Marco McKinnis Illustrates Love, Growth, and the Beginning of an Artistic Evolution in 'E'Merse' [Q&A]

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The resurgence of R&B over the past few years is undeniable. Fusing traditional elements of the genre with new textures, artists operating in this surging space have brought life back into a sound that was arguably dormant. Compiling a list of the heavy-hitters emerging in the genre would be incomplete without the talents of Marco McKinnis. The Virginia-based artist may be relatively new but has already generated a cult-like following that heralds his music as the genre's best-kept secret. Apologies to the McKinnis fandom, we're about to spill the beans.

Marco McKinnis first gained traction on SoundCloud in 2016 after uploading several original records that highlighted his natural talents. One of his songs, "Beautiful Demo," generated over 400 thousand plays and ten thousand likes on the streaming platform - safe to say listeners swooned. Partnering with Republic Records a year after the song's release, McKinnis began showing up on major streaming platforms, effectively delivering two singles, "How I Feel" and "Middle Of The Party." Both records continued building the mysteriously-sultry persona of the then fairly unknown vocalist.

A year after his signing with Republic, McKinnis delivered a moving body of work in the form of his six-track EP, Underground. The 18-minute exhibition resonated an energy that is lightyears ahead of its time. Despite this being his first official multi-track debut, McKinnis brandished a self-awareness that transcended his "newcomer" status. Standout tracks like, "CPR" and "Stillness" solidified his ability to not only cater to the bedroom but to the brokenhearted as well.

With consistency in mind, McKinnis wasted no time in sharing his next body of work, a six-track EP titled  E'Merse. The 20-minute offering, released on June 14, floods your senses with varying themes of intimacy and romanticism. Built atop a combination of live instrumentation and trap-soul production, E'Merse makes a compelling case for McKinnis' untapped musicality. Still in the process of discovering his own abilities as an artist leaves us excited to witness his artistic evolution.

E'Merse wastes no times on pleasantries, throwing you into the thick of things with its bass-driven, saxophone-assisted introduction "Energy." The consoling opener is a shining example of the content and production to be expected on later tracks. Whether pleading to his former love on "Give It Up," questioning commitment on "Deep" or confidently departing an unhealthy relationship in "On The Market," McKinnis spotlights his growing self-awareness and natural ability to occupy multiple spaces while remaining concise.

We had the privilege of catching up with Marco McKinnis about his love for live instrumentation, opening up more, future plans, and dance moves that would make Omarion's character in You Got Served quake.

OTW: First off thank you for taking the time, how are you doing?

McKinnis: I'm doing good man, just had my hair braided up, making me a grilled cheese right now. I got a performance tonight, I'm feeling good!

OTW: It sounds like you are living the life. What does this moment feel like? Your second EP?

McKinnis: It feels good man! I feel like I'm moving along, I'm getting the ball rolling. People are starting to really recognize me for my talent and my gift. It just feels good to just get expressions off - getting it out there in the open - it's like I got those things off my chest so now I can keep going, keep expressing and keep showing what I'm made of.

OTW: It's been about three years since you first released music on SoundCloud, when did you make the decision to pursue music full time?  

McKinnis: It was around 2015 when I dropped this song called "Clouds" on SoundCloud. Once people started really rockin' with that joint, I was like, 'alright, I'm finna keep doing this' because I was getting looks from certain people and they're people that wouldn't say my music is just good for the fun of it. So, I saw people checking for me, people listening to the music and people started hitting me up telling me how my music made them feel and knew I had to keep going.

OTW: Who were your first introductions into music?

McKinnis: I listened to a lot of Gospel, a lot of Chris Brown, I was listening to a lot of Anthony Hamilton without even me really knowing I was listening to him (laughter). He was doing a lot of synchs, so a lot of his songs were in movies and stuff like that, so I would watch the movies just to hear the songs he was singing. Other than that it was a lot of Gospel though, but then I started getting hip to the music that was taking off, so like Ne-Yo, Lloyd, Lil Wayne - that early 2000's era of music. I was kind of late to it though 'cause I was raised on gospel. My parents would play it throughout the crib. I had to find my own way, there's still a lot of music out that I don't know about that people think I know about, which is kind of funny, but I was rockin' with all of them but rockin' with Chris Brown heavy.

OTW: What was your move from Virginia to Los Angeles like? Does location play a factor in your creative process?

McKinnis: It was cool, it wasn't anything crazy for me honestly. I see LA as a place to give me space, you know? I'm a guy who loves his space, just like everybody else, but it [moving] did give me the platform to think about things, have my own time, to not be rushed to do certain things. As time went on, I'm like 'man I need to go back to New York, I need to get back on the East Coast.' The East Coast is very stimulating for me and it's just different. Both coasts are definitely needed for me, I love both coasts, but each coast has its purpose.

