Editor's Note: Rachel Hauser and Rah Riley, two Northrop marketing interns, sat down and got malts at Annie's Parlour with local hip-hop artist MaLLy. MaLLy is performing tomorrow night (July 13), alongside Culture Cry Wolf and DJ Fundo as part of the Summer Music Festival at Northrop. Check out what he had to say:
Northrop: You made a big splash performing at Soundset in 2011. How did 2011 compare to this past May, where you co-hosted the event with Brother Ali and J Pratt? What was the journey like between the two years?
MaLLy: You know, to be honest I think with performing you’re just looking forward to doing that. It’s not as grueling — I don’t know if that’s the right word. But performing for 25 minutes and then going back to your merch table, meeting people, and getting the chance to walk around is one thing. But then when you actually have to host, look at people, and talk to them from 11:00 am all the way to 7:30, you have to be on point continuously. They’re both skills within their own right, but at the same time, you still have to deal with a lot of the same things as when you’re performing. You've still got to deal with people coming up to try to get shit from you. There are some people with positive intentions, but then there are people who are just like "Can I get backstage?" You have to deal with all kinds of people, from so many different directions. I think being on point, so that you don’t forget that you are a host, and people are looking up to you in a positive light, you don’t want to turn into something negative. You want to stay positive the whole day. The only hindrance was that it was so d*** hot! It was 95 degrees, and it had rained the night before, but other than that the hosting experience was fun.
Between the two years a lot happened; a lot more radio play from The Current, Camel J was big, a lot of national and local press helped with that. Also the continuous support from a lot of people on Rhymesayers was really good. It’s always good to see that even if you’re not officially on paper a part of the team, people that they see hard work and dedication from, they respect. The journey was nice. Hosting was a different kind of experience. I didn’t get a chance to talk to people as much as I would’ve liked to. It went well, but it was a different kind of day. It was a positive experience.
N: In an interview with Vita.mn you said that you attribute Tupac for teaching you “open up about the pain” through your music. What other artists have had this kind of impact on your styling, and what do you accredit them for?
M: In addition to Tupac, some of the artists that have helped me to open up include Joe Budden, Skyzoo, Stevie Wonder is a huge one, Donny Hathaway, Phonte [of] Little Brother, even some George Michael. There are a lot of different people. It’s more the artists who are less surface level, I think their approach, and their formula is not really having one. It’s a "what you see is what you get" kind of mentality. Those are a lot of people that I’ve listened too over the years, and have really given me the inspiration to say what’s on my mind. I think being an emcee, sometimes it’s our job to create our own personal story, rather than regurgitating what everybody else is saying. I think a lot of those artists that I named off to you have definitely been motivational and inspirational in that process. It’s been cool. I would hate for somebody to think they have to copy me. I’ve seen people where they think that if they follow this formula, or work with this person, it’s going to go the exact same way. Nobody’s path is the same, and I think that’s why some of the best artists have their own story. Nobody can tell it like he can. I can’t tell it like Joe Budden or Donny Hathaway or Stevie Wonder. Those are some of the people I’ve been inspired by.
N: One of Star Tribune’s local music reporters recently dubbed your second full-length album The Last Great as one of the best local albums of the year so far, and City Pages named you the Best Local Hip-Hop Artist of 2012. Why do you think the locals are responding so strongly to this album?
M: I think it’s becaue — don’t take this out of context — I’m not like a brand new style that came out of nowhere, doing what no artist has done in the past. I think a lot of it probably comes from people that have met me. I try to be honest and as down to earth as possible, and I’m a pretty easy person to get along with for the most part. I think it’s a mixture of straight forward approach, probably reminding people of a little bit of old style, old sounds, mixed in with new school. I think it’s a mixture of people enjoying me as an artist, and when they meet me too, as a person as well. There’s a mixture of things that people really grab on to. It’s not just that people are like "Oh, this guys a great emcee" but also (and I’ve heard it before), "This guy’s someone I could maybe kick it with; talk to this person about life." Also the fact that having many different life experiences, not just one, like being African American, or black — the obvious things — I think speaking on different things such as race and education, bringing so many different topics to the table, but finding a way so it’s not contrived and cheesy, and so it doesn’t sound like "Oh, we’ve heard this shit before." I think that’s part of it. And then also, I think having a different approach in how you go about contacting people. I think it’s just a wide array of thing; there’s a certain level of professionalism. A lot of people bring that up too; they’re like "This dude has a certain level of professionalism, and we see it when we talk to him, or when he sends out emails." There are just so many different things for this genre of music, hip-hop, that it’s not just grabbing a mic and rapping in front of people, but you treat it as a business. The presentation behind it is so important too, and so many different things that go into the release of a project; being hungry to really want to learn, and raise the bar. I always wanted to bring a certain level of passion and emotion to it, and raise the bar. Put a project out and take it seriously. I see so many times, people putting out music, and they’ll give you the CD and they got sharpie written on it, and there is no art work, no track listing; why would I want to listen to that? Working with Sundance Kid, I think I found somebody who’s sound matches really well with my sound, vocally, content-wise, and then also we both have this aesthetic of how we want our product to be represented. People feel as if even if they can’t grasp onto song number 3 of the album, song number 4, 5, 6, 11, and 12 might really grasp them in a way and lure them in, so they think "Ok, let me see what this guy has." I think having a wide array of topics. People are comfortable with me, I think, and even if they don’t connect with the song, something else I said might have stuck with them.
N: You and producer the Sundance Kid recently released your video for “Good One”, the second single off The Last Great. What is the collaboration process like for you and the Sundance Kid?
