HHDG Media Inc. Interview with Mark Dark (Dirty Nails Records)
Bologna is a city in Italy rich with history. Hip Hop is part of it as the multi-talented resident, Mark Dark details with his various abilities throughout life in Hip Hop culture. These days you can add record label owner to his repertoire with Dirty Nails Records. Mark Dark's diligent hard work, skills, dedication and knowledge shows with the label's first officially released album NOIR in 2022 with Mickey Diamond (Detroit, MI Emcee/Producer of The Umbrella). Take a journey through Italy as Mark Dark spoke with HHDG Media Inc.
(As Hip Hop is universally worldwide we have people speaking their native languages with the music and culture always bridging the gap. Mark Dark is fluent in Italian. He took the time to have his answers translated to English for this interview.)
Thank you for taking the time to have this interview after our conversations leading up to it.
Peace Ian! How are you brother?
I'm doing well in my recovery and constant improvement. I'm very grateful. I really wish you the best and may you be back to 100% form as soon as possible, my best wishes!
Thank you! Tell us about your hometown, Bologna?
Bologna is a city in northern Italy, has a population of 390 thousand, my city is famous for the uniqueness of its porticos, tortellini, and has the oldest university in the world. In addition, it is one of the first Italian cities in which hip hop arrived in the end 80s-start 90s, which at the time dealt with strictly political issues arising within social centers, places self-managed and organized by collectives, in my city was born the famous self-managed social center "Isola Nel Kantiere". I grew up in a town of 20.000 inhabitants a few kilometers from Bologna, despite that when I approached hip-hop at the time in my town we listened to it in a maximum of 10 people, for interesting situations you had to move to the city, where I currently live since 2016 with my wife and our son. But yes, I was definitely born and raised here and it is a city that politically, culturally, creatively and entertainment-wise has always been definitely very much alive. What was your first memory of hip-hop in Italy?
My first memory of engaging hip-hop atmosphere was in 2006, I had yet to turn 16 and I went with a friend of mine to see an iconic night of the time, the "2thebeat," my first real live hip-hop as a spectator. The night consisted of showcases of the heaviest groups and a major stage freestyle competition with guests selected from the nation's best. The evening was held inside the well-known community center of the time "Livello 57" On that night the screams, sweat, spray flames, people passing out and iconic live performances of the strongest groups and battles that definitely remained in history. It was the night when Gel from the TruceKlan crew made a rather "uncomfortable" rhyme of black humor that the audience did not accept and a nonstop rain of insults started. Would you say that memory started your love for Hip Hop culture?
As a kid I spent a lot of time drawing so instinctively between skateboarding and music I approached the world of writing at first, so I discovered more about hip-hop culture, rap, and I immediately became passionate about rhyming. I converted my drawings into words, aiming to recreate images in the listener's mind. I started rap in 2006 under the stage name, Neme, I made 6-7 records between solo and group, all completely self-produced independent work, all stuff born out of passion and the desire to say one's own point of view. My last rap record is precisely called "Mark Dark" and dates back to 2019 ( https://open.spotify.com/album/0jPywnhpju0xkLdAneFqEw?si=mXBVaL0pSMiJyxPkQ2Kdfw ) , in which I encapsulated all my thoughts and experiences of those years. Coincidentally right at that time producer Mark Dark was officially born, in parallel to rhymes I have always pursued my passion for beats, sampling, research, so I have always produced. I started as a kid using FL Studio and various free programs, and then in 2013 bought a used Akai Mpc1000 that I currently work with along with using Logic in post production. With that sampler I must have made hundreds of beats and precisely from 2013 I started a full immersion in the world of analog, in 2019 I definitely shifted my focus from rhymes to productions and as soon as I had some free time I would look for samples, turn on the sampler and so on. In that year I made a new conversion, from words to sounds that would recreate the right images and atmospheres in front of the listener's eyes. Which producers inspire you in the past and present?
