King Marie Claims Her Crown

The DJ talks music, mixes, underground influences, and leveling up.

Person seated on an office chair, smiling, wearing sneakers in a room with eclectic decor
Mike Vitelli
Person seated on an office chair, smiling, wearing sneakers in a room with eclectic decor

DJ King Marie came up singing and slinging her CDs on Chicago’s Michigan Avenue. She also came up working hard to afford her own Jordans, alongside a musical family that includes her mother, a professional singer, and two older brothers, who are both successful DJs. Drawing on that lineage, King Marie has made her own mark DJing, blowing up parties in Chicago, New York, LA, and Manilla, while organizing events to represent her Filipino American Heritage. She’s also modeled, and put out her own singles and EPs, including “LMU” in 2023 and 222 in 2022. With a new music project on the horizon, King Marie linked with Complex to discuss her work, influences, and underground music and culture in Chicago and New York. 

This interview was edited for concision and clarity.

Looking at the music you play when you DJ, like house, reggaeton, and Brazilian funk, so much of it has subcultural roots. How do the subcultural roots or those genres influence you?
I think for me it's subcultural, but it's also just the essence of how I was raised. It's all of the above and how I know music to sound.

I was raised in a musical family. Both of my brothers are DJs. My mom is a singer and entertainer who was in a cover band, and she did everything from Motown to disco to pop. She even traveled to Seoul, Japan, you know what I mean? She was on tour. And so from different languages to just different sounds in general to being raised by brothers who were there at the peak hip hop era with their craft, all genres of music were at my disposal.

And I'm from Chicago originally, so house music, jazz, funk, literally all of the genres I think have just been such a part of me, which has then transpired into me being able to share that through DJing and through creating music. Yeah, I think it's all just subcultural. It's just part of my upbringing. It's part of who I am as a person, the gift of sound and the gift of music. There’s just so much of it. Why not try and tackle all of it?

Woman in a black dress and sneakers, seated by a desk, surrounded by books and speakers

That makes sense. As you said, you're from Chicago, the home of house music. It's also a city that’s produced a ton of notable hip hop artists, as well as jazz artists and blues musicians. But now you live in New York, the home of hip hop, a city that also brought a lot of dance music to international attention. Can you talk about the differences between the Chicago and New York nightlife scenes?
Sure. I think the beauty of Chicago is that because it's a small big city, it's been able to craft its identity. It doesn't necessarily read as super underground as you can find in New York or crazy warehouse “afters” like you can in LA or in Europe. But there's space to find everything that you would need. There's live shows, there’s speakeasies, and membership-only spots. There’s so much across the board. Also with Chicago crafting its own sounds, like house music, but then birthing so many hip hop artists. No one sounds like the other. You know what I mean? Everyone there is cultivating their own approach and their own way to interpret music. 

But with New York birthing hip hop and just being New York, it's so vast in square footage. Brooklyn alone is the size of Chicago. So you can explore all of Brooklyn and what it has to offer, then go to Manhattan, go Uptown. Every part of New York has its own sound and its own version of how people interpret being a New Yorker. And that's also expressed in sound.

There's literally something for everybody in New York. It's just a playground where everyone can interpret what it means to be an individual across industries. And that's not just with music, but across anything and everything. It's all available here, from billionaire CEOs who fly in for one night or who live here to people who moved here from middle-of-nowhere America to find their favorite bar to listen to music they couldn't find in their hometown. It's vast. New York gives a platform for anybody to be whoever they want, however they want to exist. 

It's part of who I am as a person, the gift of sound and the gift of music.

