The enigmatic Mali Music recently released his sophomore album to critical acclaim and mass appeal. The debut of Mali Is…(RCA) landed on the Billboard R&B Charts in its first week in the #2 spot…an amazing feat, considering the album was jostling for top spot against notable figures like Pharrell Williams, Mariah Carey and John Legend.
Strangely, compliments and best wishes among Gospel fans and believers have been tempered, as the album –Mali Is… – and the artist, Mali Music, have been viewed in many church and industry circles as lyrically ambiguous and spiritually shady. Rumor mills ran headlines like, “Mali Music has sold out.” “Mali Music leaves Gospel to do R&B.”
With Mali‘s popularity steadily growing and questions still swirling, BlackGospel.com went to the source for some straight answers and some real talk. The revealing conversation covered all the hot button issues…from his appearance on American Idol to marketing and promoting his album as a R&B release (though he refutes that claim). What you will likely discover in the interview below is a very intelligent young artist who’s completely consumed with fulfilling his divine calling to present the story of salvation in a completely revolutionary way.
Christopher Heron: Mali Is… features 12 awesome tracks. Were there a few other songs you really wanted on the album that didn’t make the cut? At the end of the day, were the song selections a RCA decision or a Team Mali decision?
Mali Music: Well, to answer the first question, I could’ve released a whole other album from the songs that didn’t make the album and it would have been just as good. I think song selections was a combined effort honestly. There were a whole lot of songs that I was letting people know about that were coming because my mom and I and the management team where already under the independent label, and we were getting ready to release an album, another independent album, like 2econd Coming.
Another independent release would have been very good, and there would have been a huge group of people who would have enjoyed the music, but I still would have been moving around in the same circle. It would have been new, but would have been the same, it would not have been new territory, and it would just have been a face lift, just another dose. I would have prolonged the initial 2econd coming season.
I think I had to get off of it, and that was a level of maturity that we all as a unit are being called to do, based upon texts and downloads that are going to be coming from Heaven. We need to have an upgrade, it is a choice, not just to wait, I didn’t have to do it, God would have honored either way but I wanted to make the sacrifice to be able to expand the brand.
The scriptures say He’s the author and finisher of our faith. He’s written a book and He’s starting something, and we can trust in Him, trust that He’ll finish it. It may not be in our time, it may not be in this album release, but what’s to come, He does everything in circles, where He makes everything loop back and He does it in His time, it’s perfect.
Christopher Heron: You’ve worked and recorded with many talented people in recent years, from Kirk Franklinto Lecrae to Tye Tribbett. I expected to see one or two collaborations on your latest project. Was there any consideration to do any duets or feature any other artists on Mali Is… or was the plan clearly to focus on Mali Music?
Mali Music: There was never a thought of featuring artists on the Mali Is… When I come, just like when anybody else comes, I come alone. I think it was necessary for me to be able to define the album. I went to the core of what MALI is, and this is what it is. So from now on, everyone will have a great ear and understanding of what I bring and contribute to songs I’m on. It’s like knowing the sound of Michael Jackson. I want people to be able to distinguish that sound that I bring. That will add value to what it is I’m singing.
Christopher Heron: Working with RCA has got to be different. Expectations are higher. There are team meetings and conference calls. You’re also asked to team up with other creative people with experience and credentials. I see on your album credits that you teamed up with Jerry Duplessis from The Fugues and Andre Harris who’s worked with Jill Scott. Was that a smooth collaboration or did it take time to make room for other ideas?
Mali Music: Once I got signed, I came ready to open every door. I wanted to be able to see what the capacity of this opportunity was. A lot of people focus on the negative aspect of working with a label but if I’m in a castle, I want to see what makes this place valuable. I overturn every stone, I want to rock with every producer. I want to see what this is about, to actually see if it’s better or if it’s just the way things are done. I was able to work with really amazing producers, some of the best but their names are not on the album.
I can’t work with a producer who is very fixed on his sound because that takes away from the value of what it is I’m trying to say and do, but I work well with producers who are able to commit to the heart of the song, to make it the strongest song. Versatility and humility as a producer is key. So yeah, it was a very good experience. I had a great time. Jerry Duplessis really worked out because he’s a musician at heart. A lot of people who were on the album were very sensitive and those were the only type of individuals that I wanted to showcase and feature making this album, beautiful through and through.
