Interview: MaLLy (Minneapolis)

With the slew of Soundset announcements (one of the biggest festivals in the States for hip-hop) came word that up-and-coming rapper MaLLy will be helping host the extravaganza. MaLLy’s just busting out of the woodwork in the Twin Cities, capping off the Welcome to Minnesota tour and gearing up for his upcoming debut album. He’s a hard worker, harder than most people you’ll ever meet. The best part? He’s rooted like your best friend. Big thanks to MaLLy for taking time out of his day to sit down and chat!

Last year, you went from opening for Guilty Simpson to ending at Radio K & City Pages presents First Avenue’s Best Bands of 2011 Show. Did you think all that would ever happen to you?

To me, it’s a luck of the draw thing. I definitely put in a lot of work and a lot of time. At the same time, having a lot of people who are supportive and have seen me continuously progress even before that Guilty Simpson show. I’ve always been about progression and going from point A to point B, point C to point D versus trying to go straight from A to Z overnight. Going from a Guilty Simpson show to being offered to do Soundset to doing all kinds of different shows and being featured on different projects and having my first few music videos out this year. Having cosigns from good friends like Slug, working with Ali and Toki Wright… Having a good year, putting out good music on top of that and trying to put everything together at the same time, being determined to put out the best music that I can, I don’t necessarily know if it was all I expected it to be. I live by a pretty simple philosophy of the whole hard work pays off motto. Having good music, putting it out there properly, and hitting all channels definitely attributed or helped in many ways in my personal opinion.

To be considered for a show, or being picked to click in City Pages and then being selected for that Best Bands of 2011 show and I’m not in a band-I’m kinda a one man show with a DJ is, to me, phenomenal. It’s something that I’ve dreamed of doing; playing at a show like that or having people hold me as a standard as a hip-hop artist in a scene that is a great thing. In certain ways, it’s definitely something I had thought it would be. But at the same time, there’s people who are equally talented. I think it’s a right place right time, luck of the draw. I think the cards just happened to be in my favor.

I heard you started writing in 2001. What would your 2001 self say if you told him that this is where you’re at right now?

It’d be one of those whole metaphysical thing; like your future is talking to your past, telling you to keep going, keep moving, keep pushing. My 2001 self would probably smile, be very happy, and probably an “I told you so” kind of thing like continuing to believe in yourself, continue your writing, and continue to improve and be yourself at the same time. I think that’s this is going to work out because you’re genuinely a people person and you get along with people for one. For two, you have good taste. I think it’s one of those things where I’d tell myself to continue to be yourself and not be afraid to be yourself. Take pride in where you come from and what your experiences were in life. Don’t be afraid to put that out in a song and not necessarily buying into what people think you should sound like or what they want or what they think would sound good on. Staying true to yourself is always key.

Work hard. Sometimes taking the high road and being humble at times when you want to toot your own horn. Remaining humble even in those times of confirmation and affirmation. Remaining humble and positive because those doors will continue to open versus shut on you. And reminding that it definitely isn’t easy. I definitely tell myself that nothing is overnight so get ready. If it’s something you really want to do, get ready to work hard because if it’s something you really truly love, you definitely will work hard especially as an independent artist. That’s probably what I would say to myself.

When I think of the Twin Cities, it’s one of those things specifically in Minnesota and maybe other Midwestern stops, Minnesotans don’t generally like arrogant artists or arrogant people or people who are overly confident for whatever reason. It’s one of those things where I’m trying to play a balancing act of being the really confident and self-believing MC and at the same time having a message and picture that I paint. At the same time when I’m off record, you talk to me you might get a totally different feel. A lot of times people are like, “Man, I listen to your songs. You really understand and you really know what you’re going for. You really know yourself and you’re not afraid to say that. I thought you were going to be an asshole.” And then when they meet me and get a chance to really talk to me when the microphones not on me, they’re like, “Dude, you’re one of the coolest people in the world to ever talk to, to kick it with, to chill. You’re one of the most down to earth people.”

Specifically in Minnesota because I’m speaking in that context, they’re more used to artists who are established speaking less in “I” terms and speaking like “Me this, Me that. I this. I this.” And taking more the third person or abstract approach to music. But yea, for whatever reason, I’ve gotten that feel that people don’t like the arrogant, cocky MC that’s really confident and really believes himself in an artist and go for the humble approach. Naturally, I’m just a pretty laid back person in general but for whatever reason the type of music I like to make I think it definitely strikes a chord with people and they enjoy it.

