“The only way to do great work is to love what you do.”
Steve Jobs said that. Marq Beyond and Kysean Bell of Rosewood 2055 understand this. Coming off their recently released “Hey!” EP, I chatted with the Grand Rapids, Michigan duo about their origins, their making music process, ghostwriting, cops killing Blacks in America and more.
Andy: So, how did you guys come together? I saw that you guys were in another group, Action Figures?
Marq: Yeah, that was us.
Andy: It was just two of you guys? Ever a big group or anything like that?
Marq: It started out as… I had this original vision as a multimedia group. I just wanted it different from everything else. So, I just came up with the idea that we’re the Action Figures of everything, as oppose to the puppets. I feel like there’s a lot of puppeteering happening in music. We [were] the action figures, the difference between Woody and Buzz Lightyear.
Andy: I like that.
Kysean: We were younger when we came up with that idea. It was more like a collective. We had a homie who did art, one who shot videos.
Marq: It still exists as a collective. It’s just right now we’re moving — trying to bring everything back to the home team.
Kysean: We still got a couple homies we gon’ introduce. Rosewood 2055 is the group. Action Figures is the crew.
Andy: What about the Rosewood name, how did that come about? Does it have any real meaning?
Marq: Yeah, we went to one of the most known schools in our city. It wasn’t known for the right reasons but a lot of people like Floyd Mayweather, Marvin Sapp, and DeBarge all came from the same high school. Ottawa Hills High School, and the address of it is “2055” Rosewood Avenue, so we’re just paying homage.
Andy: I listened to the Hey! EP and really enjoyed it. I have a friend that I’m in a group with, and right now we’re working on getting the chemistry right. As I was listening to you guys, I was thinking about us and I was wondering what’s the process like coming up with songs? Do you guys come up with topics together, individually, a mix of both?
Marq: We’ve been rapping together for literally ten years now, so I know what he’s gon’ do. I know where he’s gon’ go. One of us would usually start an idea. Then, the other would jump in, hear it and expand on the idea with it turning into something else.
Kysean: For example: The joint “Panamera Dreams”. I came up with the idea for the hook: ‘Use to ride around town in that whip that was two-toned,’ which is actually true because I actually have a two-toned car…
Marq: And he sold it to me.
Kysean: I came up with the idea and I was like, this shit crazy! So I called him like, “Bro, I got something!” I spit it to him, and he just took it over the top.
Andy: How do you guys determine what goes on the project? Do you guys record a lot of songs?
Kysean: When we started, our manager was like, ‘Y’all need to be more like workhorses.’ We were like, ‘Nah man, we want to take like ten beats and just make them the best.’ But over time, we became workhorses. Like me, I wake up everyday at 5. Like, if I got work or whatever, my body won’t allow me to wake up any later than that. So, I usually just cut right into the shit soon as I wake up in the morning.
Marq: See he wakes up at 5. I don’t go to sleep until 7AM, so I’m usually up writing at 5 anyway.
Kysean: We became workhorses. We record a lot of music. After we got off the road, we were 19-20-years-old. We were like, ‘We want to make this rap thing happen but once we linked up with Slum Village and started touring… Suddenly, we’re in London, Germany. We were like, ‘Okay, we have to take this a little more serious.’
Marq: You can bullshit with rap if you want to, or you can actually do something with it.
Kysean: That’s when we started making everything. That’s when songs like “Top Ramen” came out. That’s all we did every day. We went to Mozaic’s crib. He banged out 4 or 5 beats. We picked one or two. If we don’t feel it’s special, we hold it back until we have a good idea. We got a beat from this producer named Sango. We sat on that beat for like a year until we got a solid idea.
Andy: How did you guys link up with Slum Village?
Marq: Our manager, who’s worked with them and known them for a long time. When we first connected with them, he was like ‘Y’all gotta keep working’ because we didn’t have that many songs. He got with us right at the beginning. Then once we started putting songs together and he sent it to them, they heard what we were doing and asked us to come out. Next thing you know, three years later and it’s like, they’re the old G’s.
Andy: How long does it take for you guys to write a verse?
Marq: It depends because every word; every single line really matters to me. I can either write a song in thirty minutes if I’m in the zone or I could take a few hours. I’ve taken an entire day to write a song before.
Kysean: I go off of how I feel. Like, how the music makes me feel when I listen to it. I structure my songs based on how I feel and I try to keep that original feeling. I’ll piece my verses around that. Usually, I freestyle the first 4 bars from my verse and then I’ll piece it together like an essay to make sure all the continuity makes sense. I care about that stuff. I like to google to make sure I’m using things correctly. I don’t want to have a situation like Kanye: ‘In too deep like Mekhi Phif.’
Andy: Yeah, you gotta google your references. Do you guys have any similarities? Like, the dude that I work with in a group, we’re both introverts. Then, we have these differences where he’s like into math and coding, and I’m into movies and television, writing screenplays and fiction… Do you guys have any similarities or differences?
