When I began my list of local hip-hop artists I already knew about, the first name I wrote down wasn’t a single artist at all — It was the arts collective known as Maschine Life Empire (MLE).
Rawston George, Drew Tyrell, John Born, LRDRA, AMIYR, Merc Majah, and Bibba. These are the artists who make up the collective, along with founder/CEO, Keyzus, who offered me a rare glimpse into the world of Maschine Life Empire.
MJ: So, this is your own personal studio for MLE?
Rawston George: It’s about being able to do it yourself. Before, when we were younger, we would have to go to Philly or Baltimore to record. When you’re trying to perfect your sound you don’t want to pay someone else out of your pocket.
How long have you guys been doing this?
Eric (CFO, Maschine Life Empire): I met these two (Rawston George and Keyzus) in like 5th grade. They were always involved in music. Keyzus would walk through the hallways with speakers, computer speakers, with his brother’s music on it. Through the middle school hallways!
Tell me what all goes into MLE? No one really knows exactly what MLE is because of the many different aspects of what you all do.
Rawston George: It’s almost a bit like we’re a mystery, right? There hasn’t really been anyone around here to get the facts on us or learn about us. But, what really goes into MLE is bringing the feel. It’s not just about hip-hop, it’s about feeling and expression.
Keyzus: Harrisburg was a place where people had a hard time with identity. Everyone, at one point, really just sounded the same. Now everyone around the scene is starting to get their own identity, and that is what is making hip hop in Harrisburg flourish.
Do you believe anyone in Harrisburg is on the brink of something big?
Tit (MLE Artist): That’s the thing, though, when people sense that you’re on the brink of something big they will not support you that much more. They will not support you until you get all the way there. Then when you finally get on, that is when they want to pay attention to you.
Rawston George: It’s all about consistency. It’s everything you can say, “I can do tomorrow,” that you need to do right then and there. Because tomorrow, something new is going to come up. That is how you fall behind and begin to tell yourself, “I’m not cut out for this.”
Then what makes MLE different?
Drew Tyrell (MLE Artist/Producer): Being able to be there for your homie and letting him know, “Nope, that was trash do it again.” Having that relationship with them shows you give a damn about each other’s songs.
Keyzus: Everyone that has recorded with me knows, we care. We simply just care. We aren’t about to let anyone go out and embarrass themselves. We want others to look good.
Since everyone is so different here, where does the inspiration come from?
Keyzus: Every one of my life’s situations are my beats. Every beat, I could tell you about a story that inspired it.
Tit: Coming up in Harrisburg was not easy. Since we all started from the same spot, we get our inspiration from each other as well.
Drew Tyrell: That’s what it is, there are so many of us that we draw from each other and motivate each other.
Where is MLE going now?
Keyzus: We are switching over from a record label to a full arts collective and just working at taking over. First, you take over the city or region, then the state, then the states around, then you take over an entire coast.
Rawston George: There really is no measuring tape, there is just so much more to do. We can’t say, “We’ve come this far and now we have this much more to go.”
What about the city itself? You’ve grown up here and it’s changed a lot.
Rawston George: When I first moved here in like 1995-96, Harrisburg was a proud city. The sports teams thrived and everyone was going to every game wearing their Cougars jerseys proudly. Then, the schools starting cutting the funding to the programs that mattered the most. They cut the funding to the sports teams, the arts and music programs, the after-school programs. When that happened is when you have kids falling into messed up habits. Now we have 14-15-year-old kids, hanging out with their friends smoking weed and drinking instead of getting involved in art or sports or actually doing something productive with their lives. Now, these kids have lost focus, quick to go drinking and smoking with their friends. And, time flies by. Really quick.
When I first sat down with the guys in MLE, I never expected to discuss more than just hip-hop, but we talked about putting positive energies into the world, our spirits, and socioeconomic issues facing our city today.
Maschine Life Empire is not just a hip-hop crew or even a creative arts collective. Maschine Life Empire is about a higher level of consciousness.