“I started making music so I could help put everyone at ease. Each Sunday that I came into this building… I realized music could make you cry, make you dance, or even change your life.”
-Mali Music (from his official website)
The feeling of finally arriving is a powerful moment for any artist. While the events following that moment cannot be predicted, that small period of time becomes memorable after the realization of all of that artist’s hard work up until that point. For Kortney Jamaal Pollard, better known by his stage name Mali Music, that moment is now. After years of performing on large stages and releasing independent projects to a concentrated fan base, the 26 year-old Georgia native has finally released his major label debut album Mali Is… on RCA Records. The album is an awesome body of work, full of soul, passion, thought-provoking themes, inspiring messages, and simply great musicianship, all which come together beautifully and result in one of the year’s better releases thus far.
Mali Is… is Mr. Pollard’s first album since signing with Mark Pitts’ ByStorm Entertainment (also home to artists such as Miguel) early last year. Noting this is important, as the adjustments made from his earlier independent work help to make this project as great as it is.
For starters, Mali enlisted the help of a few well-known producers to assist with the sound of the project, including Jerry ‘Wonda’ Deplessis (known for his work with The Fugees) and D’Mile (worked with various artists, most notably Diddy’s Dirty Money). Mali (who is an established musician himself) worked with these two established entities to craft an album with an extremely cohesive backdrop. The album’s sounds range from traditional rhythm and blues, piano-heavy ballads, reggae-influenced jams, highly percussive toe-tappers, and everything in between. While this combination of sounds is usually a recipe for disaster, the combined experience within this team of producers allowed for elements of these different sounds to be blended into one another seamlessly while focusing on building them into Mali’s comfort zone: a new age gospel sound which has been seen on Mali’s previous works. The product is an amazing blend of sounds that sets the foundation for a wonderful piece of artistry.
Next, Mali personally wrote every song on the album and decided against having any artists featured on the project. According to his official website, this was done in order to fully convey his vision through this album. The effort proved successful, as Mali is able to match the high-end production with fitting lyricism and songwriting on every step of the journey of the album. Mali’s versatility shows, as his style of singing/songwriting moves from catchy crooning (“Beautiful”, “Heavy Love”), to hip-hop influenced flowing over instrumentation (“Fight For You”, “Make It”), to introspective and lyric driven tunes (“Royalty”, “No Fun Alone”), and to slow hymn-like records (“Johnny & Donna”), all of which make for a great listen due to the different peaks and valleys presented stylistically.
The factor that ties the entire project together is Mali’s gospel influence presiding in every stitch of the album’s fabric. Getting his start in music as a teenager in the church, gospel is embedded into Mali’s musicianship and provides a home base of sorts for him to build upon. Mali’s messages, style, and sound all stem from his strong religious outlook and spirituality. In fact, the album’s best quality lies in the manner in which Mali is able to effectively convey all of the themes that one would expect to come from a gospel artist while shaping it into a more universal package. To the average listener who stumbles upon a song like “Walking Shoes”, they will hear a song about a man with incredible faith in making his dreams a reality. However, with more thought it’s obvious that the theme of faith (mostly in God) is a common one in most gospel music. Although some more devout fans (especially of his previous work) might condemn this alteration to his work, Mali’s ability to widen the scope of his music to help his message reach more listeners is utterly brilliant and is executed flawlessly throughout the entire album.
Mali Is… marks a great moment in time for Kortney Jamaal Pollard. After years of dedication and hard work, Mali Music has stepped into a limelight in 2014 and put together a debut album that can be enjoyed by listeners around the world from all walks of life. The project is inspiring on many levels, and should stand to catapult Mali to a new level of success which he should sustain for years to come.
+Extremely uplifting; powerful and positive messages
+Gospel themes through a universal scope; will widen fan base
+Wholly enjoyable project; Can be played without skips and on repeat
+“Heavy Love”, “Fight For You”, “Royalty”, “Beautiful”
–May be labeled as “secular” in comparison to previous work