Though his background is in gospel, Mali Music is not here to preach.
The 26-year-old singer (born Kortney Jamaal Pollard) piqued the interest of his longtime followers when he announced that his third LP, Mali Is…, would be secular project. The result: A wholesome listen that’s heavy on food for thought and seasoned with a pinches of the good word. Mali is here to provide you with the messages and melodies to get you through this thing called life, which he constantly reminds you is golden (see the nod to optimists on the lead single, “Beautiful”).
Mali Music’s goal is to encourage listeners with biblical perspectives: Live righteously, have faith, love others as God loves us and love yourself. He wisely turns cameos away on Mali Is…, keeping his own soulfully textured voice and spiritual raps at the center. The Savannah, GA native sings as if he is your conscious guiding you during times of struggle. He triumphantly poses as a messiah on “Fight for You,” being the strength for others when they are weak: “I won’t let them take you, I’ll be your protection/I’ll be your direction yeah, I’ll be your protector/You know I’ll rather fight for you.”
Mali has a versatile delivery. As the themes of the album may be consistent, the production isn’t—and that’s a good thing. He takes us on a ride as his handpicked instrumentals show that even though he was raised in the church, he’s heavily inspired by other genres. He taps into ‘70’s soul on “No Fun Alone” and “Walking Shoes” and whisks in modern R&B on the uplifting “Royalty.” He recognizes unity as a virtue on the reggae-inspired “One” and channels his inner-Drake as he shows his rhyming skills on “Make It” and “Little Lady.” Mali even plays narrator; On “Johnny and Donna,” he sits at his piano bench to tell the tale of a woman having a unplanned baby with a Rolling Stone of a father, citing the everyday twists and turns we all have to navigate.
While many people Mali’s age are still trying to find themselves, the spiritual crooner seems entrenched in his own self-assurance. He knows what he wants and is adamant on using biblical lessons to chaperon him through the good, bad and bittersweet times. By the end of the Mali Is…, you’ll want to do the same. —Tanay Hudson