South Central native MyGuyMars has been surrounded by music since he was a toddler, growing up in a musically-inclined family and heavily influenced by his dad’s church. Whether it’s drums, guitar, bass or percussion, the multi-instrumental has the ability to combine R&B, soul, gospel and hip-hop — creating a sound that’s new yet familiar.

Mars is a producer, a musician, a musical director, an artist, an entrepreneur and a father. With a newborn in his life, he’s found new purpose while music remains important. Being one of the OGs of production and songwriting group 1500 Or Nothin’, the West Coast producer was able to work closely with the late Nipsey Hussle, even working on “Dedication” featuring Kendrick Lamar from Nip’s debut album Victory Lap.

Going back a few years, Mars played keys in Nip’s “Hussle and Motivate” music video, which has over 28 million views on Youtube alone. Beyond the music, it’s the friendship the two shared that he cherishes. Mars has also worked with everyone from Mya and BJ The Chicago Kid to T.I. and Snoop, the latter two he sees as mentors.

Aside from his own artistry, Mars founded AfterChurchLA one and a half years ago to create a platform for up and coming artists. The event takes place each Sunday in Hollywood right after normal church service hours. We caught up with MyGuyMars to discuss his upbringing, friendship with Nipsey Hussle, his vision with AfterChurchLA and more.

L.A. WEEKLY: What part of L.A. are you from? 

MYGUYMARS: The first house that my grandfather had was on 92nd and Van Nuys, so that’s where I grew up as a kid in South Central. After that, my parents moved. My dad started a church in 1992 in Lancaster, an hour north. I was nine years old, still a kid. So definitely with the Lancaster swag.

How was it, growing up in Lancaster?

It was dope. I was able to be out there with nothing and really hone in on my skills and talents and the gift God gave me, but also kind of finding them and developing them. That was the most imperative part, being in church. Of course, my dad making a decision to take us out of the place. He didn’t want me to grow up in gangs or the hood.

How did you get into producing?

I got into producing because I heard “Find My Way” by A Tribe Called Quest. I’m like, “yYo, who the fuck did this? Who’s responsible for this?” I did my research, educated myself, found out it was J Dilla. I kept hearing more shit coming out: Erykah Badu, Janet Jackson, Common, and it was all J Dilla. I’m like, “What the fuck, let me follow this dude.” He’s one of the people as well as Battlecat who got me into making beats because I just love their music. I want people to feel the same way I feel. 

Did you teach yourself? How did you learn?

Yeah basically, by accident. I was messing with this keyboard at my dad’s church, it was called Trinity. At the time, it was the newest shit. I accidentally pressed record trying to find a sound and it went to a whole other screen. I just started figuring it out: how to make track beats, sequences, etc.  

You actually co-founded 1500 Or Nothin’ at 17, can you bring us back to those days?

We started it together. We started just playing in church. We didn’t really know we were a collective like that. It was just us being friends playing at First AME Church, then that led to Bobby Valentino‘s manager seeing us at the church. He’s like “Yo, can you do this showcase?” Then we did it, he’s like “How much y’all charge?” We’re like “$1500.” “What’s the name of your band?” “We don’t have a name, it’s 1500 Or Nothin’.” “That’s a dope name.” Alright cool, we’re 1500.” [laughs]

That’s an epic story. Has the price raised a lot more these days?

Mmhmm. Of course, absolutely. It’s a couple more zeros and commas moved around.

What was your relationship with Nipsey Hussle like?

I met Nip when I moved back out here in 2002 or 2003. Basically Rance had taken me to the neighborhood he was in. We went to the studio and everybody’s in there. I was freakin’ scared kind of looking like “Where the fuck am I at?” Then I seen the music equipment and instantly all nervousness, all fright, everything went out of the window. I’m like “Oh I’m home. Robin Hood was behind the keyboard, he was the one doing beats. Robin Hood was the first person I seen making beats with all the equipment, that was like “Yo you’re dope.” Nipsey of course, everyone was there. That developed to having a musical relationship and a bond because people respected the level we were at, knowing where they were trying to get musically. 

Obviously that grew. We were his first band, and his last band. Outside of that, being here and having dope moments outside of music. Talking about life. Going downstairs to go smoke and he’s reading a book, watching documentaries. He just puts you in different places to always progress, that’s what I respect and love most about the legend Nip.

We loved seeing you in the “Hussle and Motivate” visual. What was your best memory from that shoot?

Actually, it was weird because somebody else was supposed to play the keys. Somebody else was supposed to do it and they couldn’t so I talked to Nip. He’s like “Man, I’m glad you were able to do it.” We got to the shoot and they told me I couldn’t smoke, so I’m like “Let me figure this out. Because I know if Nip is there…” I get off set, obviously he’s shooting. He’s clear-minded. He’s doing his job, he’s not smoking. I sat in the car and smoked. I was there for hours just in the car smoking. 

