Even the short list of elite Bay Area rappers say, Too Short, E-40, Keak Da Sneak, and Mistah FAB must include the Fillmore’s own Marvin Watson Jr., a.k.a. Messy Marv. Since selling 15,000 units of his debut, Messy Situations (Ammo, 1996), at age 16, Mess has consistently earned impressive independent numbers: his solo discs Disobayish (Scalen/Sumday, 2004) and Bandannas, Tattoos, and Tongue Rings (Scalen/SMC, 2005) both sold 20,000, while his collaboration with San Quinn, Explosive Mode (Presidential, 1998), has moved more than 50,000.
Mess began 2007 with Da Bidness (Gateway/SMC), the creation of a supergroup formed with Keak and PSD, which, according to SMC’s Will Bronson, was last year’s best-selling local independent disc, at 19,000 and counting. Mess’s current project, Draped Up and Chipped Out 2 (Scalen/SMC), dropped at the year’s end. By mid-December, Draped was the number one independent and number 13 overall album on the Music Monitor Network, which tracks sales from major United States indie chains.
The soundtrack to an uncompleted film, Draped consists mostly of songs by Mess spitting alongside national talent like Mike Jones, Juvenile, and Sean Paul plus tracks from local heavyweights like G-Stack and B-Legit. Despite its various hands, the disc still has an album feel, containing some of Mess’s best work since Bandannas. Highlights include his singles "My Life Is a Movie," which showcases a hook by the late Mac Dre, and "Sei Luv," a rare foray into romantic R&B. With multiple business ventures in the works including a clothing line and a reality TV show and perpetual major-label interest, Mess is as likely as any Bay rapper to go nationwide.
Coming from the Fillmore’s projects, however, presents challenges most artists don’t face. When I spoke with Mess, he was fresh out of Santa Rita Jail, where he spent the past year on a weapons charge.
"I was charged with felony possession of a firearm, my second firearm case," he said. "The deal was three years’ state pen, but my legal defense got me a year. Now I’m back out, trying to turn my negative situation into a positive.
"Jail didn’t stagnate anything as far as my label Scalen," continued Mess, who even recorded a Draped intro behind bars. "They had a phone so I could do my business and my time. I have a strong team behind me."
Nonetheless, given California’s three-strikes law, another felony gun charge could land Mess serious prison time. When asked if he’s worried, however, he got a little heated.
"Now you sound like the SF police," he said the last thing a rap reporter wants to hear. "Are we trying to make people think I don’t care about going to jail?" he asked, citing his displeasure with a May 15, 2007, San Francisco Chronicle article implying his gun toting had ruined his career opportunities.
"I felt real exploited by that article," Mess said. "I said I’d rather be caught with than without, any day. The way the murder rate is, it’s like that. I don’t regret any of it. I’d rather people read about me in jail than read about me dying or being shot."
He has a point. I absolutely hate guns, as do SF voters, who passed Proposition H banning possession and sale of firearms within city limits in 2005. But Prop. H was struck down Jan. 9 by the First District Court of Appeal, based on a challenge by the National Rifle Association, for conflicting with state law, and I think it’s hypocritical to condemn rappers for carrying guns in a society that refuses to ban them. Street rappers like Mess have to maintain a presence in the hood to preserve their credibility and fan base. But money and fame make them targets for violent crime.
"We need some kind of protection," insisted Bay legend Spice 1, who was shot in the chest during a Dec. 3, 2007, attempt to break into his Escalade while he slept inside. The bullet pierced his lung, leaving him in critical condition, though he’s now out of danger and recovering.
"Entertainers should get a break, but we can’t even wear [bulletproof] vests," added Spice, who has had six gun charges, including four in California that predate the three-strikes law. "Marv ain’t trying to jack nobody. He’s trying to protect himself."
In any case, despite the risks, Mess has no intention of abandoning his hood. Beyond the usual rapper’s neighborhood pride, he has taken on an active role in attempting to turn negatives into positives. Aside from using his label to employ youths whose criminal records and/or poor education make getting jobs nearly impossible, he’s put out two volumes of Fillmore Nation (Scalen/SMC, 2006) to help young rappers launch their careers. He intends to donate a portion of the profits to two Fillmore community centers.
"When I got my position in the music industry, I didn’t turn my back on the kids," Mess said. "I’m out here with these kids, these criminals, and they look at me as hope because I was the same way. When they look at me, they can say, ‘If Messy Marv can do it, I can do it.’<0x2009>"
All told, I think San Francisco or at least the Fillmore is better off with Mess on the street than in a cell.