The Foundation of Mali Music
If you’re not all the way familiarized with the music and talent that is Mali Music, than you are missing out. I don’t even say that solely as a fan, but as a journalist with both ears cemented in the world of R&B and Hip-Hop. Mali Music is without reservation one of the most complete acts to come on the scene in the space of the last 5 years or so. The contemporary R&B singer, born in Phoenix, Arizona, bred in Savannah, Georgia, with Gospel roots initially appeared on the scene as a Christian singer, but fans have watched him transcend the box and become a Grammy nominated budding star.
Signed to RCA Records after releasing two underground fire starters (The Coming and The 2econd Coming), Mali Music had his official coming out party of sorts with 2014’s Mali Is… album. Led by the single “Beautiful” and with additional soul stirring songs like, “Ready Aim”, and “Walking Shoes”, Mali was on his way to his first Grammy nomination in for Best Urban Contemporary Album. While his music was still dipped in faith based themes, Mali had graduated to mainstream content.
The following year Mali Music had two songs featured on the Chi-Raq movie soundtrack, holding his own alongside R. Kelly, Jennifer Hudson and others on the project. He went on to release another single, “Digital” in 2016, leaving the fans clamoring for more.
The next phase of Mali Music finally began to reveal itself in early Spring when he released the Salaam Remi produced single, “Gonna Be Aight”. The song turned out to be the lead single for the recently released album, The Transition of Mali. Two more songs were released as singles from the project, the extra melodic “Still” and the sexy “Loved By You” featuring Jasmine Sullivan.
We recently caught up with Mali Music to talk about the meaning behind the new album and what The Transition of Mali means to him. Watch him explain it below…
We also realize that many people may be new to this world of Mali Music or simply not as familiar as some of the day one fans. Mali Music was gracious enough to help take us back to the beginning of his journey, back to when he was just a young Kortney Jamaal Pollard, being raised by a single mother with his two sisters. Back before he knew music would be the light by which he would find his path in life and right up until he found his calling, ultimately releasing his first two independent releases.
I can take credit and call this an interview, but Mali Music shared his story in a way I couldn’t even begin to facilitate. Share in his journey below…
Parlé Mag: Let’s try to go back to the beginning for Mali Music. What originally sparked your interest in making music?
Mali Music: The opportunity to connect with people. When you’re young and in the South, the first thing you’re going to do is get thrown to the kids table or to the back. ‘You ain’t smart and you don’t have nothing to contribute so take your little nuckle head out of here cause you getting on my nerves.’ And we didn’t have no money. It was me and my sisters and my mom with all my cousins so everybody family like 20 people deep. I loved it and I appreciated all those moments. That was Savannah. It wasn’t no movies or anything, but we had so many people that my family was like, ‘Who could do something in here?’
So you see your cousins and all go before you, and you know your name is going to come up, but you feel empty, like you know you got nothing to give. Four, five, six, you the youngest one, but by like seven years old, I’m like, I need something that will make my Grandmother and my momma know. I always loved the power of Gospel songs, birthday songs, graduation moments, anything that would make people happy. So I think I just sunk my teeth into that aspect of it, the Hallmark card aspect of it. I wanted it to be something real that we could get. Not just Gospel lovers, not just God lovers, but the people that know life from this perspective. We know where we sit on the bus, but for us this is how we get to the good stuff instead of always being stuck with the bad.
Parlé Mag: And you definitely started with strictly Gospel music on those first couple of projects, was Gospel music always the plan?
Mali Music: That’s what it had to be. I couldn’t be releasing anything else with my folks! I barely could listen to Hip-hop or anything. That infusion [of Hip-Hop] changed my world. When you realize that for 15 years these people been shaking the world up. That’s when you see Public Enemy and it’s like damn, ‘what are their morals?’ So I just wanted to get more involved with it especially as I got more into athletics—cause in the South that’s just how it is. You gonna play football or play basketball and you gonna get a scholarship because that’s how you make it out… or you gonna be smart. If not, you gonna clean yards, go to church and preach the Gospel… or go to jail. What I am wasn’t even a possibility from where I’m from. So I was just doing my homework, educating myself. But I didn’t know power would come from. I saw potential energy in spiritual power for a person like me. I was so young, I was so full of energy, I feel like God just encapsulated that. Sometimes I wonder how someone like LeBron James and all these older guys play with the same drive on the basketball court that they had when they were a kid. They just encapsulated that spirit and they can go back to bouncing again, even if they’re tired. Tim Duncan is a great example. So that energy from sports just drove me!
