Mali Music told SoulTrain.com in this interview that he wants to connect with people in the same way people connect with seeing their new car for the first time. “A faceless thing applicable to all lives,” he says. With his highly-anticipated album Mali Is… coming out this year, it’s safe to assume the world is waiting for it like we wait for the right time to drive our new car off the lot. We also talk about the biggest obstacles of being signed to a major and stepping back to let the machine run.
SoulTrain.com: Let’s talk about your goal and purpose. What was your intention with becoming Mali Music, aside from making money?
Mali Music: Well, making money is just a side effect. Picture me as an athlete: I don’t think that at the core of a six-year-old thinks that playing basketball will get them a million dollar contract. But the more he gives his heart to the craft, the more people he inspires, the more people are willing to take care of him. And he’ll see that. The money, opportunities, mainstream labels, all have come because a person has taken a microphone and did something inspiring with it. I just wanted to be clear, ya know? I remember being young and being so quiet. I would have to fight to finish a sentence! Music made me have something to say. I’m grateful to God for the opportunity and have the capacity to be a musician, play piano, drums and engineer music. I give those gifts back to Him by putting everything out, being able to touch lives and giving something to the world.
SoulTrain.com: When did you start singing and playing music? Was it at six years old?
Mali: Yeah, either five or six years old. I started really creating music when I was eight.
SoulTrain.com: Getting into your upcoming album Mali Is… coming out later this year, how long did it take to create this project?
Mali: This is my first time being signed, having major perks and being plugged into the machine with big names on your team, and it’s a blessing. But at the same time, a lot of people added mostly have individual interests. A lot of the desires people have for you, and the expectations from them and fans, it’s just been a bumpy ride as far as what to say and what not to say. Being a successful independent artist and being underground made it very hard to adjust to the critique and suggestions coming from the outside as opposed to what I was free to say before. As you build a relationship and begin to trust each other, everyone is beginning to learn each other and the label is beginning to see that I’m sent here and not just plugged in here. So yeah, the album is ready now. It doesn’t take long for me to create songs. We had hundreds of songs, which has been a big problem. There was a lot of great music that everyone was attached to in different ways, but it’s all been sewed up together and I can’t wait for the release!
SoulTrain.com: So what has been the biggest obstacle for you going from being independent to major, especially from a creative standpoint?
Mali: The challenges are based on the trust. I have label mates like Justin Timberlake, J. Cole and Miguel. They are in the same building as me, and they have the same team that I have. I’m having a lot of fun coming up the totem pole, and I want to earn my keep. I’m here to make a statement from where I’m from, the heart and soul of where people listen to your music and read your lyrics. The obstacles come from patience because I don’t have the output that Timberlake does. It’s great to know that the label feels like it’s not a matter of “if,” but a matter of “when.”
SoulTrain.com: What’s the creative process for you? Does the music come first, or do the words?
Mali: I’m blessed to be able to be as much of a musician as a songwriter, and as much of a songwriter as a producer, and as much of a producer as a vocalist. None of these things are greater or better than the other, they are equal and that’s foreign in my line of work. You asked me about obstacles, right? It’s kind of weird sharing my space, especially with people who are producers because I’m just as much as a producer. But, to them I may be just another artist who doesn’t know their left from right. Like, I’ll walk in and say, “Hey, let’s do this song in G-minor. Stay in the E-flat chord, but let’s keep it dark. That right there will have producers thinking I have ego issues, but I just know my craft. As an independent, I had to build it myself. I had to learn music theory. I’ve learned about sonnets, the manipulation of wordplay, cadences, melody and tone. Honestly, it feels like I’m being slowed but it’s all a beautiful learning process. So when the label puts me in a studio, those are hats I have to take off.
SoulTrain.com: Hearing you use examples is funny because I’ll run into producers who would look as confused as I just looked piecing together a G-minor, E-flat, keep it dark sound.
Mali: That’s the thing about this whole experience. It’s been good and it’s taught me to slow down. They would send me in a studio for four hours. By myself, I would’ve made four songs! The process has been so slow linking up with others because they have their own creative processes. That’s been a major lesson for me to learn. I’m excited to see how this music finally touches someone because I know somebody out there needs it. It’s a well-made care package.
SoulTrain.com: Nice! I first thought of “Beautiful” when you said that because it’s getting back to love from a mature standpoint. I was on your SoundCloud page and someone commented they wanted this song to be played at their wedding. What is it like getting that type of reaction?
Mali: A total blessing. From a very young age, I would go from playing with dirt spots on my jeans and folks looking at me like I’m crazy. But when I was able to get behind the keyboard I would be able to speak on things that folks felt were beyond my time. And it’s just based on my connection with God, who is infinite and knows what comes with gift I was given. “Beautiful” is exactly that. Music nowadays, not to bump heads with anyone, but hearing a song like “I got everything, I got everything. I cannot complain, I cannot complain” has a lot of I’s in it, ya know? We know we need more connecting music. I want to make music like I the making of a new car. The buyer didn’t build it or sculpt it, but they know that it’s theirs. A faceless thing applicable to all lives. That’s the effect I want to have.
SoulTrain.com: Ok, so is Mali your real name?
Mali: No. My real name is Kourtney Jamal Pollard. Courtney Pollard gets the check, lives the life and goes through all the bumps and bruises that Mali Music sings about. Mali Music doesn’t live any of it, just gets the glitz and glamour as results of my personal life. In the South people call you by your middle name. Since my middle name is Jamal, it turned into Mal then Mali. And I hated it because my mom would call me that all the time! I was also a student athlete, so I would always hear “Courtney Pollard, for the first down.” When it came to music, Mali Music sort of rolled better. I just wanted something that would be a movement too, and people would be like “what’s that?” instead of “who’s he?”
Starletta Watson is a freelance multimedia journalist exploring music and culture scenes from all corners. She has contributed to VICE, Frank 151, and more in her writing, radio and video career. Follow her on Twitter or Instagram @starpowiiir.