Hip hop artist Malakai is the founder of the Substance Over Hype Movement. His latin influences can be heard on the tracks Fresh, Ghetto Blaster, and Concrete Rose. His career began as a freestyle battle MC. His latest album is titled MOVE.
Maximum Ink: What was it like growing up in Tucson? What were you like as a kid?
Malakai: To put it simply Tucson is a very real place. It’s very similar to New York in that people don’t hold much back. Tucson is near the border of Arizona and Mexico so it has a very large amount of drug and gang activity and I can’t say that I didn’t get pulled into those things. I was definitely a charismatic trouble-maker as a kid. I also had a lot of rough things go down in my youth and was independent at a very young age.
I loved a lot of the same things I still do (music, skating, dance, sports) but unfortunately my distraction to negative outlets took away from more time that I could’ve spent on those. What’s fresh though is that now I’m at a place where I’m still at it and out trying to hit certain moves and tricks for the first time—and I share that with all the kids still passionate about their movements.
MI: What advice would you offer people regardless of age who struggling to make the best of negative environments, etc?
M: I believe that you cannot control the things that happen to you…only how you respond to them. Without outlets and faith there’s not much hope, but with the right outlets and a conscious choice to change things, the outcome is always positive and always possible.
MI: Do you think you would have made it this far if not for music? Why do you think music is such a powerfully comforting thing in times of trouble?
M: I can’t say where I would be without music because my love of it and dreams to do it go back as far as my first childhood memories.It’s always been what I wanted.
MI: When did you first discover your love of music?
M: My mama told me that I was bumping full blast since the womb! She was in love with music just like me so she was playing it to me since birth literally always on and she used it to put me to bed to. By age 5 I was making mix tapes, listening to them on my walkman in bed, and picturing myself on the stage as the artist…so it’s been a while to say the least.
MI: How did you come to find yourself being a freestyle MC?
M: I have to credit some good friends for helping me reach my potential as a freestyle MC.When I started out I was simply trying it, but there encouragement kept me going. Basically, I was hanging with a group of fresh hip-hop heads that were getting down on all elements of hip-hop: bboying, MC’ing, DJ’ing, and graffiti. While they were on point, the flows I was bringing were basic and whack at the beginning for sure…but they saw potential and kept telling me I was dope. That encouragement led me to study rhyme flow, cadence, poetics, and battle tactics. I kept practicing and then started to battle at house parties and other high school social events. Through those years I developed and became a strong Freestyle MC.
MI: What was it like to open for Bruno Mars? Did you ever imagine you’d be doing that?
M: Opening for Bruno was great. We played a club in Santa Monica called Dakota Lounge and it was off the hook. That show is actually an encouraging moment along my way because when I played with Bruno it was just before his single with B.O.B. really took off. When we played together we had equal fan-bases, and we exchanged props backstage after our sets because we both saw the potential in the other. To see him come this far since then has only encouraged me that it can happen just as fast and just as easily for me.
MI: Are there any little known things about you that your fans might be surprised to learn?
M: The thing I hear most often from friends and people I work with is that I never let people in on how funny I am.I take that as a huge compliment and am of course humbled by it,but I repeatedly hear people tell me man at first I never knew how funny you were,you should really show that side more often.I guess I’m learning not to take things too seriously or be too guarded to the outside world.
MI: How would you describe your music to those who haven’t heard it?
M: Since my freestyle years I’ve been compared over and over again to a Latin version of Eminem. I take that as a compliment since he’s such a strong artist and MC. I can see where people get the comparison in terms of rhyme skills; but musically I would compare my songs to B.O.B. meets K-OS with a rhyme style similar to Eminem.
MI: How did the album MOVE come about?
M: MOVE is an album inspired by a movement I lead, called Substance Over Hype.MOVE contains a bunch of fresh anthems tailored and meant to be performed with (and for) the movement cultures of: b-boying, popping, skating, parkour, and tricking of course not limited to those though. These in particular though because they are the movements I am passionate about and what I like to do with my energy aside from making music so I thought,what better things to make music for with my next album? The album ranges from classic breaks and soul for bboys and poppers to dub-step and
indie patterns for the new school kids and hipsters. It’s a very versatile album and performing it live with all these movements included will be the best part.
MI: What about the movement of the same name can you tell us a little about that?
M: Substance Over Hype is a collective of bboys, poppers, skaters, free-runners,martial arts trickers and more. We have come together to produce short narrative videos that tell a story but also include the movements in telling that story. In addition to making things for the screen, we step onto the stage and have a live show that couples with my music.Lastly, we are preparing for an X-Games type event like never seen and it will incorporate our cultures in competition and jam formats. To see all that we’re doing please check out our website.
MI: What projects are you working on at the moment?
M: I am working on a lot of cool projects at the moment. The new album called MOVE. We are filming a series of short narrative videos and talks have been circling about a TV show as well. We are also planning a few live events for next spring.
CD: Fresh Record Label: Substance Over Hype Records
• Download Fresh on Amazon