In order to reach the precipice of music and maximize on your potential, you have to be mentally indestructible. Just like life, the music industry is all about how many times you get up after crashing down. With success comes contempt. Mali Music acknowledges that in order to have a prosperous career, he will have to tackle the negativity and criticism that comes along with fame. After meticulously crafting two independent albums, the righteous singer and songwriter has yet to succumb to the demons of the music industry.
He has triumphantly made his claim to fame by penning records with meaningful messages. His song “Beautiful” vividly exemplifies that. With hopes of showering the industry with positivity, Mali Music’s new album, Mali Is.., aims to answer any dubious concerns about today’s music scene.
Mali Music sat down with The DJBooth to discuss his new album, Mali Is…, his love for Bilal’s First Born Second album, why he considers himself a top notch performer, and working with the legendary gospel great, Kirk Franklin.
What song or album made you fall in love with music?
"Oooh. Bilal’s First Born Second album changed my whole life."
Why is that?
"Because Bilal was so new, man. The Soul System movement, he took it to another level. On top of that, the next track would be a Dr. Dre track. And he would be singing on top of it with Jadakiss. And the next track would be this crazy joint with Common and Mos Def on it. He had “Sometimes” on there. He just really changed the game with that album. So I just really respected him for that. And I feel the same way about D’Angelo’s Voodoo album."
And D’Angelo has something special coming out in October as well.
"Oooh. Man, don’t tell me that. (Laughs)"
You taught yourself the keyboard with little to no help. How did you manage to do that?
"I think it was just the love for the sounds. Once the harmonics opened up to my mind and I just recognized you could press C, D, and E, but if you pressed C and E at the same time, you just get a different feel. I just wished I had more fingers then. So I guess once that happened I just wanted to master all of the harmonics just to be able to keep the solid bases to the melodies that I was hearing in my head. Once that happened, I was able to do enough to get by. I might not able to sit down with the most elite of them, but if you give me an instrument, and you give me an audience, I’m sure they could be definitely excited and taken aback for hours on hours on hours. So I think that’s the same thing."
What was the name of the first song you wrote and recorded?
"Oooh. I think the first song I ever recorded was called, “It Was Good, But Not Good Enough.” And I wrote it in tribute to a marriage anniversary. I had a little song. You know, when the keyboard came back in the day, they used to have crazy elaborate demos on there? You could press like the feel button and the drums would go, “toot-to-toot”. You could transition into a B-section. I think those things really taught me the format of songs. So I wrote it to one of those demos and I just started playing it. The rest is just history. I’m so embarrassed by that song. They still have the recordings to this day. And I hope they never play it for the public. (Laughs)"
Obviously, you’ve done a lot of records. We’re curious to know, which record would you consider to be the soundtrack to your life?
"Hmmm...man! I don’t know, man. They all are. Like I could only write from where I’m from. But man, there’s so many that the world hasn’t heard. But, I don’t know man. That “I Believe” is something serious man. I can’t front. [It’s] from Mali Is… the album. The very last track is track 12, “I Believe.” I was behind the piano and it’s serious. Everything is do I based on believing. So I would have to say that song right now takes the cake."
Does that record still resonate with you today? Can you play that record and still get the same chills you had when you initially recorded it?
"Absolutely, absolutely. I think people are going to see those same connections on stage as I begin to travel and my platforms get bigger. I’m gonna have to sing the songs from the album and that moment with me sitting behind that piano and I play that progression and I start singing that song acoustic, I think that’s when everybody will really get it."
You’ve performed on the Queen Latifah Show, BET’s Music Matters Tour, and American Idol. Do you feel you’ve perfected the art of performing or do you still feel as if you have ways to go?
"I could definitely say that I’m in the upper echelon. I don’t think I could ever be uncomfortable on stage. Like the mic could go out. The electricity could go out. I don’t think there’s a situation where I’ll be uncomfortable on stage if the people are willing to listen. And even if they’re not, I know how to make them listen. But, I’m definitely open in learning all the ins and outs of major productions. I feel that’s the second half of it. Once I’ve mastered that, I’ll be able to give some unlimited and unforgettable shows. So, I’m grateful for what’s happening now on this mainstream level. I can’t do anything but get stronger."