That's a cool way to put it. Then I know your Filipino American heritage and culture is really important to you. I know you've done your “This is What an Asian Looks Like” sessions and things like that. How do you bring that to the forefront in your work? 
Initially when I started those, it was kind of like a roll call to find people that were like me. I think growing up Filipino American in Chicago, in the city, in the actual city and not the suburbs, there wasn't a lot of culture around being this “hip hop, proud Filipino American person.” And so I think for me it was more so just doing a roll call to find my community, which started in Chicago. With that I was able to build quickly because there were so many people that felt the same way I did, but there wasn't a way for us to be able to be gathered or to enjoy and celebrate in community. That’s another difference with New York. They just have been doing that for generations. Everyone grows up with everybody here.

So with what I've already done and being able to bring it to New York, there's been so much more access and availability and open-mindedness for people to join in, both with what I have going on and for me to also take part. 

And then, with that approach and me not even understanding my own Asian identity, my own Asian-American identity, it allowed me to fill these voids. And then [that turned into being] the representation I didn’t even know other people needed to see. I didn’t even know initially that was my intention, but it has turned out to be the reason.

Person DJing with equipment, tattoos visible on arms, a coffee cup and laptop nearby

As you said, you didn't even expect it, but then there are Asian American young people coming up behind you and you're like, Oh yeah, you're the representation I needed to see.

Let’s also talk about your name, King Marie. It’s dope. It reminds me of old school hip hop debates, like, Who’s the king of New York? But I also see you do your own booking, you’re making your own songs where you’re singing and rapping. I know you’ve done modeling, creative directing, and putting on those community events. When you chose the name King, did you see yourself handling business across your whole “kingdom”? 
No, honestly. It's just how I approach everything. I think that's like anybody with a big dream. You kind of have to be a bit delusional to try and think that all of these things would happen. So that's a part of it. But I think more so my approach has always been to do things in phases without really knowing what comes with that. 

So initially naming myself King Marie, it was kind of like the "queen" aspect of understanding, Yes, I am a woman and I wholeheartedly know that. And then kind of combating the idea of, Why does a "king" title only have to belong to a man? And being the youngest of three with two older brothers and growing up as a tomboy playing sports and just kind of rough around the edges, just kind of touching on the masculinity that I do have and then honoring the femininity of my name. That's really how the name started. Realistically, when it comes to The Kingdom, it's not mine.

I give all glory to God. And so I live in God's Kingdom and with my branding, it's this juxtaposition. I'm working on making that clear, because I want people to understand that I'm lowercase "king." I am not "The King." Do I do all of these things? Yes. Do I have all of these talents? For sure. Am I grateful that I'm able to share them all and do them all? Yes. But I wouldn't be able to do this if God didn't give me all these talents.

Person sitting on floor with sneakers, smiling, tattoos visible, casual attire, by a fireplace with framed photos

I hear that. When you started DJing, did you see yourself as becoming a singer and a rapper? Or were those skills you already had?
Yeah, music actually came first. A lot of people don't know, but music actually came first. So I put out an EP early on. I think I was like 19 and put out an EP, and this is back when there was the streaming that existed was MySpace. You know what I mean?

We were on Michigan Avenue singing and performing for whoever wanted to hear it and had burnt CDs with our branding on it and we're trying to push them for $5, $10. That's the era of music that I grew up in. And if that ages me a bit, I don't care. For me, it was such a beautiful time to hone in on my craft. So that's me, 19 in Chicago. Then I moved to New York with the dream that everybody has. And then once I got here, it was a realistic, Oh, that's not going to work. We're not about to make money off of music anytime soon. And so that's how I picked up DJing.

I never thought about being a DJ in Chicago, because I was like, Oh, my brothers do that. I want to be like my mom. I want to sing. I want to perform. And when I got to New York, it was almost like a light bulb went off and I was like, Yo, I could learn how to DJ and I can push my own music. And so this is when I really ran with DJing. My career DJing started in New York. Then I moved to LA to be a full-time DJ and then moved back to Chicago. And when I moved back to Chicago is when I was able to do both. So it's really when it came full circle. I stopped making original music when I moved to New York and LA and really ran with my DJ career. And I think that that's why my DJ career is so much in the forefront.

