Eugene rapper Marcus Holloway got his stage name, m5 vibe, by looking at the stars. At night, he would smoke marijuana and stare at the stars from his countryside home. As a Virgo, Holloway would always want to find his astrological constellation but had trouble. He noticed the star Messier 5, m5 for short, using a phone app and noticed it was the closest star to it.
"The star became my guiding light," he said. "I want my music to be a similar guiding light."
Holloway started making music after leaving the army and moving to Eugene. Although he hadn’t written poetry since he was in elementary school, it became necessary for his music and mental health.
"I was in a very isolated and depressed state," Holloway said, "Writing down my thoughts and forming it into poetry, sharing it with friends who liked it, I realized I was on to something."
Holloway found a safe spot in poetry. That poetry became his rap music that he has performed at open mics in cafes and bars around Corvallis, Salem and Eugene. Holloway had no musical influences when he started to write; he saw it as a therapeutic endeavor to get his depression out of the way.
"I didn't even realize I had a talent for it until I started doing it," he said.
Holloway sees his music as a form of protest that stems from and speaks about his past military experience. His relationship with the military is complicated. It helped him see the world, but it also put him in situations he never thought he'd experience. The fear and violence that Holloway went through while deployed in Iraq was not something he was ready for.
"Once the first bomb went off, I knew it was real,” he said, “and I started questioning what I was doing."
But the negatives do come with positives. The military taught him the discipline, focus and perseverance that he now works into his music instead of being a soldier.
As a maker of conscious music, Holloway’s voice as a veteran stands out on his song “New Religion” when he raps: “We built this man on the back of the brother man / visions of the past got me wondering what time we’re in.” The experience he had as a veteran gives him the knowledge needed to speak on the military's issues, such as the overprescription of drugs given to veterans once they return home. Holloway has also been heavily involved with Black Unity, a protest group in Eugene who have organized daily Black Lives Matter protests.
"I come from a military background I was in for over a decade. I've seen how the government operates; I've seen the mentality," Holloway said. "That's the perspective I think I can bring to the public. Since there isn't a big veterans community here."
His choice to speak up has come with some backlash. Some veterans he knows have called him a traitor for speaking out against the military. He tries to drown out the noise by not acknowledging that type of thinking and distancing himself from those vets but still is “Paranoid” about people with differing opinions than his. He sings about this issue in his song by the same title.
“Shoulda never left the army / Shoulda never let them change me / You honor me for my bravery / But it left me fucking crazy,” the song goes.
Holloway speaks about many Black Americans' issues in his music, such as police violence and voter suppression. Yet he also wants people to acknowledge their mental health. His military experience has caused him issues with his mental health that he hadn't experienced before. The military controlled how he looked and where he lived; they even promised him a better placement before deploying him a month later.
"We had some subtle brainwashing in the military," he said. "I realized the influence that our government has on us. I have to be mindful about what people in power are saying."
While he’s received accolades in poetry slams and recognition from open mics, it's been difficult for Holloway to book shows around Eugene. He sees the culture of Eugene's music scene as being more jam-band-focused. The rotating of college kids can make it difficult for rappers to establish themselves to new groups of students each year. With the COVID-19 pandemic getting onto campus, performing is not feasible. Holloway also says that his rap friends are leaving town because of the lack of opportunity for rap in the Eugene community.
Although complications keep arising for the start-up musician, the perseverance he learned in the army helps him to this day. The tactics that he learned while serving now not only benefit his music career but help him speak out against the organization that taught him these skills.
"If I can put my life on the line for this country,” he said, “I can put my life on the line for my music."