Washington D.C.– a city well known for its politics but little known for its abundance of diaspora communities that thrive together in harmony – can often produce connections between the most unlikely of artists over shared cultural experiences, religion, and even trauma. Although the city currently houses a U.S. government administration that denounces refugees and international refugee assistance; for decades’ refugees have made a home in both in the city itself and its surrounding metropolitan area.
One of the residents of the Washington DC area is Marc Toureille of Armenian, Greek, and French descent; and who often speaks to the legacy he is privileged to carry on behalf of his Armenian refugee ancestors. The year 1915 carries a toll of anguish for Armenians internationally as it represents the beginning of a genocide by the Turkish Ottoman Empire that resulted in the extermination of 1.5 million Armenians as well as large numbers of Greek, Assyrian, Syrian, and other minority groups during World War I. The Armenian Genocide led many Armenians—including his grandfather and great-grandmother–to flee their homelands and now, more than a century later, continues to spur heightened advocacy and human rights campaigns.
Continued interest in the 1915 Armenian Genocide is partly due to the fact that subsequent Turkish governments have never recognized—let along denounced –the occurrence of the Armenian Genocide. Nor has the U.S. government, although 49 of the 50 U.S. states have. This refusal on the part of Turkey and the United States has left many other countries – including their NATO allies—perplexed, as many of those countries have openly spoken about the Armenian Genocide and the need to prevent other genocides from ever occurring again.
Activism against genocide, empowered by shared beliefs such as those described in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, can take many forms. One such form is hip hop, in which many artists have employed the iambic pentameter utilizations in a rhythmic and poetic setting. Many of the founders of hip hop activism (such as NWA, Public Enemy, Poor Righteous Teachers, Nas, and others) have used this type of verbiage for decades.
Known by his hip hop pseudonym and moniker Marc 2Ray, the young rapper creates what he calls “hip hop with a message.“ His viral music has crossed geo-political lines and has reached across oceans to connect with hip hop fans internationally, including those in his ancestral home.
However, this has come with some backlash as other governments may not find his commentary kind. He has been labeled the “Turkish government’s worst nightmare.” The young artist has been hit with online trolls, threats and cries against his movement of spreading the truth about the Armenian genocide.
The message of Marc 2Ray’s song ‘1915’ is an unwavering relentless melody on the terrors of genocide. Marc further spends the entire second verse of the song talking about the connection between the Armenian Genocide and Hitler’s motivation to commit the Holocaust. He connects the Armenian Genocide to other genocides in the third verse with this line, “From Rwanda, Bosnia, Darfur and Ukraine, to Cambodia, and Nanking, we all feel your pain.”
The ‘1915’ video in various forms has amassed millions of views, and has led to the Marc 2Ray’s performance in Times Square, which then furthered him to open for members of the Wu Tang Clan.
However for his music; the appeal to the way people can find common ground with one another comes first. As he talks about his activism and the empathy it takes for connection; the idealist in him portrays what he would see as sound reasoning in compiling and strategically structuring his music for an upcoming LP entitled “Fresh Air” and his thoughts on the future of Armenia.
When you found yourself being given a platform that started from the local scale that grew internationally, how did you think your activism would evolve?
I’ve always seen my song ‘1915’ as a tool to educate. Since I was a child, I felt connected with my people and what they struggle with. Creating ‘1915’ was like a no-brainer for me. It was personal for me to tell my great-grandmother‘s and grandfather’s story and to help seek justice because The Armenian Genocide is still being denied by the perpetrators today.
Since the success of that song, and being able to perform in front of the White House, in Times Square, and in LA — and seeing the successful impact in the news cycle has been tremendously humbling. As a result, I can utilize that platform to talk about different subjects.
Hasan Minaj recently talked about how immigrants love hip hop because it represents perseverance and overcoming struggle. How do you feel about that attribution to Hip Hop and activism?
I’ve always seen it as a great way to get your voice out and to talk about struggles. That’s what it started as. Way back with Public Enemy and NWA, hip hop has been utilized as an unconventional tool to talk about certain injustices that people face.
I think it’s always had a great political backdrop to it. It’s a great tool to educate and empower.
In a melody, it’s just easier to absorb, right?
Exactly, my song ‘1915’ is currently being used in some high school and college curricula to educate the youth here in the US. These kids can gravitate towards and identify with the hip hop packaging of the message and, in four minutes, they’re getting so much information about the history of it. So obviously, I can’t fit in everything, but you get a pretty good overview. And it’s definitely enough to make you want google The Armenian Genocide and learn more about what you’ve just heard.
This backdrop of adversity has definitely helped you when you have worked with other hip hop artists?
Definitely. I’ve had the honor to open for –like a couple members of Wu-Tang, (Inspectah Deck and Cappadonna) Smif-N-Wessun, Rah Digga, J-Live, and Scarface. You know a song like this, the ideology behind the music is really sort of like – it’s something they can identify with. It’s put me on a bit of a stepping stone.
A little street cred doesn’t hurt?
Yes, you know, I’ve found that a lot of OGs in the game – they value your content and how you spread it.
