MADISONVILLE, KY (6/23/13)—Music defies language barriers, yet its essence—a rhythmic beat—is inherent to all forms of speech. From the patterns found in Shakespeare’s iconic, centuries-old catalog of poetic sonnets, to the pauses found in daily interactions with others, music is both a beloved and intrinsic part of human life. And we may theorize, perhaps, that this is why music has stood as the one common denominator of all races and creeds since the dawn of civilization.
Conjecture aside, it’s a fact that music can incite a range of emotion in a listener. Love, anger, sadness, pain, happiness, triumph, confusion—music can provoke these feelings and more. In many instances, music can spark and epitomize social upheaval; it can define a country and its people; it can ignite passion and empathy; it can educate and enlighten; and, yes, it can even save a life. And it’s the latter that local hip-hop emcee, L’Mer “Marack” Owens, understands much better than most.
A native of Louisville, KY and a longtime Madisonville resident, Marack is an amiable father and local volunteer with the Light of Chance, Inc., as well as a truly gifted hip-hop emcee and a modern day wordsmith, who is inspired by a pure, universal muse: waking up to life.
After being beaten to death at a club and reawakening into a coma on June 20th, 1999, it seemed that Marack’s life would be coming to a swift and abrupt end. In addition to the severe injuries he had sustained, doctors explained that Marack’s life support would have to be terminated on his 19th birthday—June 23rd, 1999—if proper funds couldn’t be secured by his family beforehand. Unfortunately, the charity his family received over a three-day period simply didn’t cover the hospital’s requirements.
Yet, as the hour of his passing swiftly approached, something truly remarkable took place: Marack’s eyes opened and he soon found himself conscious with the sounds of The Roots’ “Concerto of the Desperado” reverberating throughout his hospital room. In a word, what had happened to Marack was miraculous—a term that would later instigate his full-length emcee moniker, Marackue’luz.
As one can imagine, it was after waking up and hearing the familiar beat that Marack’s longtime love for hip-hop was reignited. And as his faculties returned, he began to create a flurry of poetry and songs that would eventually serve to inspire an aptly titled debut album: Wake Up.
With a Wake Up inspired mixtape set for digital release on June 23rd, as well as a full album (both digital and hard copy) release set for July 6th, the Sugg Street Post sat down with the down-to-earth artist and discussed his connection to Madisonville, KY, his inspirations for the album, his brush with death, the differences between hip-hop and corporate rap, and much more.
Who is Marack? Read on.
Luke Short: For starters, tell me a little bit about yourself—your name, hometown, etcetera.
Marack: Well, my name is L’mer Owens and I was born in Conner Homes up in Louisville, KY in 1980. My mom’s name is Lucretia Owens and my father’s name was William Level. I moved to Village West after living in Conner Homes, which is also in Louisville. At the time, I guess things weren’t looking too good for my mom up in Louisville, so she moved down here with my great grandmother in Madisonville. Though I still have some memory issues, I’ve been told that my mom came down here and started raising me when I was six-years-old. My great grandmother was why we came here. She’s still alive today at 93-years-old. Her name’s Ellen Owens—walkin’, talkin’, and kickin’. You know, you expect your great grandparents to be in the nursing home. I wish we would put her in a nursing home; she’d kill us. [laughs] She still gets out and tries to cut the grass. She took care of me and my mom for a long time, so that was really when my life began.
LS: When did music become a part of your life?
Marack: Music has been the backdrop of my entire life.
LS: At what point did you realize the power music holds?
Marack: It was very early on. It may sound crazy, but patterns have always been something that have been attractive to me. Specifically, I pick up on speaking patterns. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve really tuned in to someone’s voice pattern. As I’m talking to you right now, I’ll say something and then I’ll pause. Everyone has a voice pattern. I used to pay attention to that a lot. I didn’t even realize I was doing that.
Before 1999, which was when I got hurt, I would listen to Heltah Skeltah, The Roots, Outkast, and Slum Village—that was it for me. You could not bring anything else to me. It wasn’t going to be played. Gangster rap wasn’t my forte. I guess I’ve always been attracted to intelligence. So, that’s exactly what I liked. You know, when I heard Big Daddy Kane, Kool G Rap, and Heltah Skeltah, it changed my life. Period. To hear Ruck [Sean Price] and Rock’s [Jahmal Bush] relationship on a Heltah Skeltah track was phenomenal. With The Roots, you can listen to the synchronization and duality of Malik B. and Black Thought, and how they can interchange voices and rhymes, and it works. I was stuck. Before that, I was all about track and field. Anyone that knows me knows that I ran. That’s what I did. And I would smoke you; I was fast.
