There’s a lot of Oakland in Adrian Marcel’s 98th. To make the album, his first since parting ways with Universal Republic Records, the R&B singer had to go back to where it all began, where he first discovered his love for music and the first time he really found himself. “It’s definitely Cali forever,” he tells HollywoodLife when he stopped by to talk about 98th. “You know? I’ve lived in Atlanta for five years before, and I enjoyed it. I enjoyed it. But it’s just a different pace. The West Coast weather, for me, is just the perfect type of thing. I would say, sounds kind of crazy, I would actually say Portland if I said there was somewhere else. Oakland is a lot like the Seattle and the Portland area. My brother lives up there, and the houses are beautiful. I love the gloominess.”
“Gloominess” isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when someone thinks of the Bay Area, but Oakland, like Adrian, is more than meets the eye. He’s an R&B singer selling sex and sensuality whenever he steps on stage. But, once the show’s over, he’s a committed husband and a father of three. He’s taken on the financial risk by going independent, but as he reveals while talking with HollywoodLife, he’s never been happier. “You have to be smarter,” he says. “You don’t have to work harder, you have to work smarter. And a lot of people need validation. I’m just not one of those people, and that’s why I’m able to be happy independent.”
“I’m not saying that it’s the easiest thing in the world,” he adds. “When things are supposed to happen, when you pay attention to signs, when you’re doing what you’re supposed to do, the universe starts to move for you. It starts to reward you.” The reward, in this case, is a successful tour (which Marcel booked through his label, Third Voice Music Group, alongside with Urban Fierce Group) that concludes with a Bay Area show at Slim’s in San Franciso on March 14. The reward is also an album that Hot New Hip Hopcalled his “most compelling work to date and exposes listeners to an artist who has embraced change and growth.” Adrian discusses this growth in the following EXCLUSIVE interview, how he “manned up” when he became a dad, and how he’s now happy to give audiences what they want.
HollywoodLife: You’ve named this album after a street corner in the Bay Area, 98th and MacArthur. You’ve also said that this album is a “rebirth” and a “reintroduction” to yourself as an artist. How did you get to this point?
Adrian Marcel: I got into the music industry in 2012, and went through the process of creating demos, and getting to a point where I was signed in 2013. I had the honor of meeting legends and working with them, people that I looked up to. And when I was young living on 98th — because I moved to 98th when I was 15 — I remember that was the point where I told myself that music is what I wanted to do. I wanted to be an artist. And it was all about your independent grind. I was 15, I was sneaking into clubs, I was getting good with bouncers so that they would let me in to perform. And as long as I would kill it, then they would let me in. You know?
And I just remember getting to the point where I was putting my own band together. I was paying them to rehearse. I was booking gigs. I was really being a label and didn’t know it. You know? And at some point, when I actually started, when I signed my deal, and I got into the industry, I kind of let go of that. I let go of the control, which most artists do when you’re young, and you’re naive, and you’re excited when you think about your dreams coming true. You know? But then you get to see the behind the scenes. You get to see the smoke and mirrors. You get to see how it’s not real. It’s not all that we think it is. It’s a false reality. And I let go of some of those things that I believe made me who I was so that I could conform to what the industry likes.
And I left the label in 2016. I was blessed to be able to walk away, clean hands, no bail over my head. And I told myself that I wanted to dive deeper. If I was going to do this now, I don’t want to be one of those artists that just leaves a label and goes right to another one. It took me about a year and a half to really mentally get back in the space where I wanted to create because I found the purpose again.
It’s almost like I got back to that person, that kid who was on 98th, right? But now, it’s like you know when someone tells you, “What would you do differently if you could go back?” I have that opportunity right now in front of me. I’m able to restart knowing what I know now. So, going back to that kid, but giving him the knowledge and the experience now. I’m fearless again. Now, I’m confident again. But now, I’m also knowledgeable, you know?
I took that, and I said, “I’m going to start my own label. I’m going to sign myself. If I partner with another label, with another entity, great, but that’s exactly what it would be. A partnership now.” And when I started working on music again, and I started to dive back in for real, I started to notice something about the records. And I was like this has a feeling to it. I was producing it, I was writing it now. All of these different things that I wasn’t doing in the beginning.
And it brought me to the name. It was like this is 98th. This is home. Because I was trying to ask myself like, “How do I say rebirth without saying rebirth?” You know what I mean? You got people who’ve used the title, you got people who abuse the title, and how do I say I’m reintroducing myself?