Marq: I’ll say if we get together with a group of people, it’s like a 95 percent chance that somebody gon’ get roasted their ass off. We will roast any and everybody.
Kysean: Nobody’s safe. Yeah, but we all came together because we wanted to move to that next level, whether it’s music or art. Like, we got a homie that paints. Even though what he’s doing isn’t necessarily what we’re trying to do, it’s all the same game, so we come together. We talk about it, and we’ll probably just chill out smoke, drink, and play Smash Bros.
Marq: Yeah, we play Smash Bros.
Andy: Original Smash Bros?
Kysean: Whichever one you got.
Andy: Who do you guys play with?
Kysean: Right now, I’ve been fucking with… I always use sword people so I fuck with Link, Marth and if I’m trying to swag on niggas, I’ll use Kirby.
Marq: Lugi and Ness. In Melee and Brawl, I’ll fuck you up with Pikachu.
Andy: Usually, I use Mario.
Mark: Yeah, the intro to the tape was Super Smash Bros. Brawl.
Andy: Yeah that’s right and then, All That (Theme Song) was the outro. Okay, when you guys started rapping who were the people you mimicked to learn how to rap or find yourself?
Marq: You’re not gon’ believe mine okay. I wrote my first rap at 7, so the person I wanted to be the most like was Mac Daddy from Kriss Kross. When I really started taking it seriously, the people I mimicked the most… One of my first albums was Ludacris’ Word Of Mouf and Xzibit’s Restless. I wrote that whole album out, then I had Strictly For My N.I.G.G.A.Z. by 2Pac. Those are the three albums I played the most.
Kysean: I used to wanna rap like Jadakiss because I loved punchlines. I got my voice from Jadakiss. I got how I structure my songs and metaphors from Lupe Fiasco, and I got my swag from Cam. I was a big Dip Set fan.
Marq: I would love to come out in a pink robe with fur. That shit is icy.
Kysean: And Kanye had me understand that a nigga like me could do this shit too, you know I was kinda like a nerdy geek. I’m still a nerdy geek.
Marq: As I got older, when I started diggin’ into music, I used to watch the Art Of 16 Bars and all that shit. My favorite member of Wu-Tang was Method Man. I used to wanna be that nigga for a while. I thought I was Rakim for three months and then, I was done with that. I got into different people, the only person that stayed consistent with me is JAY Z.
Andy: What about albums? I’ve been rapping for my whole life because my dad’s a musician and a music teacher so during my high school years, there were a couple of albums where I was like, ‘I wanna rap like this.’ I showed him the Nas’ Stillmatic album, and Talib Kweli’s Quality album. I was like ‘I wanna rap like this.’ He was like ‘If you wanna rap like this, you gotta pay attention to the world. What’s going on in politics, social life.’ Which albums made you wanna rap a certain way, or inspired you?
Marq: First: The Marshall Mathers LP. The first one. Not the second one.
Andy: I hate the second one. He went down a notch on my list.
Marq: So the Marshall Mathers LP, Strictly For My N.I.G.G.A.Z. by Pac, The Black Album by JAY Z, Kiss Of Death by Jadakiss and The Cool by Lupe Fiasco.
Kysean: Mines is easy. The Blueprint is the album that made me fall in love with Hip-Hop. My dad listened to nothing but West Coast Hip-Hop, so for a while my favorite rappers were Ice Cube and DJ Quik. I thought they were ill. When I started listening to music on my own, The Blueprint was the most amazing thing I ever heard at the time, still is. Then, it was Late Registration, which is the important album in Hip-Hop for me, one of the most influential guys coming into his own as a superstar and just taking what everyone loved about College Dropout, and making it two times better. The production was better, the songs were better, the raps were crazy. If The Blueprint made me fall in love with Hip-Hop, Late Registration let me know I could do it too, and Yeezus let me know I can say whatever the fuck I want to say.
Andy: How do you guys feel about ghostwriting? Or getting help with writing in Hip-Hop? Do you care? Cause Hip-Hop, Rap is very me, me, me… In other genres, it’s acceptable if Ne-Yo writes a song for Beyoncé, or if so and so wrote for Michael Jackson…
Marq: Think about what you’re talking about. You’re talking about Pop music. Our narrative is different. It’s a unique narrative where I don’t think anyone could write our shit, even if they wanted to. I don’t think there’s anything wrong because it’s been like that — where people have collaboratively come together to put songs together. I think as long as the music is good, I don’t really care.
Kysean: Hip-Hop is the only art form we have vocally, that is all authentic. We don’t believe you if you ain’t saying it and spitting it out, so I can understand why people would have a problem with ghostwriting. But man, everybody gets help.
Marq: Pay the guys; give credit where credit is due to but the strict law still is: No biting, period.