Parlé Mag: What sports did you play?
Mali Music: I played football. Okay, you have have to understand. I had a single mother with two sisters, so it’s very easy for a dude like me to be soft. If you don’t have two hard head cousins that beat you up and take you on the block, then you in the house, soft. You dancing to Mya, you watching Sisqo. It’s Midnight Love on, AND you can’t raise your voice. But, a single woman can’t stay single long, so my dad came in, my step dad. The first masculine image that I had. He just made me crave masculinity, he made me want to be a man. My mom wasn’t really having it though. I played in one Mighty Mite league and got the wind knocked out of me the first play… that was it! My mom picked me up off the field in front of everybody and didn’t want me to ever come back to the field. So I was away from the sport for a while. I tried out for football in seventh grade, I didn’t know what I was doing. I was running the wrong way, I was dropping the football (laughs). But I was a kid and I had a raw skill set. I ended up getting a scholarship to an all boys school catholic academy. So I went from poverty and the church to this polished new $7,500 a semester school. I was around all these white boys, getting a private school education, but I was also learning the sport. That’s how important football is in the South. Everybody from that school goes to college. I was number 21 in the state of Georgia, got crazy scholarship offers. I was going to go to Oklahoma State and unretire Barry Sanders’ number, I was going to get that number 21. But it didn’t work out that way and I’m so thankful it didn’t. Music was always in me though. They made it too easy to take that scholarship. They started recruiting me, they started courting us. They were taking my dad out, flying us to Kansas to see games. Everybody just knew that was my future, but I was just playing for the love to grow as a man to get the discipline and skill set that I could apply, because from a young age I was always trying to reveal what was the potential ammunition I could use to have something. I knew that football required too much on my body. I wasn’t even out of high school yet and it was brutal. Plus, college ain’t no money. And if you make it to the league, you gotta play for 15 more years!
Parlé Mag: So how did that transition into music come into play.
Mali Music: I didn’t know you could be an artist. My pastor and my dad raised me, so I’m a front line dude raised by support men. They don’t do nothing but shave that little boy arrogance off. They teach you humble. Coming up in the church taught me purpose and gave me a reason to love what I was doing. And I realized that if I am doing it for the money than don’t do it because you gonna run out of it. So bigger than trying to attain $100 million dollars for myself, I much rather gain 100 million friends. 100 million people who feel me and are like, ‘here’s some water.’ I had to admit that I can’t ball out on them. I won’t be able to shine on ’em when I feel like it… but I was willing to accept that.
I was getting ready to leave high school, I was about to get recruited, the cameras was there. ESPN and all of them was there. But I know I can’t do it. I don’t accept the scholarship! My coach jacked me up, threw me against the locker! ‘Pollard, this waste of talent! You got all this God given ability, you gonna waste it to make Rap beats?!‘
I’m like, ‘ Coach it’s not Rap beats, it’s music, it’s something special’. He just left. I lost everything. I didn’t get to graduate, the whole city fell from under me. It was crazy. That’s when I conceived my son. I felt like I had every reason not to become the man I am now, That’s when I was right around 20. These songs gave me everything that I needed to start releasing music. When I graduated I didn’t have no recording equipment. I was a fifteen year old asking my dad to get me four thousand dollar ProTools. He’s like, ‘Bruh we gonna pay rent and I gotta get groceries’, so I didn’t have the luxury of getting that equipment that I needed to get.
To make a long story short, when I denied that scholarship, my life turned into hell! My dad woke me up like a task master after I denied the scholarship and wasn’t going to college. He was like, I got a job for you! He drove me to an outside city named Pooler that I had never heard of before. Nothing out there but fields and nooses. I had to work in the water department. They had a shirt with my name on it already because that’s what my life was going to be! So I’m getting it from my dad. I got a son I got to take care of. And I got nothing to show for myself. It was tough, I had to really start doing something.
MySpace was really starting to kick off and I started hearing about every body that was on this BlackPlanet site, and it started turning into this whole interconnectedness. I didn’t choose to go to college but I started seeing all these fraternities and the loyalty and relationships building from college. So I just dropped my MySpace page and I put up songs that I started recording.
