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Hell's Kitchen Rapper Uses Neighborhood as Stage for Music Videos

By Maya Rajamani | February 5, 2016 6:00pm | Updated on February 8, 2016 8:59am
 Marlon Craft, 22, grew up in Manhattan Plaza.
Marlon Craft, 22, grew up in Manhattan Plaza.
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Mia Cirker

HELL’S KITCHEN — This rapper is cooking up some fire rhymes in Hell's Kitchen.

A 22-year-old who grew up in Manhattan Plaza is using the neighborhood as his stage, filming his most recent music video there during last month's winter storm that dumped more than 2 feet of snow on the city. 

“The blizzard was just crazy outside, and I had this idea — let’s go grab our cameras,” said Marlon Craft, who took chance to make art as the snow made history.

“I texted everybody and was like, ‘Yo, this is a good idea, this could be really cool,' and we just ran out and did it.”

Most of the video was shot on West 44th and 45th streets with the help of fellow Manhattan Plaza resident Ezra Cohen, a painter and visual artist.

“Visions plus ambitions, that equals a damn mission. Man, listen, you ain’t stoppin' this kid from Hell’s Kitchen for real,” Craft raps in the video during an interlude he calls “Blizzard,” from his upcoming EP.

Although Craft cites rap royalty like Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole, Nas and Eminem as influences, his “first and foremost” inspiration is his father, who worked as a jazz percussionist full-time while Craft was growing up and still plays.

Manhattan Plaza — which has housed tenants including Alicia Keys, Samuel L. Jackson, Angela Lansbury and Tennessee Williams over the years — has also impacted the music he writes.

“Coming from Manhattan Plaza, specifically, in Hell’s Kitchen… we have a lot of great artists, a lot of great musicians that come from here, and I’ve tried to be influenced by their work, as well as what I’ve learned as a person amongst all these different cultures,” he said.

As a student at American University in Washington, D.C., Craft designed his own major, Urban Education and Social Justice.

“I’m very influenced by artists who incorporate social commentary and artists who live out incorporating forms of activism into their art,” he said.

An acapella interlude called “Professional,” from his last mixtape “Pieces,” expresses disdain for those who would have him become a cog in the wheel of a flawed system.

“I’m trying to be proactive, I ain’t got time for no rest, when arrests made daily by those meant to serve and protect, based on profiling up in your local projects,” Craft raps.

“I know I must promote the real and let the truth run its course till it provokes appeal, so sorry to the powers that be — I can’t be with it. I know what you did and I know how you did it.”

Since graduating in May, Craft has focused on his music full-time, recording his EP, “So, what are you doing?” which is set to drop at the end of February or the beginning of March. He has also been playing shows, including one in Brooklyn last week.

A self-described "die-hard Knicks fan," he filmed another music video — #WhenTheKnicksWinATitle — at DeWitt Clinton Park, in addition to others in the neighborhood.

“I just tried to bring out everybody from Hell’s Kitchen that I could — sort of the old school Hell’s Kitchen of people hanging out in the park, playing basketball,” he explained.

“Hell’s Kitchen has changed a lot… since me and my friends were all kids. Now it’s known more for restaurants, bars, all the new high-rises. But for us, Hell’s Kitchen is about hanging out in the park and socializing, and being part of this community."