Hi, my name is Andrew, and I'm a Marty Jamesoholic. It all goes back to 2001, when I happened upon the video for Scapegoat Wax's "Aisle 10 (Hello Allison)" on MuchMusic. I don't know what it was about "Aisle 10" that sucked me in. Was it the quirky intermingling of funky beats and warped acoustic guitar samples? The chorus hook? I'm really not sure.
That particular version of "Aisle 10" appeared on the second Scapegoat Wax full-length, Okeeblow, released in 2001 by the Beastie Boys' label, Grand Royal, which went out of business that same year—thus cementing the CD's unfortunate home in the bargain bin of every record store in America for years to come. Fortunate for me, however, as I scored the disc for a mere $1 in a local record store not long after seeing the video.
I've been hooked ever since.
Right about now you're probably asking yourself, "Who the fuck is Marty James?" The short version? He's a singer, songwriter, and producer from Chico, CA. The long version? It's at this point that I'll begin to ramble on and on with a chronological rundown of some of his "greatest hits," and encourage you to fall to your knees and pledge allegiance to his musical genius.
Okay? Cool. Let's get to it...
Under the alias of Scapegoat Wax, James built up from a 1998 cassette demo (which I've never had the chance to hear) through three full-length albums of diverse "alternative" hip-hop—the last of which was released by Hollywood Records.
Luxurious (Good Vibe Recordings, 1999)
Luxurious hit the streets prior to my discovery of Scapegoat Wax, and I didn't even know it existed until many years later. The 19-song album displayed budding signs of brilliance with early versions of a number of tracks that ended up re-recorded on later discs (many compositions actually appeared on all three Scapegoat Wax albums: "Aisle 10 (Hello Allison)," "Almost Fine," "Crawlin'," "Eardrum," "Freeway," and "Space to Share"), not to mention a slick cover of Terence Trent D'Arby's "Wishing Well," and standalone cuts like the superb "Dead in a Cave."
Okeeblow (Grand Royal, 2001)
An outstanding album, Okeeblow should've been Scapegoat Wax's breakout. As mentioned above, Grand Royal closing shop surely did the album no favors, but—the world being densely populated with deaf idiots and all—I'm not sure it made all that much of a difference in the end.
Most of Okeeblow's finest moments were subtly tweaked and recycled on SWAX (covered below), but it also houses a number of its own keepers—like opener "Star 6"—while beefing up and enhancing a few Luxurious numbers with more intricately nuanced production and stronger vocal performances, such as "Revenge of the Dope Fiend Beat" and lush chiller "Light of the Moon."
SWAX (Hollywood, 2002)
If the opportunistic mark had been missed with Okeeblow, surely Hollywood Records could remedy the situation with SWAX, featuring Okeeblow's best of the best and then some, right? Right!?
The cream does not, in fact, always rise to the top, and I'll never understand why. The majority of SWAX's highlights were included on Okeeblow, and actually date all the way back to cruder appearances on 1999's Luxurious. And these highlights are many. And these highlights are fucking awesome: "Aisle 10 (Hello Allison)," "Perfect Silence," "Freeway," and "Almost Fine" (a personal favorite of mine), among others.
And we've yet to discuss the big guns!
"Space to Share" should've been it. The one. The game-changer. A hit, damnit! It even received the added promotional boost of being used in tons of movie soundtracks—America's Sweethearts, The Animal, 40 Days and 40 Nights, Lone Star State of Mind, Clockstoppers—not to mention a number of TV shows, including Malcolm in the Middle, etc. And with good reason: everything about the tune just screams mass appeal potential. Where did it all go wrong!?
"Crawlin'," too. Another stripped down "ballad," it may not scream "big time" quite as obviously as "Space to Share," but it wouldn't be a long stretch, that's for sure.
Plus, Neil Patrick Harris even played a cop in the video for "Lost Cause," one of Scapegoat Wax's wackiest, pop-rock leaning tunes.
