Mali Music Discusses Producing for Jennifer Hudson, Embracing Rap & ‘Mali Is…’ Album [EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW]
In today's world, ingenuity, resourcefulness and a little web savvy can get you far in the music industry. Mali Music is a great example of that.
After jumping behind the keyboard at his local Savannah, Ga., church when he was 11 years old, the singer, songwriter and producer built a MySpace page years later, building a solid following. Soon after, Mali released two albums -- 'The Coming' and 'The 2econd' -- on his own due to fan demand.
The guitar-playing crooner moved on up by performing on the Music Matters stage at the BET Awards in 2011, which eventually inked him a record deal with Mark Pitts' ByStorm Entertainment label at RCA Records.
After working with Akon, Jennifer Hudson and other heavy hitters in the business, Mali delivered his major label debut, 'Mali Is...,' in June. The Boombox recently chatted with the virtuoso about his newest project, producing for JHud, getting busy in the kitchen and his loyalty to the Los Angeles Clippers.
It's always hard to pick a song off an album, but which one are you excited for fans to hear?
There’s my favorite on the album called 'Royalty.' It’s pretty straight to the point. I’m recognizing people deal with the things they do, accept the things they accept because they see themselves a certain way or they believe what somebody has told them, or society or whatever. So it’s an opportunity to refresh everybody. Like, you are the king of your life. You get to pick, you get to select what’s going on. Yes, you gotta pay your bills. You gotta take care of your responsibilities but don’t forget to dream. At the end of the day, you’re royalty and the power is given back to you. You can wake up that next day and know that, you get to decide where you go and what you do. Don’t be a slave.
'Ready Aim' is the song you're rapping on. I heard your influences are Drake and OutKast.
Lets go OutKast, Drake.
Is this the first time you showcase your ability to rap?
No, I've kinda dabbled in rap but I never intentionally was like, OK I'm fittin' to spit real quick. Like it's never came out like that. I'm all the way a singer and a lyricist but it's something about like if I get really excited, words just asked to be chosen. If you speak, it will come out right. So it will start rolling and there was a back end to one of my songs that Mark Pitts ended up hearing. You know Mark Pitts is hip-hop so he was like, "Yo Mali, I know this is an alternative rhyme. If you can rap on there it would be crazy." So I'm like man, this is the worst Idea I ever heard in my life. But of course you gotta try it and I wanted to make sure I gave it my best.
I ended up killing it, so it was actually the last verse. He was like no we have to move it up to the front so it ended up being the second verse. This was the first time I wrote songs with somebody, creating with somebody. It ended up being good and they was like ok Mali I appreciate that. So there's a lot of lyrical rhythmic rapping on the album.
Watch Mali Music's 'Ready Aim' Video
What was it like working with Akon?
Akon was doing some co-managing with me for a while. I was with his management when I first got my record deal. He was just a mentor, man. He was more like a big brother, though. He’ll just throw you in the fire. He’s like, "Mali, meet me wherever." I’d have a plane ticket and I’ll fly overseas and I’m like, "Dude, what in the world is going on?" He’d be like, "Yo, write a hook to this. Or perform! Sing this hook!" It was really like that. He really showed me the ropes. He always will. He always does. I can call him any time and he picks up. He was such a blessing, perfect timing.
You've worked with Jennifer Hudson, producing material for her new album. Describe that experience.
Coming to L.A., of course you're going to meet people then you start to get in touch with all the different forms of music, and all the ways to create. In the south, I guess I never recognized how much of a commodity I was. I thought everyone who did music knew their music. I never met an artist that didn’t know what key their song was in. I just thought everyone was like me and I was so wrong. I was like, "Wait, you drive a Mercedes-Benz, you live in Beverly Hills and all you do is mix songs? Dude, that is a part of my process. You’re a millionaire for doing a part of what I do?" Then I hear, "Oh I wrote the hook on that. Wait, you didn’t write the lyrics? You just went into the booth and..." So I started recognizing that all this stuff was separate. Then I began to come back and separate all the pieces that I do. Everyone is like, you’re a genius! That’s when I started opening up to publishing, because I had hundreds of thousands of songs that I was never going to sing or put out.
