Mali Music • Mali Is… • RCA • US Release Date: June 17, 2014
Sometimes, R&B artists wish to record gospel, while gospel artists want to record R&B. Throughout history, there has often been this urge to oscillate between both genres. Mali Music, a contemporary gospel artist, joins the ‘dark’ side on his third album, Mali Is… Well, to be fair, there’s nothing even remotely sinful about Mali Is… as Mali keeps things classy, including some Christian rap and gospel.
“No Fun Alone” initiates Mali Is… in the retro/neo-soul vein. Yes, ‘neo-soul’ is technically dead (R.I.P.), but Mali definitely makes it sound alive and well on the opener. Vocally, Mali possesses a soulful, nuanced instrument that’s perfectly suited for numerous genres.
“Ready Aim” proceeds, in a more contemporary in vein; think more eclectic, alternative R&B. “Ready Aim” has a rap component about it, reminiscent of Drake surprisingly without colorful f-bombs of course. Definitely an interesting concept if nothing more, “Ready Aim” is a song that takes a couple of spins to endear it self – call it a ‘grower.’ “Ready, aim, fire!”
“Beautiful” has adult contemporary R&B written all over it. Mali’s tone is smooth and laid back; yet, he’s invested into the performance. Arguably, the nonsense syllables could’ve been eliminated (“let me hear you say ya ya ya ya…”), but it’s no deal breaker and does fit the sunny vibe. “Beautiful” proves to be just what it says it is, beautiful.
Standout “Heavy Love” trumps “Beautiful,”shining radiantly thanks to its thoughtful message. “I wanna live in a world where / fathers and daughters, fathers and sons / are coming up together as one,” Mali sings on the spirited second verse. “Heavy Love” is definitely a throwback to the 70s, thanks in part to concept and the overall sound.
“Fight for You” is predictable in regards to it’s central theme. The ‘tried-and-true’ man’s pledge to ‘do whatever it takes to get the girl.’ Predictable it may be, but the cut is slickly produced, once more based in contemporary/modern R&B sensibilities. Like “Ready Aim,” Mali busts a rhyme, eliminating any notions that Mali is anachronistic. That said, the powerful, soulful “Walking Shoes” proceeds as a reversion or sorts to classic soul.
“One” breaks the oscillation between old- and new school, diving into reggae. While many R&B artists fall short of glory when tackling reggae, Mali Music pulls it off. Helping the overall execution is the socially conscious message. On “Make It” Mali Music spits exclusively – rhymes that is! The rapping eschews the colorful language commonplace in a number of urban music artist’s arsenal, favoring a Christian message. “Everybody trying to make it into heaven” certainly is far removed from the club.
“Little Lady” is a bit off-putting at first, but like previous cut “Ready Aim,” grows on you. If nothing else, one has to respect Mali’s creativity on this particular number.“Royalty” features lush production, intact with dusty beats, strings, and richly produced backing vocals. Additionally, the overall songwriting is thoughtful and refined – no shallowness to be found on Mali’s end.
On “Johnny & Donna,” Mali’s vocal tone is lovely while the piano and string accompaniment serves as an equally lovely backdrop. “Johnny & Donna” finds Mali Music returning to his Christian roots. The results are a cut that works sufficiently in both genres. “I Believe” closes Mali Is… fussing retro-soul, pop/rock, and contemporary gospel successfully.
Overall, Mali Is… proves to be an enjoyable, well-executed major label debut from Mali Music. It’s not perfect – a bit more pizzazz and fanfare would’ve provide more distinction and arguably Mali is too ‘poised’ – but it is definitely a worthwhile listen. The biggest flaw of the project isn’t the album itself, but arguably the promotion of the album – little or none. Hopefully, Mali Music can continue to grow artistically; Mali Is… is chocked full of promise.
Recommended Tracks: “No Fun Alone,” “Heavy Love,” “Fight for You”