If you’re a fan who reads credits (remember how we used to refer to them as “liner notes”) on music releases often, you certainly must have come across the name Mark Batson.
From Beyoncé, 50 Cent and Dr. Dre to Dave Matthews Band, Eminem, Alicia Keys and Jay-Z, Mark has contributed to music which has sold more than 150 million copies worldwide. But the man is so reclusive that you can literally count the total number of interviews he’s done in his career on one hand. When I studied his discography in detail, I thought to myself that he might be the least talked about super producer in music.
The utmost fascinating work in his catalog is probably Eminem’s most polarizing album, Relapse. Mark serves as a writer or a co-producer on each song on the album, which has become a cult classic for fans despite the criticism it received when it first came out. This is of course apart from the countless other Eminem tracks that he has contributed to since around 2004 when he co-wrote ‘A*s Like That’ and co-produced ‘Encore’ alongside Dr. Dre. He’s even credited as a co-producer on ‘Premonition’ (Intro)’ on Slim Shady’s latest record, Music To be Murdered By.
So why does he choose to be isolated? “I have stayed behind the scenes, as I am often deep into my own world and thoughts and relatively reclusive,” the multi GRAMMY winner tells me over phone and email. Mark is someone who has worked very closely with Dr. Dre and the rest of Aftermath-affiliated producers over past almost two decades. One of the results is that he holds about 1000 to 1500 unreleased Dre songs in his vault.
Mark has chosen to take a different route than most producers who have a similar sort of resume. On Friday, he released his first solo album ever but it wasn’t a compilation featuring A-List artists from the industry. Rather, he has put out a New Age motivational album called I Want To See You Shining featuring 12 songs (stream on your favorite service here). The music contains uplifting sounds dominated by piano and synthesizer assisting the spoken word, but delivered in a style consistent with modern hip hop. The album topped the iTunes New Age charts shortly after release.
Mark initially kicked off the recording almost 2 years ago when a friend asked him to create some motivational songs about success. He did not take it seriously then but as America went through protests all over the country following racist Police attacks on black people on top of the health crisis already being faced by millions, he was encouraged by his close ones to finish and release the project to the masses.
In our rare interview, Mark Batson opens up about his reclusive nature, working on albums by superstar artists, the experience of creating music with somebody like Dr. Dre, being a part of the peak Aftermath era with Eminem & 50 Cent, his New Age Album, having unreleased music with Eminem, Jay-Z, Nas & 50 Cent among others and even his work on Dre’s mythical album Detox. Peep it below.
HHNM: First off, I’m very happy talking with you today. I’ve been reading your name in credits for 17-18 years.
Mark Batson: Thank you. I’m glad to have been around for that long.
One thing I want to ask is, you hardly do any interviews I noticed. Is that because you turn down many?
I’ve spent many years helping develop the careers of other artists. It’s been a fascination of mine to help people with their personal and sonic dreams. I never had a publicist and mostly focused on my creative work and developing ideas. I have stayed behind the scenes, as I am often deep into my own world and thoughts and relatively reclusive.
You have worked on music that has sold a whopping 150 million copies. That is really huge and very uncommon. Out of all the amazing artists you’ve worked with, what are some of your favorite memories?
Working on India .Arie’s first album (Acoustic Soul). It was when I first got serious about making records. I was the musical director for Kelis’ band and I met Pharrell and Rob Walker, his manager. They were an inspiration to me that I could be successful as a producer and not just a road musician. That first album I made after meeting them was Acoustic Soul and it got nominated for Album of The Year at the GRAMMYs. It was a dynamic ride going from playing keys in a band to being at the audience at the Grammy’s and meeting Bono. On a side note, Pusha T was the rapper for our band then, and was named “Terrar.”
I have so many great memories with artists I can’t count… Working with Eminem and Dre and the Aftermath squad in Hawaii for months at the Kahala resort, in Vegas with 50, Dave Matthews in Virginia at their Haunted Hollow studios. Music can take you to some incredible places.
Definitely. According to me, the peak Aftermath era with Dre, Em and 50 is one of the most influential times in modern music. Do you agree? And looking back at it, how do you feel about being a part of such a monumental period?
