and never lived in Austin again. [laughs] I got the f### out of there.

AllHipHop: How did you push forward? Did music help?

Marcus Ex: Yeah, I had read an article where Teddy Riley said that if you become a piano player, you’ll have work for the rest of your life. My whole thing was to integrate hard Hip Hop with gospel like R&B chords, like Teddy was doing. He was mixing a gospel, R&B sound over Hip Hop beats. Especially coming up, me and my brother would listen to a lot of DeBarge. El DeBarge really was a perfect mix of R&B and gospel. The DeBarge sound over a Hip Hop beat was my goal in life. 

By the time I got out of jail, I had already decided I wanted to be somebody. Before jail I had already started changing my friends in high school. One of my high school friends, Cliff Mcbean said, “Come to college with me. You’re gonna get killed out here, so just come to college with me.” He practically made me come to Houston and follow him wherever he went on campus. He was in a fraternity, the Sigmas. They had a little meeting, they decided I was too talented to be just hanging around. They made me enroll in school. From there, I did good and ended up going to Howard University.

AllHipHop: What did you study?

Marcus Ex: I studied, of course, music. R&B and jazz piano, and legal communications. I was going to be a lawyer and get my felonies taken off since they were such a fluke.

AllHipHop: Is Marcus Ex your real name?

Marcus Ex: My government name is Doctor. My first name is Doctor, my middle name is Marcus, my last name is Truth. So either one of them are animated sounding, but they call me Marcus Ex. A spoof off of Malcolm X, because my Aunt Shirley had me listening to Minister Farrakhan and reading Malcom X as early as my sophomore year in high school.You can only imagine how militant I was – I was hyper-militant. My ignorance as friends would call me “Marcus Ex con.” [laughs] But then it just became Marcus Ex, that’s why it’s spelled with an “ex.”

AllHipHop: Talk about “Let’s Be Love,” you sang and produced that one, right?

Marcus Ex: The record is interesting. A small melody came to my head….a small riff that I felt El [Debarge] would have loved. It just came to my head, so I got on the piano and I played it out. I let Quincy Phillips hear it over the phone and he sent me this dope drum pattern. I ended up trying to do the best version of the beat. That’s how the composition part started at least. Lyrics were a whole different thing.

AllHipHop: Talk about writing your own music.

Marcus Ex: “Let’s Be Love,” if you listen to the lyrics close enough, it goes…“let’s not talk about love, let’s just “be it” with one another”, that’s how we can make our communities better. A lot of good relationships, mixed with raising good kids, makes a good community. Of course, “#weallwegot.” There’s some sprinkles of consciousness in dat record. 

One of the best song writers that ever existed was Maurice White of Earth, Wind & Fire. I just like the mellowness of Maurice White, how him and Philip Bailey (of Earth, Wind & Fire) would do their vocal stuff. In sum, I heard a Marvin type riff in my head, and mixed it with some Maurice White on the vocal arrangements. I did my very best version of that. 

AllHipHop: What about your recording process? What do you need in the studio?

Marcus Ex: My process is interesting. I generally like to get a producer to engineer the session. Basically I’ll hear something, but in the studio, I’m making everybody mad because I want it better than what I heard in my head. [laughs] I’m always trying to get people that are greater than me in the studio when I’m recording. Because no matter how great I hear a song, somebody around me can make it better. 

I try to always position myself around somebody who’s a better player and ironically I found music lovers who are less musical than me as well. Because a lot of times, people who are not as musician-centered, can hear the way the record is supposed to go and keep us musicians from going too crazy. I try to get a person with a DJ’s ear. They hear just right, and they don’t have all this extra stuff going through their head.

AllHipHop: What did you learn from interning at Bad Boy and working at Motown?

Marcus Ex: I was interning in the financial department of Bad Boy. That’s the first time I saw a $100K check. Ten checks $100K or better, nothing under $80K. I’m looking through each check, seeing the actual producer’s names on it. It let me know that this music s### is real. It made me take it [music] serious. [laughs] 

I really realized I love the music too much to even care about the pay. I promise you, I never really thought about what it could pay. I just wanted to be good at it. I never really thought about the money aspect before Damon Eden had me at Bad Boy. I was lost in the melody. When I saw those checks I was like Gottdamn- People really buy houses from this music s###. 

AllHipHop: What are you working on music-wise? 

Marcus Ex: I have a whole completed album. I’m going back to Philadelphia to finish it. If I’m not working on it in East Austin, it’s Philly. I feel comfortable working from those places.

Philly has been a place that I’ve always marveled at, even going back to the fact that Gamble & Huff and his crew started disco. DJ Jazzy Jeff popularized the “transformer” scratch in Philadelphia, so it’s hard for me not to honor that town.

AllHipHop: What’s your project called?

Marcus Ex: #weallwegot. It just happens to be named after my clothing line: #WeAllWeGot That’s the name of the record. 

AllHipHop: Anything else you want the people to know?

Marcus Ex: Being an Executive is how I get paid. I connect labels with producers and Artists, and Vice versa. I  have a future movie star, Gatsby Randolph of Peacock’s “The Queen’s Court”. I’m working to get Austin Martin of  AME music a Label deal. He’s currently doing music with Tyler Lepley. I get money in all aspects of entertainment. I’ve been in talks with DJ Camper, and a couple other super producers to get them fair price points for their brilliant compositions. I’m connecting the dots in every way. 

I’m looking to partner my label with a major label. I’m entertaining a brand partnership with a per se Louis Vuitton. I want this before the brand is super global. I want these corporations to be first and not second. By that I mean, partner before it’s bananas versus jumping on the bandwagon after it’s viral. Be first and not second! 

People wait until you’re big already –na, help me get global, put some skin in the game!! I want them to see the movement and move beforehand, not after the fact. I want them to partner with #weallwegot now! Partner before it takes all the way off. If it takes off, I could do what Kylie Jenner did. I can do a billion dollars in a year because I’m already a millionaire with a brand that’s buzzing. Be first whoever you are out there watching us!!