EXCLUSIVE: Adrian Marcel: ‘It Feels Good to be a Black Man Every Day of My Life’

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ESSENCE Festival first timer Adrian Marcel talks mentorship, music and what it means to be a Black man today. 

Adrian Marcel is the music industry’s new wonder kid. 

Hailing from East Oakland, Marcel is the protégé of the legendary Raphael Saadiq – of whom Marcel connected with through management – and for good reason. His voice is smooth as butter and has charisma out the wazoo, but don’t let the boyish good looks fool you. Marcel understands that life is about balance and he has a strong sense of self – the good comes with the bad, but he takes both in stride. 

Related: Sybrina Fulton, Nicole Paultre Bell Spread Words of Encouragement at ESSENCE Festival

We had an opportunity to chat it up with ESSENCE Festival first timer, Adrian Marcel before he set the Hot Right Now stage a blaze. See what the wonder-kid craze is all about. 

ESSENCE: "Raphael Saadiq took you under his wing and now you are here – you have come to prominence – and are on the stage at the ESSENCE Music Festival. What role did mentorship play in your career?"

MARCEL: "As a new artist on the come-up it is very hard to get any recognition, especially first coming out the gate. Having someone like Raphael Saadiq – having a legend – rocking with me, and believing in me the way he does is definitely a confidence booster. He definitely makes sure my head doesn’t get too big. But at the same time understanding the power of having that [a mentor] and being humbled. Everybody doesn’t get that shot. There’s a lot of content that’s coming in and out, and to have that type of longevity you have to have someone around that’s giving you the advice that you need and not the advice that you want."

ESSENCE: "In a previous interview you quoted a piece of advice that Ray has given you: 'A battery cannot work without the negatives.' Tell me how this quote informs your path." 

MARCEL: "It’s crazy because I’ve always been a more positive person. I try to find the positivity in everything. It just reassured me, meeting someone like Ray: who is as successful as he is, who is as humble as he is and as happy as he is, at the same time. It reassured me that that’s the spirit to have: to always find the positives and understand that those negatives count. There’s a lot of negatives in this industry … Without them I wouldn’t be where I am. You have to have that. It lets you see the true fans that support you."

ESSENCE: "What does it mean to be a Black man in this country given what’s going on in the world?"

MARCEL: "It feels good to be a Black man every day of my life. Like James Brown said, 'I’m Black and I’m proud.' I was raised by two beautiful, powerful Black people – my mother and my father. They instilled that beauty in me: you walk around with your head high. To be a part of something like ESSENCE [Festival] shows that I’m following that path correctly. Everybody is not blessed with the ESSENCE Festival. It’s like the Promised Land. We did it. I want to make sure that I am out there inspiring the other Black girls and boys. The youth. There’s something more to look for. There’s a lot of evil in the world, but that doesn’t mean that you have to be evil."

ESSENCE: "You often sing about love and your weakness for women. Do you plan on reflecting the times in your music?"

MARCEL: "Absolutely. The people that I’ve come up studying, and loving their music: the Sam Cooks, the Marvin Gayes, the Donny Hathaways. The greats. They are able to go off of the usual subjects … As you go through life, as you get older, seeing things that go on in the world, it’s only right that I do. I want to create something that is the (Marcel begins to sing Teddy Pendegrass’ ‘Wake Up Everybody’), “wake-up everybody, time to build a new land.” It’s the type of music where the lyrics get you as well as the melody of the music. We definitely have to start preparing to touch the youth more, and inspiring more."

Under the tutelage of Raphael Saadiq, Adrian Marcel has emerged as a well-trained vocalist and is socially conscious with intents to effect change through his music. And with humility, the singer admits that he is still learning. If Marcel is considered the future of the music industry, then indeed, the future is in good hands.

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