Talking to my management, they hooked us up with a person that was connected to Jennifer because the songs I had recorded with Jerry Wonda, were still resonating in her studio. Clive Davis was all excited about it and sent her to the studio with Jerry Wonda. He played her one of the songs we did, 'Beautiful' being one. I was at a gas station and I remember looking at the gas pump, as it was going and my phone rang and I’m like Jerry? He was like, "Hey, I need you to talk to somebody," and it was Jennifer. She didn’t say hey, she didn’t say nothing. She was like “You are amazing!” She went crazy, it was good. We had that type of connection. So, it was a few months later that I went into the studio where we were just breaking bread and we started connecting. I ended up being myself and before you know it, we made one song then another. It went on more and became great friends. It was just a great eye-opener to all the ways we could do it. Of course I could have probably found it in Georgia, but it wasn’t prominent.
Tell us about the song you produced called 'Bring Back the Music.'
'Bring Back the Music' is one of the ones that we did at Jerry Wonda’s studio. But I wanted to approach it differently, I wanted to connect to her. I didn’t want to be a person who [said], "Hey this is a song that means a lot of me, but you can sing it!" I didn’t want to come at it like that. I was explaining it to her, and she was just looking at me like, "You are crazy!" I want you to talk to me, I want you to share your deepest ideas, just concepts you have for songs or something that you saw on TV that you thought was profound. I recorded a 20-minute audio clip on my phone of her just expressing herself, talking about it and I wrote all the songs from her thoughts and feelings. I would structure it with music, use certain quotes that she would, she would put a twang on something, I’d put a twang on it in the song so when I re-presented it to her, they were her babies. None of them were foreign.
I guess I’m the type of writer and producer that wants to bring back the true connection of what they want to say. It's cool that you can tell an artist, "Hey, I'm a robot I gotta sing this song, it’s not really what I agree with." It was really cool on songs like 'Bring Back the Music' and another one called 'Moan' that she wrote in tribute of her mother with all the crazy things that happened to her family, all the tragedy and loss she experienced. This was the first time she really went on to speak about it. I didn’t take that lightly. It was a very magical thing, I don’t know how I knew to do it. I just thought it’d be a really cool idea and would like it if someone handled me like that. The songs ended up making the album and that’s a dream come true.
You seem to be a healthy guy. What are some of your healthy lifestyle choices?
I think the healthiest choice in life is for me to be Mali Music and putting this album out, just to be able to spread positivity in the world. Based on me, man, I gotta get back into working out. I’ve been blessed to be naturally skinny, but that's just one donut and birthday away from changing. I don’t do too much that’s healthy huh?
Cooking is something you dabble in. Did you learn your secrets from mom?
Nah, that didn’t happen. I’m the only boy so it’s my mom and my sisters. I have an older sister and a younger sister, and I’m from Georgia. That’s a whole different thing when it comes to being behind the burner. My sister Ray is amazing, but because they can cook so well, if I wanted to cook that night I’m like, alright, I’m gonna do it. They’re like OK, but then I’m like, do I put the salt in before? Then it’s like, give me the pots. I’d never be able to finish a meal because I have too many questions. Once I moved into my place, there’s no one there to feed me at all.
After I got tired of running to Carl’s Jr, I had to find out how to make something hot and I had some friends that were showing me some recipes, some things I liked and it kind of... I think have two solid ones. I have a solid breakfast and a solid dinner. I can make amazing french toast. That’s the bomb, scrambled eggs. The other one I don’t know the name of, but it’s like pan seared chicken with rice and broccoli or whatever your preferred vegetable is. It’s like cooking in whipping cream, not whipped cream, but whipping cream to give it a type of gravy to throw it on over the rice. It’s bomb.
You learned that one on your own?
It’s like music, you make your own mistakes.
What else is there outside of music that fans might be surprised you're passionate about?
I love sports.
We’ll take a moment of silence for the Clippers. That was a tragic loss, they were amazing this year. I love those guys. I’m a New Orleans Saints fans. Drew Brees, all those guys. I love that. I’m a bowler beyond belief. I’m not arrogant but the things I can do I can do well, and I love bowling. Anything competitive or physical.
Why does bowling pique your interest?
It’s like a fun family thing, friends are always going out. Once I got a strike, I recognized that moment that I wanted to get a lot of them. So I found out how. So now when I bowl, yeah I’m getting strikes. I’m trying to aim high. There's no better feeling; it has to be synonymous with scoring a touchdown and I’ve scored many. I played football in high school where I was really good. Or I would imagine hitting a home run, which I’ve hit none. We didn’t have that sport prominent around us in Georgia.
Watch Mali Music's 'Beautiful' Video