Rob Markman: Triumph & Tears

Rob Markman impressed me from the jump.

Born in Flatbush, Brooklyn, Rob put himself through Hunter College working in the mailroom of a tween fashion catalogue. His supervisor dissuaded him from trying to move to the copy department despite the fact that he was moonlighting for The NY Post and XXL where he filed two album reviews to other contributor’s one.

See, a million years ago, I helped launch MTV’s News onto the world wide web.

My Dream Job had been Rock Star, but Rock Journalist was a very, very close second. I read Rolling Stone cover-to-cover from the time I was ten, and made comp reels of MTV News Rockumentaries and News Briefs — “Ten to the hour every hour” — on VHS.

It still blows my fifteen-year-old, music-fan-mind to have had a front row seat there for so long. I saw Green Day perform to an empty Radio City Music Hall. I saw Kanye interrupt Taylor, then get escorted from the building. I wandered backstage at The Grammys, and behind-the-scenes with U2. I never, ever got used to being that close to something I love so much.

But many of my colleagues had long since forgotten what it felt like to be a fan. Tickets were free. Access was granted. Drinks were provided.

“The masses are asses,” one bumper sticker in the newsroom read.

But one crew had fandom on lock. They were in the mix every night, building the culture, covering and celebrating its heroes. This was a real shoe leather team. When Lil Wayne was being released from Riker’s, they fanned out across the five boroughs to cover the story from every available angle.

They lived for the scoop, and published 24/7. And they pioneered. They were first to social media. They produced a weekly live stream years before they were ubiquitous. And they spearheaded what was once one of the most debated, discussed and disagreed upon lists in the music industry: Hottest MCs.

Hottest MCs was an annual debate to crown the “Hottest MC in the Game,” the hip hop artist that is the most now, right now. Their ranking was based on data, sure. But largely, it was based on a fierce, passionate discussion among “The MTV Brain Trust.”

That Brain Trust — Sway Calloway, Rahman Dukes, Whitney Gayle-Benta, Tuma Bassa, Rob Markman, among others — has gone on to shape the intersection of media, technology and music at Spotify, Facebook, Genius, Sirius, Revolt and beyond. Few, perhaps, more than Rob.

Today, Rob is the VP of Content strategy at Genius, a technology company whose platform empowers annotation on any webpage, but excels at rap lyrics. Rob bilt artist relations there, before moving on to content strategy across Genius shows, podcasts and more.

But Rob’s EGOT odds really increased a few years ago when — short version — he freestyled a few bars on the massively-successful “Breakfast Club” radio show, got signed, and dropped a well-received debut album, “Write To Dream.” Dude played Barclay’s: capacity 19000!. This year, Rob’s been releasing new tracks, features and collabos every fifteen days.

So where I’m standing, Rob made an amazing, successful pivot from journalist to executive and musical artist — in his mid-thirties, as a father, out of nowhere. And I was dying to hear how he pulled it all off.

So this week, over the course of two separate conversations, Rob and I hopscotch through his Brooklyn upbringing, trace his journey from a Queens mailroom to the vanguard of music, media and technology; and talk about how he’s meeting the moment as an executive, an artist, and a father.

Listen to Rob talk: Neighborhood. Heart. Perspective. Process. Creation.

Little wonder I have such respect and admiration for him. He’s on top of his game, pushing hard, over-performing, over-delivering — off the charts initiative. In the middle of a global pandemic. With steady-handed, pragmatic optimism, grace and humility.

And at the center of it all is story. Where we come from. Who we are. What we’ve endured.

Double-click, though, and Rob goes deeper. All of his work — as a journalist, an executive and a hip-hop artist alike — digs into the meaning of things: inspiration, process, context, consequences.

Rob’s quest for connection, meaning and explanation, empowers us all to sift through our own stories, through our own words, for deeper connection, explanation and meaning. He reminds us what we share: the loss of “The Dakota,” the passion of “MCs,” the near-misses, twists of fate, sweat, tears and triumphs that mark us, and make us who we are.

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