Christopher Heron: You’re a true artist in the sense that you enjoy and excel as a songwriter, a singer, a musician and a performer. By your own admission, where do you believe you most excel as an artist? Is it as a songwriter, as a singer, as a musician or as a stage performer?
Mali Music: I think the fact is that it’s like a prong, like a bullet point above all those things. Those things are babies of one thing, and the thing that I’m great at, and the thing that I mostly do is create. Creativity is what I do. So it doesn’t matter what you put before me, I can create. I can have a full house, have nothing on my head, have nothing planned, and have the people in the audience watching me for the next three hours. I am a creator. That’s the thing that makes me have a beautiful relationship with God. It is the power of creation that makes you unlimited and that’s what I respect and reverence.
It is a very simple gift, the willingness to devote your time, your energy, your heart, to be able to be excellent at something and to be able to express the things that can’t be heard. I think that I’m really good at that and that could be in song, that could be in creating a painting, it could be in designing a suitcase or a car. It’s the heart of God. It’s creativity. That is the thing I am best at.
Christopher Heron: Your appearance on American Idol was huge. It propelled your single – Beautiful – into a smash hit on iTunes. How exactly did that invitation to appear on American Idol happen? And what was the impact and ripple effect of that appearance on your music career?
Mali Music: It was very powerful. It was a huge impact. If you get the right people around you, the right connects, then you couple that with inspiration, doors fly open. There is a guy on my team, Randy Phillips, and he’s been a beautiful addition. He’s going to be the reason that I am able to walk into arenas and perform. I don’t know the first person to speak to…probably Kirk Franklin…because he’s done it and that would be all.
Besides Kirk, Gospel artists don’t do arenas, we don’t do major venues not because our music isn’t good. If it’s not sixteen of us on the bill, we probably can’t fill the venue. With that being the case, Randy Phillips was really inspired by one of the performances and said “this needs to be seen”. It’s a very beautiful thing when a label like RCA says things like “you are an album artist with us” because that’s not what labels are about anymore.
Labels are saying, “How can we get a quick buck? How can we make them look like this? How can we suck them for everything their worth in this season and then just let them go?” But my label was like was about showing patience in me, an act of faith…faith that an individual artist can have a body of work that can affect the world. That’s unheard of in the last decade.
But to get back to your question, Randy Phillips called around saying this needs to be seen because he was impacted by what he just saw and before we knew it, everybody was just shooting videos for us. This was whenJennifer Lopez attached to one of the videos for American Idol, saw one of the clips. She was impacted when she saw it and that was our way in to AI. All I had to do was do what I do. I can’t believe the impact was so huge. It was a huge stone thrown in the ocean that caused not waves, but a tsunami effect, which takes longer to develop but the impact is bigger. A lot of us are sort of waves, or ripples or splashes we can manage but if a mountain falls into a body of water there is something curious happening, and that’s what’s happening right now. We are seeing the first stages of that.
Christopher Heron: It’s been 5 years since the release of The 2econd Coming when most people discoveredMali Music. Why did it take so long to release this second project? And why didn’t the Live Recording of Mali Music done at Wave Church in Virginia Beach back in 2010 ever get released?
Mali Music: The best way I can explain it is, and most people might get it…let’s see…’religious business’. Does that sum it up? There’s a term to the way we do business as Black people in Gospel that prohibits distribution. That is one of the things that the Christian artist realm gets. They do what they have to do to be able to promote the greater sound, but that’s not what we do, it’s a lot more political.
So to God be the glory. I think the experience of doing the Live recording created a demand. No one knows more than me that I was not able to water those seeds that were sowing, because it actually took several years forThe 2econd Coming to catch on. Before people actually understood or listened to the album, I was just another little rebel just trying to do something different. Four years later it’s the theme of the church.
That is just the way that it goes, and that’s how you know that God is with you. I am a little ahead of the time, and with that being the case I have to be okay with being in and out of season, but give it a year, give it a month, give it two years, and the music that was just released on the 17th of June will be the heart and soul of the next generation. I’m always looking for alternative ways to release the music.
I’m praying for creativity in my mind and in my business, to be able to use the tools that I have to rightfully and excellently release the sounds of the new music, because I know there have been songs that have really been speaking to people, like Walk on Water, That Name. I wish the church was a place we could go consistently and be able to sing these songs, but I think those days are coming. I was sitting in a hotel lobby and everything that I am experiencing now, Pastor Donnie McClurkin was telling me was going to happen, four years ago.