One Block Radius
Following Scapegoat Wax, Marty joined up with MDA and Z-Man to form the trio One Block Radius, who also worked up to a major label by the time of their final self-titled album in 2008.
Long Story Short (Avatar, 2005)
The group made an impressive debut in 2005 with Long Story Short. They made a video for the catchy "Loud and Clear," but could just as easily have gone with "Wake Up Tomorrow," "Smokescreen," or the impressively funky "Make Believe."
"Black Mercedes," though, is god damn impeccable. With its infectiously badass chorus, it's another instant classic that should've garnered One Block Radius some serious praise; and the end rant that kicks in around 3:25—a nod to Oran "Juice" Jones' "The Rain" (arguably one of the greatest songs ever written)—is just flawless. You can't go wrong!
"Up in the Hills" is another gorgeous "ballad"-type track that could've touched on some of those movie/TV soundtrack opportunities like Scapegoat Wax's "Space to Share," too.
Cut Some Static (2006)
Being a mixtape (still available for free download), Cut Some Static is looser and somewhat disjointed, of course. Still, it holds a number of album-quality keepers: "I Come From C-A", "Got What You Want," and the Dazz Band-sampling "That We Can Do" among them.
One Block Radius (Mercury, 2008)
Lacking some of the quirky diversity I had come to expect from Marty James' efforts, and heading in an increasingly polished direction with what I would tend to classify as more conspicuous "mainstream" pop potential, One Block Radius was a grower for me. At first, I wasn't particularly into it, but one day I suddenly realized that "Everyone I've Ever Known" is outright beautiful—another monster hit in the making.
Such "softer" tracks like "You Got Me" (the album's only single), "Steppin' Away," and "Watch It" actually stand out the most; and while the album did spend a mere week on the Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart, somehow it failed—yet again—to reach its true potential.
During his later years with One Block Radius, James started making some guest appearances, lending his golden pipes to tracks from a multitude of artists—not limited to The Federation, Far East Movement, E-40, Paul Wall, and even Snoop Dogg (twice). Not my cup o' tea, but nonetheless representative of his range of talents, and further proof that the dude should by now be a megastar.
However, after releasing a promising single under his own name in 2011, "Just in Time (4 Summertime)," Marty started droppin' straight gold under the Martel moniker. The first (and finest) example of which was "Ricochet," in 2012.
My all-time favorite of his musical creations, I can't even begin to effectively describe how perfect a song this silky smooth, synth-poppy '80s funk masterpiece is. I'm talkin', like, this-would-have-been-a-#1-hit-if-it-had-been-recorded-by-a-"name"-like-Justin-Timberlake good. It makes my head explode that it's only been issued as a SoundCloud stream!?
All of these Martel songs are unbelievably strong. I mean, I barely listen to any of this type of music from contemporary artists, and I completely freak the fuck out and lose my shit over these tracks. I need more, and I need it now. Straight up!
If that Martel full-length ever drops, I'll be the first in line.
Most recently, Marty's been racking up songwriting credits for artists such as Sean Kingston, Enrique Iglesias, and Jason Derulo. Again, not my thing, and it's a great sign that he's workin' with some "names," but his immaculate track record with his own material is still screaming for justice. The sheer quality of the songs from his more than 15-year run with Scapegoat Wax, One Block Radius, and Martel is just off the charts. Dude should be pullin' in that Pharrell money.
So, yeah, you know what? This Marty James addiction? It's a good thing. It actually shook loose the cobwebs and opened up some doors for me. In 2001, I was listening almost exclusively to an array of metal and hardcore. Back then, if I listened to hip-hop at all, it was Mobb Deep or M.O.P. almost every time. But via Scapegoat Wax, Marty James snapped me back into listening to whatever the hell I want, without zoning in too narrowly on a small handful of particular genres. He can probably be credited with the fact that my typical daily playlist now routinely jumps from artists like Jermaine Stewart to Fleetwood Mac to Royal Flush to Obituary, and everything in between.
And for that, I am grateful.
Maybe one day the rest of the world will catch up and hop aboard the Marty James train, too...