The Capitol Hill Occupied Protest was dismantled half a year ago. While right-wing media called the six-block area containing SPD’s East Precinct, “anarchy” and claimed that the area was being run by a “SoundCloud rapper warlord,” those actually on the ground saw something very different.
Much to some protestors’ chagrin, the area felt almost like a pop-up street fair. Tents offering everything from first aid to snacks to clothes lined the streets. Artists worked on the BLM mural that remains on Pine right outside Rancho Bravo, a community garden flourished at Cal Anderson Park, and people gathered for nightly screenings of films like Ava Duvernay’s 13th.
The only thing missing? The soundtrack. That’s where the Marshall Law Band comes in. After watching the protests at the East Precinct on TV and hearing a call for leadership by journalist Omari Salisbury, the lead singer of the band, Marshall Hugh, knew what he and the band had to do.
“Immediately we got on the phone with some of our creative friends and people within our network,” Hugh said. “The first day, we didn’t have a stage so we just played in the street with a generator that Matt ran out and bought.”
The next day, the band rented out a U-Haul and built a stage where they performed three to four-hour sets for nearly a week. Hugh’s voice was getting raspy so he put a call out for others to join the band on stage. Dan Gregory, the man who was shot by a driver who plowed into a group of protestors, was one of those who stepped up.
“[Gregory] was on our stage the day before he got shot at the protest, talking about voting, and how that’s great that we have this celebration out here, but we want this celebration on voting day,” Hugh said.
Gregory is featured in the band’s track “Hometown Hero” off their album 12th and Pine, released in October. The instrumental track accompanies Gregory’s voice as he calls for love. Similarly, the song “13%” features a voice that’s not Hugh’s.
“As much as you can hear from a Black male telling you about my pain in this society, let’s have FairyVonn Mother come up here and tell us what it’s like being a Black woman in this society. Let’s open up the space,” Hugh said.
There is something to be said about the relationship between music and social movements. It’s nearly impossible to think of the ‘60s and ‘70s and the Vietnam War without thinking about Woodstock. Go back a little further and Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come” remains an anthem for those continuing the legacy of the Civil Rights movement. Today, we have Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright,” and “F.D.T.” — both expressions of a time where police brutality became a mainstay on our screens.
“Music is just a reflection of life. And any emotion, any stance, any situation you ever find yourself in in life, I promise you there’s a song about it.” Hugh said.
The following interview has been edited for length and clarity. Watch their music video for “Reel News” here.
How did you get into music?
In high school, I would rap like any other kid, just messing around at the lunch table. I remember in eighth grade, me and my friend, Sam Miller — the other Black kid — did the freestyle battle thing and it was all light-hearted, but it was my first time rapping and performing in public. It wasn’t anything I took seriously until my freshman and sophomore years of college.
You said you went to Carnegie Mellon to play both basketball and football. What happened in college that made you focus on your music?
No longer playing for a state championship or trying to become a professional athlete didn’t really do it for me. Meanwhile, I started freestyling at parties with my friend who was like a real rapper. He would start dropping bars at the party, referencing something that he learned in history class. No one else would freestyle with him except for me and a couple of other friends. That just gave me the bug because people were like “yo, Marshall, you’re actually super sick too.”
This guy is synthesizing information in real-time and freestyling and controlling the party and the vibe, and the people are listening. I started emulating that, and the rush I used to get with sports, I started getting with music. And that same feeling that I used to get when I would give speeches in middle school and stuff, I started getting not only while I was performing but while I was rapping.
The band formed in large part because of one of your roommates during the time you were living in the U-District. Can you talk a little bit more about that?
The apartment we got had a bunch of random roommates but one of these roommates turned out to be Metal Marty, our saxophone player. And I hung out with him for a whole year and had no idea this guy played the sax.
I had moved when Marty invited me to a jam. He’s like, “hey, me and my band are the house band over at Dante’s on Sundays, do you want to come and jam?” I’m like, bro, you got a band? What? There were five of us there, everybody but our drummer — Matt, The Hospitality. That night five out of six of us met, and we were like best friends immediately.
Can you talk about playing at CHOP over the summer?
We went out there just to see what was going on and feel the vibe of the people. And something about it — it just didn’t align personally with my mission of unity and love. I came home feeling drained, feeling exhausted, and my throat was hoarse. The next day, I stayed home, and I watched Omari Salisbury live stream on his personal Facebook and he got tear gassed for like the fourth night in a row on the frontlines, and he was screaming, “Where’s the leadership?” And honestly, it just felt like a direct call-out.
The performances started going from just like a performance in the middle of chaos to an educational platform where people who maybe didn’t feel comfortable on a bullhorn did feel comfortable coming up and having the Marshall Law Band play quietly behind them, and speaking on the issues from their heart.
And then can you talk about the album 12th and Pine and how that came together?
We had two songs already written: “Dolla Dolla Bill” and “Kleos.” But it really grew on the streets. As soon as CHOP was broken down, we had all this energy and we were like what do we do with it? We decided we’re going to go on a retreat and we’re going to record this album.