I have a hard time defining a producer who has particularly inspired me, definitely depending on the period I am more or less influenced by the kind of music I listen to at that time, every few years I change a little bit the pitch and the search for different samples. Definitely I really respect Dj Muggs, Alchemist, Dj Premiere, Apollo Brown, Evidence, Jnyce. Who are your favorite producers and emcees?
Well for various reasons definitely in the last few years Mickey Diamond and every member of the Umbrella crew have been my biggest source of listening for the last 2 years, I think I'm not the only person ahah. In general I try to stay very up to date with what's coming out in the U.S. and Italy, although it's hard to keep up with all the artists releasing records, there are a lot of strong rappers out there and as far as preferences go I kind of go by periods. As producers I particularly appreciate the style of Spanish Ran, VDon, Statik Selektah, Real Bad Man, MichaelAngelo, these are the names that have particularly impressed me in the last few years. There's a lot of cool people around, I listen to a lot of stuff but I don't let it influence me too much, I think I manage to keep my mold, I've been making the same stuff since the day I started, depending on the period it evolves in the way just the way it comes across and the sampling sources I draw from but it always remains my stuff. Do you have any family members who create music?
No, I am the only family member who makes music, in fact when I started it was definitely disorienting for them. There has always been music of various kinds in the house, but there has never been a creative drive.
Is Mark Dark your real name or the producer's name?
Of course my first name is Marco my last name is Bui and in Italian it is very similar to the word "Buio," which translated into English would be Darkness. From there ironically I created the name Mark Dark which is an internationalization of my first and last name. COVID and the pandemic have affected many people's mental health and lives. Have they changed your life or your music in any way?
Definitely it was a net change in everyone's life and one that somehow traumatized us on a more or less obvious subconscious level, each age group paid and will pay the consequences in different ways. The lockdown completely shocked, obligation to stay locked in the house, home-work imposed ... unbelievable ... at that time my son was only a few months old, and seeing the world around us in madness was not at all reassuring. At that time I produced a lot of stuff, and I was aiming to draw from samples with positive moods that would keep me upbeat, in fact that's where the first beats were born for the record that will be the second Dirty Nails Records release due in 2023. What inspired you to produce?
Samples, they've always fascinated me, soundtracks, atmospheres in general. The fact that I could recreate them gave me a lot of impetus in trying to make my own versions to create my own music. From digital to 'analog, drawing from sources from every genre and corner of the world. When did music production become serious about making a living?
Good question! I have always worked and made music in my spare time. In early 2021 the idea of the label and collaborative projects was born. With these projects definitely there was a change but in fact I have another job and I'm trying to figure out how I can manage both and let's just say that between family, work, music, label, it's hard to get bored.
What equipment do you use?
Akai Mpc 1000, since 2013 it's the machine I work with everything. I usually start out using samples via computer, and then I make the beat with the mpc. Once I've finished all the various creative processes and finished the production I import the separate tracks into Logic and get my hands on the individual sounds. Have you ever tried other elements of Hip Hop?
Writing as a kid and for 15 years good rap, solo, and with the group, first Bologna Air Lainz, and since 2015 the crew it belongs to is KongRega crew. Bologna is known for its food and much more. If I were to visit, what foods and places would you recommend?
