The Book of Mali
RCA Inspiration (release date: August 14, 2020)
By Bob Marovich
The Book of Mali is aptly titled.
Mali Music’s fifth album, released in a partnership between his own imprint, K Approved Enterprises, and RCA Inspiration, is a study in self-awareness.
Much of the album has a confessional quality, a series of private-made-public conversations between Mali and his Lord. For example, on “Let Go,” Mali dizzyingly delineates the temptations he has left behind. The hypnotic current single, “Mo Lo” (Like You),” is about getting closer to God by humbling one’s self in His presence. In a Prince-like falsetto, Mali further acknowledges his frailties on “Apologize,” which features stimulating vocals from soprano Deanna Dixon. Mali need not worry—the Lord’s response, “Mali, I love you,” echoes eerily in the background.
The most straightforward track on an otherwise complex project is “Lord Forgive Me.” To an acoustic guitar accompaniment, Mali apologies for not always living holy. “I see the times I lied, I see the times I died.” The track has the vibe of a late-night campfire singalong with other sinners, who join in antiphonal harmony. But just as on “Apologize,” the Lord has not left anyone’s side.
The Book of Mali is not all apologies. The poignant “Cry” is an African-flavored piece that features some of the artist’s most passionate singing. “It’s like the world fries anytime you get free,” he declares, “Let it burn, baby burn,” a reference to the Black Panther phrase as well as, I suspect, the outrage following George Floyd’s murder. An acoustic guitar lays the groundwork for a screaming electric guitar solo at the end. On “Soul Seekin’,” Mali declares they “take the food from us but they can’t starve us.” A heavy thumping bass simulates boots stomping firm soil.
In the album’s introduction, the GRAMMY-nominated gospel hip hop artist argues that if a song’s lyrics are strong enough, “you don’t even need the music.” But there is music on the album and plenty of it. Moody melodies swirl like additives in liquid soundscapes underpinned by deep beats.
Calling Mali Music a gospel hip hop artist is somewhat misleading because his music, as represented by The Book of Mali, is sacred-inspirational messaging set to a merger of genres. It’s designed to speak to those who get their spirituality from secular music than an old Zion song. I recommend multiple listening, however, to unravel the album’s many messages.
Four of Five Stars
Picks: “Lord Forgive Me,” “Cry”