VIBE Vixen: Your album drops on the 17th. How are you feeling?
Mali: I am really excited about it; it’s been a long time coming. There’s been a whole lot of transitioning. I dropped my initial album The Second Coming in 2009 and I did that independently. I was so close, almost a day close to dropping my next album to be able to feed my audience the album because it’s been so long since I’ve been able to drop the music. I think it’s been like five or six years and I never anticipated that much time to go by but it was really cool. I feel like right in the middle of getting ready to release that I had the opportunity to do the BET Music Matters showcase and when I did the BET awards it was clear that I needed something bigger. I had a greater opportunity and you know, I was grateful how God allowed all that to work out. So now for this to be manifested on this level and for the opportunities that I’ve had on promoting it, I never would have imagined that it would be as big as it is. I’m grateful for that work we put in and the work that we are still putting in, because I am super tired. I’m in Chicago right now promoting but it’s going to take my breath away. So on the 17th I’m going to be in New York and I’m gonna be turned up!
[Laughs] I hope so! It’s been a long time coming and you need to celebrate. You also performed on American Idol, how was that?
It was amazing. It was breathtaking, actually. I think a lot of the things leading up to it were a lot more intense than the performance itself because once I get my microphone, my band and see all the beautiful faces to be able to sing to, everything gets a lot easier. So it was wonderful and it definitely changed the face of my career.
I mean, what was going through your mind at that moment? I’m sure it was nerve-wracking.
Well, no because I’ve been doing it a really long time. Not to make the stage or whatever—like if you’re LeBron James or Michael Jordan, it doesn’t matter if you have a basketball court in China, Brazil, wherever—the kings could be there. I don’t think those things will change the way that you feel about the ball bouncing on the wood floor from ten-foot racks. You could just do what it do because it’s the same everywhere you go. So, yeah, it was awesome. But afterwards while watching is when I got the most nervous because I was like, “What did I just do?” you know? It was like an aftershock but it felt very good to meet JLo, Harry Connick Jr. and to be able to break bread with all these people who I’ve been watching on TV for a very long time. It just really showed me how fast things can move when you focus on something positive.
That’s very true. It seems like they liked your performance and were moved by it.
Definitely. Randy Jackson and all that; it was a beautiful response.
So is Mali Is… a very personal album since it’s self-titled?
Ummm, I think all of my music is but at the same time, it isn’t. Imagine a person who writes the words in a Hallmark card; we don’t hear their name but the people who read it take it personal. So that’s what Mali Is… is. It’s an album full of songs from my heart, so when everybody listens to them they hear their own heart, you feel what I’m saying? So I think that’s the thing that’s gonna make it special. The iPhone is Steve Jobs’ heart creation, but everybody takes their album personally and I think this album and the songs on it are very relevant to everyone.
What track is your favorite?
Mali: It’s an adult one called “Ready Aim,” but I have to mention another one on there called “Royalty.” That is a topic that I am very excited about because you know, everyone is being called every other thing in our day in age and our society to the point where people confidently call themselves derogatory terms. I know it’s basic and maybe very old-school, not to say I’m not hip, but I’m just trying to lure everybody back into a place a truth so they know who they are so we can fix these insecurity issues. You know get some peace back into the community with our young people and our old people. That’s why the song is called “Royalty.” Royalty—do you know who you are? Royalty. Being able to sing that and make somebody think even its just one person will make me happy.
That’s dope. You also choose to use a guerrilla style of marketing.
I think it’s necessary. Imagine trying to explain Michael Jackson or Bob Marley concert to someone who hasn’t been.
Bob Marley is my favorite.
Yeah, it’s like, “Bob Marley was performing and ‘Boom!’ he popped up out the ground and there’s fire everywhere girl, it is amazing.” Her friend is gonna be like “Oh that sounds crazy,” but she will never be able to understand the feeling or connection that every other person in that aren’t felt. So I think that when you carry a light and you carry something special you gotta bring it. Everybody who’s like, “Yo check out this funny Vine,” the people who hear about it don’t get the laugh like the people who tell them about it. It’s only a great laugh when they search it on YouTube or they search it on their Vine account and watch it a million times. So in order to do that, I needed to make sacrifices to be away from my family and sacrifices to be tired because I’m traveling a lot. The only way to truly give cities and the people who matter what this truly is, is to allow them to come into contact with you, speak to them, shake their hands, meet their children, meet the community and be able to sing and do some concerts or whatever like that.
Of course it is very fatiguing but I think it’s the only way to do it when you have something like what I have. It’s not something that you can just zip over the internet even though everyone would be attracted to it, they’ll never be able to fully understand the feeling, truth or depth of it unless I’m there, so that’s really good. I think I’ve been to six cities before today and I am getting ready to take another three-hour drive to Lansing, Michigan to be able to do the same thing and it’s what it is. You know, no one is gonna give you anything and a lot of people are waiting for it. They’re like “Hey, I’m signed so that means I can just lay back under palm trees and people are gonna…” no. That’s not how it and is and I’ve been wanting this for a really long time and the label is really excited about it but nothing is gonna stop my work ethic. I just have a heart for the people and that’s who I want to connect with. I have been having a lot of success with it.
Speaking of home, you transitioned from gospel to more secular music. Why did you choose to go that route?
Yeah, I don’t think that was a transformation. I don’t think it was a change, I just think it was an upgrade. Think of it this way: there’s a dope freshman—and excuse me because I speak in analogies, as you can see, but I guess it’s the easiest way to explain it—there’s a dope freshman that comes into college and he’s a beast plus he plays for Duke. He’s ballin’ so they go to the championship and they win it. Duke is really excited about him being there for the next three years but then he enters the draft. You know how they can feel forsaken? He not changing nothing; he’s the same super talented young kid but he just really wanted to take his talents to an elite professional level. I think that’s all that happened. It’s not that gospel isn’t elite or professional but it’s just that I may have never had the opportunity to be able to touch the amount of people that I will on American Idol stages, Queen Latifah and all these other platforms. I probably wouldn’t be able to be on their radar if I kept juggling numbers of 500 or 700 to, at max, 9,000 people buying my album. So I think it’s just that I wanted to do it on a professional level.
I wanted to be able to have an opportunity to [reach] statuses with people I admire like your James Browns, Bob Marleys, and Michael Jacksons and in order to do it, I had to enter into the professional industry that they were in. Not to succumb or to conform to them, but to inspire them to be myself within and possibly build a platform to make it easier for people with heart like me, people with songs like me, and people with content like me in the future. Imagine if Lauryn Hill and the Fugees never opened up and came into this; if they kept everything underground and Common stayed underground. It’s the fact they went mainstream because they had something so special that it went beyond their core and I believe that’s what has happened. It’s just an expansion, so I haven’t changed. Even my gospel was very different. I’m still unique kicking the same thing I guess I was just able to do it with a major company and people who we never anticipated to get with it love it, too.