I think the type of music that I make is perfect for a crowd too. I think it’s perfect for a live show at the same time. It’s a gift and a curse. But at the same time, even the curse is something that people love at the same time.

Especially “Stomp Through” is definitely a good crowd song. I’d definitely love to see that one.

You know, it’s crazy. I haven’t done that song live yet. It’s a song that people have received very well. They loved the production from my friend 925ve, Last Word on the production, we all brought our best. I know for a fact when it comes time to do that song live, people are going to be blown away. We plan on doing it at the album release in May and it’s something people can look forward to. It’s one of the shorter and better songs that I’ve made recently. I can’t wait to perform it live myself either.

How is the new album coming along?

May 18th is the album release date. I’m sure the album will probably come out with the official release date around May 14th or May 21st. I’m just throwing out May 18th because I know for sure that’s when the album release will be. It’ll be at 7th Street Entry. The album is coming along really well. We’re basically done with the thing and getting it mixed and mastered. We’ve done at least two or three different mixes and a few different masters. We want to make sure that everything sonically is damn near perfect. Artwork is being crafted up right now. I got some rough mock-ups of that, and that shit is crazy. [laughs] I wanted to make sure that every element on this project was put together really well. I think it’ll be one of those “perfect situations” from production to the lyrics to the features that are on it to the artwork that we have getting put together for it to the engineering. Every piece is just falling into place the way it needs to. It’s just one of those things that you can’t force. The chemistry behind the whole project was perfect.

I’m one of the few that believe that things happen for a reason. It’s written already that this is supposed to happen the way it was supposed to happen. I’ve listened to it a million times, but I can’t wait for everyone else who’ve been waiting on it to hear it, sit down and enjoy it. From front to back, I want to make sure that from the shortest song to the longest song will just be something that you can listen to and say, “Man, MaLLy and the Sundance Kid, they brought it on the project and did the best.” Hopefully it’ll be one of the better records to come out this year in the nation, potentially and specifically in the Midwest area.

It seems like you have a good grasp of your music career. What was that moment that you told yourself that you’re ready to present what you were doing with music?

That’s a great question. I think it’s cool because, to be honest, one of those things with me was I remembered when I first tried to write, I wasn’t really feeling it. When I tried to really rap a verse, I was offbeat but I really knew what I wanted to say. I had heard plenty of people while I was 14-15 years old who had put together projects and they sounded terrible. I think they were in a similar stage. For whatever reason, me, I wasn’t ready yet, I have stuff memorized, I can ride the beat properly. I’m big on delivery and timing when it comes to be an MC on a song; placing your bars and your lyrics in the perfect place for a particular song. I felt like I hadn’t hit that point yet. In my head, I knew I was a good MC, a good writer, but spitting it out loud to people, I knew I wasn’t there yet.

I was still also just going through trying to figure out what is it that I want to talk about that people would be interested in knowing about. I wasn’t going to come with any gimmicks, with metaphors, similes, potentially abstract ideas and a lot of the old elements from hip-hop and pull in new ones. I’m going to just talk about what I know about best; my life, my experiences, things that I can speak to, different issues. I’m going to give my perspective on those things the best I can and in a different light so that people don’t feel that I’m copying this person, I’m that person or that person.

I think around in ’06, that’s when I started recording my rhymes on the computer in my basement. I would play music in the background. I would rap over the beats and listen to them over and over and over again. It just continued to get better with patterns and thought processes. It was just an evolutionary process from ’01 to ’07 when I was like, “Alright. Let me try to put together a project.” My friend, we were going to undergrad at the time at St. Thomas, and we were doing this Facebook forum battle. Everybody that was at the school and thought they could rap was on it at the time. Every time we would do a battle, I was killing everybody. It was just easy and wasn’t a problem. My homeboy John, Redwine, a producer out in LA now, said you should come over to the studio and record sometime. I sat down and figured one of the joints that people would want to hear. I went to the space, did 3 or 4 studio sessions. He burned them all for me, no mixing, no mastering, just raw. I put it on a disc, took it home, and listened to it. I was like, “Yo, this could be called, ‘The Letter’ because it’s really personal from front to back like a lyrical letter basically. Different experiences of life as an MC, as a man, as a kid, as a college student.”