LS: What school were you at when you were into track and field?
Marack: I went to high school at [Hopkins County] Central and, after my freshman year, I went to North [Hopkins]. I ran, man. I fell in love with running until June 20th, 1999. That’s when everything changed.
LS: Tell me about everything that happened. What’s the story?
Marack: Me and my guys went out to celebrate and have a good time. I was in a junior fraternity called the Kappa League. Basically, we were like the fraternity Kappa Alpha Psi—you know, the pretty boys at home on the yard wearing their red, white, and black. Everyone calls them the pretty boys, and that’s what me and my guys were. We were clean cut. It was me, A.J. Mitchell, Brandon Hightower, Eric Logan, Quincy Hall, Silas Matchem, and a bunch of other guys. This was at North [Hopkins] too. The college fraternities were the ones that built us up. It was a program they did through high school.
So, we went out to have a good time and all I remember is that a fight broke out.
LS: Where were you guys when this happened?
Marack: We were at a club called The Raz [in Evansville, IN] and this fight broke out. I was talking to a female in the corner and something came up, people started getting hype, and I guess things took a turn for the worse. All I remember was fighting one guy in the beginning, but that one guy turned to two, and I wasn’t seeing double—this guy had help. And then two turned to four; four turned to eight; eight turned to sixteen. All I could do after that was take cover.
When it was all over with and I had woken up after everything was done, I read the police statement and it said that I had been attacked by at least 45 men. They beat me. They took stones and threw them in my face. I couldn’t even defend myself; I was tired and beaten. I couldn’t do anything else. Somehow, they had gotten a loose railroad tie and cracked me open with it. I felt my skull split. I couldn’t move anymore. I felt like something was wrong—and I was already bleeding from my ears, my nose, and my mouth—because it felt like someone was really close to me. They were standing over me, talking to me. It was Buck Brown, a guy I had just got to fighting with the day before. He was that guy standing over me making sure no one touched me. He’s a very noble guy. I remember people screaming and one of the guys said, “That guy is dead.”
I remember getting lifted—I guess I was on a stretcher—and feeling cold. Then I remember feeling heat. I had died. That was the first time I died. They brought me back and were talking to me. Then, I slept again. I felt cold again. It was a cold that you can’t fight. You see people in movies trying to fight death, and that’s really what it looks and feels like. You’re shaking because you’re extremely cold and you’re trying to fight this cold. You ask yourself why you’re feeling so cold. I lost again. I died a second time. But they brought me back and I was in a coma.
The doctor told my family that there wasn’t enough money to keep me on. He told them that they’d have to pull my life support and everything else in three days, which was June 23rd. From there, my family prayed and they went out in the community and did everything they could to raise money. There were signs all over town and I was all over the news, but there wasn’t any real money actually coming in to keep my life support on.
Well, June 23rd rolls around, and at 11:59pm they were going to have to pull my life support machines. They were going to have to take me out. Back then, they still could’ve done that; you can’t now. So, it was June 23rd, and my family was there. They knew I liked music, so they had a boom box in my room with a CD that had Heltah Skeltah, The Roots, Outkast, and Blackstar, which is made up of Mos Def and Talib Kweli. So, this CD is playing—and everyone knows I’m huge fan of J. Dilla and The Roots—and The Roots’ “Concerto of the Desperado” comes on. Black Thought’s second verse is playing and I open my eyes. Right then, I woke up out of my coma. I woke up on June 23rd at 4:47pm. I woke up to “Concerto of the Desperado” on June 23rd, the day that they were supposed to pull the plug. But June 23rd is also special to me for another reason: it’s my birthday. So, I woke up out of my coma on my birthday listening to The Roots.
LS: That’s really incredible. It’s almost like you were reborn.
Marack: I really was. I woke up a new person. I woke up and fell in love with hip-hop all over again. It wasn’t long before I realized that music was going to be what I did for the rest of my life. It was like I knew nothing about running; it was all music.
