With spotlights shining on rappers like MIKE and AKAI SOLO, NYC based rising stars of a burgeoning lo-fi poet MC movement in Hip-Hop, one of the scene’s most prolific and honest lyricists is coming straight out of Charlotte: MAVI. The young artist recently blessed streaming platforms with End of the Earth a five-track appetizer for his upcoming album Shango, slated for release in 2021. This intermediary gesture, however, is more than enough to hold us over. The prodigiousness he displays as a wordsmith and storyteller provides ample reason to keep our eyes peeled for his inevitable upward trajectory as an artist and forward thinker.
The senior at Howard attained notoriety for his appearance on Earl Sweatshirt’s Feet of Clay in 2019, spitting the introductory verse on “EL TORO COMBO MEAL.” On this track the pair demonstrate a mastery of the tormented cadence prominent in their discographies—prioritizing stream of consciousness vulnerability over punchline enunciation. The cosign was punctuated by Earl’s production credit on MAVI’s debut album in the same year, let the sun talk. His flows on this new EP employ his trademark delivery with an even more composed and refined approach.
For starters, Mavi’s production selection is significantly less spacious than the lo-fi pianos chords riddled throughout his other releases. These beats prompted focused, rapid-fire confessions and rendered those crooning moments even more impactful. The mixing favors MAVI’s voice as to not encumber his pen game, and his vocal rasp nearly borders on ASMR. This creep towards conventional rap tempos culminates in the middle track “METHODS”, which is composed by Nephew Hesh, the sole returner from his first album. The beat boasts an 808 kickdrum and is the closest the young bard comes to a tried and true banger. The song’s narrative aligns with the sonic backdrop, regaling themes of the cognitive dissonance posed by nature. These themes show up in the form of the sinful influence of his environment and peers, and are nurtured by counsel from his computer programmer father and educational prospects. MAVI intricately spits, “What it was, ain’t bring a pencil to school look how I wrote/ Not a thug, raised with a father who taught me how to clutch,” revealing his precocious self-awareness and wisdom in navigating this seemingly conflicted messaging. He rectifies this with a fatalistic take on his innate talents and resolves to accept his role as a community leader rapping,“Ultimately the trident his they in love with the wave/ Ultimately this entire shit my governance mayor.”
This song also possesses one of MAVI’s many timely uses of repetition such as, “Ion condone but…” driving home his empathy. These glimmers of simplicity help decipher the complex lamentations throughout the tape and provide refreshing emphasis for a rapper who shies away from conventional song structure. The most captivating instance of repetition occurs in the opening track “TIME TRAVEL”, which frames the collective struggle of Black people as an agent of temporal compression and reinforced heritage that has been part of the Diaspora’s lineage since we first touched down in Jamestown. The line “This that skin you travel time through/ that ginger juice fronto/ Journalism gonzo, us herded in the Apollo,” hits particularly hard when understanding how universal the concept of the Apollo Theater is to Black people across America . The refrains on the project merely scratch the surface of lyrical richness, but they are all reliable and rhythmic encapsulations.
From the cover to the rhymes therein, MAVI pays homage to beloved poet Shel Silverstein, whose work “Where the Sidewalk Ends” inspired the title and album art. Shel is an author adept at conjoining words to craft dark and chilling tales with a whimsical lilt, and MAVI clearly has a similar penchant for the foreboding yet inviting world of storytelling. MAVI evades the need for blunt imagery to convey his pain—he is a rare aberration to the “show don’t tell” rule, and I find him more than deserving to wield this nostalgic mantle. Some of his most cutting lines are whispered castaways, such as the concluding lines on the sleeper track “LIFE WE LIVE” where he mumbles “Ion know if hills got eyes but sure know pills do/Million just in Gifts from god they picking up mildew/Still alive I just don’t feel it.” On a track detailing the sense of inadequacy in his school/musician balance, this appears to be a truth so dear he struggles to articulate it clearly. The technical proficiency of MAVI’s schemes superimposed onto a cavern of meaning makes his style enjoyable on multiple depths of engagement.
As a lyric interpretation hobbyist, I personally cannot get enough of his ability to weave his personal interactions into the larger quilt of Black liberation, a prevailing theme in his discography and an end-goal that operates on several scales. I also find his candor about the gradual osmosis of “professional rapper” into his identity particularly touching, since honing the power of one’s artistic voice is sometimes a leap of faith. If this brief exhibition is his warm-up for Shango, I am gearing up for a long day of appreciation and awe on genius.com.