The new king of conscious soul, Mali Music came to earth at No. 2 on Billboard's R&B/Hip-Hop albums chart with his latest release, Mali Is.... It was pushed there by a first single, "Beautiful," that encourages us to "put our lighters up" in a nod to Lil Kim's Brooklyn anthem but with a smoother side of edification.
As we rapped, similarities in our musical career came out. My '90s band, Afroplane, got signed to RCA sub-label Kaper and, with family/church support, we saw a little shine before the industry's bureaucratic "dark side" reared its head. Thankfully, for Mali Music, "The Force" is still with him.
Today a ByStorm/RCA recording artist in full bloom, Mali was plucked out of the red clay of Georgia. The Savannah native was surrounded by his family and church, Faith on the Move Intl., and bubbles of euphoria erupted as we relished our shared roots.
"So you know what IT is!", Mali says as he prepares for his solo show at New Orleans' Essence festival this Saturday.
And yes I do! Georgia's churchy, communal vibe has a way of troubling the waters of music to push its talented sons and daughters to the crest of the wave.
"If it wasn't for Faith on the Move there would be no Mali Music," the singer affirms.
Mali founded his empire with the lightsaber of biblical truth and the technology of sites like MySpace music, dropping new songs every Thursday. Soon, his music was played at youth meetings in various churches. That means the thing that scares me: kids mime-dancing.
"Of course there was", he laughs. "Hundreds and hundreds, some good, some bad...because of the way I bent certain phrases, there has always been this weird connection between me and the listener(s) who became the broadcasters."
Similar science was used by Dave Matthews Band, another RCA alum. Although now signed with the major label, Mali's first albums were put out under his mom's direction and packaged by his church's youth department. Later, his album The Second Coming was a partnership with another artist's deal that allowed him to get a taste of "tha bizness." I'm sure the underground knows what he means.
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Auspiciously, Mali was born in the supreme year of Hip-Hop, 1988. Then there was a "great cloud of witnesses" blessing his arrival, from KRS-ONE and Nina Simone to Queen Latifah. With the smoothness of Lando Calrissian, he spits a verse:
I'm not religious nor am I superstitious I found something dope and I want to get you hip to this Steadily tryna get a tight grip on this but trus' me, this is a fight you don't wanna miss
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This shows why Mali tops the R&B/Hip-Hop charts: he has made a bridge over Rap & Bullshit. He uses the music of roots, reggae and Dirty-South-doowop-dub to create a Bob Marley 3000 feel. Listen to the track called "ONE" to see his brilliance and that of his team in making what I shall call Jesus Tafari sound. I in I understand. Do you?
About moving from church to stage, Mali says, "I didn't [change my style]. What I've been doing is just now become accepted on a mainstream level."
And what song on the Mali Is... album creates wings for both him and the listener? Without hesitation, he lights up with "Ready Aim."
"It gives me the strength to kick through that door," he says. "When I sing, it, you can definitely feel the fire. If you have a problem with what the music industry is kickin' to the youth...I hope everybody in Houston is encouraged to get the album."
Furthermore, "a lot of people try to push it [religion] down your throat, but that's not my approach!", Mali adds.
Lord, are we thankful for that. This 26-year-old is a veteran in the church and showbiz worlds, and speaks as if he has scars tattooed on his vocal chords. I can personally attest to how often in church settings the youth step up with a voice and the elders attempt to craft the message. Can't they see that the sons and daughters of this Next School will prophesy a better vision for helping mankind?
Their next testament is one with beats, technology, and poetry from angels and aliens. As with Mali Music, they are free to grasp the sword of melody and strike a blow against orthodoxy and the evil music-industry empire.
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