How to Quit Your Shitty Job and Become a Hip Hop Producer

Meet a former collections agent who turned his addiction to 90s rap into a career making urban music.
September 25, 2019, 10:00am
Marco Polo quit his job as a collections agent and became a hip hop producer.
Photo by Robert Adam Mayer

Quitting Your Shitty Job is a column that speaks to people who turned their back on their totally average and uninspiring jobs to pursue something they actually wanted.

This week, we spoke to Marco Bruno, aka. Marco Polo, who is based in Brooklyn, N.Y., but mostly lives out of his suitcase, promoting his music after he makes it. But his life wasn’t always traveling to venues around the world and hanging with his hop hop crew, which includes Masta Ace. This Canadian boy used to be a collections agent in his hometown of Richmond Hill, Ontario, which is a suburb of Toronto. Here’s the story of how he made the leap to the wild world of urban music.

VICE: What did you do in your previous jobs?
Marco Bruno aka. Marco Polo: I worked at a collections agency, and that was a terrible job.

Why did it suck?
I was chasing people in horrible life situations to pay their student loans, so [I was] basically manipulating people in messed up situations to borrow money they don’t have. The first couple of months I was doing really good and then one day I woke up and didn’t feel right about it, and I left.

They train you to convince people in shitty situations to borrow money from people. I’d call people and they’d be like ‘I don’t have any money’ and I’d tell them ‘ask your best friend to wire money to put down on your student loan, get your grandmother to sell her dentures.’ That was the worst job I ever had.

What did you switch to instead?
I went to music school and after I graduated, I lined up an internship at York University’s music studio called The Cutting Room. I was literally the happy intern there, mopping, cleaning bathrooms, making coffee for everyone. I did everything they wanted me to do and I finally got a legit job managing the studio. From that point on, I started producing records and I haven’t looked back since.

Was there a lightbulb moment?
I worked at Future Shop and Indigo and was fired for stealing hip hop albums. I was learning everything I could about making and recording hip hop. I figured I should probably [work in the industry] and stay out of jail. I became addicted to hip hop music and I hit a point where I wanted to learn how to make beats.

I had friends around me that were teaching me the basics. I was looking into the history and buying every album ever made by LL Cool J, Big Daddy Kane, Wu-Tang, Tribe Called Quest—just discovering this new world and becoming a super fan. Sampling these old records that I knew I had heard from something my dad played, and they were getting slipped into new beats that people were rapping on. I just fell in love with it to the point where I wanted to make this my entire life.

What do you love most about your job?
That I work for myself. I don’t have to do anything anybody tells me to do. I get up and I go to the next room and it’s my office and my studio. I feel so blessed because I make music every day. It’s the greatest. I know it sounds super basic but I know a lot of my friends did not follow what they wanted to do. They did what they were culturally told to do.

I come from an Italian family where you’re expected to find a wife, get a job and follow this path where you make money and buy a house, have two kids by 30. That was not for me.

I was definitely the black sheep in my family when I decided to move to New York and do hip hop, and do whatever it took to make it. My mom was a little more open-minded, but I know both my parents were absolutely petrified about me doing that.

But then I started to make it. I got nominated for two Juno awards and started doing stuff and touring and they were like ‘oh, this is a thing.’ And then they couldn’t shut up about me. It was amazing.

Are there any downsides?
Being an independent artist in any genre means nothing is guaranteed. I don’t have a steady income. I can have an amazing two months and a shitty three months. Because I’m not Drake, sometimes I’m overseas dealing with promoters that have you in messed-up conditions and you have to be ready for anything. We just came back from Chile and we were dealing with a shady promoter who left us stranded for a couple of days.

You just deal with a lot of crazy stuff sometimes, and sometimes it’s dope. For the most part, it’s cool, but it’s every man for themselves out there. To me, the question mark is part of the fun.

Biggest misconception about you or what you do?
People think I’m partying and wilding out and living the rock star music life, but I’m really not. My social life is basically going out to dinner, eating food and going back home to make music. I’ve been sober since I was 16 years old. I don’t drink. I don’t do drugs.

If I’m not performing or touring, I’m not going to be in the club at 2 a.m.—the idea of it gives me anxiety. I do music for a living but I treat it like a nine-to-five. I really like my alone time and my little grandpa routine of going to the gym and making music. That’s it.


Marco Polo in Chile. Photo by Articha.

What do you wish you'd known about your new job before you started?
I wish someone had told me that you’re going to meet some of your musical heroes and they’re going to be dicks. Straight up. I’ve met some people I’ve grown up listening to and I wish I’d never had a personal encounter or worked with them. I’ve met artists or MCs that I’ve literally looked up to and now I can’t even listen to their music because they’re horrible human beings. Don’t always be so amped to meet some of your heroes. I know that’s dark and depressing, but it’s real.

Rate your life out of 10 before, and now:
My life before music was a seven and I have to give my life now at least a nine. Financially, I’m definitely not in the place I’d like to be—not that I’m broke. But I definitely make sacrifices living in New York because unless you’re killing it, making tons of money, you’re not going to have the space and fancy things you want. But I don’t care about any of that stuff. I’d rather have a humble apartment and do what I want, not go to an office every day.

I have a pretty miraculous life. I’m not a rich person, but I’m a happy person. I get to travel to amazing places, seeing all types of different scenes, performing music that I made. It’s pretty awesome.

Follow Anne Gaviola on Twitter.