They have set Berlin clubs on fire and are known to sample the U-bahn announcements in some of their tracks. In a city overrun with druggy techno, MRJAH stands straight up for hip hop and if you haven’t heard of them, you soon will.
The Berlin-based DJ and producer duo focus their sets and productions around trap and new school. Unlike the same-old Berlin hip hop which can be known for old school, classics and mainstream new school – MRJAH keep it fresh. They’re producing the next Marvin Game EP and recently premiered their own line of shirts with RUE Berlin. By filling the desperate need of new hip hop in Berlin clubs and parties, MRJAH – among other things – want to offer a slice of something new, even if it is a bit unexpected.
I spoke with the up-and-coming co-founders Marc Romefort and Julien Arenas Hadji at their recent Afro Heat gig to chat about DJ controllers, Fred Flintstone and how it all began at a club called Picknick, read on.
MR: We’re Marc Romefort and Julien Arenas Hadji aka MRJAH – a producer and DJ duo based in Berlin, Germany. We actually know each other since preschool but did start to hang out like since the fifth grade.
How did you become a DJ/Producer duo?
JAH: We’ve been producing music for about eight years, but mostly everyone on his own. Every now and then, we did some beats together but it was rare because I moved to France from 2005 to 2009. We kept ourselves up to date by sending each other some beats. Honest feedback is essential. When I came back to Berlin, we started working together a lot, since we were on the same page. Like no one ever left.
MR: In May 2012, TheFader.com posted an article about the songs ‘Harlem Shake’ and ‘Yaow!’ by Baauer. I think that’s when we first heard the music later to be known as Trap. It had the right amount of energy we needed! It is energetic without being overwhelming. We love the mix of the typical electro setup/structure with heavy bass hip hop beats at the characteristic “drop.”
JAH: From there on we focused our productions on Trap Music and Newschool Hip Hop. Since Trap music does not always require a rapper it was a big temptation for us. No need to wait for lyrics, no need to record verses or hooks. Every step was in our hands. We started making Trap remixes or Instrumental Trap Productions and uploaded them to Soundcloud and could share them with everybody very fast. Thank you Internet!
MR: Trap music is ideal club music because of its energy and variety. You can mix it with hip hop – what we mostly do – or with EDM … We wanted to spread this new genre in Berlin and also saw the opportunity to share our music through DJing. This way, we get to see the reaction of the listener which is insanely helpful and pleasing feedback. I think this was the trigger for us to start but the idea to become a DJ came in July 2011. Back then, I went to a fashion week after party (WAD x Lee) at the Picknick Club in Berlin. Theophilus London was playing a mind-blowing DJ set. Don’t get me wrong, his DJ skills weren’t that good but his song choice was incredible. He played some of his songs and also fresh new hip hop. Some of the songs he played were released only a couple of days before the gig. I’ve never heard this contemporary hip hop in a Berlin club before, but I saw that it works since the crowd seemed to enjoy it. He showed me that you don’t need to be the most skilled DJ in order to entertain a crowd. A couple of weeks later, I was introduced to DJ D-Tale, a Berlin based DJ who’s been DJing for more than 10 years. He gave me tips on how to start, what to expect and the pros and cons of being a DJ. I consider him as kind of a mentor. Actually, in February 2013 we released a mixtape together presented by the Splash! Mag called “TRAPBACK.” The first step of buying a DJ controller took me about a year, though. Well, it was Julien who bought a controller first in June 2012 and I then bought mine a couple of weeks later. We got familiar with the interface pretty quickly, recorded some DJ mix tapes and got our first booking like a month after we started DJing. From then on till now, we have at least three gigs a month.
How did you become known for hip hop? Berlin feels overrun with techno…
MR: Exactly! One of our motivations to DJ was to avoid the techno scene. We didn’t really like the Berlin hip hop clubs either, because they often play a conservative choice of rap music: old school, classics, mainstream new school. Among others, we started playing at some university parties. Our first time at the Picknick club was for an erasmus party. The club owners called us the day after because they saw and heard us play and were stunned. They asked us to play again that night at the Picknick club for their Engtanz Party. Since then we played several times at this club and it was always fun! It is one of our favorite locations to play in. We, peu à peu, got a good reputation and people seemed to like our DJ style and live energy. We got asked to play at several other clubs and occasions like Berlin’s first bigger trap party Damn son where’d you find this or for parties of the local fashion label Muschi Kreuzberg. We were also asked to play as support DJs for Baauer for his scheduled concert in Berlin, but unfortunately he had to cancel the concert last minute.
JAH: We also played at the Fantastic vol. 1 party by the Splash! Mag along with dubstep pioneer Benga. The Splash! Mag was the first to believe in what we do and support us. Like I said, we played at their party, we recorded a DJ mixtape with DJ D-Tale for them and also produced the instrumental for the Splash! Mag cypher n°5, a video format where German rappers get together and rap showing off their skills. The cypher was also performed live this year at Germany’s biggest hip hop festival, the Splash! Festival. This was a breakthrough for us since we gained a lot of new listeners and the attention of known German rappers in need of Trap productions.
In Berlin’s local hip hop scene, who are we to look out for?
JAH: There are several people to watch out for. A couple of weeks back, we went to the Megaloh concert in Berlin and it was insane. He has a lot of presence and energy on stage which is very rare. Also watch out for Chefket! Incredible rapper and singer. We consider ourselves blessed that they both rapped on a beat from us! Also watch out for our next big project. It is an EP we did together with Marvin Game. The EP is scheduled for December 2013. We can’t wait for everybody to listen to it!
MR: Yeah, and you should definitely watch out for anybody we’re working with! We’ve got some fresh and some old-school rappers we’re working with right now and it will be insane!!
Can you tell us about your new t-shirt series?
MR: We worked together with Berlin-based designer Cedric Berlin and his label RUE Berlin to create a t-shirt series. The slogan MRJAH BADA BADU is a result of a brainstorm we had all together. It is inspired by Fred Flinstone’s shout “Jaba daba du”, which he uses to express joy. This is why the look of the font is in this comic style, Stone Age writing. As for the color, it resembles the color of Fred’s clothes in the series.
JAH: Everybody knows how happy Fred Flintstone is when he leaves work. We want you to feel the same when you’re on the dance floor listening to our Trap music. His shout “Jaba daba du” is perfect! We want people to shout “MRJAHba daba du” when they are on the dance floor.
MR: We’ll give away some shirts through our Facebook fanpage in a couple of days. Also, we will post the information on where you can buy them!
Photos of t-shirts by Forio Fotografie on models Josselin Görgeleit and Joshua Shetty.
Photos of MRJAH by Nadja Sayej.