It was amazing, and one of the best musical experiences of my life. Working with the top people had a lot of benefits, and they were all really fun to work with. 50 Cent is absolutely hilarious. He used to come to the studio and have the whole room on the floor laughing until our stomachs were hurting. There would literally be tears pouring down my face listening to his stories… and Dre is the best band and team leader I’ve ever worked with. His work ethic is ridiculous and we made a lot of incredible music. He rarely releases songs and I probably have a thousand to 1500 tracks that are in his vault. He plays the music loud with the best sound system in the country, and a lot of people couldn’t take the intensity of the volume beating in your chest, but I grew up with Hip-Hop and going to jams, block parties and clubs so I loved it. Creating with him was like going to the best club in the city, making the music, and then having drinks and rocking out to it.
“He (Dre) rarely releases songs and I probably have a 1000 to 1500 tracks that are in his vault.”
Beyonce, Eminem, 50 Cent, Dr. Dre, Maroon 5, Alicia Keys, Dave Matthews Band and countless more, you’ve contributed to a lot of great music and it’s in different capacities: sometimes as a producer and musician and other times as a writer. Is there a role you enjoy the most?
I have a flexibility because I believe that music is a universal language. I started out learning classical piano while living in the projects in Brooklyn, and then being in a rap group with my brother at the beginning of the rap era. When we practiced classical music in the projects, older kids, some tough ass dudes used to come to my floor to smoke weed and drink 40s while listening to me and my siblings practicing Bach, Brahms and Beethoven. They had mad respect for me and my brother on the musical level and also on the fighting level. At a young age, I knew that music was an ethos, that if practiced diligently in search of perfection, one could apply to a myriad of art forms. I knew that different styles could be appreciated if presented in the right context. I bring that sensibility and respect to every art form, and consider Eminem in some ways to be parallel to Yo-Yo Ma in talent. I have collaborated with both of them and both are supremely dedicated to the highest level of performance and emotion. If you study your craft, you become flexible and confident. It makes fulfilling a variety of roles that much easier.
View this post on Instagram
Formidable. The rhythm section. Dr. Dre – Drums, Mike Elizondo- Bass, Mark Batson- piano. I salute your greatness today and all that I learned from being in the presence of the Masters. @drdre @bikejunkie72 #drdre #eminem #50cent #thegame @losangelesconfidential @chepope #gwenstefani
Speaking of highest level of performance, Dr. Dre is a perfectionist and I understand that a lot of the music he creates doesn’t release to the public. I’m sure there’s a lot that you would have contributed to as well. Does that ever get frustrating?
With Dre, you have to respect the system and not get too emotional about it. Sometimes, you feel like you just made the best beat in history, and he might not like it, and move on….hitting you with the hardest one word criticism that I have ever heard.. “Ehhh.” A lot of people don’t have the stomach for it, but I enjoy coming up with new ideas and looking for the perfect beat. I have songs with Dre, with Jay-Z, Nas, 50, Em and Game that have never been released and maybe never will. I learned over time that Dre enjoys creating music, and has enough control over his ego to not feel that everyone should listen to everything he does. With that system, he is able to deliver some of the finest albums ever created in Hip-Hop, with listenability from top to bottom. Sometimes, it could take him recording a hundred songs to get to one he likes enough to release.
“Sometimes, you feel like you just made the best beat in history, and he (Dre) might not like it, and move on….hitting you with the hardest one word criticism that I have ever heard.. “Ehhh.”
That brings me to a question I will always ask whenever I chat with someone from the Aftermath camp: Will Detox ever come out? (laughs)
At the end of the day, I recorded over 200 tracks at least for Detox. I pitched him a variety of tracks and he even selected a few to create songs to. At some point, he realized he didn’t like the direction he was going in, and decided not to release it. When we were in a session on Game’s album (The Documentary), he was reinvigorated to make Detox when we made the song ‘Higher‘. He even says “look out for Detox” at the end of the song. However, I remember something Anthony Hamilton told me about myself… “you get excited really quick, but you get bored just as fast.” That sometimes happens with people who have an endless creative supply and love to build things. They often build something they like for the moment and then move on. Dre would cut what I would think were whole albums for Detox, listen to them for six months and then describe it with that word: “Ehhh.”
People on the team would want him to put the music out, because they thought it was not fresh for him but would still be brand new to everybody else, but his level of all-time perfection would kick in, and then the spirit of creativity, and then he would be on to something else. Dre loves the process of creating. He can be satisfied sometimes with making the art, reveling in it on a personal level, and then moving on to something else.