There was one pivotal moment that I’m saying all this for. There was a physical altercation between me and my dad. My boss—Nick Carpenter—at this job I had been working at the water department. I was talking to him… now at this point I would stay up all night with my friends and I would burn cds. I would be up late at my home boys house on his computer to make the music that would get me through the next day. I never made music for a hit. I made food. This was breakfast, an egg sandwich to get us through. Then the music would help my co-workers get through. We would be at lunch just jamming. Then Nick Carpenter the big boss, he had my MySpace up on his computer and he was like, ‘what are you doing?’
Man, I felt like I was free! I drove home soooo fast. But I get home and my dad’s car is in the driveway. I’m thinking, ‘damn, he not supported to be home’. I walk in and I’m excited to tell him, my boss, he saw the light. My dad was not hearing it! (Laughs). He was saying there can’t be two kings. He just didn’t see the vision. He decided that he needed to teach me a lesson and a fight ensued. I would never cross that line, but it showed me and I guess it showed him too. From bleeding to getting banged around to probably having my skull knocked down, I just had to run away from it. My family was crying, everybody was weak. It was a defining moment for my family. It got to the point when I finally came back, I had Pro Tools, a computer and an outer room that my dad set up for me. I had a mic in there. He said, ‘anything me son will fight me for, I support.‘
The first thing I did was start recording. “Broken Spirit”, “The Light”, “All I Have To Give”. “Avaylable”. I’m just like God, I had all these opportunities, I went all out for you. But I guess trees take longer to grow.
Parlé Mag: So you put out The Coming and The 2econd Coming is released in 2009. Then you go on a four year break before you reemerged with a bit of a new sound on RCA. What was happening during that off time?
Mali Music: I didn’t know all those labels existed, I was fine where I was so I was just the hardest working dude on the underground scene. Everybody in every city knew me, but not the executives. And I didn’t know that, but that was was a strong foundation. Like if I went to Philly, there was a group of people waiting for me in Philly. If I went to Dallas, there was a group of people waiting for me. But I always had to be in church on Sunday. Me getting the Word like that, it always influenced my content. I wasn’t getting no girls, I wasn’t getting no money so that’s all I could sing about.
The underground stuff was popping at the time so I was gonna partner with my friends to get 1000 discs made from Discmakers, that was the deal at the time. I was going to put $500 up from my job and they would put $250 each and we would get the deal. But once that fight ended up happening, I lost focus with that. When things calmed down I ended up showing my mom’s my MySpace and by then I had over 750,000 consistent followers. She was like ‘Mali this is incredible’. She opened up my messages, I had 450 unchecked messages. People from Miami that were like come sing, people from everywhere like we want you to do this, we want you to do that, but I would never check my messages. By that time I had four songs and my mom’s was like okay these are the songs we’re going to push. She quit her job and made herself my manager. That made my dad mad. It was a beautiful thing, I never would have been able to be where I am if not for it, but I had a vision and I had an investment that I was fighting for that everyone came in on the halfway mark. I had to outgrow that.
The underground stuff started getting so crazy. BET had this underground showcase, their Music Matters showcase, where they took all the underground artists from the best stages: Atlanta, Chicago, New York and Los Angeles. I had just moved to Los Angeles I met with Holly Carter at the merchant conference and she was connected with Robi Reed at BET. She knew they were doing these Music Matters showcases so she just brought me to BET like ‘Mali sing’. I did what I had to do and it just shocked everybody. I was this underground Gospel act… it’s like if you come to Rucker Park and the top baller is a priest and he just going off. My stats and the excitement of what I brought to the game just had me on these stages, the same ones that J. Cole transcended from, that Miguel transcended from, I just outgrew a lot of things and now it was time for the real people to see me. We was in bars and in all these places I would have never thought I was in. We would have to turn away 100s of fans every night because it was a 21 year-old age requirement, so they was turning all those underage folks away. It was a contest and when it was all said and done they were like ‘Damn, Mali won, so this Gospel dude gotta represent us at the BET Awards.’ I didn’t care, I was just like, ‘God, give me a song’. I had a whole set ready but the day before I got there they told me they had taken the 3 minute set I had prepared for down to 30 seconds [televised]. I was like ‘okay’. They were like you’ll be on stage for like a minute and twenty seconds so you can make that count. They also said, ‘well, you could not do it’. I was like naw, I’ll do it. Then they were like you won’t be on the main stage, you’ll be on this side stage, this little cardboard built stage. I was just like ‘dang, ya’ll just felt to downgrade me’. I was that little dude that no one expected, but once the light came on, I just went. And it cut! It reached everybody. When the music went off they went to this Alicia Keys commercial but the music was still resonating with everybody.
