The one-MC one-DJ rap outfits have always shared a special bond, but none have shared holy matrimony. That is, until MTRI and DJ Leecy T. They recently released their new videos for “Rush” (with Ukraine artist Dee the Conscious One) and “Expression” (with Slovakia’s Golias and DJ Muki), both filmed on their European tour, and the happily married hip-hop couple are proving the energy and style that’s made them mainstays of the New York underground translates all over the world.
We spoke to the duo, who are currently finishing their new album Monday Morning Music, about bringing New York boom bap across the map, as well as the advantages and challenges of hip-hop wedlock.
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How did you two first meet?
DJ Leecy T: Many, many moons ago. In 2001, I had recently moved to New York from Virginia Beach and was working in Times Square where I met [M-Tri] working at the ESPN Zone. Were you hosting or DJing?
M-TRI: I was DJing an open mic.
DJ Leecy T: Yeah, down in Alphabet City. Remember Korova Milk Bar? That was where he was. I didn’t know a lot of friends, so I would pretty much go there every week and hang out. We became friends then.
M-TRI: We were friends for about six months, and then we started dating.
Being you were DJing at the time, did you find your tastes in hip-hop went together well?
DJ Leecy T: Yeah. I think I was more A Tribe Called Quest, Beastie Boys and heavy into The Roots. He introduced me to more of Pete Rock and CL Smooth, I didn’t know about Da Bush Babiez so he introduced me to them.
M-TRI: I was more into the Gang Starr stuff. We both had similar interests into Wu-Tang type of stuff. I liked the older stuff as well, Kane, Rakim.
That was also when you were part of Zoned Out, correct?
M-TRI: Yeah, [fellow Zoned Out MC] Deep Thought was host of the open mic, and I was the DJ.
Being your relationship began before the internet changed how hip-hoppers self-promote the events and music, did you find any challenges dating around the underground hip-hop schedule?
M-TRI: Yeah, getting on the phone and calling people. Flyers and stuff. We were together for a while before we started doing music together. Even when I was with Zoned Out, we did a couple shows where she sang the hook on some of the songs. That was the introduction for us working together, this was way before she started DJing.
DJ Leecy T: Yeah, that was 2004-2005, and we didn’t start doing music as a group until 2009. We’d been married for a couple year by that point.
At what point following the wedding did making music begin?
M-TRI: We got married in 2007 and would just be hanging around the house playing music. Leecy had really good music selections, a wide range of different kinds of genres. I was like “I should show you how to mix and blend songs together.” She picked it up really quick and then the lightbulb went off. I was like “wait a minute, I’m doing the solo thing now and wanted to do the MC/DJ duo,” once I showed her how to scratch, that’s how it started.
DJ Leecy T: It was maybe three months after he started showing me stuff that we started doing shows together. He would show me a scratch or something, then go hangout for a bit, and three hours later would come back and I’d have the scratch down. It’s easy because we’re both here, we can coordinate our schedules, we can practice at all hours, do rehearsals…
M-TRI: Rehearsals in our pajamas.
DJ Leecy T: Right, it’s very convenient.
Are there any challenging aspects about rocking together as a married couple?
M-TRI: I don’t think so. We get along really well outside of the music.
DJ Leecy T: That’s a huge help. Our communication is really on point.
M-TRI: So with the music, everything flows well.
DJ Leecy T: We both don’t have egos and are open to criticism. We’re not mean to each other. We do sometimes disagree on different parts of the music, but we always work it out.
When performing together, have to found any interesting reactions from crowds finding out that you’re married?
M-TRI: Well, most people don’t know that we’re married. It’s not a secret, but we don’t do any cheesy love songs. It’s a female DJ and a male MC and we rock. If you know we’re married, cool.
DJ Leecy T: I don’t think people, unless they’re really super-following us…
M-TRI: Or looking at our last names on Facebook…
DJ Leecy T: …I don’t think people necessarily realize we’re married.
Was that a conscious choice to not do the Captain and Tennille thing?
DJ Leecy T: I think in the beginning, we didn’t want people to know that we were married because we didn’t want people to be like “Oh, that’s cute!” We wanted people to be like “Oh, they’re a dope duo.” And if you dug, and found out, OK fine. Now we’re like, who cares?
M-TRI: Yeah, we started with the first question “How did you meet?” We got to explain our relationship when people ask about us, so we’re like “Yeah, we’re married and we do music.”
You’ve also toured in Europe in the Czech Republic, Ukraine, and Slovakia and have shot videos with overseas hip-hop artists as well. How did you link up with them?
M-TRI: Through Facebook, they hit us up to do collaborations with them.
DJ Leecy T: Yeah, the tour almost made itself. It was perfect timing, reaching out to people and saying we felt we would do well with shows over in Europe, if [they] knew someone who knows a promoter, any connections would be awesome. People kept responding and hooking us up, the dates just fell into place.
Are there any major differences between how you’re perceived by European crowds and the New York scene?
M-TRI: Yeah, they were really, really excited and showed how much they liked it. Whereas, here, people are just cool and they’ll nod their head at the show. Maybe they’ll put a hand up here or there. In Europe, these kids were jumping up and down and yelling the words back. They seemed like they were into it wanting to wyle out.