By Jordan Stovka

Since founding Hip-Hop Orchestra in 2012, University of Maryland graduate Marcus Moody is branching out on his own, retiring from his role in the group and diving into the beginning stages of creating his own music.

“It’s fun and I love it, don’t get me wrong, but I’ve been putting a lot of work into [HHO] over the years and it feels like it’s time to make my own music; do my own thing,” Moody said about his retirement.

“The EP is something I’ve been very excited for,” he added. ‘I’ve been wanting to move on from the orchestra to make my own music, mostly because with the student group and doing shows at school or community events, you have to be very censored with it, and I really wanted to break free from that, so this is that first step.”

Moody released his first solo EP, Moody, at the end of February, featuring a small but mighty collection of three tracks that relate to events in his own life. He hopes listeners can appreciate the authenticity of the lyricism and sound, a shift in the otherwise superficial projects pushed by the music industry.

“As an album, I wanted people to feel something,” he said. “I wanted something where people could dig a little deeper, and maybe feel what they don’t want to. This isn’t an EP for people to play at a club … I don’t even like when people play this and I’m around. This is music for being alone.”

The EP’s first track, “Numb3rs,” was Moody’s inspiration for the entire project, touching on themes of nostalgia and self empowerment.

“The feeling of the instrumentals, out of all three, really leads into the lyrics well,” he said. “It’s more so about this nostalgic feeling and I wanted to hit home this feeling of power; this feeling of power in who you are and what happened to you and owning that.”

Transitioning from “Numb3rs,” Moody leads listeners into “Are You Happy,” a track featuring Michael Jackson ad-libs and a theme of self-acceptance and growth during times of doubt or depression.

After finding a video compilation of Jackson’s screaming ad-libs on Youtube, Moody delved into more research, listening to interviews and reading articles that connected Jackson’s childhood with his mental state, surfacing the artist’s darker path.

Moody identified with this feeling during his first two undergraduate years at this university from trying to balance grades, maintaining a high school party reputation and having a “happy-go-lucky” persona, all while dealing with “heavy” depression.

“I found this powerful emptiness, and it’s something I felt in my personal life,” he said.

Making music gave Moody the opportunity to grow, a lesson he hopes will encourage his listeners.

“I wanted people know that you can be depressed, you can feel a certain type of way, you can go through these things, and you can still be acceptable to yourself … and you will be able to move forward and grow. And the main way I grew was creating,” he said.

The third song, “Have Mercy,” is just as personal as its predecessors. The track was inspired by the death of one of Moody’s close friends, complete with a chorus of repeated “goodbyes” spoken by his friends.

Hearing the news initially shook his world, but after attending the funeral service as uplifting as his friend’s soul, he was encouraged to write a song that embodies that appreciation and positivity.

“The song is really like this plea to be okay. This appreciation for life and the life of people who brought so much love into yours,” Moody said. “I really wanted that feeling to come through.”

Moody led HHO to open for Lil Dicky and T-Pain at last year’s Art Attack, performing at the AFROPUNK FEST in Brooklyn and maxing The Kennedy Center during the Word Beats & Life Hip Hop Festival just last November. His charisma, friendliness and passion for his musical work are qualities HHO members know so well, and three characteristics the group will miss as they push on in his absence.

For some HHO members, like percussionist Obi Igbo, the transition stage has proven to be shaky, however he is hopeful for improvement and growth in the future.

“Speaking from emotions, it doesn’t feel the same way. It doesn’t sound the same. That could be because we’re still in the transition stage,” said Igbo, a 2016 graduate of this university who joined HHO just before last year’s Battle of the Bands. “I already said how Marcus was both a conductor and a friend, and I feel like he did that so well, but it does give a lot of room for growth.”

Describing the EP as being similar to Frank Ocean’s Blonde, Igbo wholeheartedly trusts Moody’s creativity for future projects, and is planning to join him in any endeavors he may have.

“I enjoy working with Marcus. Anything he suggests at this point I’d be on board with,” he added.

Tenor saxophonist Benjamin Laurenson’s first performance with HHO was at last year’s Battle of the Band’s competition, and having enjoyed the collaboration amongst his fellow musicians, is dedicated to ensuring the group’s relevance despite Moody’s retirement.

“It’s a big step to move away from something that was his baby,” said Laurenson, a junior government and politics major. “I’m looking forward to helping make sure it stays self-sustaining.”

Read our review of Moody here.

Featured Photo Credit: Marcus Moody, founder, conductor, composer, and director of Hip Hop Orchestra during their performance at Battle of the Bands in the Baltimore Room of Stamp. Between songs, the recent UMD alumnus spoke on the difficulty of rehearsing with their entire orchestra on campus. (Cassie Osvatics/Bloc Reporter)
Jordan Stovka is a sophomore journalism major and can be reached at jstovka@icloud.com.

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