For the past eight days, every morning, a black woman speaking is the first voice I hear. “To be pro-black means…” she begins. Then, riffs from a brass instrument and the tap of soft percussion all grow louder as the unnamed woman lectures. When her last word is said—that word being “happiness”—the instrumentation continues, and within seconds, we hear a black man saying: “This is the story of how the sun and the moon came to live in the sky.”
Every morning for the past eight days, I’ve listened to the way the black woman’s vocal chops into a stutter spasm after saying the word “freedom.” I’ve heard the man’s voice abruptly fade away before completing his folktale. That’s when the shift comes. Twinkling piano keys replace the dusty horn as North Carolina rapper MAVI declares, “The difference between a nigga like me and a hundred million is a couple years.”
MAVI waits one minute and 52 seconds before rapping the above lines on his newly-released album, let the sun talk. The patient buildup of the introductory track is most noticeable when listening to the 33-minute project on SoundCloud, where MAVI uploaded the work as a single track instead of individual songs. This stipulation requires listening to let the sun talk in its entirety.
Each time I press play, I listen from the first static pop until the ending quote that closes the project:
“The thing about letting the sun talk, is nigga, you don’t let the sun do nothin. The sun gonna come up, the sun gonna do what the fuck it do. And you gonna muthafuckin... you might see that shit, you might not, but you definitely gonna feel that shit. And you gonna miss that muthfucka when it’s gone.”
During a period in music where consumers have unlimited options, there’s value in work that doesn’t immediately depreciate. Some albums are like cars, and their value diminishes upon leaving the lot, while others continue to appreciate over time. Replaying let the sun talk over the past week has felt like buying an abstract painting instead of leasing a Porsche—more like a Basquiat than a Bugatti.
Before let the sun talk, I only heard a few songs by the Charlotte-born emcee. The SoundCloud loosie “five minutes writing from the bottom” was my initial introduction to his bare, truth-spilling lyricism. “I don’t got the patience for the love of my life,” he confesses as if this honest observation is only between him and the microphone. Instead of writing private thoughts on the pages of a hidden diary, the young man born Omavi Minder engraves them over stripped, no-frill production.
The beats blueprinting let the sun talk are lo-fi lean. Various producers are credited, from DJ Blackpower to Thebe Kgositsile, Nephew Hesh to Ovrkast. Yet, the project never loses the cohesive dust making each second feel as if the producers looped their samples in MAVI’s great grandmother’s attic. This sonic selection is similar to the East Coast nostalgia of Joey Bada$$ and Pro Era when they first arrived in 2012, but even dustier with a complete lack of commercial polish. Everything about this independent album is gutter-raw.
While some rappers benefit from expensive studio recording and major-label refinement, MAVI sounds as if he belongs outside the big-budget spectrum of mainstream rap. There’s no Drake melody sweet enough to make the slow-burning resentment of “ghost in the shell” radio-ready.
Songs like the heart-bearing “selflove” or the soul-drenched “daylight saving” deliver the sincere, free-flowing transparency closely associated with underground rap contemporaries MIKE, Pink Siifu, and Earl Sweatshirt. Although there are similarities in style, the 20-year-old rapper individualizes his true-to-life narratives and wondering stream-of-consciousness with a poetic language that’s uniquely his own.
On the eighth track, “sense,” MAVI raps:
“She saying what kind of songs you make?/ I make the kind you gotta read, baby /I leave the silence you can see, baby / I weave the darkness you can hear, baby / I leave my carcass in the field, baby I parse my garden on the real daily, and you can sense it.”
Then there’s “moonfire,” the poignant closer that is riddled with memorable lines like, “Silence at a premium / Granddaddy still know my name he says it when I dream of him” and “Can’t wait until my raps is more than stashes for my secrets / I can’t wait till this casanova complex bring me peace / I can’t wait until this master rapping finally reap some decent ends.”
Over the past week or so, while attending Atlanta music festivals A3C and Afropunk, a few of MAVI’s one-liners crossed my mind. For every mechanical bird that flew overhead, I thought of him rapping, “And I’m walking with a thang that keeps a plane from taking off.” For every glistening necklace, I could hear him say, “Everything on him was fake except his chain, we took it off.” With each beautiful face came the line, “I done took a condom off for women Satan wouldn't cross.”
The passion behind MAVI’s delivery, not just his lyricism, is what brings his songs to life. The kind of dynamic vocals that jumps out of speakers. Admittedly, let the sun talk isn’t an album that provides the clearest audibility. Sonically, the edges are rough; the basement quality is rich in, let’s say, character. To iron out any of the lo-fi textures would be like adding percussion to all the songs on Frank Ocean’s Blonde or polishing the mix on Earl Sweatshirt’s Some Rap Songs or timing Blueface’s lyrics to arrive on beat.
Sure, these artists would suddenly appeal to a broader and more general audience, but these polishes would also tarnish their individuality. They would lose their charm.
MAVI is charming. He is a rapper who overflows with black power, youthful philosophies, timely perspective, and timeless poetry. The world he builds on let the sun talk reminds me of Isaiah Rashad’s coming-of-age classic, Cilvia Demo. On Cilvia, TDE’s southern gentleman gave a voice and sound to his unfolding lifestyle as an emerging rapper from Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Unlike Rashad, MAVI doesn’t illustrate a place; the album doesn’t give a sound to any city or state. let the sun talk is driven by internal thoughts rather than influence from an external environment. But what the two albums share is a knack for crystallizing the lives of their respected artists. There’s a slice of life that’s left behind on both releases, which, upon revisit, will immediately transport listeners.
Desiring a musical world of heartfelt musing and perceptive meditation is why I have been starting my mornings with let the sun talk. The audio experience is a reminder of the raw, unfiltered writing that hip-hop continues to encourage. It’s a story told from the perspective of a young man from Charlotte who believes a hundred million dollars are just a few years away despite being the anthesis of mainstream rap. For an underdog, he barks with a lion’s confidence. That alone makes MAVI a rapper worth a listen or two.
As the sun comes up on day nine, I press play once more, waiting for the black woman’s voice to tell me again what being pro-black means.
By Yoh, aka let the yoh talk, aka @Yoh31