MH the Verb: rapping Renaissance man at Pitt

By DAN VETANOVETZ

Sinking into a couch on Parkview Avenue, deep in South Oakland, I listen to two tracks that… Sinking into a couch on Parkview Avenue, deep in South Oakland, I listen to two tracks that MH the Verb, as Marcus Harris is known, has just put down.

“We just made this one today,” he says, excitement rimming his relaxed voice. He finds the file on the computer, double clicks, and the bass line starts in, a window over the door quivering in response.

The guys on Parkview Avenue have worked the lyrics out for this song already, but MH is better known for his improvisation skills, which he gained recognition for at house parties in Oakland – while most of us were still in high school. For Marcus Harris, his fascination with these tough bass lines were something always attracted him, but the first treasured single that he bought, after finally being allowed to listen to hip-hop by his parents, was Notorious BIG’s “Warning.”

Although he listened to that first single in New York, Harris formed his first hip-hop production group after moving to Florida. Originally named 163 Entertainment, the group is now known as Florida Remix. Through 163 Entertainment, Harris DJ’d for high school events and got into improvisational hip-hop. It began as an opportunity to experiment musically with friends, but it gave Harris experience and a taste for producing music.

Coming to Pitt was a natural fit for Harris. “Pittsburgh wasn’t an intimidating city,” he says, standing for added emphasis. He quickly started working with WPTS, Pitt’s radio station, meeting others with similar interests in hip-hop and improvisation.

And it was the radio station that led Harris to Paul Eppes. After a Heiruspecs show, Harris started to improv and Paul came in with beat boxing. The set-up fit, and in 2005 the two sophomores and new-found band mates, going under the moniker the Beatz ‘n’ Verbz, made their first real project with WPTS. They burned the instruments to CD and then, putting blankets up on the walls of the bathroom in Harris’ Brackenridge dorm room and hanging a mic over a fan, recorded the vocals. The whole process took about three days, and the hundred CDs they burned sold out in a weekend.

“It was just easy, it was just natural,” MH says, reflecting on that project. Doing three shows a weekend at house parties and constantly discovering new ways to manipulate their music, the group went on an “indefinite hiatus,” as Harris says, when he had to go back to Florida for personal reasons. Eppes, sitting in an adjacent easy chair, has a different view of the event.

“The band broke up over a ham sandwich,” he smiles, remembering. Harris looks at him from the adjacent side of the room – perplexed? Nothing else is said about this mysterious deli entree.

“We each have to build our personal strengths,” Harris turns his attention to me emphatically. Through the move back to Florida and his return to Pittsburgh, Harris has been diligently adapting his style, incorporating changes as his influences change. He looks up at the ceiling trying to classify his sound, and comes to the conclusion that, among other things, it’s “dirty south swag, kind of east coast DJ,” both in work with the BNVz (the reincarnated Beatz ‘n’ Verbz) and MH the Verb, his solo MC project. Also, his latest additions in musical tastes have been Lily Allen and The Go Team.

When Harris plays the solo tracks he had constructed earlier that day, Eppes chips in that they’re “the molten magma, so to speak.” For a hip-hop act operating out of college, this is exactly how hot Harris’ work seems. Coming from a background similar to any other student, he has come to shrug off the demands and obstacles of an early music career, relying on his musical passion to pull him through. Yet Harris notes that he’s a real person; he plays what he likes, and other people happen to like it, too. There’s no use in rushing him for his next release, either. Harris has his own philosophy about what’s important in releasing his music: “When we come, we’ll come with something totally original.”

But live performance is where you’ll find Harris’ soul. “Nothin like rockin a party,” he drawls. His next show, performing as MH the Verb, is this Sunday, Oct. 7, starting at 7:30 p.m. in Peter’s Pub. And if what he played on Parkview Avenue is any indication, you’ll want to be there early.

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