OTW: You released your first EP, Underground, not even a year ago, is there a connection between that project and this one?

McKinnis: The connection between the projects is really just me showing my musicality. I was very, very involved in the musicality of the second project. Trying to get a little bit more personal, in terms of my love life and stuff like that. My second project isn't too specific, but it updated people on what is going on in my life right now as opposed to the first project where I felt I was a little vague on certain details. Like on "Deep," I mention a gap in age and little details that I didn't mention on the first project, but it was definitely a growth musically; lyric wise, writing wise and I think it just serves as my process and my expression and everything I am going through at the moment.

OTW: I think that is definitely apparent when comparing the projects side by side. There is also a maturity to your music and not just content-wise, but sonically it sounds polished, what's your work ethic like when approaching a new project?

McKinnis: Honestly, I just love music man. I want to hear music the way I want to hear it and I'm getting hip to my gift and my ear for music. So, when I hear certain things, it has to be a certain level - I don't know how to explain it - I'm just learning more about my gift so going forward it has to be very strategic with the music. I can have an open mind about things, but I have to be very specific with what I want. It's all about how I feel, if it doesn't resonate with my spirit, I don't like to partake in it.

OTW: That's a great place to be working from. What were you listening to while working on E'Merse?

McKinnis: I was listening to Omarion, jamming to Toni Braxton, a little bit of Carl Thomas. A lot of R&B that was out in the early 2000's. I just wanted to tap into that and get that off my chest because I feel like a lot of people think that is what I'm going to sound like for the rest of my life, but really I won't. I'm going to always have those elements of R&B and those old school elements or whatever you want to call them nowadays, but that's just something I had to tap into so I can move forward and get to that next level of my artistry.

OTW: You've spoken about learning new instruments and your connection to live instrumentation, did you play anything on the EP?

McKinnis: I didn't play any instruments on this album, but I was very vocal about a lot of things. I haven't made my instrument-playing debut just yet but very, very soon I will.

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OTW: Staying on the production side of things, there is a nice balance sonically, like the solo saxophone on "Energy," was the goal to show a combination of live instrumentation and more trap-soul style of beats?

McKinnis: It was definitely a priority, like when we were making "Energy," I had it as a demo, and I could hear a saxophone on the joint and I love live instruments. I've been playing around with instruments almost my whole life, I haven't mastered one just yet but I'm in the process of doing that now. I just wanted to stamp that I'm very in love with live instrumentation, so I had to get that sax in there. I had to do a little A&R work (laughter) and find that right one. His name is Kailin Joshua, my homie introduced me to him, and he did that joint in one take, I sent him a little reference of a couple tracks that have sax on it and he sent it back to me, I chopped it up a little bit, did my thing and there it was. I am so glad I put it in there. I love the sax bro when I start playing the sax, when I get a hold of a sax bro, it's over, it’s over!

OTW: Do you have a favorite song off the EP?

McKinnis: It fluctuates honestly, so it goes off the vibe, so right now, I don't know, I'd say "Energy" because that saxophone hits, it may change tomorrow though or the day after, it fluctuates.

OTW: What do you envision for a live performance?

McKinnis: We've been putting together my band and stuff like that for the shows and touring. That is going to be a big, big part of my show. That's the thing a lot of people have been wanting to see from me, the chemistry I have with live instruments and a band, that's something that I'm definitely going to be taking with me on stage.  

OTW: You showed off some moves on your Instagram leading up to the release of the EP, is that something we can see carried over into your shows?

McKinnis: Definitely! I'm just finding that pocket haha I've always danced, I've always been a dancer, I was a dancer before everything so that's second nature to me. I'm just finding that pocket to infuse it with what I have going on. Just trying to introduce people, upload it, show people what I can do.

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Me when E'Merse drops tonight. 🕺🏾

A post shared by Marco McKinnis (@marcomckinnis) on

OTW: There's no denying a resurgence in R&B over the past few years, how does it feel to be making this kind of music right now?

McKinnis: It feels great to be honest. I've been getting a lot of feedback like, "oh he's bringing back the R&B, blah blah blah," which is dope, it's fire, it's amazing to see it going down like that because I'm just doing me. I haven't told myself, "oh I'm going to bring back real R&B" or anything like that, I'm just expressing myself, so the feedback is amazing. I'm just excited to see the feedback as my career progresses because like I said earlier there are going to be more elements that I infuse. As the days go by, I just get more and more expressive, more and more creative.

OTW: What's next for you?

McKinnis: Shoot, I'm going to drop more music, got to stay consistent, more performances and just getting more in the public eye. Showing my face some more because it's about that time to be out there and we got tour ideas and all that stuff getting situated too. Visuals as well!

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