Andy: Now, I know we know our history. Things we’ve experienced as Black men in America… How do you guys feel about these cop killings… Cops killing Blacks, these racial injustices… Has any of it affected new music that hasn’t been released?
Marq: Absolutely. It’s a sensitive topic to me. When Walter Scott died, he was a 300-pound Black person killed in America by police this year. On April 8th, and that hurt my heart because his mother went through the Civil Rights Movement; she survived all of this and her son was fine. He lived to be in his 40s and that’s when she gets the call, ‘Your son was killed by police for no reason.’ That hurt my heart because my dad is only 45-46 years old… That could have been my father. Trayvon was 17-18 years old. My little brother is 19, you know what I’m saying? But Walter Scott was the last time I cried, period. [It’s] the last time I cried over anything. It’s getting to the point now [where] I just wanna fuck some shit up, personally. However, I understand that [reacting like that] doesn’t do anything. It takes organization, [and] a little more thought to put into action and spark change but I’m just at a point where I wanna fuck shit up.
Kysean: The thing that kills me is that people are still acting surprised. We have nothing but history to look at, read and understand and y’all like, ‘This is awful.’ We’ve been telling y’all about this for decades, man! You could be in a room full of people, watching on a projector of a cop killing a Black man, you gon’ see a bunch of serious faces. Switch the image to someone shooting a dog, and everybody is in dismay like, ‘Oh, my God!’ So y’all [are] pretty much saying that we’re lower than animals.
Marq: Look how the Cecil the Lion situation was handled. Public outrage from all American people, and mostly suburban American people. When what happened to Aiyana Jones occurred, they didn’t say anything.
Kysean: Or the people’s reactions are mixed like, ‘We need more facts.’ What more facts do you need?
Marq: An 11-year-old boy was killed. A 12-year-old girl was killed.
Kysean: A man was shot in the back after a routine traffic stop. Like, what more do you need? Why are you on the fence about this?
Andy: I don’t know what its gon’ take man because it’s like they don’t wanna listen. They don’t wanna believe it, or deal with it.
Marq: I would tell you my answer, but I don’t want that to go on the record.
Andy: Do you think more artists should be making music that reflects the times? Or we kinda have it, just not in the mainstream like that, you could probably find it…
Kysean: I think it’s a better balance than it was before.
Marq: It’s always been records since Hip-Hop’s inception about having a good time. I don’t mind records like the “Whip / Nae Nae” song. I have nieces that enjoy that song. I do mind when the majority of music is self-absorbed and into promoting the wrong stuff but that’s they’re prerogative. I can’t tell no artist what they should and should not make. I just think personally, I’d rather have a balance where we’re keeping the party going and then, we have stuff where we’re talking about stuff that’s actually going on.
Kysean: Even us, we do music that’s more deep-rooted in the culture, but I don’t wanna hear that boom-bap shit in the club. I’m turning up to Future.
Andy: What’s the biggest goal you guys want to achieve with your music? Do you guys want to hit Madison Square Garden? Do you care about a soccer mom purchasing a Rosewood album one day?
Marq: I would love for Nancy Botwin to buy [a] Rosewood [album]. I would love that but for me, when I first started, my goal was to reach mufuckas that felt like me. I did that already but now, it’s just a succession of goals. I never set one goal.
Kysean: Marq has different things than I have but me, for sure, I wanna be big enough to be influential. I have ideas that I want to put out into the world. I actually want to help people. That’s my goal. I need to be heard by as many people as possible so, I can actually make some kind of change, impact nations.
Andy: What keeps you guys going? I know the business is tough, the industry is tough. What keeps you going on those hard days?
Marq: I love doing it. Almost all of our friends are artists, in some type of way. I’m like, ‘If this is what you want to do, love to do, how the fuck is it work?’ How is it work?! You should want to come home and write.
Kysean: I write as soon as I come home from work because I felt like I wasted 8 hours being at work.
Marq: I do not sleep until 7AM everyday because I spend from 9 at night to 7AM working on a song or more. It’s not work for me because this is what I want to do, and how I want to provide for my family.
Kysean: And once you make a record that makes you feel like you’re accomplished something, that becomes your bottom. So, to the ability to overcome your best work should be the challenge that any artist should want to meet anyway.
Marq: Getting into the habit of working continuously is hard. A lot of people aren’t used to going into the studio for 13-14 hours and bang out as many songs as you can. I know some people who would go in there and do 1 or 2 songs, and I know some people who would go in there and do a song every fucking hour. It’s a difference. Do you want to do it or not?
Kysean: We brought people out to the D with us to record. Got there at 11 o’clock in the morning. We left at 3:30 at night, and we did not leave that room.
Marq: The only reason we left was because I got an injury in my jaw. I could not speak anymore. I rapped the entire time until I couldn’t open my mouth. Is it work or not?