The output of lyrical and experiential rapper Mark Steele is cast in the kind of self-assuredness attained only by hard-fought successes. A native North Carolinian, Steele received an early boost from a spot in The Source's recurring Unsigned Hype column and yet didn't need a deal to get "Not Like Yall" (2014) and "Greatness" (2015) licensed years later by ESPN. Supported by inspirations 9th Wonder and Rapper Big Pooh, Steele has released numerous projects through his independent Evolution Camp label, including a biennial trilogy of albums capped by the highly concentrated It's Been a Minute (2018).
Growing up in Durham, North Carolina, Steele developed an early interest in a variety of music, started rapping as a youngster, and began to take the art form seriously during his teens. In 2007, while he was still a high-schooler, he and friend Mike Bannon -- then operating as the duo Mic & Rep -- were featured in The Source magazine's Unsigned Hype feature. Although the exposure didn't result in a contract, Steele and Bannon continued forging ahead. A little later on, while attending college at North Carolina Central University, Steele was taught and mentored by revered producer 9th Wonder, previously of Little Brother and still thriving with a multitude of outlets. The association proved to have more impact on Steele's career than any media coverage.
A corner was turned in 2014 when "Not Like Yall," uploaded to YouTube by Steele, caught the attention of an ESPN employee. This led to the sports station licensing the track for placement in its First Take show. "Not Like Yall" was commercially released that year as a bonus cut on Sumthin for the Wait, Steele's debut solo album. Shortly thereafter, Steele returned with an EP, History Repeats, highlighted by "Greatness," a lean and triumphant track regularly featured on ESPN flagship program Sportscenter. Steele then connected with the likes of Carvin & Ivan, Raheem DeVaughn, and ex-Little Brother member Rapper Big Pooh for his 2016 LP, Almost Time. Although it received some high-profile online and satellite radio airplay, Steele felt the album was rushed. He directed his artistic frustration into the making of his third full-length. Created over a period of deep focus and strict self-discipline, including six months during which he lived out of his car, It's Been a Minute arrived in 2018. This time, fellow Durham dwellers Khrysis and G. Yamazawa, along with No Malice, were among the collaborators. ~ Andy Kellman