I was driving down 98th one day, and I was just looking at the sign, and I’m like, “98th, that’s rebirth.” This is where it all started. This is where it began for me. Why not come back and say, “Okay, before we go any further, this is the start point now, 98th and MacArthur.” This is where I learned everything about myself. This is where I got into all my trouble, and I got myself out of all my trouble.
So, it’s almost like it was just so symbolic to me. It was just a symbolic place for me, and I feel like I didn’t want to name the album something that could cause a debate or could cause anything other than confusion. I wanted you to be like, “Well, what is 98th? Is 98th like, are you the 98th artist in the world? I don’t know. What is it?”
It sounds like you were in ‘the machine,’ to call it something, and now that you’re free, you’re happier. There may be a risk to that, but it seems you’re happy to take that risk.
I think because the reward is greater than the risk. You know? You think about it, a lot of artists, independent, that title scares them because of that. It scares them because I have to be independent, and you realize that there are a lot of people who just aren’t independent in this world, period. They depend on other people. And that’s what I was doing. I depended on management, I depended on the label, I depended on people to do things that I could have done.
I’ve always been sort of a rebel. I’ve always been someone who was willing to fight, right? But I’m also someone who knows when to kickback. And on the labels, I was always just like, “Look, this is what you guys do, right? So, do it. I’m going to let you do it, you know?” And I got so comfortable saying, “Yeah, I just sing. That’s what I do. This is all I’m good at.” And then, you realize, wait a minute, no.
2019 was such a time for me to really get on myself. Put some fire under my own I’m used to procrastinating. I’ve always been since high school. I think we all have a problem with it. I’ve always been used to procrastinating. I was so good at studying for a test the night before. I was so good at doing the homework 10 minutes before class. But when you get into life, and you start bringing those trades in, it’s not healthy, it’s not good for you.
I’ve been blessed to be able to go back to 98th, literally back to Oakland, back to that block, and to say, “Wow, man, look at life. Look at how there’s so much more than just chasing this fallacious reality. I had to realize I wasn’t chasing what I thought I was. I was chasing money, which becomes an emotional tie. And I learned you can’t be tied to your money emotionally. You can’t determine whether you’re up or down based on whether your account is up or down.
So now, being independent – yes, the risk is so much more. I have to spend my money, I have to spend my time, my efforts. In the end, when you get any kind of win, no matter how small independent, the feeling is like no other. You know what I mean? You can sell a million records on a label and make $20,000. You can sell 20,000 records independently and make $1 million.
That’s what I had to realize. You have to be smarter. You don’t have to work harder, you have to work smarter. And a lot of people need validation. I’m just not one of those people, and that’s why I’m able to be happy independent. I’m not saying that it’s the easiest thing in the world. It gets extremely frustrating. Just now, we were just going through some budget stuff. But when things are supposed to happen, when you pay attention to signs, when you’re doing what you’re supposed to do, the universe starts to move for you. It starts to reward you.
Do you think that your history of basically running the label before you were on a label kind of gave you that edge?
I think so. Because I was hustling. When I was in ninth grade is when I started my band. We would get paid the most chump change in the world, you know? Of course, because we’re kids. They would give us the chump change, but it didn’t matter. I wasn’t even taking no money. I was like, “Here. I’m going to make sure that you guys are good so that you keep working. I know I’m going to keep working.” And that’s what it was.
So now, coming to I’m having my own label, Third Voice Music Group, and me putting myself in position, it’s the same thing. I have a team where it’s like, look, I know what I’m going to do. This is my company. I’m going to run, and run, and run until it takes off. But to keep others engaged, let me make sure that this is beneficial for everybody. It’s just going back to thinking about others.
Before, I was used to now just thinking about myself. What does Adrian need? What does Adrian want? Right? Adrian doesn’t want a lot. I don’t want a lot. I don’t have … It’s even in my record. My last record on 98th is called “Is You Rockin’,” and I say, “She likes to tell me what she wants, and I tell her what I got. She said, tell me what you want, and I tell her that I got it.” Right? So, it’s literally saying if you’re in a relationship, you can take it as it’s me saying, “I don’t need nothing. I got you.” But in life, if you look at, it’s like I don’t need much. I don’t need the glitz and the glamor, and all of those things. I need happiness. That’s what I need. I need freedom. I need the choice to be able to be myself at all times. Unapologetic.