M: For a lot of the songs we made for the album, it was rare if we met up and started making something from scratch. A lot of the project was, he’d be making something and then sending it to me via email saying "Hey, check this out, I’ve got four or five different beats. Let me know what you think," and then it’d be me listening and getting back to him, usually like "Ok, this is dope, and I really like it." Most of the time I would listen to it, and give myself a few days, or maybe even a week sometimes, to really listen to it and figure out what the mood of the song is, and what kind of song I’d make from this piece of production. I wanted it to be a song that was my own spin on life, or having a good life, or a good one, or even just a good day, but not making it that cheesy, contrived nonsense. I try to take a different approach on how I can convey my message. I had my verses written already, but I didn’t have a hook that I wrote myself, that I was happy with. I sent the production and the verses written out to K.Raydio, and she sent me back the hook, and when I heard it I was like, "This is perfect." Then we went to the studio and got everything tracked out, and the two pieces worked hand in hand with each other. I had faith in her that’d she’d make it really good; I trust her abilities. Everyone kind of did everything on their own and then we just puzzled them together. It just happened really well. Me hearing production first is usually how I write best. I write a verse to it. I try to write the music, and then put my mood to it. Let the production dictate what I’m going to say.
M: The local music scene is very diverse. I think a lot of people come with their own styles, for the most part. I think we’re all hybrids of everything that came before us; we get inspired by many different things. This album cover, for example; I’m a big Stevie Wonder fan, and my favorite album of his is Music of My Mind, and my album cover is kind of similar to that. Some people caught that, some didn’t. The local scene is the diversity in the sound, and even small in so many ways. You can go to any show on Thursday and see X amount of artists, and then do the same thing on Saturday. Once you run into people it’s kind of like a family, almost. Everyone becomes distant relatives in a sense. For the most part it’s a respectful scene, and it’s pretty inspiring to see other people wanting to make good music, and have their own story, as originally as they can. It’s very motivating. Also, we do push ourselves in many ways. I would hope that something I come out with, people say "Hey, that project was really good." Even if they don’t like the music, but just the presentation behind the project, and the way I promoted it. A lot of it is direct, and a lot of it is indirectly influenced, but we all have our ways of influencing each other. We get inspired by the vets too; Atmosphere is always on tour, Ali is usually on tour. A lot of us aspire to do that one day and maybe even further than the level that they took it. There’s nothing wrong with having that blue print locally, and wanting to keep that legacy going. It’s also motivating to see people who are really successful reach back and say "Hey, I really like what you’ve done." Having in-depth conversations with those people is very inspiring, too.
N: What local artists are currently on your playlist? Any that you aspire to collaborate with in the future?
M: The Tribe and Big Cats, Wide Eyes, Wizeguys, Atmosphere, Brother Ali, Sims, The Chalice, I Self Devine, Greg Grease, Skyzoo, Frank Ocean, Polica. A lot of those people are good because they have their own way of telling their own story, and presenting themselves. They don’t all sound the same. I like variety. Love variety.
N: What are your short term aspirations/endeavors? What’s the five year plan?
M: Honestly, to get into an industry that I truly care about. It might be a non-profit. Potentially, hopefully that position is paid, because everyone’s got to eat to live, but it doesn’t have to be a ton of money. I think working in an industry, or in areas that feed my soul, and that I’m genuinely able to give back, whether that’s non-profit, or even something as small as working in a record store. I still want to continue to do music full-time, but then finding a way to transition into just doing live night performances, to using my other skills….speaking to classrooms, doing more things that benefit the community. Benefit all shapes and size, colors and creed is important. Music is a blessing that can connect with so many different people on so many different levels. I want to continue to use music, not only as a personal therapy session, but also using it to segue into other areas. Also I think being on the road wouldn’t be bad either; seeing the world, whether that’s through my own finances, or through another company. Radio is another thing I’d potentially like to get involved in. Often times, people see what they see, and it gets comfortable, so they stick to it. But there’s so much more out there. It falls in the court of the artist. I want to challenge people that hip-hop comes in many different shapes, sounds, and messages.
N: As a University of St. Thomas graduate, you’re no stranger to the Twin Cities. Are there any spots around town that have become a sanctuary for your creative process?
M: Minneapolis for the most part. Brackett Park in south Minneapolis, and the Loring Kitchen and Bar. Lake Calhoun is cool. Sometimes I just like to drive too. Also, my best friend’s house. And my Grandma’s.
N: If there’s one thing that you want people to know about you, or your music, or anything else you’d like to share, what would that be?
M: Nobody becomes a manager or a boss without putting in the work. I always say, "A lot of hard work went into The Last Great," or "A lot of hard work went into working with Sundance Kid," and many different things. That’s just something I always wanted everyone to know. To get where you want to get, depending on what your passion is, it’s going to usually take a lot of work, a lot of time, effort…there’s going to be shortcomings, and those are things that I wanted this project to hopefully give off to people in this way. Nothing is overnight, but hard work does pay off if done properly, and if you have the right intentions. I think people realize that, and they’ll appreciate that in many ways. If your intentions are right, and even if you don’t necessarily get all of the awards that you expected, you can still walk away knowing you gave it your best, your all, because you really cared about it. I really care about doing music and connecting with people. I want to be many different things to people. To some people, I’m just an employee, [to] others I am just a friend, or a mentor. I want to be many different things to many different people, and it’s cool when you give off a versatile description of who you are, and what you do. I think people respect you more for those things, and they know that you do more than just make music. Before I was really serious about music, I was a student, I was somebody’s friend, I was so many different things, and I want people to see me for that. Not just a rapper. That’s so limited. Everything is not what you think it is. I want people to know that doing music isn’t just going in a booth and recording; perception is not reality. Reality is so much different. I just want to have fun, and grow as a person in this process. I haven’t gotten there yet, but hopefully that happens one day.
And that’s a rap!