Interview: Jesse Markin on his past, present, and the future


Liberian-born Finnish artist Jesse Markin produces a unique sound that combines influences of indie pop, rap, R&B, and African folk.

Growing up in a small Finnish village was a challenge but Jesse found an escape in American hip-hop, television, and movies. This stream of English-speaking culture felt like a more welcoming place and inspiration for his music career today.

In 2010 Jesse joined The Megaphone State, a rap duo that put a solid effort into breaking down the whitewashed barriers of the Finnish hip-hop scene. After a brief moment of fame, the scene bounced back to its origin like an elastic band but The Megaphone State built up a small cult following. The duo still works together on occasion but Markin began a solo career in parallel releasing a wide range of strong and cohesive tracks for a few years now.

Last year Markin shared FOLK, a 13-track album showcasing his repertoire of influences and musical skills – an album that begun my relationship with this artist, particularly the song titled “Treat,” which to this day brings me immense joy and positive energy no matter the weather.

Last month Jesse released “Stars In Your Eyes,” a track by which he urges us to “destroy systemic racism and rebuild everything.” Markin shared a statement with the song release, reflecting on how “the past year has been a struggle. At times it felt like fear, hate, and prejudices are the only thing surrounding us,” he continued, “but at the same time we’ve been able to witness unprecedented strength and compassion as we’ve been tearing down our old monuments and building.” This compassion is a subtle theme in his music which is something we could all use right now.

Kateryna Topol: Hello Jesse! It has been a challenging year, but how is your fall going so far?

Jesse Markin: It’s been great! Just creating new music. Trying to get enough sleep but y’all know how it is. First in last out.

KT: True true. All right let’s start with you: Your mom is a pianist, what was it like growing up, was there always music in the house?

JM: There wasn’t as much music in the house as you would expect. That’s because my mother was a pianist and she had to travel a lot. But I was introduced to different types of classical music through her and my sister who played the violin. My musical journey started from a very different place.

KT: That’s right, growing up you found escape and American hip-hop & pop culture, who were some of your favorite artists?

JM: Mos Def definitely, Talib Kweli, The Roots, Common, and Pharoahe Monch just to name a few.

KT: Solid list! Was it challenging to find a variety of music that satisfied your appetite?

JM: It was very hard. The only place you could get some internet access was at the library and it was always booked. I used to travel 40km up to Tampere to browse through record shops. Eventually, something would catch my eye.

KT: You are a group, The Megaphone State, for 12 years now – what made you go solo?

JM: Nothing really made me go solo. It just happened that way. While in a band I was writing constantly. Some of those made it on The Megaphone projects, others didn’t. Four years later…

KT: Your most recent track, “Star in Your Eyes” is in many ways about overcoming adversity and coming together – is this a theme we can expect from the new album?

JM: It is a part of a deeper theme. Self-exploration so to speak.

KT: Speaking of the new album, how is it coming along?

JM: The album is coming along great but I’m aiming beyond that. I want people to have an experience that’s worth waiting for.

KT: Oh can’t wait to see how it comes together! I read that this particular song is inspired by Bossa Nova rhythms – how did that influence come about?

JM: I was going through my records and stumbled upon this old record with a Bossa Nova type of vibe to it. I just wrote the lyrics to it on the spot. Took that to the studio and worked from there.

KT: What is your creative process like?

JM: It doesn’t really matter to me which comes first [music or lyrics] as long as I get a song out of it. The more boundaries I have the harder it is for me to create. So I don’t approach music only one way but I try to stay open to different ways too. Keeps things fresh and interesting.

KT: Makes sense; what comes easier to you: writing lyrics or music?

JM: Lyrics, no doubt. That’s where I started from.

KT: All right, a few quick-fire questions: What are you listening to these days?

JM: Currency & Harry Fraud The Out Runners

KT: Favorite show you ever performed?

JM: Flow Festival Helsinki, I dreamt about it five years prior so that makes it pretty special to me.

KT: Amazing! And a dream show or venue you’d like to perform at?

JM: Red Rock Amphitheater in Colorado. Never been but one day.

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