Mali Music Talks Working With Salaam Remi for 'Gonna Be Alright' & Inspiration Behind Upcoming Album

 Mali Music attends the Artium Grammy Brunch at Private Residence on Feb. 12, 2016 in Los Angeles.
Johnny Nunez/WireImage

 Mali Music attends the Artium Grammy Brunch at Private Residence on Feb. 12, 2016 in Los Angeles. 

"It’s a blessing to see people with their heads up to the sky still, ‘cause honestly for the same people, life can be so real.”

Those are the words of Kortney Jamaal Pollard, also known as Mali Music, on his 2014 offering "Beautiful." A native of Savannah, Georgia, the singer got his start in music as a gospel act and was also signed briefly to Akon's Konvict Muzik label. Sensing a higher purpose and a broadened perspective on his destiny, the singer began to embark on a journey as a secular artist, keeping with him the themes of spirituality and encouragement in his music.

In 2014, Mali Music took his career to the next level with the release of his album, Mali Is…, which peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard R&B Album chart and went on to be nominated for a best urban contemporary album Grammy the following year. The lead single "Beautiful" also hit the top of the Hot Gospel Songs chart. In addition, he collaborated with Jhene Aiko for the smooth offering “Contradiction," which appeared on Spike Lee's Chi-Raq movie soundtrack.

Known for lyrical content that draws from faith, the R&B savant eloquently captures the various emotions tied to everyday matters of life and love. His latest number -- the Salaam Remi-produced “Gonna Be Alright” -- is no different.

Billboard recently hopped on the phone with Mali Music to talk about his new single, his upcoming sophomore album via ByStorm Entertainment/RCA Records, and his inspirations.

Where did the inspiration for "Gonna Be Alright" come from?

Well, it was a mixture of a lot of things. One thing that's unanimous from a lot of people who hear the song and the feedback is the feeling of it. They're like, "Man, this is so smooth, this feels amazing..." But I can't go any further without talking about the person who helped me create it -- Salaam Remi. The great and amazing profound producer. It was the most uncomfortable and awkward sessions of my life.

I go in to work with Salaam Remi, which [CEO of Bystorm Entertainment and RCA Records' president of urban music] Mark Pitts suggested. I'm very strict and stern in the studio, very firm and Salaam is the same way. I was going in there creating the music the way I was expected to, and he just broke everything. He was like, "Just go in there and sing, do something different." So I was thinking he was going to play tracks for me, that it would be some type of engagement when he just said, "Put your soul on the track and I'll bring mine." It was a cool moment.

I said, "Ok, give me some keys." So the keyboard you hear on the song is what I started to just play out and pulled out from my heart. Then the lyrics came and before you know it, he brought that loop in, picked up the bass. So the inspiration I believe was the enjoyment of creating music, period. Just the chance to have an open session and create something that could define somebody's life or help them through something.

I love the fact that it wasn't intentional, but Mark was right on when he guessed that Salaam would be a good look. Because now we have the single, and it's the way that I'm coming into introducing this next wave, next album, and what's to come. 

How long did it take you to record it?

I make songs. Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan -- they put up 50-plus shots a game. When I go into the studio, I'm not mixing, I'm not going in there chipping away. That's not to say anybody who doesn't, but you know I take my craft serious. I think one thing I'm grateful for throughout the ages is the feedback I've been getting about the consistency of the tone, and the quality of the music that's been released. That's something that I really, really fight for.

Taking from the theme of "Gonna Be Alright," are there any mantras someone has told you to keep moving forward? 

A lot. One of the things I'm really excited about is the pen that I been blessed with to be able to write. So there's a song on Mali Is... called "Walking Shoes."; I could pick any lyric from that song and be inspired. On that same album, there's another song called "No Fun Alone." It's kind of difficult to get a certain type of discouraged with the gift that I was given. It doesn't make me impermeable, it doesn't mean that I can't be stopped or hurt, which is where love comes in but I definitely look to God, I look to love, I look to the word. Those things comfort me as a human being, as a man. It causes me to be able to always keep standing when it comes to my craft. And offer something beautiful even if I'm sick, up or down. 

Can we expect more songs sonically like "Gonna Be Alright" on your new album?

Yes! "Gonna Be Alright" is a leaf that fell off of a tree that bears fruit. A fruit hasn't even fallen. We're talking about just a leaf that has fallen from a tree that is ready. So I'm so excited for the music to get to everybody, and you can expect so much. A lot of strings. We went to the Detroit Orchestra. There were some powerful compositions that we were able to do on some songs. Some crazy features that are on there.

I feel that if it's the next season from what we did on the last project, I'm very confident in what's going to happen. So yes, I think that's a big part of what I should carry in this wave or this next era as a our pillars and legends die. Just as a side note, I was in the studio and heard some Marvin Gaye stems, meaning a producer or engineer has access to Marvin Gaye's sessions. I heard his lead and backgrounds, it was unreal.

I say this to say we are in an information age where music is becoming information and it has to be super special to become something special. Everybody's doing music, but if you want to do music for real, it has to be something special. And I think that every single song on this second of this album is that. It's been a lot of great music coming out so I'm grateful to be in this collage, this attempt to resurrect or restore creative, clean, beautiful art.

Can you talk about some of the features on the album? 

Well, I'm so tempted but I don't want to go too far into it. Everyone was able to get a huge glimpse of my feature with Jhene Aiko which was "Contradiction," one of my favorite songs. The album was actually going to be based on that because it's so special. 

When did you start coming up with the concept for the album? 

I've been through so much from the point I started until now that there were so many pictures and images. It's like if you're watching a movie, and there's a whole storyline on somebody that has a successful career. And then there's a part about struggle, and the movie becomes about their struggle to get back to whatever. I think it's just that. All those things are just the data, the information, and the pieces needed to get an understanding of what I could say.

Some songs I recorded are three years old, some songs I recorded are just a month before the finalization. It's just a full picture of the transition that I had to go through in order to get there. It's like my calendar. I feel like we covered all matters of the heart. There's things we can dance to, there's things we can relate to. I feel like it's a quality album that I can't wait for to be out.

I saw you perform during BET Awards weekend in L.A. at a Music Matters. What elements are essential to you in putting together a live performance? 

Authenticity. You got to be able to go all in. I think there was an edge I was able to capture in between the lines. You have to be able to go where you need to go to get the job done. In order to make a lay up, if somebody's trying to stop you, you might need to bend a little bit to contort the way you need to in order to get the right angle. That's what I believe performances are about. It's about arresting everything and giving yourself to what it is you're saying. If you have the strength. 

What's next for you?

I'm going to be shooting the video for "Gonna Be Alright" in the next week. That means it's going to be released in the next month. Within that video, there will be a performance and instrumentation and all the things I need to express where we are and what's going on to let everyone know that it's "gonna be alright." 

And when I say that, I'm talking about everything. I'm talking about the music industry. I'm talking about life, I'm talking about equality issues, whether that be sex or race, whatever it is. The unity and joy that I've been able to see, that music brings everyone together gives me a sense of hope from my perspective. And if my sphere can influence a lot of people to be able to have just the thought to be open to it, I believe it can make a significant change. 


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