Put it together, pressed about 50-100 copies on my home computer. I put a Myspace page together and people were feeling it. I felt comfortable enough at that time. I knew I could do patterns, I could probably spit about personal life stuff. There were different pieces that I knew I think I was good at and wasn’t afraid for people to hear it. Literally, I remember saying to myself, “I’m going to drop this project. If people like it, I’ll put out another one. If they don’t like it, I’ll just stop.” I wasn’t putting it out there to get people to like this, kiss my ass and say, “This is dope” and they really don’t like it. I really felt people thought I could rhyme and rap.

Then I sent it out to blogs, including the Smoking Section. It was the raggietiest project I had ever done and they spoke highly of it. They’re like, “The only thing this dude needs is original production and better mixing and mastering. He could potentially be a golden boy of hip-hop.” That was four years ago basically. They’re dope to say that. I was motivated to go make more music and get better at it!

Yea, it’s just one of those things that I think I just took a chance and saw the response. I loved it so much because I felt free in writing rhymes and telling stories.

Are you still doing mentoring?

I am actually. I’m currently mentoring a future college graduate at Hamline University. I’ve been doing mentoring for the past 2-3 years of this individual. That’s been a pretty cool, interesting relationship seeing someone come up in the ranks. It’s just cool to help another student, giving back in the sense to the community even if it’s small advice on resume, presentation, or interview tips, or how to follow-up with potential hiring managers for a job, or potentially following dreams and passions. There were a few people late in the game when I became an adult that were there to do those things. When I was younger in my teens, and late teens, I didn’t have that type of relationship with anybody really. A lot of it was figuring things out on your own. You might have a parent in the home, so you might have your mom telling you what to do. But you may never have a positive male figure who really shows you how to do things. So a lot of the time, you end up teaching yourself how to do things or learn by looking them up in the dictionary. Or in my other case, listening to hip-hop from all different aspects taught me, especially listening to East Coast rappers telling stories and slang and learning different things. I felt like I was learning from Nas, Jadakiss, Jay-Z, B.I.G. Tupac,… You’d learn from a lot of different Midwest cats like Kanye. Their stories and their experiences, for the most part, you can relate to them. Or you felt like they would teach you something that no one else was teaching you about. There were so many different stories and experiences that I felt like I learned from rap music.

I felt like for me, now that I’ve been able to go to high school and graduate from St. Thomas in college, I feel like I’m able to give back and have a different perspective as a full-time hip-hop artist and also still working a full-time job. I think to me it’s phenomenal to be able to share those things and give back what wasn’t potentially given to me in a formal matter is great.

So who are your mentors in music now?

To be honest, I’ll give you a few different answers. A lot my peers are mentors that are friends that share their experience and knowledge of the game. Some are more seasoned and veterans like Slug, who’s a big one from time to time. Big Quarters, Kill The Vultures, Randy (Atmosphere’s sound man), Carnage-he definitely gave me a lot of different opportunities and supports me 100%. Desdamona, she’s been really helpful in many ways. Toki Wright. I Self Divine. So a lot of people, I like going to the cats who have been here before because they’ve seen a lot of different things and they understand the ins and outs of the game. St. Paul Slim. I could name a ton of people from the local standpoint, even some DJ cats like Plain Ole Bill, Last Word, DJ Fundo, Jimmy2Times, the whole Get Cryphy squad. The thing that’s been so great for me is that they see I’m a younger guy trying to come up and make good music and do it the right way. They, on the other hand, then say that this dude’s doing a lot for himself, and I don’t mind giving him a few tidbits of advice or helping him out, or bringing him along with me to some capacity. People who have been around longer than me like Skyzoo (Brooklyn). He’s been helpful via email and Gchat. He essentially has come from nothing to being highly revered on the underground scene across the nation. The dude is just talented. He writes incredible songs, is a great lyricist. His music gets me through a ton of different things. He’s shared his knowledge with me, what he’s gone through as an artist, having a job to not having one to doing music full time. Those will be some mentors of mine that I can list off from the top of my head. All those folks have had some influence in the past or currently or in the future.

