Grown Folks Music caught up with Marshall Knights, music director for the band Zzaje’. (Zzaje’ has played across the country and internationally for some artists the Growns know and love) Knights has released his first solo album, The Marshall Knights Experience. He talks about his personal music expression, Zzaje’ and working to give youth in Chicago a positive outlet with his Mic Check program. Read and Enjoy.

GFM: Tell us about The Marshall Knights Experience.

MK: This is my first album as a solo artist. I guess you can explain it as an expression of my experiences throughout the past few years working in the music industry and trying to deal with life and everything. So, I figured this is just one of my expressions. You know how you get to those points in your life when you need to do some things to get some of the stuff you learned out? This is just some real-life, relatable experience. That’s really what it is. That’s why I called it The Marshall Knights Experience.

GFM: Tell us about the flavor of it… the feel and the sound… what we can expect from it.

MK: Well because of my experiences playing– I’m a bass player by trade– (I’m) music director for the band Zzaje’ which is based out of Chicago. We do a lot of playing with other artists. We rock with cats like Kindred and El DeBarge– all of these different people. So, me being in that position actually gave me the opportunity to dibble and dabble in a bunch of the genres. This album is really like a cohesive collection of jazz, hip-hop, soul and spiritual. It’s just a little bit of everything, ’cause that’s pretty much what I am. I tried to do a nice collection of pieces that explain what I am, but cross the genres.

GFM: You mentioned Zzaje’. You’re musical director. Talk about the band and what it is you guys do, because as you mentioned a little bit, you guys are all over. You’ve played with a lot of artists. Talk about what you do and the whole look of the band for these past 15 years or so.

MK: I’m the music director, so when we’re rocking with different people I put together the shows and make sure everything is running according to what we need to do as far as for the artists. But you know Zzaje’ as a whole is a collective not just of musicians, but producers, film directors and different artists. My job is to oversee a lot of things going on of the departments of music. I take care of all of the scoring, all of the production and I oversee all of the different music coming through our company.

As far as the band (goes), we’re just a collective of cats. We’ve been together since little league baseball. We got together and formed a band and we’re based out of a high school in Chicago– Thornridge High School. We all got together when we were younger. We learned how to play together and went through college together. It just became one of those things where we had a band before we started and then we just got out, got around (and) started playing different music. We actually treated ourselves like artists. We did a couple of individual pieces, but mainly we’ve been focusing on just expanding our connection with the different artists so we can perform in different places. I guess it’s all a culmination of that that drove me to start my own thing and do my own album, because after a while it gets tiresome playing behind all those different artists when you know you’ve got something else to offer. At least with this situation I’m in I figured hey, what better time to put my expressions on wax and give it to the people.

GFM: You mentioned forming the band in high school and playing as high school students. Talk about what you’re doing with your Mic Check program and the importance of having the outlet of music available to youth– especially in a city like Chicago and what’s going on with the youth in Chicago.

MK: I truly believe that not just music, but all extracurricular activities like sports… those are a part of what makes us who we are and it gives us an experience with teens. Mic Check is just a program that I put together a few years ago. I was working with the Chicago Urban League. It basically consists of a group of kids… however many… a group of kids (that) we get together. Some kids like to write. Some kids like to rap. Some kids like to do engineering. So, we found a way to give them an outlet to learn about all of those different areas in the music industry and the entertainment industry and we coupled it with some life lessons and things like that so that we can give them a positive outlet to express themselves. Especially in Chicago. It’s real complicated when you’re a young kid with all of this energy and all of these questions and you absolutely have no other way to express yourself. Our goal is to give the youth actually somewhere to feel like they can expand their understanding and express themselves in a positive way where it’s not destructive to themselves or anybody around them.

GFM: What’s your definition of Grown Folks Music?

MK: Music that relates to people who are adults who are reaching for another level of understanding. They can sit down and vibe and get something that may happen to be an inspiration as far as their understanding of how they’re feeling with love or just being motivated. (It’s) music that relates to everyday life with what we’re dealing with as Americans right now. It could be rap. It could be gospel. It can be jazz. It’s whatever puts you in the mind frame to think about what it is you need to do to get better… or just to chill. You know what I mean?

GFM: If you could think of three words to describe who you are and what your music is without anyone having heard it– three words to sell yourself and the music– what would those three words be?

MK: Soul, love and integrity.

Get The Marshall Knights Experience at iTunes and Google Play.

Connect with Marshall Knights on Twitter

Kimberly Kennedy Charles

I have questions. Artists have answers.