Mali Music made a name for himself with his major album release Mali Is in 2014, but the Savannah, Georgia artist has been performing since he was little boy in the church choir. But even though he’s long been known for his gospel repertoire, Mali knew how to add a little something extra that had him walking the fine line of tradition and experimentation. But now Mali Music is ready to take the next step on his musical journey into R&B with his new body of work, The Transition of Mali, which releases on June 2 via ByStorm Entertainment/RCA Records.
“She responded to how I formatted the first verse,” Mali told The Boombox. “And I think she was interested in portraying the heart and the mindset of that other. That other perspective from the person across the table, the person I could never write. So it was a brilliant idea by Kirk Lightburn and that ear, and Jhene really brought it. She delivered it, and it was new.”
We had the chance to speak with Mali about his approach to gospel and R&B, the new album and how he creates positive music that’s inspiring without coming across as corny.
Why did you decide go into more of the R&B and soul for The Transition of Mali?
A lot of the songs that I made on this album were kind of pieced together during the three year gap between Mali Is… and now. So there were all these highs and lows. But we had the good problem as the label of having too many great songs. So we were trying to find the story in all these songs. So the label would like a song, and I would say, “I don’t identify with that anymore,” just like as an artist. Then they’d be like, “You have to identify with this. This song goes.” I think the thing that made [all the songs] connect and flow like a storybook. We were thinking of the Contradiction of Mail with the song, “Contradiction.” But I feel The Transition of Mali was the truest word. “Evolution” would have been one, but there’s The Evolution of Robin Thicke. And it’s just a go-to word. So “transition” and being observant was consistent in all the parts of my life. It’s like a thing you don’t even want.
You know that feeling when you graduate the fifth grade, and now you gotta go to middle school? You feel like you’ve got to start over. It’s that type of transition. Mali Is.. and even from The 2econd Coming, I had transition to Mali Is.. and then to The Transition of Mali. I feel like it’s the transition from the expectation to what it actually is.
You have this way of blending sounds that when I listen to your previous work, I forgot they’re gospel records.
I wanted to always make good music, even from the beginning. But I learned how powerful the gospel community was, or not so much the gospel community, but the church. And I think it was protection like parents protecting their kids. “I’m not going to let you hurt my baby,” but sometimes you grow into a point when those nicks define you and make you stronger. So I had to say, “Hey it’s OK guys. I’m going to walk this path.”
And not just because you have a way of bringing them together, but why do you think gospel and R&B do go together so well?
Blues is the truth of what’s happening. That’s a style of music that people just zone out to. You add rhythm to that, and you can kind of dance to it. But it still [has] strong topics. Gospel is the quickest evolving genre of all of them. This is going from “Amazing Grace,” “What a Friend We Have in Jesus;” then we have the “Oh Happy Day” with the Andraé Crouchs, and it moves to Kirk Franklin and God’s Property. And so gospel music, it just takes leaps. Now we have Lecrae, Andy Mineo. We have Mali Music. You know what I’m saying?
But the thing about it is, I didn’t want to get locked into a specific genre because I knew I didn’t live enough of my life. So I couldn’t tell all of my stories. I dropped the 2econd Coming when I was 16. I was in Savannah, Georgia. So all I was doing was going to church and going to school. All I knew was to do right, obey the rules and The Ten Commandments. So I couldn’t sing about everything and get the support of my mom and my dad and my church. I was playing at the church, and I was doing what I had to do and what was true to my heart so I could get the support as well as let them know, “Hey, I could do something bigger than what you guys may think.” And I grew from a step there and a step there, and the parade continues.
The song that really stuck out to me, and it makes that it’s the lead single is “Gonna Be Alright.” It’s a song that could really resonate with people. How did that song come about?
Well, I recorded that song in New York with Salaam Remi, and he’s amazing. He just has all these crazy and cool ways about attacking the track. So I was coming to the session with him, expecting to hear the sounds and go, “Oh, I want to pick this track and this sound.” But he didn’t want to do it that way. He was interested in what I had to bring. He didn’t want me to be influenced by this or that. He just wanted it to come out. And I didn’t know how to do it. And I’m creative and an artist, but he made it in a new way.
So I had to learn something that day. So I started playing the keys, and the lyrics started coming into the flow. Once we got to “It’s gonna be alright,” I knew I wanted to stack that part. But I recorded that song three years ago. So I had no idea it was going to happen the way it was. We finished the album, and “Gonna Be Alright” wasn’t in there. Kirk Lightburn, A&R for Bystorm [Entertainment] and this project, was like, “Mali, ‘Gonna Be Alright’ is a hit man.” So I look at all these songs, and I look at his laptop and click the Mali tab and see that I have 74 options for an album. And he’s like “Man, if we go through all of them, they’re all jams.” So how do we take 12 songs from 30? And just the sonics [Starts singing the melody.] was amazing. Once the beat dropped and the content came, I guess the years had to go by for me to appreciate the song. So now I feel like it’s right on time. It’s not in the future anymore, and we can hear it and digest it for what it is.
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