What would be one of the things that the Welcome to Minnesota tour has taught you this time around?

Always try to find the positive in the stressful situations. You can attribute that to not necessarily knowing if the crowd is gonna be feeling you-not thinking about that too much. Are you going to have fun? Not thinking about that too much. Those were a lot of things that I saw every night. Another thing that it taught me to was to be prepared for the unexpected. Unexpectedly people could love the hell out of you, or unexpectedly they might not like you, or unexpectedly a few shows they like you and a few shows you gotta work harder for the crowd but not take it personal. Figuring out what is it that I could probably switch up or tweak in my performance to make it better for myself and those who came to see the show.

But honestly what I learned overall was just remain positive and have fun. Don’t get over-excited and think you’re going to go out there and you’re gonna sell out of all your CDs. That’s not the main objective. The main objective for me is to go out there and do it right every night. I feel like, myself personally, seeing a lot of the feedback and connecting with the people, I think I did that well. I think working with Last Word, he shared some of his thoughts with me after the tour was over with and said he was proud that I worked hard and that we’ve been working hard. That I’ve been working well and that it worked out in our favor. Just hearing that reaffirms that I guess I did the job really well. Once again, take the chance. If it goes well, try for something else.

Have fun. Connect with the crowd. Connect with the people because these are the people who are going to be supporting you next year and the year after and the year after. I make it a priority to meet the people that spend the money, take the time, and listen to me as an artist because not everyone’s gonna give the chance to do that. Not everyone has the chance to go on the tour, and they’ve been making music for years and haven’t been on one tour. For me to be so young and for people to really reach out and say, “We want to give you this opportunity. Come along with us.” To me, it was like a gift from up top. It was like the biggest blessing I ever received in my life.

Just having fun and being humble at the same time. In my head, in my own mind, I’m like, “I’m crushing it! I’m crushing it!” [laughs]

One last question. What was The Sundance Kid and Slug talking about in the “Heir Time” video?

You know what? I really don’t know! [laughs] I was too busy flipping through iPads. But to be honest with you they were probably just talking about random topics or random subjects. With John, who’s the Sundance Kid, they probably could have been talking about the album that we were going to work on. Thanks for coming out.

A lot of the times, Slug, he’s one of those people that, when I see him, I know how to approach him but then sometimes I seriously just want to ask him a million and one questions. “How did you handle this?” and “How did you handle this?” He’s been around for 15-16 years. I just don’t want to ask him, “Hey man, how are you doing? How’s the weather?” I just want to soak up and learn everything that he’s seen and what other cats he’s worked with have seen.

So honestly, I don’t know what the hell they were talking about. They could have been talking about robbing a bank and I wouldn’t have even known that shit. [laughs] They could have gotten me set up for some shit like that! I know in the beginning of the video Slug was doing some funny ass dance move or something and I don’t know what the hell they were talking about to be honest with you. [laughs]

I’m definitely glad and happy that the album is basically done and on schedule to be out in May. We just got done shooting the first video for the first single off the album called “Shine.” We plan to drop that in the next couple weeks. For video stuff, it’ll probably come out end of March. I’m just excited for everybody hear the record. Sonically, it’s a breath of fresh air. This is probably right now the best I’ve been rapping as far as confidence and subject matter. Having such a powerful behind the scenes team such as Last Word, who’s my DJ, Bob Lindberg, who mixed and mastered my stuff, friends and family and everybody who listens to the music and comes to the shows. It’s been a long time coming. This album was supposed to come out last summer but we wanted everything to be right and to take our time on it. When it comes out, we want to make sure everything is right.

I’m really just ready for everybody to hear the damn thing. I’ve never been this excited about a project of my own, ever. I still feel like I’m in my proof myself mode and I’ve been like that since 2007. I want to continue to get better and take this as far as it’s willed and written in the stars to go and be grateful and just be happy about my situation. Like I said, not an overnight type of person. The album was definitely not an overnight type of process in any way. I hear about people making an album in 25 minutes. In this case, we sat down and put our heads together. It’ll be crazy and I just can’t wait for everybody to hear it. I hope everybody embraces it just as much as I’ve been talking about it and wanting it to come out. We’ll see!

Thoughts?

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