LS: Do you remember what your very first thought was when you woke up?
Marack: I do. Crazy enough, my very first thought was, “I gotta get to the track meet.” I don’t know why I thought that, but I felt like I had to get to a track meet. I don’t know why. I couldn’t walk, I couldn’t read, and I couldn’t write. My family came in and I didn’t even know them. It was like I was a three-year-old kid all over again. Music is what brought me back, though. If I had the chance, I would love to look right at Black Thought and tell him “Thank you.” This is what I woke up to. [L’Mer plays “Concerto of the Desperado] I play this before any show, because this is me waking up. This is what the new world was to me. I heard this and it was like it was all I knew. I listen to it and I think, “God, you’re funny.” It was like he was setting the tone to my new life.
So, after all this, I wound up writing music. I’m able to do things with music, as well as a person’s heart and mind, that an average rapper just can’t do. No, I’m not Superman; I’m cool being Clark Kent. But when a beat comes on, my alter ego comes out. I always tell people that my alter ego is [Dragon Ball Z’s] Fajita. Fajita took many beatings and it made him stronger. He’s a super saiyan, you know? I think he took the beatings purposefully sometimes, because when he would come back he knew that he could hand out the “business.” [laughs] That’s kind of what I believe in now. I took a beating and now, lyrically, you get this business.
LS: So you took something from your experience and learned from it?
Marack: I definitely learned from it. Like, the guys who beat me, I don’t know why they did and I don’t care, but I thank God it happened. I didn’t care about my life before. I was reckless. I did a lot of things as a young man that most men won’t do in their entire life. Now, I can sit up and I can say, “I did all that. Now I’m grown.” As my granddad, rest in peace, used to say, “I done did everything and I got two t-shirts from it.” Now, it’s about music. My thing is, if I can get you to sit down for three or four minutes and concentrate on what I’m saying, and then you apply it to your life in some type of way, I’ve done my job. If you hear me on a track bragging, talking about how dope I am, maybe that will inspire you to feel the same way about yourself. If you hear one of my songs where I’m talking about the pain and struggle that I’ve gone through, maybe you can identify with that and, instead of giving in out or tapping out, you can go left, so to speak. You can hear how I’ve overcome it and made good.
You know, music is so systematic sometimes. If you talk about the cars, the women, and all the luxuriousness, you can get the money, but you lose your soul. I’m keeping my soul. I’ve got to. If I lose my soul in this, then what did I do it for? My family and my listeners lose in that scenario. The people who created hip-hop are broke. Why? Because they put their heart into it; they didn’t sell themselves short. It’s an art form. To this day, people call me and say I’m a dope rapper. But I’m not a rapper; I’ve never been a rapper. I’m an emcee. An emcee or a lyricist is a representative of hip-hop culture. A rapper is a representative of corporate interest. I really can’t do that. We all do everything we can to make sure the art form is seen in a positive light. That’s why I teach music with the Light of Chance’s “Breathe” program down at the Rosenwald-Smith Multicultural Center in Madisonville. Those kids down there are dope. My students are phenomenal down there. [Marack plays two tracks, one of which is called “I’m Too Young for the Club” that features several “Breathe” students, as well as two of L’mer’s own children]
LS: Going back, how long was it after you woke up that you were able to start writing again?
Marack: It took nine months before I could actually walk. All together, physical therapy took two years. Remember, I was 19 at the time, but my mind was that of a three-year-old. So, you know, that was extremely hard to accept. Then, the emotional stress that I went through was painful. I’d cry every night, because I was scared to go to sleep. I was scared of taking that beating. To this day, I take that beating every night. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder [PTSD] is not cool. It’s not anything to play with. People who’ve faced hardships in the military, those who’ve seen the frontlines, have gone through things most people could never fathom. They need time to themselves, you know? When someone says they have PTSD, they’re basically saying that they’re carrying something inside. It’s something they can’t erase from their mind. For as long as they’re alive on Earth, they will be carrying that weight on their shoulders. You know, a woman who’s been beaten in the past will always be on her guard. Making a quick movement, raising your voice, or pulling her arm the wrong can set off a lot of emotions and may have a bad effect, and it’s that way with me, too.
