You wouldn't necessarily know it by listening to her acoustic guitar–fueled music, but Marian Mereba is a big hip-hop head. "Common, Kanye West, I'm loving Kendrick Lamar," Mereba says. "I listen to a lot, a lot of hip-hop."
But don't read too much into her predilection for rap. Like many of her other influences, including Stevie Wonder, Joni Mitchell, and world music in general, it only serves as one ingredient in her musical main dish. Mereba's dreamy yet soulful voice has echoes of Amy Winehouse, Erykah Badu, Radiohead, Lauryn Hill, and Sinead O'Connor, but she simultaneously manages to sound nothing like them at all. In fact, if you wanted to add a tagline to her name, it would read something like: "Don't box her in." And her definition-defying sound is winning attention from fans and a variety of divergent media outlets like Hip Hop Weekly, Greedmont Park, and more.
She often takes a pared-down approach to production and songwriting, heard on such songs as the melancholy and sonically bare "Go to London" (the first single from her recently released debut EP, Room For Living), and seen in video clips for tunes such as "That Was Then," "Natural High," and "Rider," the latter of which helped introduce her to the world two years ago.
"The thing I like about doing my music acoustically is that it's self-contained," Mereba says. "As an artist, I've always been rather private and somewhat of a hoarder with my music, so it's always been natural for me to make all the elements on my own. But as I'm starting to branch out, especially after putting out this EP, and talking to different people about my next project, I definitely want to open up the sound. I like all types of music and I can adjust my voice to a lot of different styles."
Although Mereba dodges easy definition, more audiences have started seeking out her music. Her performances on YouTube have translated into numerous live gigs at local spots like Apache Café and Vinyl, as well as pop-up shows in New York City, Nashville, and various other locales. She's joined forces with a like-minded family of creative types, what she calls "an amazing young guard coming up in Atlanta."
That group includes musician John Key, a Berklee College of Music grad who produced a few tracks on her Room For Living EP; vocalist/songwriter India Shawn, who released her soulful debut solo album, Origin, last November; and FAMO Since '91, the design crew responsible for the EP's photography and graphics and for co-directing the video for "Go to London."
What's next on her agenda? Traveling to Ethiopia, and finishing production on her first full-length album, which, fittingly enough, she is in no hurry to nail down a particular focus or theme. "I'm just clearing my mind to get ready for the next chapter," she says.