Hip Hop Expert Rob Markman Always Orders General Tso’s

Rob Markman binges on hip-hop: Over more than a decade, he established himself as one of the biggest voices in hip-hop journalism at publications like MTV News and XXL, as well as Hot 97. After becoming the manager and now head of artist relations at the media company Genius in 2015, Markman has also spent the last two years making a name as an MC himself. Now, he squeezes in studio time when he’s not at Genius, where he works with labels and artists to, of course, break down lyrics while also setting up live events and video series like Deconstructed and For the Record. Raised in Flatbush, Markman splits his time between working in Brooklyn, where he’ll take a chopped-cheese break from the studio, and Staten Island, where he and his family hit up regular spots like Dominican Food and Royal Crown Bakery. Read all about it in this week’s Grub Street Diet.

Thursday, July 4
After a crazy ten straight days of working, you would think I’d sleep in on my first day off, but I went on a run in the park around 7:30 a.m. while my wife and kids slept in. On the way home I picked up some fresh bagels from Bagels Bread and Butter, a deli on Forest Ave in Staten Island where I live.

I felt guilty, doing the carb thing immediately after a run, so I got myself a premade fruit salad with a mix of pineapple, watermelon, grapes, and honeydew. My mom always kept fruit in the house, and when she sent us to school with lunch, she always tried to avoid the potato chips and throw a kiwi, apple in there, or orange in there. And I have a sweet tooth, so fruit, to me, satisfies that.

Every Fourth of July our family gathers at my sister-in-law’s house in New Jersey for an all-day BBQ. My brother-in-law, Brian, takes a lot of pride in his grill, and makes sure that we’re all fed. By 2 p.m., we got all the kids out of the pool and he was serving up burgers, dogs, and some Coronas just to set the tone.

I’m definitely more of a burger guy. It’s funny, the hot dogs will come out and nobody will touch the hot dogs. Most of my family is a burger family. But I’ll eat hot dogs too, just so they don’t sit there. My brother-in-law loves to see everybody full — he overfeeds us, probably.

I had two dogs and a burger. Of course I put toppings on. On the burgers: lettuce, tomato, melted cheese, ketchup, and then — this is the weirdo in me — I always get teased for putting mayo on the burger. It’s amazing; I think mayo gets a bad rap.

Around 7 p.m., Brian was grilling filet mignon, with a side of penne alla vodka and fresh Italian bread that I imagine he bought from a Jersey bakery that was probably featured on The Sopranos.

The steak was good. It goes back to my brother-in-law again, man, like he’s tight. Until a few years ago, I’d eat all of my steak well-done and face the ridicule of my brother-in-law every time. Today, I let him serve a medium, with a splash of Peter Luger’s Steak Sauce.

So, you know, I’m Puerto Rican, my wife’s family is Puerto Rican and Dominican. (Brian is a mix, Irish-American.) If I’m talking real, on some cultural stuff, we eat our steaks well-done. It’s like “yo, you gotta cook that meat,” you know what I’m saying? There’s a taboo against raw meat, right? And I was kind of raised like that, you know. You’ve gotta really cook it, and so my brother-in-law is like, “Nah man, you’re ruining the steak, you’ve got to leave the juices in there, you’re cooking them out.” So for years, it would be like, “Man, nah, you’ve gotta make mine’s well-done,” and I had a medium steak this time, so I felt like he felt like it was a win. Every year he might inch me closer to medium rare and, you know, it was good, I get how the steak is more tender, it’s more flavorful. Next year we might go medium rare. We’ll see.

By the time the sun went down, we let the kids light fireworks and roasted some marshmallows and made s’mores over a fire pit. We do that every year.

Friday, July 5
We all stayed out pretty late the night before, so I already knew the day was going to be a lazy one. I woke up and ran a mile in the park, while listening to J. Cole and Dreamville’s new Revenge of the Dreamers III album (I had to discuss it on my talk show at Genius on Monday) and had a bran muffin with raisins and some orange juice for breakfast. My wife had picked those up from the grocery store.

I’d ate so much the day before that I was like, “Man, get up and run.” I kind of look at breakfast as a chance to be healthy before I just let all the food temptation run away with me.

