• Julia Coin

Mar is not hardcore

Inside a Jacksonville studio apartment lives Mar, a 22-year-old R&B/jazz artist who was packing up to begin his studies with Berklee College of Music in Spain just a few months ago.

Mar, or Derek Dennis as his friends know him, has decided to stay in Jacksonville for now given the added complications coronavirus presented to him and so many other students.

But that trade-in came with a silver lining: he gets to spend more time with his little sister, Catalina.

Birds,” his latest single, was written for her; he wanted to leave her with something to keep them connected when he went across the Atlantic. Now, she has bragging rights as the subject of the first song Mar has written about a family member.

“I want the world to know how much I love my sister and how much I will always cherish her,” he said.

While he’s not parting ways with Catalina and the rest of his circle just yet, Mar’s EP “Parting Gifts” is still set to release on August 28 (the day he would have left for Spain). He described each song as a reminder to someone in his life, whether that’s him, his family, or his friends.

While Mar wanted “Birds” to be his favorite song, “Loosen Up” has taken its place at the top.

“It’s a dancey song,” he said. “It’s supposed to make you want to get up, groove, and get you out of your comfort zone… which is what it is for me.

“I tend to only actually follow suit and loosen up when I’m listening to it alone... I’m working on getting myself in the groove because I do want to perform that song, but I have to do it justice.”

Mar’s most recent performance for “Open Your Purse,” a fundraiser event for the Black Lives Matter movement, was live streamed from an at-home setup at his apartment.

He prepared by spending the day making trips to Guitar Center and treating his finsta followers to a livestream of his two-hour soundcheck.

Mar said that it seemed like “aligned timing” when the organizer reached out to him.

“I’ve done protests and they’ve never felt like where I’m the most helpful,” he said.

“Knowing how shy and introverted I can be, using my voice outside of music isn't always going to be the go-to.”

But even with that knowledge, it can be hard to determine when the right time is to use his voice or promote new music.

“There’s a sort of guilt that comes with being an artist when we’re in times like this.”

He was debating releasing “Parting Gifts,” but decided to follow through when he realized that everyone has their own way of making an impact.

As for future releases, Mar mentioned a goal to collab with his best friend, India, who was the one who taught him how to sing.

Mar originally opted for the visual arts track at the magnet high school he attended, but when he heard his friends in choir he found himself wishing he knew how to sing. His friends, including India, took it upon themselves to start teaching him.

“Singing was something I hadn’t explored because I can be very shy depending on who I’m around,” he said. “Because everyone else in my family sang, I thought ‘Well if I start singing they’re going to be all in my face.’”

Mar’s dad was a producer and his mom was a church choir member; she was the one who introduced Mar to one of his now-favorite artists, Mali Music.

Mar ended up making the switch and studied R&B and jazz for the rest of his high school career. Naturally, he now produces his own music of the same genre… perhaps even venturing into the bedroom pop category.

“I’m not hardcore or anything,” he said, “I don’t rap or anything… I don’t think I have that tone to me.”

And as a self-proclaimed safe haven for soft boys, we are ok with that.

If you’re looking for a soundtrack to the peaceful, love-filled and good vibes-filled life we all wish we had right now, look no further than Mar’s discography. And mark your calendars for August 28.

Fun Fact:

The alias “Mar” comes from his full name, Derek La’Mar Shy’Hiem Dennis. He originally wanted to use “Shy’Hiem,” but decided to check if there was someone who had already claimed the name. Low and behold, a member of the Wu-Tang Clan was named Shyheim.

“Had it been anyone else, I would’ve been like ‘You know what, it’s whatever, I’ll go with that as my stage name.’ But... from the Wu-Tang Clan? They’re just so prevalent,” he said.

But he also knew he didn’t want to just use his first and last name.

“I’m not Beyoncé Knowles-Carter,” he said. “I can’t just do that.”

He landed on “Mar” after doing a test run with his Tumblr account… shoutout to the early 2010s.

Keep up with Mar on his socials:




Apple Music

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