Eh here you eat really well they say around..Tortellini is definitely the icon of the city, Lasagna, Mortadella, Ragù. The city is famous for the arcades, unique in the world, there is this anecdote that from the center of the city begins an arcade that leads up to the hill with the church of San Luca and the arcades have 666 arches. The city is certainly famous for the two medieval towers that stand in the center of the city next to Piazza Maggiore where the Neptune fountain is located. As a producer, you are a master. What is in your orchestration process for artists? I thank you for the words, I've been doing this for many years but I definitely still have a lot to learn. I am very perfectionist, I revise things until I am totally satisfied, and I select a lot as a result I publish a very small part of what I produce. I try to roll out the best sound carpet that suits the rapper who has to be on it, and if I collaborate with someone it's because I already think they are in line with my music. What I like is to have a basic idea to build the song, go and search for the most suitable samples, and the bulk of my creativity comes to life during the sample cuts, sometimes a few long cuts, sometimes a lot of short cuts, and sometimes that rare spark happens that by pure chance you're hearing a sample for the first time and at a precise moment in your head you already have the idea of how and where to cut it, and from there the beat is born. I particularly like to play with sounds in the background, when the beat is complete I go and add several add , additional samples or sounds to the beat, deliberately left at a low volume to be perceived after several listens sometimes, in the overall song it adds something more sometimes more or less perceptible. You have a dark melodic sound that is also cinematic, like Italian movie soundtracks. Where does it come from? For years films have been a great passion and inspiration of mine, of any genre but particularly thrillers and horror, both international and Italian. In both cases there have been many classics made over the past 50 years, both from a film and soundtrack perspective. I have always searched for this type of sample, especially at the beginning of my activity as a producer. Going to search the web there are endless soundtracks, especially Italian ones, that over the years have created a sound that is indelible over time and still makes your legs shake. In Italy numerous artists have made the history of soundtracks, Riz Ortolani, Fabio Frizzi, Claudio Simonetti & I Goblin, Piero Umiliani and many, many others are sacred pillars. One director, actor, composer, musician, etc etc etc is definitely the great John Carpenter.
Since you are a fan of Italian soundtracks and it shows in your production, what are your favorite soundtracks created by world-famous Ennio Morricone over a career spanning more than 70 years? He is definitely legendary, from a producer's point of view it is difficult to get your hands on such masterpieces, except on tiptoe. Certainly among his fantastic soundtracks, all of which are truly memorable and have gone down in history, among my favorites are those with the accordion from "C'era una volta il west" crazy atmosphere. Your record company/label, Dirty Nails Records, was founded in 2006. As the founder, what was the decision to start and own a record label? I got into hip-hop culture at the age of 15-16 in 2006, until 2013 I was doing 80% rap and 20% beat, from 2014 on it became a 50-50 and from the summer of 2019 it became 100% beat and I only do and write rap when I am particularly inspired, for now I have the focus on productions. The idea of the label was born in late 2020 and early 2021, I've always been a big fan of underground hip-hop so I was already following the whole movement, the artists and the releases, and I started to think about it. I had hundreds of beats in the sampler, as soon as I had some free time I would produce, I was already fulfilled during the creative phase so I didn't even take the commitment of having to release things and the stuff really stayed between me and a few friends. The whole thing was fine with me but at the same time it seemed limiting and I thought it would be cool to be able to use some beats for collaborative projects with artists from the U.S. scene, the idea of being able to release a record with some of my own productions certainly rekindled the flame. The idea of the label in fact was born mainly with the purpose of self-producing and bringing out beats and albums that would probably have been left to gather dust inside the hard-disk. Everything was born in this way and we will see what surprises the future will bring. The label was born out of necessity but at the same time I am very attentive on the underground movement so I do not exclude the possibility of broadening the views and being able to bring with us artists of whom we have personal and musical esteem. Regarding the label I would like to say a big hello to Davide Dartworks Mancini who is the graphic designer who made the logo of our label. Dartworks is an artist from the Abruzzo region that I have been in contact with for many years, he has a great style and was able to perfectly realize the logo idea we had in mind to best express our Dirty Nails concept. A curiosity, the name of the label comes from dirty fingers after coming out of the Record Store, dirty nails from scratching in the ground and bringing hidden underground gems to the surface, and dirty nails from breaking up hashish ahaah there are many interpretations to our name, everyone chooses the one they prefer.
On August 19, 2022, the album Ghosts Of Trinity was released with U.S. emcees Meph Luciano (Dallas, TX), Mado (Brooklyn, N.Y.) and Jae Hussle (Rochester, N.Y.). You produced nine of the ten tracks. What was the vision for creating this album? How did these three emcees come together?