For lunch I made a salad with iceberg lettuce and some other greens I had in the fridge, mozzarella, red peppers, black olives, cucumbers, grape tomatoes, and a balsamic dressing. I’m not a health nut by any means, but I recognize that I have to start changing things in my diet. So I started running, and finding ways to make healthier choices at least for one meal a day. And the truth is I actually enjoy salads. There’s really an art to salad — you can have some really terrible salads. If somebody makes a really great salad with all these different flavors, it’ll actually fill you up, it actually tastes good.

I think being out all day in the sun on the Fourth just left my whole fam feeling tired and depleted. By the time dinner rolled around my wife didn’t feel like turning on the stove to cook, and I wasn’t going to blame her, because I wasn’t ready for that, either. So I offered to pick up dinner from Dominican Food on Forest Ave. That’s the name of the place. There is no guesswork.

We get food from here often. They don’t really speak English in there, so you have to order in Spanish. Despite being Puerto Rican, my Spanish isn’t great at all, but I know enough to order no problem. Yes it’s us eating out, but, long story short, it really tastes like somebody’s grandmother is in the back cooking and the kids love it, too. (Okay, I’ve never actually been to the back.) My wife and I both grew up on arroz con gandules; I remember watching my mother mash the plantains and fry them up to make the tostones and stuff like that. And rice and beans is always a staple in my house.

Anyway, I got a whole roasted chicken, arroz y gandules, habichuleas rojo, an order of tostones, and a Good-O Kola Champagne. We hardly keep soda in the house, but when we hit the Domican spot we have to either get Kola Champagne or Country Club Frambuesa. I think those are very Caribbean things. If you go into the hood in New York, that’s what you’ll find in the bodega. Like, a two-liter bottle of one of those will go by the end of night in my house. So I can’t get too much.

Saturday, July 6
I woke up to run again, just a mile. I used to be into running a lot, and I’m slowly getting back into it. By the time I got back my wife had made some farina. Her mother used to make it, so she kinda put me onto that. I had that with some orange juice. I’m not a coffee drinker at all.

For lunch I made grilled-cheese sandwiches for the family. I love homemade grilled-cheese sandwiches. They remind me of growing up, when my grandmother’s husband (though I’m not sure if they were legally married) would get free government cheese because he was on public assistance. He would always bring that big block of cheese to us and my mom would make the best grilled-cheese sandwiches. Till this day, I say the best grilled cheese I ever had was made from government cheese.

I use Boar’s Head cheese or Land O’Lakes, never Kraft. I’m not much of a cook at all but like you can’t mess up grilled cheese. You gotta be crazy to mess up grilled cheese. And I usually overdo it. I’ll throw like four slices of cheese on there and make it as cheesy as possible.

This day was off to a late start. It was about 5 p.m. and we hadn’t even left the house yet. But with all of the traveling and back-and-forth I do for work, I was okay with a lazy weekend. A lot of times I might miss dinner, so it was good to have these days off with the family — but they’re unusual days for me.

Around 5:30 p.m. I took the family out to Royal Crown Bakery and got a table outside. The restaurant is on Hylan and Old Town Road, so of course I make a Lil Nas X joke — my kids weren’t amused.

Royal Crown is pretty famous on the island. They make great sandwiches and salads. I ended up getting a sausage hero with mozzarella and caponata. To drink I ordered an iced tea topped with a lemon ice.

I usually get the fried-chicken hero. This was the first time that I tried the sausage hero, just because I was just trying to be conscious. I’d been eating ridiculously, so just the thought of having like fried chicken and bread and … I didn’t do much better. I had them add mozzarella to it and the caponata which I’d never had before. I was like, let me try something different. I’m the type that will always get the same thing. So it was a little bit of me fighting that, but I tried it and it was dope.

After dinner we went out to play mini golf and do the arcades in Jersey. On the way back home we stopped at Egger’s for ice cream. The place has an old 1950s feel, it reminds me of maybe something out of Back to the Future, and the ice cream is pretty awesome. I got a banana split.