So yeah, for me, my music has always been with me. I think it's just I had to live a lot of life in between. And when I got back to Chicago, I was back home where I knew where I was the most familiar and had the most accessibility when it came to creating music and felt safe again and just had a lot to write about. And so I'm about to release my third project next month. And even though I'm in New York now, the majority of that project was also made in Chicago. But it's just like, for me, my music is kind of marks on the timeline of who I am as a person. And I think with my DJing, with my career in being a DJ, there's flyers and photos and mixes and things to show for it also on the timeline with it. But I think when it comes to making music, it's been able to be me as a being at that time.

We were on Michigan Avenue singing and performing for whoever wanted to hear it and had burnt CDs with our branding on it.

And with the music you've made, you’re rapping, you're singing. You put out a hip hop song, “King 2.0,” where you're full on rapping. The “LMU” song you put out is sort of more dance pop where you're singing. Do you prefer singing to rapping or do you like both of them?
I like both. I just never wanted to be grouped into one category of music. I think that there's so much in me creatively that it doesn't necessarily have to be one or the other. For me, even with those two records, it's understanding the juxtaposition of me being both of those people. I really am both of those people at the same time, the same way that I say I'm King Marie. I am a rapper. I'm a singer. I make rap music or I make hip hop and I make RB and I make house. There's hard sides to me. There's soft sides to me. I don't necessarily prefer one over the other. I think my initial approach is to sing. I've always sang. With rap, I've always wanted to rap. And I think that's why with the "222" project, having so much rap on, it was my experimental phase. I wanted to make sure that I could get that out of me creatively. There's songs where I rap and I sing, you know what I mean? For me, it's just kind of like however I'm able to express myself creatively is all still me. Every part of it is still me. Whether I'm singing or whether I'm rapping or it's in a different language. That's all just different shades of me.

I think culture is catching up there too, where it doesn't have to just be one thing. There's room for everything and to mix it all together. Then with fashion, your style is legit. You’ve got great styling. 
Thanks [Laughs].

Person sitting on steps under a clear umbrella, wearing a black coat and patterned sneakers

You’ve got the dope glasses on today.  How do you see these Air Jordan 1 Shadow Lows fitting into your personal style? 
I mean, I'm from Chicago, so there's just so much history when it comes to Jordans and kids from Chicago and the era of Michael Jordan. First of all, just being able to afford a pair of Jordans. No one bought me Jordans. I bought my first pair of Jordans.

When I got my first job, it was like, Yo, if you want them shoes, then you got to buy those shoes. 

I think because we had to work for ours, it was different than sneaker culture in 2024. Even before waiting in lines, it was like you could make relationships with your local mom and pop. You could work. I was working at the mall across from a sneaker store and traded stuff so that I made sure that I got my pair. That’s what I remember. It just was the culture. 

And the Jordan 1 Shadow is such an iconic shoe, especially if you understand the history behind the colorways. It just means so much more, right? It means so much having it be the Shadow. And then it means a lot with that small, initial change to Lows. Like, Yo, I have them in the Lows and I have them in the Highs. It brings more into how you would style the shoe because it’s a low versus a high. You can think about the socks you’re going to wear or how your pants will drape over it or wear it with a skirt or with shorts.

I have a niece who's 12 who loves Jordan 1s. This is a sneaker that three generations of sneakerheads can relate to. That’s a classic shoe. It’s like a classic song. Who’s going to deny that? 

Person in black trousers and white socks wearing iconic black and white sneakers stepping onto a street

Totally. That’s a perfect way to put an exclamation point on it. But before we end the call, I think you have another project coming out. 
The new project is coming out next month. There's no solid date, but June, 2024 is the launch date for that. So be on the lookout. It's just an exciting time for women in sport, in music, in life. So if I can just be a small part of putting a spotlight on that, and then amplify that to get people to be intentionally supportive of the women that are leading in different industries, that supports us all.