Christopher Heron: You’re definitely a social media guy, so you read the blogs and comments on a variety of sites. I think the biggest question by followers and fans of Mali Music was whether you’ve been carefully and systematically transitioning from ground breaking Gospel music to pop or secular music. Your appearances onAmerican Idol and the Queen Latifah show, your latest concept video of Beautiful have been signs to some that you’re making a move into Pop music. Is that a fair analysis? Can you clear the air on what the end game really is?
Mali Music: A person can press a button, but when it detonates, it is out of their control. They are responsible for initiating the explosion but the response is sometimes bigger, sometimes smaller, sometimes a malfunction. All I did was say yes to the calling, to give Him what was required, and while doing that I was equipped with a level of faith, with the ease, also with the completely open channel, so that I was able to hear everything I was able to give, but there were also more importantly lessons within that, take the religion out, the album was whatever it is but now I stood with God.
As much as it was about the people and making the music, it was the development of me as a man, and me becoming the man of God that I always strived to be. I believe that we are finally there with all of this, with the music doing what it’s doing, with that understanding. There are perks that come with this love, meeting the people within a certain mindset, doing the things that are happening, that is one thing that we use to our advantage, to create teachings and lighthouses and inspire people.
I guess we need to say “It’s time for us to stand up,” it may be four of us, it may be four hundred, it may be four hundred thousand. There is no way to know without setting it up and that’ s the instruction we have. He gave me my voice, my creativity and He promised me favor with the kings of the world. It’s my mission and definitely causes my coat to dazzle a little bit, which may cause the eyes of my colleagues and the eyes of people who do not understand to ask what is going on.
It doesn’t mean I understand it too, but it is my calling. Therefore I am the most equipped to do it, but I need everybody in the house to know that my priority is the house. My priority is the wellbeing of where we come from and that’s the church, that’s us praying, that’s us praising, that’s us giving God Glory but all of that is done off of understanding and I don’t believe people in the house are aware of how genuinely ignorant people in the world really are.
With that being the case, my music if for the man, my music is for the woman, my music is for children, it’s for mankind and it sees the part of them, the soul which is the decision maker for it all, which makes my music in high demand. I know these are some over-the-top words, but this is my truth, if it isn’t my truth, how am I here now and why are you interested in speaking with me? There is no way that my music can be what it’s supposed to be in the world, and it not be pop.
Pop just means popular appeal, demanded by audiences of mixed origin, it’s phenomenal, it’s something so valuable that people from all races understand it and I believe that everybody understands the smile, everybody understands love, everybody understands caring, it just happens to have been buried under a lot of other things. I’m not doing anything but eliminating those things for people and inspiring their soul to make a decision with more options on the good side.
Christopher Heron: I can only imagine how your faith is being tested daily. The fame, the fortune. It’s a daily grind. What do you do on a daily or weekly basis as a believer to stay grounded in God and ensure that your witness inspires people and pleases God?
Mali Music: I listen. I think that’s what a lot of us don’t do once we get out of the church. I think the antenna goes upward when we’re in the church. Reverence makes even the hardest man receptive. You can catch the frequencies of Heaven and you can be instructed on what to do with that kind of faith. You can also be at ease and understand what’s happening above us. So I am always listening. I spend a lot of time doing that. The way that I bottle it is in my creativity so I’m always writing songs. Those are the ways that I am able to stay focused.
I ask a ton of questions from the people who have what I need. The scariest part of instruction from God was through that meditation and the strengthening of my spirit, trust myself, trust the me that I can never not be, the part of me that has the concerns to how God feels, to do something righteous, trust that, because I felt that as long as I was in the church I was instructed not to trust myself, it was like everything that I could possibly think of was worse.
Living in those parameters and living in those safeties, I never got an opportunity to feel God. I had to be nudged into that territory, because me playing it so safe affected my experience, which affected the gravity of my songs. So now I believe the reason that we say, “I sing because I’m happy, I sing because I’m free”, we have avenged each other of the things that give those experiences definition; so, we’re just bellowing the same songs with limited experiences.
My experiences has personalized my songs but it’s still amazing grace but with a perspective added. With those experiences, it really takes my faith to another level. It causes my expressions to get more interesting and it causes experiences to get heavier. This is the creation by God in a willing vessel like me and He will do all these things for the rest of my life as I release music as a mutation of Heaven to Earth. Once the whole thing is finished, I believe it will just be perfect and I will be very pleased with how I spent my life. I think that’s what makes God happy.