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occupational therapy: how mars ill's music is saving your life
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I can't say for sure, but the one- and two-sentence answers manCHILD, emcee for hip-hop group Mars ILL, is giving me make me suspect. A line in the sparse bio found on marsill.com reads, "manCHILD blacks out when conversations get boring." Even though we're two questions into the interview, I'm fairly sure the guy slipped out of consciousness long ago.

Question #1: I have to ask about the names first. Why "manCHILD" and "[DJ] Dust [the other half of Mars ILL]?"

manCHILD: Random rap names.

Question #2: What are your real names?

manCHILD: That's classified.

Later on…

Me: Do groups like Limp Bizkit and Kid Rock contribute to the growth of hip-hop, or are they just embarrassing themselves and hip-hop as an institution?

Him: I think rapcore in that fashion is pretty silly.

Later still…

Me: What's it like recording with John Reuben [and] Playdough?

Him: The greatest experience of my life.

To be fair, CHILD opened up more at various times during our interview. But I don't think anyone could possibly accuse him of being long-winded.

"I'd probably be beating motorists down in road rage situations if I couldn't get these words off my chest," says manCHILD of his lyrics. Consider that the man, with partner DJ Dust, drives more than 30,000 miles a year, do the math and be thankful. The world is a safer place because holy hip-hop exists.

The world got even better in 1998, when CHILD met with Dust at a hip-hop conference. "We spoke for a moment [and] I passed him a 12" my group (the Pride) had out at the time," says CHILD of their meeting. "He slid me a beat tape. I heard the tape and it was over. We were touring together within 6 months."

It seems to have been a match made in (and destined for) heaven. "Dust makes the ground that I walk on, and I complete the sentence," says manCHILD.

Over the course of the next year, the two composed the majority of what would become Raw Material, their first full-length album. It was released on indie imprint Sphere of Hip Hop Records, in 2000, and re-released by Tooth and Nail's Uprok Records a year later. "We signed a one-album, non-exclusive contract with Uprok for the re-release of Raw Material," says CHILD. "So, we were able to release music through them without a long term commitment."

The group has since released a seven-song EP on Ill Boogie Records (The Blue Collar Sessions), and has made guest appearances on albums by John Reuben, DJ Maj, Playdough of Ill Harmonics and others. A second full-length album of their own is on the way, though the group is not currently signed to a label.

Exodus through Revelations
Another line from the website: "Dust and manCHILD met in '98 and have been out to change the world ever since."

Another question: How do you plan to do that?

manCHILD: With love, my man.

It would be premature, after one-and-a-half albums, to crown Mars ILL as the next kings of Christian hip-hop, or even the genre's most promising newcomers. Even this humble reporter, prone to hyperbole and flattery of his subjects, won't go there. Yet. But if nothing else, they bring to holy hip-hop a rare commodity: originality.

With influences that include Run D.M.C., Public Enemy, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix and author Kurt Vonnegut, ILL brings a sound that its emcee describes as "like reaching over your shoulder to take your shoes off."

"We don't make totally straight ahead traditional music," he says. We like to poke and prod at the boundaries and find different ways of expressing our brand of rap music."

"I draw inspiration of course from God, and very specifically through my [two] children. I look at the world and I want to make it a better place for them."

And chances are he might. As long as no one takes his microphone away.
- Ben Forrest
November 2002
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