Yes, Ghosts of Trinity was the first album of which I produced 90 percent of the beats, released only digitally, it was branded Dirty Nails Records but I have to say that the bulk of the work was done by Meph Luciano, he definitely applied himself more than I did to bring this project to light as I at that time was totally immersed in working on the first release of our label NOIR. The record was born precisely from an idea of Meph, I had already been in contact for some time with him and Jae Hussle to work together on some of my beats, and it was decided to join forces in a single project since the two of them were already on very good terms. They both thought well of calling in the album Mado, and all three of them together fired up the album and pushed us a lot. I put in the beats and held the organizational reins a bit, but Meph took care of the recordings, mixes, masters, graphics, promos, etc. so credit to him who acted with ten arms. The album has very varied beats, we switch pleasantly from one atmosphere to another and overall it is very enjoyable to listen to, I must say that the whole thing was born and evolved in a very easy way and without doing too much calculation, we made the beats and rapped. Also joining the project with us was Kaluma, who made the beat for the track The Offer, besides being a great friend of mine we belong to the same KongRega crew, we always made the rhymes and beats together and when I first came to analogue the first important tips and advice was definitely given to me by him, who is one of the few who heard my thousand beats before they were released. How did you start working with one of the rising stars of the Umbrella crew, Mickey Diamond? In February 2021, I discovered Mickey Diamond's video "All I Do" and I was constantly looping BD1 and BD2 for days, at that time I was precisely on the lookout to consider how to move forward in the optics of collaborations. I contacted him through social and from that I had sent him beats, as I got his feedback I explained to him the idea I had in mind, and we came to an agreement to make an album together with the goal of releasing three hundred vinyl copies as the label's first release. I went to him with clear ideas and we hit it off, we considered a lot about what artistic direction to take with the album and putting our ideas together went well. In the summer of 2021 we came up with the idea of NOIR, and Mickey was great in choosing from my beats the ones he thought might be best suited to fit into this theme that had us both hooked. Around November-December he sent me all the recorded tracks, and to my great pleasure I realized that he had managed to include Pro Dillinger, Snotty, Big Trip, Maze Overlay, Allah Preme, Josiah the Gift, basically a good part of the Umbrella crew on the album, and I'm really honored for that, only at the last I learned that he had managed to involve all these dope artists on my productions. What was I supposed to say? Thank you! haha. We at HHDG Media Inc. continue to promote hip hop culture and make it thrive. ThrowUp Magazine, in Italy, does the same with a focus on Graffiti and Street Art. How did you get in touch with them for the vinyl release of your 2022 collaboration album "NOIR"?
I contacted them since I had been following their website for a long time and bought their first magazine a year ago, which was really well done. I've always really liked their insights and I've always seen them as the absolute most attentive Italian reality to underground hip hop releases, the thing I appreciate about them is that they have solid principles and are very consistent, all these reasons are the reason I contacted them. We didn't know each other in person, I wrote to them since I would like to give them the Italian exclusive to talk about NOIR, we started from there and then it evolved into a collaboration proposal to drop our first release through their site and push this product to more hands. ThrowUp Magazine has been active in spreading hip-hop and graffiti culture for years, they work hard to push this stuff and I really respect the way they do it. During 2022, I read the interview with Pro Dillinger in ThrowUp Magazine, which everyone should read. (Click HERE for Pro Dillinger's interview with ThrowUp Magazine) He is featured on the album "NOIR" along with other Umbrella members like Snotty, Allah Preme (former member now known as A.P. Da Overlord) and Josiah The Gift. Are there any plans to work more with them and other Umbrella members? Great question!!! Surely it would be very cool to be able to collaborate with all of them! Let's say that now we have laid the first layer of fabric of knowledge, let's hope that in the future it will develop in a positive way, it would definitely be a great satisfaction for us and we would be honored!
