Names can get tricky for Chicago producer Thelonious Martin. Often confused with Theophilous London and Thelonious Monk, the 19-year-old Columbia student has gone about establishing his own name in music over the past few years.
Combining the creative arrangements of Theophilous with the work ethic and vision of Monk, toss in a sprinkle of clever sample cuts and you might be getting close to touching what Martin can do in music.
A native Chicagoan that spent his adolescence in New Jersey, Martin has made his return to the city he left, adding to the production culture began generations ago and carried by the Kanye West’s and No ID’s and most recently picked up by Martin and a steady crew of a new generation, including: Peter CottonTale, Blended Babies and Stefan Ponce, among others.
“I started making music because of J Dilla and then when Kanye came out it was like it was like “OH SNAP,” said Martin. “I really started linking up with Chicago artists so when it came time to go to school I was like ‘alright I’m gonna go to school, I’m going to go to Columbia to be near these Chicago artists,’ because I really thought in terms of artists and movements, Chicago had next. And so really over the past two or three years it been just copious amounts of work.”
With that prediction, Martin could have added another name to his list: Nostradamus. The calculated move paid off, placing Thelonious in the center of a young crop of emerging artists in Chicago.
An incessant work ethic has garnered Thelonious production credits with everyone from Action Bronson and Curren$y to Rockie Fresh and Chance The Rapper and vaulted him to the forefront of the Chicago and national hip-hop scenes; all while making sure he gets to class on time.
“It’s weird because sometimes it’s easier to think of who I haven’t worked with” said Martin, laughing. “There’s just no really like pause or break. I always try and make sure at least every two weeks my name is on something or I’m dropping something because we live in the instant gratification era and people are always asking if you can do it again.”
Thelonious honed his craft as the sole producer for a group of friends in New Jersey at the age of 15. With a diverse mix of styles and approaches, Martin quickly learned to adapt to a variety of sounds.
“It was different facets of the group,” said Martin. “Some were like 90s kids – so I’d learn how to make boom bap for real, for real – Pete Rock boom-bap. And then we had my boy Stan who was the street smart kid so I’d make a little dirtier records for him and my boy Topaz, to me was like J. Cole with way more star power so we had to find a meeting point between a modern day and an old school hip-hop sound. So it was not even like a balancing act, it was kind of like rap camp.”IXI Thelonious Martin Interview from FragdFilms on Vimeo.
Rap camp paid off upon his move from the east coast, as his flexible nature and penchant for soul samples found it’s place amongst the hip-hop in Chicago not labeled “drill”. Having come back to the city after some time away, Martin sees his birthplace as somewhere artists can stay and get big.
“I think we can finally start bringing the industry here, that’s one of the main reasons why people move out of Chicago – cause like all the offices are in LA and all the studios are in New York so hopefully pretty soon we can start bringing more of the industry and building that foundation,” said Martin. ” I want them to look at this the same way they look at the Harlem Renaissance or New York in the early 90s or something like that; I want people to be able to look at this situation like that in like 10, 15 years.”
While it may seem like a tall order, it is pieces of the puzzle like Thelonious Martin that help to grow the larger collective and scene as a whole in Chicago. Ask Martin about his upcoming projects and he’ll rattle off five before remembering three more, a sign of his dedication to his production.
“I got hella projects on deck. I got EPs with RuSh Porter, I’m working on a project with my tastemaker artist Topaz Jones, Hollywood Holt, me and Joey Bada$$ are working on some stuff, me and Vic Mensa have a bunch of unreleased music we’re about to shoot videos and stuff for,” said Martin.
In it’s Germanic origin, the name Thelonious means ruler of the people. Martin probably won’t be taking the world over in a literal sense any time soon, but he’s certainly giving others a reason to watch the throne.
“I want to be able to make something like Donuts – through instrumentals tell where someone’s at or get the message they were telling. You can manipulate a sample and make it say something completely different, you can speak to people through music and I find that really, really important, said Martin. “I take pride in myself an the fact that I can do anything I want, there’s no limitations at all. There’s no limits right now, all we can do is go up.”