MAVI is ready to be a rapper. Just before our interview, I received a text message from the 20-year-old Charlotte native. It read: “Jus turned in an essay on the similarities between the ‘tough on crime’ presidents.”
Born Omavi Minder, MAVI is currently a full-time biology major and psychology minor at Howard University. His 2019 project, Let the Sun Talk, is indicative of an HBCU-bound wordsmith tapping into his Blackness on a mystical level.
“If you from the people, you gonna speak the language of the people,” he says. “If you not from the people, you’re not gonna get it.”
The code of Black beauty is the wallpaper hiding secrets both mundane and bittersweet across the 13 tracks that make up Let the Sun Talk, released October 18. The album’s title is a reference to both the Supreme Mathematics of the Five-Percent Nation—which casts the sun as knowledge—and the Rastafarian notion of “I and I” as a spiritual aligner. “I and I” represents the bond between God (Jah) and man, the merging of two beings into one.
“Letting the sun talk is about getting in your ‘I and I’ bag,” he clarifies.
MAVI is hardly the first rapper to draw inspiration from such ideologies, but in using them to pursue knowledge of self, he taps into a lineage of Black thought stretching back to rap’s origins. He cites both MF DOOM and the late Prodigy of Mobb Deep as early influences. Press play on Let the Sun Talk and it’s easy to see why. MAVI’s wordplay is at once surreal and crystal clear. Tongue-in-cheek but deadly serious.
These dichotomies manifest most clearly in MAVI’s song titles. Opener “Eye/I and I/Nation” turns the titular Rastafari sequence into a three-section suite. “Chiasma,” named for the point where chromosomes exchange DNA strands, finds MAVI forming a bridge with his mother (“tryna be the kid for my mama she can feel elated/owe her cause she liberate me”). Even the album’s cover, painted by Ayjrian, speaks to this notion: raw, exposed, but impressionistic all the same.
This balance doesn’t come easily, but MAVI approaches the challenge with a sense of oneness that is undeniable. Across Let the Sun Talk, MAVI speaks in a language that is meant to be enjoyed by all but only appreciated by some.
Our conversation, lightly edited for content and clarity, follows below.
Who were some of your favorite rappers growing up?
[MF DOOM] rapped like an octopus, bro. It was clever and expansive, and it was like he was speaking a different language. DOOM’ll rap about selling crack, and niggas would never know if you’re not in there. People think DOOM is a soft nigga. He’s a nerd, but this is pointing to the multiplicity that Black men don’t get to have in their art, ever. Half the rap shit that’s big right now is because these hard niggas are extremely emotionally vulnerable. That duality is beginning to sell records because it meshes two infectious music styles in rap and R&B/blues.
As Black men, our parallel is aggression and emotionality, but we don’t allow the multiplicity of black women’s sexuality, autonomy, and intelligence. One of them always gotta negate the other two when it comes to men. That’s why I’m fuckin with Noname on her new shit. She’s barred up on Telefone, but on [Room 25], she busts out and says, “I like to fuck because I’m a regular nigga.” I’m fuckin with that. That’s my rap mama.
What does it mean to let the sun talk?
The sun is number one; that’s knowledge. Number two is the moon, which is wisdom, and number three is the earth, which is understanding. It’s a part of the Five-Percent Nation’s ideology—a political and cultural movement that was brought to Harlem to help little Black boys learn how to love theyself. One teaching is that you are the center, creator, and master of your own universe. You are the sun to your family. One in roman is “I.” Two is wisdom, which is I plus I. If you know anything about Jamaican or Rastafarian culture, they say “I and I” to reference the singularity between us, the universe, and God. Letting the sun talk is about getting in your ‘I and I’ bag. The album’s about me repurposing that framework to create my art. It’s about tapping into the singularity.
Did you fear this subject matter would be too dense for people?
The people who find it dense and have a lot to say about what the work is and not how the work is... I chalk that up to them not having the experience. On “Self Love,” when I say “we be hanging in the dark/we surprise em with the prowess/if it aint to give a spark we’d be still hidden/prone to languish in my scars/waste away when I’m at Howard/school a break and rip apart a whole lil village,” there’s nothing dense or complicated about that. This shit is autobiographical.
How important is it to make music strictly for Black audiences in 2019?
If you from the people, you gonna speak the language of the people. If you not from the people, you’re not gonna get it. I’m from the people. I’m a messenger; I’m always gonna be about this shit. However, as a student of Black expression, I also celebrate Black beauty for beauty’s sake.
Take [Young] Thug and So Much Fun. That’s not a strictly “for [the people]” album, per se, but again, Thug is from the people. If you speak that language, you take more from the album. I try to pull people in with the beauty, which everybody has equal access and opportunity to, to love on a human level. It’s only so many people who are gonna get it.
I’m not even gonna cap like I want everyone to speak for us. When I look at the lineage of niggas doing that like Billie Holiday, Stevie Wonder, and Marvin Gaye, [artists] who came and made beautiful songs that drove real-life political change, these niggas was not playing. A lot of these niggas right now is playing. What Marvin was on with What’s Goin’ On? is what I was trying to be on with Let the Sun Talk. It’s a concept album, but if you don’t know it, it doesn’t matter because it’s still gorgeous.
Family is a strong theme across the album. Is your family proud of your record?
Absolutely. I’m a gang-oriented nigga. I don’t wanna exist as an individual, dolo. I realized that [my rapping] correlates strongly with the parts of myself I feel most natural in. That’s where all the family shit came from. What are your home thoughts? Let niggas in the front door. And then the raps got crazy different. Niggas in my artistic genealogy, like Toni Morrison and MF DOOM, are everything to me. I need to make Toni Morrison proud, like I need to make my grandmama proud because she’s my predecessor.
My dad was a rap producer who came from a gospel quartet singer who came from a gospel quartet director. I texted my father today on some thank you shit. When I was born, I didn’t have a name for three days, but he said that he did good to get “Omavi” across the finish line. In the humblest most misfit way possible, I was born to rap. Literally. I feel this shit come through me, bro.