You’ve compared your album to the times of Stevie Wonder and to the ages of Aretha Franklin. Do you feel the kind of music that you’re seeking to channel will be accepted in this day in age?
"I know it can be because it already has been. The only people that aren’t consuming it are the people who haven’t heard it. Think of it like a super undeniably funny YouTube clip. Some of them don’t get 50 million views, because they haven’t been put out. But, as soon as a Good Morning America, or an Ellen, plays it on their shows, everybody loves it, and is attracted to it, and is sharing it all over the world. And I think that’s what the album is. And it’s good for it not to be the single because normally singles travel like that. But, this is one of those things that once people get a hold of it, they’ll appreciate it. This album is bringing love back to music and just having some fun family things with a lot of depth that cause us to grow and mature as people. I think the whole bottle popping phase should just perish."
You’re able to implement different sounds and genres like R&B, hip-hop, soul and gospel. Do you think there’s still room for gospel to prosper as a genre in today’s music scene?
"I believe so. I think that the only way it could fully happen is if both worlds respect each other. And that’s very difficult because there’s been years and years and years of built up dislikes and disgust based on the church being extremely and unfairly judgmental and close-minded. At the same time, many people think of that and tried to love and seen it go wrong by getting hurt by a pastor or being disappointed by some type of role model. I think if we all just get back to the point of whether you’re a pastor or pimp, that underneath all of it, you’re a person. And if we continue to deal with people, then we’ll be a lot more forgiving. Once we get passed that, the judgment will stop. And that’s when the lines of division will perish. Then, we’ll be able to consume what each other is kicking, instead of thinking that it’s the only way to go."
You’ve collaborated with the great Kirk Frankli, on his “Give Me” record. Talk about that experience and how it came about.
"Well, it was really good. And I think that was the moment that I kind of capped out in the gospel community. Like, the 2econd Coming, my album, was doing good. In the gospel community, a lot of artists might not get the awards. But, like, there’s an underground appreciation and the churches would sing the songs or whatever. So I was that guy. I was one of the most popular, but I don’t know, I probably wasn’t selling because my album was the hottest thing on the bootleg market. So it was doing good and a lot of people knew the music, but when I got the call from Kirk, it was really good. He was very respectful and I was happy to meet up with him. He shot me the lyrics and he shot me the song. We did a couple of exchanges. We went to Dallas and recorded it live. It ended up being very popular. And I think the final touch was me recording “Tell the World” with Lecrae. That’s when I knew, “Well, I’m not even 25 yet. I’m at the scale of this genre. There must be more for me.” And that’s when I accepted the new places that we were going and now we’re here."
We know you like showcasing your rapping abilities a bit, more notably on your record “Ready Aim.” How often do you like dabbling with rap?
"Man, all the time dude. I could release four rap albums right now with the stuff that I got. And I mean they won’t even be shabby. But with the genre, it’s all about how it happens and how it all comes about. So I love that. In the future, there’s gonna be a lot more flows happening in my music for sure."
Talk about the origin of the single “Beautiful” because a lot people are in love with that record, especially with how you fused your gospel influence on to that record.
"Ah man. Well, coming from my spiritual backing and the gospel community, a lot of people were feeling betrayed that I was having as much success as I was having in the mainstream market. A lot of it was just based on ignorant thoughts and assumptions about the industry...
...So I recognized that a lot of tension that was coming from my audience wasn’t because they didn’t trust me, but, they didn’t trust where I was going. They haven’t seen this done before and they were like, “Why would you sell out?” So when that happened, I had the opportunity to get in the studio to create. I had a decision. And a lot of the decisions that come from rappers, or our culture, we’re just down to lash out. We get in the booth and lash out. We hear that boom-kat going and begin to spaz. I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to contribute to the part of them that even cared at all.
So instead of wanting any praise or wanting any respect or appreciation from anybody else anymore, the first statement I wanted to make from my mountaintop was me putting my lighter in the air for them and to let them know that they’re beautiful. No matter what you say or no matter what you do or have done or said to me. I know what I think about you and I think that you’re beautiful. People respected that and took it to a whole other level."
Mali Music's new album, Mali Is..., is available now on iTunes. Keep your ears, eyes and soul open for much more from this rising genre-breaker, coming soon.
[Carl Lamarre has written for XXL, Pepsi.com, Vibe and now DJBooth. This is his Twitter.]