I finally got out and I peeped the set, everything was dope. They brought the piano up. It was a moment where Nip was by the car, he’s like “what’s up Mars? We about to do this. Yeah man, it’s about to go up! That’s right.” We had the chains and the whole thing, he was performing. It was just dope. It was so cold out there. It was just a moment every time we were filming. And I got to look at somebody that’s younger than me, somebody that was less musical than me, all of these things — and progress further and evolve much more than where I was. I was just looking while it was going like “This is crazy. That’s my n*gga!” That day was definitely epic, I have footage of course. 

How long have you been here at this studio in Noho?

I’ve been here for about four or five years. When I first moved in, Mike & Keys had moved in. They had pressed me to move in because they had a studio with Nip. Something happened with that studio and they were down for a minute, so I had them come to my house. We were all working in the house then they convinced me to come to this studio, so then we convinced Nip to come to this studio. I convinced Mya to come to this studio, then BJ The Chicago Kid came to this studio. It’s only four studios in here so we were super private. Super protected. Everybody’s cooking, having barbecues. Mya’s bringing vegan stuff, it was just a dope vibe. It was dope energy to make dope music. 

In the first year, we actually both got Grammy-nominated when we got in the studio. It was crazy, I was a part of BJ’s album which Mike & Keys were, then I obviously produced and partnered with Mya. Did her whole album, we got nominated for that as well. It was just dope. The energy being in the studio like “Yo we’re Grammy nominated!” Or “You’re Grammy  nominated too? Dope!”

How did you guys celebrate? Champagne?

We definitely had some champagne. Mya had her own wine, vegan wine. It was a real dope vibe and everybody that comes in here still feels that spirit. 

What’s the best part of fatherhood?

The future. The future is the best part. Knowing what I’m going to be doing and knowing what I’m in the process of doing and creating for them. No matter what kind of day I have, when I go home, when I see him, it’s crazy. I’m always happy and smiling. I got home last night and his mom was in the shower. I walked in the room he was asleep. I caught myself, I was probably standing there for five minutes looking at him like “that’s my guy, I did that. That was me!”

Does he know that daddy is an all-star producer?

Nah, not yet. He knows he’s lit for sure. He has more keyboards and drums than I do. He has two Benzes, all kinds of stuff. Too much, he’s lit. 

When did you first come up with the idea for AfterChurchLA?

I had the idea for a while honestly, but it actually formulated within the last year and a half or so. It’s basically me wanting to provide something that I wanted for myself. When I was growing up, we didn’t have a platform to come, play music, get on stage with dope producers we looked up to and show people stuff. I just wanted to have a place to do that. Most of the producers, musicians, and artists who are dope, sing and play in church. I figure after church, people are going to go eat soul food, smoking, going to drink. Going to play at the homie’s house in the garage. They’re doing all that stuff anyway, so why not create a platform where everyone can come and do what they want to do anyway? That’s why I call it AfterChurchLA, it’s in L.A.. I’m looking forward to branching it out. It’s a dope concert series and open mic jam session for creatives. 

How do you pick who performs?

Initially, I was just going off of my relationships. But now we have people hitting us up weekly for sure. Almost every other day somebody’s hitting us up like “Yo, how can I perform? How can I play? I got an artist.” That’s what it’s for so I encourage that, but as far as the actual lineup, we have a submission process. Because we still want it to be a certain quality. Still have people that are coming up come in, but we don’t want it to be like “What the fuck is this?”

Talk about mixing in established artists as well. How easy it is for you to call your people and have them pull up?

We did a concert with Mya. I did a hidden talent show, a beat battle. I like doing a lot of events to where I can bring awareness to the city because there’s so many talented people. That’s my thing, giving the opportunity. I’m not going to be here forever so I want to give the opportunity as well as the more people that are doing it, the more expressions. The more character, so it makes the world better in music. 

What is your vision with this?

Concert series, developing and establishing artists, and continuing to have this creative platform for people to be able to express themselves and be discovered. 

What is MyGuyMars working on right now?

I’m working my artist King Dreams. I just wrapped up his project, he’s fire. EP is fire. I’m working with Nick Grant. I’m working with Eric Bellinger. Working on my own shit, it’s pretty fire.

Are you singing or rapping? 

Both. I have some shit out too. You can tap in. I have a project called No Days Off, that was my last project that I did. I’m working on some more shit right now, I’m working on MyGuyMars 2. Definitely got some music, some visuals, and a gang of other stuff. Of course Tip and Snoop, people like that. 

Is there anything special about the last AfterChurchLA of the year? 

Hell yeah. Shit, it marks a year of us doing something consistently and being able to celebrate what we’ve done and continue to evolve. We have all types of artists, singers, R&B, rappers, Audio Push, Mya, Tweet done be there, Chris Brown’s mama, Earth Wind and Fire, Verdine. I played on stage with him so to have those types of people that I’ve looked up to, established  artists come and want to hang out and see what’s going on is a blessing. 

Is there anything else you want to let us know? 

God is good. Nipsey is a legend. MyGuyMars is going crazy 2020.