Crazy. Your new motivational album ‘I Want to See You Shining’ is a very interesting and refreshing listen. Tell us the concept behind it.
When the pandemic started, we were presented with the idea that it was only going to affect people who were elderly in China. I stayed alert, as I am always concerned that black people are going to be hit with some bullsh*t. Then one day, as sure as I expected, I watched TV when they told us that black people were more likely to do than anyone else, and were going to die in droves. I got mad, furious, and in defiance began to write a song that is now called ‘I Am’ on the album. I went on to write more songs, and then use them as energy boosts while running on my treadmill. The words kept me uplifted and feeling strong during some scary times. It brought out the spiritual warrior in me, at a time I felt my power was being stripped away by an unknown force. When we were asked to sit still at home and then watch George Floyd get killed hundreds of times on social media, that anger and powerlessness reached peaked levels, and from that I wrote ‘I Am Powerful’ and ‘Mastering Fear’. I sent the recordings to my closest people, and they were using them to workout and hike. I decided that I would release them, but then changed my mind until my friends pumped me up and boosted my confidence… my partner Rosina, my sister and brother, and Bishop Lamont, Philly Swain and Justin Hunte kept sending me texts about how much they loved it, and I decided to come out of my comfort zone and release them. Psychedelic jazz landscapes with intricate lyrics about being invincible. I am hoping that someone else will use them the same way that I did. It will be the first New Age album from the Hip Hop community, and I am very proud of the work.
It’s certainly inspiring. Why did you decide to go this route for your first ever solo album? Because producers with your kind of resume usually put out mainstream albums with a lot of A-list artists.
These stories were from my heart to my head to my voice. They are recordings of a moment in my life, March 15-June 15th, when I was fighting off the emotional stress from the pandemics and protests. When I am writing a beat or song for someone, sometimes I am thinking of creating it like a perfectly tailored suit. This music was the perfect fit for me at the moment, and I decided to share it in the form it was created. Maybe it will help one or ten people, or maybe a million, but it was important for me to share my voice and give it to the people in its raw form, with the instruments played by me and mixed by me in my studio. I feel like this is the perfect time for my voice to be heard, and that the inspiration I have brought to many artists will be able to be shared with the everyday person. I have so much respect for the great pianists, musicians and rappers, and pulled on that for this album. I decided that, I may not rap as good as my favorite rapper, or play as good as my favorite pianist, but I can damn sure play piano better than my favorite rapper, and rap better than my favorite pianist.
Do you think there will ever be a time when projects like these will become commercially more acceptable?
I don’t think of music in that way. Again, we are healers and evolutionary thinkers. Sometimes you may reach a small audience with a piece of art and sometimes it will envelop the planet, and other albums may only appeal to 500 people. When we made Relapse with Eminem, it was not well received at the moment but now it is considered to be a classic. That’s how it goes.. The most important thing is to keep being creative, and offer the people things you think they will need. From the calls I have been getting today, and the album already being #1 on the iTunes’ New Age charts, I think that people are letting their voices be known that something like this album is essential.
“They are recordings of a moment in my life, March 15-June 15th, when I was fighting off the emotional stress from the pandemics and protests.”
What upcoming projects can we look forward to from you? Can you tell us about some collaborations you’re working on at the moment?
Over the last few years, I’ve been wanting to help some younger artists get going. I worked with Tank & the Bangas on their last album, and then a black country singer named Willie Jones who is dope. I spent some real quality time with the incomparable Chika, and she blows my mind with next level talent. Watching them grow into the next generation of super creatives has been inspirational. I started this year working on Eminem’s album (Music to be Murdered By) that was the biggest Hip-Hop album in the world, and I hope to end the year with my own album being the biggest New Age album in the world.
I write graphic novels and am starting to have them developed with the top cable companies. I have an executive producer deal with HBO to work on one my most important projects. We hope to have it up and running next year and involving some of the artists that I have worked with over the years. I’m staying hush about the show itself, but it is a game changer. These days, I am looking to create art that satiates a wide variety of my musical and literary interests. I am writing books, graphic novels and symphonic opera pieces as well as making beats and rhymes. I am blessed to have a major recording studio at my home, so during this pandemic time I am literally in my ideal creative space developing some of my most intense ideas. It is what makes me feel alive, and I love what I do. If I inherited a trillion dollars today, I would be doing exactly what I am doing now, just on a larger scale.