So when you think about globalization and the spread of hip hop today, you think about it spreading in places where it amplifies protests and gives a voice to activists who may not have the privileges that you have had in America. What are your thoughts on that?
Well, you brought up Hasan Minaj, it’s amazing how he brings up that content on his new show. I mean, it’s horrible that some artists are threatened by jail time and injuries- but at the same time – they are making music that connects with people and it blows up on social media on a grand scale to expose their people’s injustice. You can’t bottle that up. I would tell those activists to, “just keep doing what you’re doing to get the message out there to speak the truth.”
The Armenian diaspora also connects with other diasporas that have grown up here in Washington DC in this shared community of refugees. They continue to build up the community here to bring the message abroad and at home. How important do you think that is to have that connection with your community also here in America but also back at home?
I think staying in touch with your roots is very important. It gives you perspective. You know, the one positive aspect that came from the Armenian Genocide was that Armenians spread and flourished all over the world. You know, wherever we went to, we set down roots and made new vibrant and thriving communities. So many countries around the world now have Armenians populations that contribute to their societies.
What made you want to know more and to make a difference?
Seeing how many people don’t know about The Armenian Genocide made me want to step up and be a part of aiding in ending Turkey’s denial campaign. It needs to be recognized because a genocide denied is a genocide continued. It also gives rise to other potential perpetrators to commit similar acts.
What do you think about what is currently going on in present day Armenia?
I don’t know if you know what’s going on, there was a peaceful change of power just last year that got rid of a government that was arguably pretty corrupt. And the change of power is being called the “Velvet Revolution.” It’s being hailed as a global example onto how to bring about change. It was non-violent, and it was just a lot of protest that brought about that change.
And so you support that movement?
Absolutely, yes. Absolutely. I think Its one of the great things that going on in Armenia right now.
So you speak a lot about activism, if you were to meet a Turkish government official what is the message you would state to them? Like in a hypothetical world you were at a U.N. event and like an emissary from there were present. What would your words be?
Well, I am definitely on the Turkish watch-list at this point of my career.
First, I would say, “stop denying.” I think Armenians have different perspectives on what they want from the Turkish Government at this stage. It’s been 104 years now. I think a lot of Turks have also realized that their country’s denial campaign has really held the country back.
Turkey is kind of a weird NATO ally in that it has an increasingly dictatorial-style government. Turkey’s policies are not really in NATO’s interests as those policies lead to the jailing of journalists, editing the internet and teaching false history in schools to their own citizens.
A lot of Turkish people who get to travel the world realize that they’ve been be denied this information in their homeland and that’s not great for them. The Turkish Government has dug itself into a hole with the 104 year-old attempted denial campaign of The Armenian Genocide, because if it admits it now, it also admits to lying to its own citizens for over a century.
As Armenians, we want the denial to stop, to end the border blockade, we want the acknowledgment of the Turkish Government’s guilt, as well as some form of reparations. Some Armenians want land back. My opinion would be for the Turkish Government to give some sort of financial aid to the Government of Armenia to help build up the infrastructure so we can participate in the global economy race and be a more profitable nation.
But I do think that one piece of land that should go back is Mount Ararat, the Armenian holy mountain. It has an essential element of Armenian culture for thousands of years, long before Turkish people came to Armenia. Since 1915 it has been annexed. That should definitely go back. This is all in an ideal world.
When you think of the geopolitics of this, have you worked with other cultural groups who have also gone through this? Like Rwandans, Cambodians – those who have also had genocide occurred in their country.
I would absolutely like to help out in that sense. I’ve been working with some genocide awareness organizations by speaking on educational panels with different survivor groups. I’ve been a part of that for a few years. Later this month I’ll be speaking at Stonebridge High School doing the same thing. The last time I was there, they had a survivor of the Rwandan genocide among other speakers.
I would love to get involved more so – not just in the education side of it, but hopefully bringing about some political change as well. I would love to work with more of those types of organizations.
So where do you see your music going? You have built quite the platform so far already.
Yes, I’ve been blessed to work with a great team on my upcoming album “Fresh Air.” Godfather was the executive producer and produced some of the records themselves, and Grammy-nominated Calin Enache did all the engineering from recording, to mixing, to mastering on the project.
On the album, not only is there “1915” but there are also songs that talk about poverty, social injustice, and drug abuse. But then, I also have some pretty upbeat songs which pay tribute to the legacy of hip hop. My song “Gotta Dream” tells the story of my musical journey from me writing my first rhyme, to performing for crowds of thousands. That song also acknowledges all those who helped me along the way such as close friends, my parents, and my management team, Verzatyle Entertainment.
You feel that because of the optics that you have been given – with your family and your lineage -it’s giving you this really conscious concept, right? And you’re able to see these patterns of what people go through every day – and its music that carries through differentiating lenses.
Yes. With my family’s history, I feel as though I’m able to identify with other groups who are being oppressed. With groups that have seen injustices. I’ve also found that talking about this type of issue transcends hip hop as a genre.
I have a lot of international supporters that are big fans. Some of them are not fans of hip hop at all, but are major fans of the message in the song. I can’t tell you how many times someone has told me they didn’t know hip hop could be used to spread important messages. But that’s how it started out. That’s how it still is.