It took me a lot of time to bounce back, just to walk. But, the entire time I was going through recovery, I was writing. I didn’t know what I was writing. I didn’t know what it was about. I didn’t know what I was doing; I was just writing. The first song I wrote was a letter to God saying that I was tired. It was this. [Marack plays a track called “So Much Pain”] This track’s about three different emotions that you feel on a day-to-day basis. As men, we have to tell the truth sometimes, and there’s no one else who speak for us, so why not just say it? I’m talking about the pain I’ve been through and the depression I was feeling when I was alone and helpless. Those are the kind of things that you have to get off your chest or you go to some dark places. It’s a waking up process.
LS: So, after you had been writing for a while after waking up, how did you start making music? What got that going?
Marack: When I came out of my coma and had some writing down, I linked up with Q The Gamer, who is from here in Hopkins County. We linked up and started talking, and we established a musical relationship, which is a must. We kicked it when we could and he started listening to a lot of the stuff that I liked to get a feel for what I was into. He’s down in Tennessee now and that’s the land of big, heavy-hitting drums down there, but he knows I’m hip-hop. And it’s funny, I don’t feel anybody else’s beat but his. I can listen to his or J. Dilla’s. [laughs] I haven’t said too much about Dilla, but Dilla is my “everything.” Black Thought, Andre 3000, and J. Dilla—I’m the biggest campaign for them. But Q and I hooked up, and I told him that I wanted to make an album. He said okay and asked me what I was going to call it. I had to sit on it for years. Then, three years ago, I told him I was ready. He said, “Are you sure you’re ready?” I told him I was and that I wanted to call it Wake Up. He asked, “Wake up?” I told him yeah, and he said he thought he knew where I was headed with it but wanted me to tell him anyway. So, that’s what I did. I told him that we would document the process of me waking up from my coma to life, as well as how I was awoken musically. He said, “Dat on that.” Apparently, that means "cool" down in Tennessee. [laughs] So, we started working on the Wake Up project. My best friend and my manager is Brandon Hightower. We were sitting up one day and me and Brandon were watching the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou?, which is actually a Kentucky movie. It’s part of our history. Well, anyway, I realized that I really, really liked the movie. I heard and saw something in it, you know? I called Q around three in the morning and I said, “Find this sample, [referring to “Go To Sleep Little Baby” sang by the sirens] because it’s going to start the album.” From there, it starts the album. I’m not going to say I’m a genius, but I’m definitely eccentric. The things that I come up with are hard to understand until you hear them finished. [Marack begins to freestyle over the sample, referencing the alien sensation of waking up from a coma and not fully understanding his weakened condition]
LS: So, this new album, Wake Up, is based around your journey from waking up until today?
Marack: Definitely. It’s an interesting journey. Who wouldn’t want to know what it was like? I love lyricism and that’s what I’m using to explain my journey. I want this to be the biggest hip-hop album to come out of west Kentucky, or maybe even the entire state. Hip-hop is a competitive sport and I’m bringing the business, you know? There’s going to be 19 tracks on the album, because I was 19-years-old when I woke up, and I bet you that you’re not going to skip more than three times on my album unless you need to hear something right then because you need to relate. I’m trying to make my album skip free. It’s unlikely, but that should be an emcee’s main goal. I want your skip button to have dust on it and your rewind button to feel brand new all over again.
LS: So how can people check out Wake Up?
Marack: The mixtape is being released to the public on Sunday, June 23rd, which is both the day I woke up and my birthday. Then, the full album is coming out on July 6th in digital format and hard copy. If people want to check it out, they can visit my ReverbNation page or they can message me on my Facebook page.
LS: Taking a step back, how do you think our local music scene could be improved upon?
Marack: People need to quit being lazy and show their support. This city is reluctant to spend money, but it’s up to the people in the end. Simply support your local artist. If they have a show—or even if they have a party at their house—get behind them. If you get behind something that you really like, there’s so many places and people that might see what you’re doing. Let’s say you get a photo of an unknown artist, they come out with a song or an album, and it all meshes together. Then, there’s people watching what you’re doing and the artist’s name gets out there. By supporting local artists, you have given them a helping hand, even if just for a second, and that’s what it’s all about.
To check out some of Marack's music right now, click the ReverbNation player attached under this article.
Sugg Street Post
Writing/Interview by Luke Short
Photos provided by Jeff Harp and L’Mer “Marack” Owens