How is the culture of graffiti and street art in Italy? Definitely active, it has always been, especially Bologna-Milan-Rome are the cities that have always pushed quite a lot in graffiti but certainly throughout Italy each city has made a significant contribution to bringing attention to the scene. Each in its own different way depending on the context, be it walls, trains or subways. There are historical writers who have made their art a profession and for more than 30 years they continue to leave their mark around living off what they like to do! Highest esteem for those who started from scratch and built by their own strength a lasting path and distinguishable among a thousand others.
The very talented artist Greg Rappa created the album cover for "NOIR." What made you choose him?
I had seen some records that came out with graphics made by him and I found them very beautiful, plus some of them were very much in line with the ideas I had in my head, I found his vision definitely cinematic. I contacted him explaining the idea of the label and especially the NOIR disc and besides being very kind and helpful I must say that he understood perfectly the result I wanted to achieve, and by brainstorming together he created a masterpiece of extreme visual impact. Really super happy with the collaboration with him, in addition to having interfaced with him in a very direct and honest way a very good friendship was created, even by coincidence of fate we even managed to meet in person during one of his passes in Florence. Great person and great artist, his artwork is outstanding, I am really very happy that he graphically represented our first release. Mixing and mastering can make or break an album, so it is very important to have engineers to provide the clarity and final levels to your production, as well as the vocals. Tell us about ValidGang GunSmoke, Mr. Mala and Giuseppe Ielasi. As far as the mix is concerned, we have been relying for years on the ears of Mr. Mala, a sound engineer and owner of Guilty Studio, in the province of Ferrara, a city very close to Bologna. Mala and I have known each other all our lives so everything flows very spontaneously. He knows my tastes very well and I know how he works so sometimes we don't even need to talk and we already find each other, although maybe musically he and I listen to very different stuff. The mixed tracks were passed to Giuseppe Ielasi who made the master of the album and enhanced each track. He also took care of the optimization of the master for the press on vinyl, as he is an official collaborator of the Vinilificio press plant, located in Bologna, thanks to which we were able to make our first official limited edition release of 300 copies. Vinilificio has been active in the vinyl world since 2005 in collaboration with the R.A.A.N.D Muzik group, they offered an impeccable service from the point of view of advice, punctuality and to the quality of sound and material they produced for us completely fulfilling our expectations. Big up to everyone who turned our idea into music, and on vinyl! Congratulations on selling out the vinyl of "NOIR" on its release (October 13, 2022). How does it feel?
Thanks man! It was a whirlwind of emotions and the copies flew off like the wind and there were also blackout moments for a few seconds for which people went into a frenzy, stuff that happens during a highly anticipated drop. We had put a lot of hype for the release and our expectations were rewarded! We had been on top of this project for quite some time, worked on it a lot, talked about it a lot, as a result at the time it was about our ongoing commitment to make a timeless classic. Delighted that things turned out this way and especially that people appreciated our music. Do you plan to release a vinyl for every project released by Dirty Nails Records in the future?
We would like to try to measure and reason our releases carefully, we take care of what we do in great detail from start to finish and said as it goes being currently alone working on the label it's about following projects from inception, until they arrive in people's homes through UPS. This is to say that working so hard on every single project, having put my all into it at that point it pays to play all the cards and release the fruits of labor.
