It must be difficult to break into an R&B market filled with tons of gifted singer/songwriters. Now imagine attempting to do that after being categorized as a gospel artist. Such was the path chosen by Grammy nominated Kortney Pollard, artistically known as Mali Music. In 2014, Mali was under considerable pressure releasing Mali Is…, his third major project and first released as a “contemporary R&B artist.” And while some may say that the young man has turned his back on his faith for fame, I’m here to tell you: God is still in the music.
Following up his third album, Mali continues to lead us along his spiritual voyage with The Transition of Mali. He starts by explaining how we live in a generation where our digital image may sometimes influence our physical persona too much (Whoever you’re trying to see/You can probably find on Twitter.). “Bow Out” focuses on his relationship with God and how His works inspire Mali to change the world with his music, stating, “We’re partners, you’re my friend/ And I could never figure it out.” The next track calms the listener into a sense of musical security with mellow, John Legend-like piano vibes in the background. In “Gonna Be Alright,” the writer dedicates his song of hope and faith to his audience, relieving them of their worries, if only for a moment. Following this inspiring tune is the album’s first duet. R&B starlet Jazmine Sullivan is one of only two featured artists on the album, and she loans her vocals to the sultry, seductive tune “Loved by You.” The chorus is an homage to the classic Marvin Gaye & Oma Page duet “To Be Loved by You.” While Mali sings the first verse, he starts the second in a melodious rap pattern, very reminiscent of Andre 3000.
“Cry” and “Dolla” cycle through the struggles of the lower class urban community, and the obstacles that are constantly presented to its residents. While these are both great tunes, I think the next song sticks out as the album’s crown jewel. “Still” begins as piano and bass set the mood, reminding us of a time when music was purer and all you needed was a few instruments and one powerful voice. The song could easily be viewed as a confession of faith or as a dedication to a loved one, similar to Musiq Soulchild’s “Love.” Switching gears back to a more modern sound, we get the album’s second duet and feature. “Contradiction” was featured on the soundtrack for Spike Lee’s Chiraq and contains an appearance from new-school R&B pioneer and staple Jhene Aiko. We are told a story of two friends who have not seen each other in some time. From there, we hear how life has affected them, as well as their perception of the other. While Mali is reminded of sweeter moments in their past, Jhene speaks on how society has him where it wants him, calling it a “terrible waste of a beautiful mind.” The melody does fit rather well with the message of Chiraq, showing how the idea of street credibility has led to more than its fair share of young black men heading down a dangerous path.
“My Life” has an anthem-like feel to it. Mali admits that his life is in no way perfect. Instead of wallowing in misery, he asks for the peace and love that will make him complete. This ties in very closely to the next track, “Sit Down For This,” a somber ballad heavily influenced by death and tragedy. It talks about how we are often unprepared for the trials that come in life. Cycling through the stages of grief, it is a very relatable melody for anyone who has been blindsided by an unexpected misfortune. Not allowing the listener to stay in a gloomy mood, “Worth It” sticks out as the record’s redemption song. No matter the obstacles, there is always the chance to do better than we’ve done before, the writer states. “It’s always worth it/You can get up and try again.” And while “I Will” might sound like a song of regret (which it sort of is), it is also a song of liberation and growth. It paints the picture of letting go of a loved one, but not their memory and how they have molded you. The final song “What You Done” is simply Mali’s thanks to God for his blessings on himself and his people. It has deep blues and neo-soul sounds and has a more natural feel, as if it was magically brought to life during a jam session. It is truly a praise and worship song.
In summary, The Transition of Mali is an album born of pure human emotion. It truly speaks to the soul of any listener, young or old. Whether this is your first time listening to Mali Music or you are a faithful follower of him, this record will be a great addition to any playlist, or whenever you are going through. For one, Kortney Pollard/Mali Music has a message and the message is in the music.