Artist spotlight: Mavi
“The Sun” talks new album, limits of science and Sun Ra
Mavi was released from the hospital on his birthday last year.
His illness and surgery disrupted his career, as the Charlotte rapper was preparing to take his “first big step onto the main stage.”
This year, he celebrated his birthday to the tune of his debut album “Let the Sun Talk.”
“When I got out of the hospital, I knew I had to do it now,” Mavi said.
Mavi –– born Omavi Minder –– currently resides in Washington D.C., where he studies biology and psychology at Howard University. He released the album, “Let the Sun Talk” on Oct. 7 as a passion-project about identity, community and initiating material change. He creates a world where he’s the center: he’s the sun.
Currently, the album is available on SoundCloud and on the album’s personal website. The two platforms present the album differently. On SoundCloud, the album is released as a unitary, thirty-minute track, but on the website, the album is broken into 13 different tracks. Mavi said the album will be available on major streaming sites soon.
We caught up with Mavi after his album release to talk about “Let the Sun Talk,” his inspirations, his relationship with Earl Sweatshirt and “magic.”
The interview, lightly edited for style and length, follows below:
The Spectrum: [Monday] was a crazy day for you. Not only did you just release your album, but it was also your birthday. Do you want to start off by talking about that?
Mavi: My weekend was super celebratory. I threw a party. I had all the people I love at my house. As for my birthday, it mostly consisted, on the night before, of me stressing out over putting out my album and feeling super exhausted that morning. I felt like I threw up, and s--tted and diarrhea’d and bled out all at once. [Releasing the album] was a weight off of me. I felt like I let off a spiritual load.
S: What do you mean by ‘weight?’
M: The weight of the album is heavy in the message. I think people are thinking that “Let the Sun Talk” is about me being sad or depressed or anxious or about me overcoming [obstacles]. It’s not really. I’m a character in “Let the Sun Talk.” I’m the sun. … A lot of the real weight of the album comes through in the interludes and a lot of it is very quietly [spread throughout] the album. … Basically, the album is kind of about being God insofar as being the sun: the central energetic force. It’s about putting yourself at the center of the universe.
S: You rap professionally now, but you’re also enrolled at Howard. How do you balance your career and education?
M: I acknowledge that art and science are two sides of the same coin. I balance by knowing that you can’t do one without the other. Rappers that don’t read are going to get exposed real soon. Studying rap and studying school are the same. Progress in school and progress in my career feel equally gratifying as far as the way I am improving myself as a man. For improving myself as a man, it is necessary that I’m an artist and a scientist because that’s magic.
S: What do you mean by ‘magic?’
M: I’m a biology student so I believe this: there is randomness in the world. When you conduct an experiment that aims to identify causes and effects, the observable stimuli are never certainly the cause. It is always only results in a probability of 99.999%. That [percentage of uncertainty] is randomness. It is godliness. It is immeasurability. That part of the world that we cannot access by manipulating the forces of nature is where godliness is held and stored.
S: Who are some of the philosophers you look up to?
M: Sun Ra is one of my favorite philosophers of all time, even though some people would call him a jazz musician. He used to want to convince black people of their exceptionality. In his poetry, he would choose common phrases that black people used in the day, replicate them in the poems and then move the letters until it becomes something completely different. … While that’s not a framework for understanding truth, it definitely is a framework for manipulating magic. It’s about playing with the feelings, colors and textures of words as much as the words themselves. That’s why he’s one of my favorites.
S: Who’s your intended audience? Who are you writing for?
M: I’m writing for my family most primarily. Insofar rap being my job now, I write to provide to the people I care about. And so I talk to them a lot because ultimately the work takes them away from me a lot and so being able to speak to them through the work is something that makes me not quit. I make it for black kids and black kids who are in limbo a little bit. You might not have the hottest s--t, you might not feel like the best n---a all the time. You might not be the best family member. You might have baggage. And s--t like “Self Love” and “Daylight Savings” really invoke that.
S: Your lyrics are transcribed on your website. Is there any intention behind the shapes the lyrics are presented in?
M: Yeah, I basically kept the original spacing of my writing just so my listeners can get an idea of what kind of trails I’m trying to draw physically and visually with my words. Sometimes people don’t even recognize my lines as lines. I wanted people to hear my complete thoughts.
S: On the SoundCloud version of your album, the album is one long track. But you name and separate the different tracks on your website. What’s the rationale behind unifying the tracks on SoundCloud?
M: My album was made really specific. We were changing [minute details] on the album and adding little stuff just to make it feel like an environment. The rationale for SoundCloud was basically forcing the listener to take the pace that I set for the album. On streaming, there are different playback times between tracks. I just wanted people to hear my album as it was written.
S: You had some help from notable producers including Thebe Kgositsile [Earl Sweatshirt] and DJ Blackpower. To what extent was “Let the Sun Talk” a collaborative project?
M: Zero extent. Thebe sent me the beat in my message and then I did it solo. That was around the time that we first linked up when I wrote that. That was the first thing that we ever did. Then Mike [DJ Blackpower], I pulled up on him in New York the morning after my show and that’s why my voice was sounding so tired but he played the beat and I knew that was the exact verse to give with that voice with how I was feeling. It really wasn’t a collaborative project at all. I really built up all of the ideas and then plugged everybody in to do what I needed them to do.
S: What role do the beats have in your music?
M: The beat is my dance partner, my guide. It tells me when to be happy and jokey and when to be cool. Drums give so much shape to what kind of structure or direction I want to go in. I have a song called “alone, iwont/elevatorpitch” on my YouTube. That whole song is me following the drums. I love captivating drums. But on some songs like “Self Love,” it’s just a loop and when it’s a loop, a lot of times I just take from the core structure, the musicality. I think about what kind of emotion it has, and then how it makes me feel. I think about how Mavi fits within this sound.
S: There were some tweets hinting that you and Earl Sweatshirt might release a collaboration soon. He helped produce the track “Sense” on “Let the Sun Talk.” Was “Sense” the collaboration that was hinted at? Or is there something else to come?
M: We are going to get some more. He just sent me some. … It’s not a long time that you’re going to have to wait for this thing. … That’s my brother, I love that man for life. He really looks out for me. He’s like a sparring partner intellectually and scientifically and artistically.
S: Do you have anything else you’d like to add?
M: I love everybody who reached out and reached past their comfort zone to listen to the album. I love everybody who put the album in their comfort zone. I’m just glad that after sharing this I don’t feel remorseful, I don’t feel bad. I feel welcome, heard and acknowledged.
Julian Roberts-Grmela is an assistant features editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @GrmelaJulian.