If someone is new to your production, what songs and albums should they look for besides "Ghosts of Trinity" and "NOIR"? Before those albums I was very focused on rap so there is my entire discography from 2006 to 2019 on Spotify, Youtube and Bandcamp by searching Neme MKDK (https://open.spotify.com/artist/5QuepyPjibOWPWPI0LIEN0?si=HegBGS4RTsOqkrqNwSq66w), in each album you can find some of my production under the stage name Neme. I produced several beats during the time with the group Bologna Air Lainz and also in the crew album KongRega, a project in which I am present as rapper and producer together with the other members: Kaluma, WD Alien, Messiah, Saiber Pan, Big Lox, Dj Tivolo. We were a group of friends with a common fire for rhymes and beats, classic right? We had a lot of fun. Also years ago I had produced two beats on two different albums by the rapper from the Marche region, Claver Gold. Definitely among those pieces I am very attached to the production of "SABBIA NEL LETTO" (traduction: Sand in the bed) which despite being from 2013 is still very much in line with my dark and melancholic style (SABBIA NEL LETTO: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jH3q4R1ipL0). Another stuff I'm very attached to is the track where I do rhymes and beats, "Tribute to the Darkness" featuring RibboRes and DJ Dima ( VIDEO: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=urQUDBluY1M ), that track is very meaningful, the lyrics are a continuous provocation, it talks about life, religion, politics, everything. I remember that track well because the video, shot by Rodolfo Lissia for Rombo Prod, was super fun to make, shot in the underground tunnels that run under the floor of the porticoes of Via Sant'Isaia in downtown Bologna, historical stuff of the ancient city on which it was then built ( Think that in downtown Bologna under Piazza Maggiore ,where there is the fountain of Neptune, there are still remains of Roman columns) Do you prefer to work with emcees from the United States? Over the years my relationship with music has undergone various evolutions and changes, currently between family, work, thoughts and commitments I don't have too much time on my hands to be able to strum with the sampler at any time of the day. I would like in the future to work on an album with Italian artists to be able to experiment more directly with music and talk openly about certain issues since in recent years there is much more attention to rap in Italy, on the other hand the Italian language has the merit of having a lot of vocabulary, but that by necessity is limited to our territorial boundary. Fortunately in the last few years I have decided to broaden my horizons and I have found it very inspiring to create long-distance projects and share the same points of view with artists who are on the other side of the world, moreover the fact that their language is international, combined with my productions allows our music to be heard and understood all over the world. This is definitely the most satisfying thing and allows it to reach everywhere. What inspires you to continue making music? I like to go and unearth unknown tracks, various genres of music from every corner of the world and from every era, at certain times I get fixated with certain sounds and go deeper into that sound. I like to twist the samples, study how to cut them and recreate a new version of that music giving it a new life, creating the right sound carpet that can accompany the lyrics of the rapper that will go on it. With the beats I like to recreate atmospheres and images, create loops that spin well and give space to the free and constant flow of the mc. As the "NOIR" album continues its success...what's new for Mark Dark and Dirty Nails Records? We have a project in the works for some time now and we are starting mix-master these days, so with the new year it will surely see the light of day, a concept I am particularly fond of, Spring 2023. Also as a producer I am in contact with someone and I am reasoning about how to move for the future, there are good possibilities on the plate!
Ian thank you so much for this interview and for giving me the opportunity to tell you a little bit of my story, what I do, how I think and how I live. I salute all the people who have shown interest in this stuff, those who supported our first release, those who listen to and spread our music and who recognize what we do as valid. Thanks to everyone who has contributed in any way to bringing each and every project to light, those who have been following me since I started and those who discovered me through this interview. Special thanks to my family who always believed in me and lived every single moment of all these stuff, from the birth of ideas until their concretization, contributing daily with their help and constant closeness enjoying the good and bad moments of everything. One love! That's life, we never get bored and will keep working hard to bring out more quality projects, little stuff but curated from start to finish. Peace. Marco
Be sure to follow and support Mark Dark and Dirty Nails Records at the following links.
K.Burns (Brooklyn, N.Y. Emcee, Member of Gold Chain Music and Founder/Owner of Team Fame Music Group (TFMG)) and Mark Dark new 2023 album "Scartoon" available now on vinyl (25 Black + Retro OBI, 75 Black, 25 Yellow + Color OBI, 75 Yellow, 8 Test Press with custom artwork) and digital via Dirty Nails Records (featuring Mickey Diamond, cuts DJ Dubplates, artwork Davide Dartworks Mancini, mixed and mastered Mr. Mala at Guilty Studio, stickers Greg Rappa)
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