From there, Akon saw it. Somebody took a 30 second clip and sent it to Akon. That’s when it started changing because if he take you to a meeting it’s serious. He got involved and we started working. I was having this internal battle between the future that was coming, the business opportunities that were coming and my moral integrity. I was having conversations with myself like, ‘Am I wrong for getting ready to win’. I didn’t recognize that I wasn’t prepared to start winning, as hard as I was working. That’s what was happening through all that time. Since I gave my life to God he raised me, groomed me as a man and however long it take that’s what it take. But when I finished that’s when this jewel came out. That’s what’s The Coming was, The Second Coming, Mali Is…, and now this.
Parlé Mag: Fast foward to “Gonna Be Aight”…
Mali Music: So I get signed and the first person they say I need to get in the studio with is Salaam Remi and Jerry Wonda at Platinum Studios. I got with Jerry first, that’s where I did “Ready Aim”, I did “Beautiful” there, I did “No Fun Alone”. Those were the first joints I recorded. Then they got me in there with Salaam. He was playing with this loop. It was a weird session. He was just trying to figure out who I was. So he was just like, ‘let me hear something’. I was thinking, “I’m here with a producer, let me hear some tracks.’ He said, ‘it’s not about the tracks, just sing something I’ll do what I do.’
I was like ‘Aight mean dude’ (laughs). I had my keyboard with me so I just started playing, and I sang, ‘What’s it all about/why is blood flowing…”
That’s just how I roll. If you get me mad, or if you get me irritated I’m just going to encourage myself back up and come back at it. “It’s gonna be aight’ I just kept playing it on the metronome. He was like aight and then I left. I didn’t hear that song in how long! Two years went by, apparently he done put bass on the joint, drums on the thing and the label was going crazy. He sent it to me and he had transformed it. I didn’t even know if I liked it because I hadn’t been able to spend no time with it. I guess that’s how closely knitted I am to my music, but this was one of those times when I had to let go.
Parlé Mag: So you recorded the track since the Mali is… project.
Mali Music: Yeah and I recorded “My Life” since Mali is… A lot of these songs are old. I recorded “Bow Out” three years ago. These songs should have been out.
Parlé Mag: This album has a couple features on it. The most recent single, “Loved By You” features Jazmine Sullivan. What was that collaboration like?
Mali Music: It’s unreal, because of the technology and everything we didn’t get to do it in the same session. I didn’t know I would have a feature on that song. I just knew I had a song called “Loved By You” and it was jamming. I sung that whole first verse, second verse, did a rap, everything. I guess they were like, we got too much Mali. They sent it out and I guess she just really took to it. I think it was one of those songs where she was like, ‘I don’t know who this is, but I’m on this record.’ By the time we heard it again we knew it was right. It was one of those songs that was bare and a super sexy song like “Untitled (How Does It Feel?) [D’Angelo] But we got the strings on “Still” and the symphony loved it so much they were like, ‘Mali we want to do another song’. I said let’s do “Loved By You” and that just made it CRAZY. The composer felt what we felt and he transitioned that seductive energy that was in the beat and in our voices and just made it this Frank Sinatra, love kind of energy. He took us to Paris.
Parlé Mag: As a fan of the music, I gotta ask, why didn’t “Digital” make the project?
Mali Music: Ahh, “Digital” came out a long time ago…
Parlé Mag: But didn’t “Contradiction” come out before it?
Mali Music: Yeah, but “Contradiction” was on the Chi-Raq movie and “Contradiction” also had a lot of followers. And Jhene Aiko was on it so it brought another voice to my album. “Digital” would have probably been there… it was definitely there before I brought both of the Chi-Raq songs to my album. I wish it was on there. I was asking for 13 songs, we had a 15 song set list but the label with all the paperwork only let me release 12.
What’s next for Mali Music?
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