Sunday, July 7
I made eggs and pancakes for the family. I don’t think I have a special pancake recipe, but it’s the one thing that the kids say I make better than my wife, so I’ll take it. The kids will be like, “Yo mom, Dad is terrible at cooking but his pancakes got yours beat.”

My recipe is regular. Aunt Jemima, and then I use water. I add vanilla extract and I use a lot of cinnamon in the batter and I just go from there. With the eggs, I crack them and put milk in them, which I feel like makes them fluffier. I add chopped onions and red and green peppers and stuff like that, but it’s nothing special.

On Sunday afternoon I went to meet Damion Scott, who is an artist and a brother to me. He’s most known for his comic-book work, drawing books like Spider-Man and Batgirl for Marvel and DC. Most recently he partnered with will.i.am to do a series of comics called Masters of the Sun. Me and Damion always dreamed of working on comics together, and we have some things coming up. We met up to go over script work and plot lines on a new story.

I met him at his apartment on Ocean Avenue in Flatbush, where both of us grew up. We decided to go to a place called Midwood Flats on Flatbush Ave to work and get a bite to eat. It’s kinda cool to be able to go back to the neighborhood we grew up in and work on the things that we’ve dreamed of since kids. The neighborhood — like all of Brooklyn — is changing a lot, but we still fight to hold on to the things that shaped us. I ordered their Spicy Li’l Wings, which were a little hotter than I normally get. Also got a margarita to drink, which isn’t my usual.

I’m back to work on another album and I went my studio, the Brewery. It’s undergoing some renovations, but the owner and my engineer, Andrew, let me get in to get some time in. Sometimes I go so long in the studio I forget to eat, because I hate recording on a full stomach, but around 10 p.m. I ran across the street to the T.A. Gourmet Deli and got a chopped-cheese sandwich. Everyone in New York knows about the chopped cheese, that’s an NYC staple.

Monday, July 8
It was back to work. Honestly having all of those days off felt weird. As much as I needed the time off, I was itching to get back. I walked into the office about 9:30 a.m. and made some oatmeal from the stocked kitchen that we have. My co-workers laugh at me because I eat that every morning. Like I said before, I’m not a health nut, but I try to make some smart choices. I added sliced bananas and cinnamon and took it to my desk to eat while I went over my notes for my talk show which I had to shoot that morning.

I met up with my friend Hovain Hylton, who is a manager over at Cinematic Music, and we had a real late lunch at Michael and Ping’s to eat and talk about what we have coming up next. He represents artists like T-Pain, Flipp Dinero, and Luh Kel, a young singer from St. Louis who Genius has featured a lot recently.

Growing up in New York, I didn’t think a lot about what to eat because food was all around. Flatbush Avenue is just one of the main arteries of Brooklyn. You could hit the Ave and find a pizza shop, a Jamaican spot, a deli, a Chinese-food joint. Truthfully that’s where I developed a lot of taste from. When we were growing up, we didn’t have much. I remember going with my friends after school, and we might have had five dollars between us, and so we’d get an order of chicken wings and fried rice and split it between us. Or going to the Jamaican bakery to get a beef patty with coco bread after school or something like that. I don’t consider myself a foodie, but food was around, and I think growing up in New York, there’s a culture around food that most cities don’t get, because everything is within walking distance. Almost as soon as you step out of the door, there’s so many different flavors.

I like Michael and Ping’s because it’s a modern take on the type of Americanized Chinese food that most of us New Yorkers grew up on. I got the General Tso’s chicken with white rice. That was the thing that I’d get, once I started getting a job and having a little more money in my pocket. So that’s my go-to dish with any Chinese food spot. Like I kind of judge if a Chinese food spot is good or not by how they make the General Tso’s chicken.

I got home just as my wife was finishing preparing dinner. She baked two Cornish hens and a macaroni salad with tuna, onions, and diced peppers. I think pasta salad gets a bad rap a lot of times. But yeah, it was cool, and refreshing and filling, ’cause the pasta fills you up.

After dinner she suggested that we go for a walk in the park, which was cool. Any time I can get some steps in is good. The kids came, too, which was weird, because most times they rather stay behind and play Fortnite.

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