Is that your favorite line on the album? Or is there another section that makes your heart swell whenever you sing it?
“Slow Burn” was the first single on the project. And there’s a lot of phrases that I use that I sneak in. I always hide my music to sound like it’s of all of our relationships, but it’s not. People ask me, “Did you really go through this?” Well, if you listen to it, it’s the same way Rick James was saying, Mary Jane. It’s like, yeah, there wasn’t a real Mary Jane. This is something else. You know what I mean?
I speak as if this is me speaking about a woman, but really the woman is life. You know? So in the song, there are parts where I say, “No stress. Girl, it’s all right. We could take our time. This is going to relax your mind. Let’s slow burn.” And that’s me in life. That’s me telling life, “Look, I know what I want to do. It’s going to be tough. And I know that it could be stressful, but not going to stress about it. We’re going to do this. This is going to relax everything just by knowing that it’s going to be a slow burn. Let’s take our time.” I’m talking to my life. I’m going to take my time with myself. Making sure that it’s right.
Along with running your own label and doing your own tour, you’re also a family man.
Yeah, three kids. Two daughters and one son.
How has this influenced this album?
Man, my wife has been rocking with me for the past 12 years now. When I first moved to Atlanta to get my deal, I remember she was taking care of me. She was the only one with a job working at Wells Fargo, and she was like, “Hey, I got us. You know?”
I remember getting into the industry, and just being so tense because it’s like you don’t know how to balance those two things because they don’t go together. Right? A girlfriend, and then a business that is about sex, selling sex. I got lost. I’ll be honest. I got lost. I played into it. But luckily, she stuck with me, and luckily I was able to see the real through the fake. You start to realize like all these people screaming your name, it’s like they love you right now, but that could change at any given moment. This other person has loved your dirty drawers. So, it’s like you can’t really battle with that, you know?
We had a moment where it got rough, and then when I had my second daughter … Well, I remember my first daughter, I just remember not being there as much as I wanted to be, and being pulled away. I had moved to Atlanta. She was still in California, and that relationship dynamic changed for a little bit. And it affected me. It affected me a lot. And I still regret it. I still regret not being able to man up, if you will.
But luckily again, just being extremely blessed. I had just enough time to catch that and make it right, and I think that was my second daughter. When she was born, I sent my then-girlfriend back home. And I told myself, “Okay, you’re going to give this one-shot, but you’re going to do it right. You’re going to do it right. We’re going to give this label one more chance. We’re going to do it right. If it doesn’t work, we’re going back. I’m going to go back home. We’re going to figure this out.”
It didn’t work out. I went back home. And instead of me trying to focus on getting back in the industry, I had people calling me like, “Man, I can get you back. I can get you back in the game.” Da, da, da. It’s like, “Nah, I’m right here. I’m going to be a dad for a minute. I’m going to spend some time with especially my oldest daughter. I’m going to spend some time with my daughter. I’m going to make sure that, number one, my second daughter doesn’t go through none of what my first daughter did, and I’m going to make sure that they have a relationship, that I have a relationship with them, and it’s strong.”
I fell in love with being a dad. I fell in love with the waking up, getting her dressed for school, doing her hair. It still freaks people out that they’re like, “Yo, who did her hair?” “Me.” What you want, baby? You want the two parts? All right.” You know what I’m saying? I fell in love with that feeling.
And luckily, my wife is just very truly understanding. We have these conversations before I leave. I’m like, “Listen, I’m going to sell it. I’m going to go out there. I’m going to sell it. All right? So, just know you’re good.” She’s like, “Don’t nobody want you.” You know what I’m saying? Nobody wants you. It’s good. They don’t know you, okay? If they really knew you, they wouldn’t want you. You know? That’s how she looks at it. You know?
That’s a huge vote of confidence right there.
I love it because it just gives me the confidence to be able to go out and just know, do your thing. There’s no pressure there, you know? II love being able to give them what they want. You know what I mean? And that doesn’t mean I have to take you back to the room to give you what you want.
I get to see this audience and feel them. They get to feel me. You know what I mean? And I just respect the job now. I think there was no respect for the job. It was all about the lifestyle. And now, it’s about the duty that I have. I have a responsibility to make good music that gets people through their lives, gets people through their struggles, and I have a duty to get in front of them and to take them away from all of their issues that they’re going through at the time, and just vibe and have a great time.
98th is out now.