‘Ticking inside’

From the farm to the stage, local rapper DMJ has made his own way

HAVE MIC, WILL TOUR<br>After debuting his CD <i>It’s Like ClockWork</i> in Chico, Mark Johnson, aka DMJ, will hit the road, playing dates throughout California in the winter/spring.

After debuting his CD It’s Like ClockWork in Chico, Mark Johnson, aka DMJ, will hit the road, playing dates throughout California in the winter/spring.

Courtesy Of DMJ

Mark Ellis Johnson Jr. has not lived the typical hip-hop story. He did not grow up in a New York or Los Angeles ‘hood. He never sold drugs, never dropped out of school, never packed heat or hid razor blades in his gums.

Rather, the one-time foster child was taught life lessons while working full, laborious days on a farm starting at the age of 10. By his second year of high school, he’d started taking college courses, and he excelled in his studies so greatly that he was all but handed a degree from Butte College by the time he graduated from high school.

Despite growing up during the hip-hop heyday (mid-to-late ‘90s), he admits that he didn’t even listen to hip-hop as a youngster. “I was raised on Christian music,” he said.

Dark Mark Johnson (the “Dark” is his handle from the Halo 2 video game), or DMJ, has nonetheless emerged from this somewhat unlikely background as one of Chico’s most productive rappers. Saturday (Feb. 28), he’ll be unveiling his first self-produced CD, It’s Like ClockWork, at a release party at the TiON warehouse.

Before he was introduced to and became interested in hip-hop, Johnson actually played in a metal band for three years as both lead guitarist and vocalist

“[Rap] really was not difficult to pick up—it’s just a switch from 3-4 stance to 4-4 stance,” said Johnson, who expressed respect for a range of current artists—Tech N9ne, Plies, Kanye West—who inspire his music.

“If I were to describe my music to someone that has never heard it before, I would call my music alternative hip-hop,” Johnson said.

DMJ started dabbling in hip-hop music about three years ago, when he recorded a few tracks in Yuba City on minimal recording equipment in his bedroom. He received a lot of positive feedback on the four-song demo that came from those recordings, and DMJ eventually gained enough buzz get regular airplay on Yuba City radio station Rhythm 105.9 FM.

In March 2007, Johnson moved to Chico to join what he saw as a more active hip-hop community than what Yuba City or Marysville offered. Shortly thereafter, he met rapper/producer Cris Kenyon through a mutual friend.

Johnson and Kenyon were, at first, underdogs in the Northern California hip-hop game. They didn’t know people, funds were tight, and studio time was (and still is) expensive. The duo set out to change things; they opened their own studio (still in the bedroom, but upgraded) and started selling beats and recording time at affordable prices. “When it came to recording, I never had any formal training whatsoever,” Johnson said.

Now the titles of producer and engineer can be added to the jack-of-all-trades’ list of self-taught skills, which already included songwriter, rapper and live performer.

Johnson and Kenyon’s label/studio business, CD Entertainment, has been running for about three months now, and Johnson is excited about testing the waters with the release of his disc.

“This album has been, like, two years in the making,” he said with a grin, reflecting on all that it took to complete the personal, playful recording.

“My album is a collection of life’s moments, stuff that people can relate to. Break-ups, parties, sad times, passionate times—there’s a song for every mood I’ve been in during my life on it.”

As far as the album title, Johnson relates It’s Like ClockWork to the journeys on which life has taken him in his 21 years of existence.

“Everything takes time, so if you never give up and keep pushing on, you will go from A to B and back around again. Like a clock,” he chuckled. “Life is like clockwork, and something is ticking inside of me.”