MaLLy retraces 'The Journey to a Smile' on the Local Show

MaLLy performs in The Current studio. (MPR Photo | Mary Mathis)
MaLLy - Full performance + interview
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| 00:26:20
  • MaLLy - Full performance + interview 26:20
  • MaLLy - Black Moses 03:34
  • MaLLy - All That 03:09
  • MaLLy - Praying Since 22 01:58

It's been five years since Minneapolis rapper MaLLy has put out an album. What has he been up to in that time? "Transformation, practicing a sober and clean life, meditation, and Buddhism — really just focusing on the music," he told Andrea Swensson.

"I think this is the first time that I've made this many songs and didn't feel pressured," said MaLLy. "I took my time on it — and [didn't] feel like, "Oh I've gotta get something out in two years versus four years or five years."

MaLLy (Malik Watkins) and DJ Last Word (Andrew Erickson) visited Swensson on the Local Show to perform songs from MaLLy's new album, The Journey To A Smile and talk about the rapper's own journey to living a more intentional lifestyle.

The Journey To A Smile came from MaLLy's own process of "really setting intentions with happiness, not just for yourself but also for others around you," he told Swensson. "I think my music has always been that way — it's always been a very honest or accurate depiction of where I'm at personally — it's really just been centered around being clear and having a lot of clarity in life and with those around me."

In 2016, MaLLy made the decision to go sober. The seeds of that decision were planted two years before, while on tour with Brother Ali and Bambu. While on tour, MaLLy began to reassess his relationship with alcohol, and ask himself, "What am I doing this for?"

"Alcohol is so social, and it's tied into everything," he said. "It's at the show, after the show, a fan wants to buy a drink. Then you go home and have one. If you work in a corporate setting then you go to happy hour. So it's literally there every step of the way."

In 2015, MaLLy started cutting back, and was already noticing a difference in himself. "It was more of a test to see, 'Can I go a week without doing it?' And then that week turned into a couple weeks to a month, six months. And I was waking up on Saturdays with no hangover. And that's when the lightbulb went off and I was like, 'Yo, this feels good.'"

MaLLy said that conversations around sobriety are becoming more common in the local music scene, but it's still not the norm. "I think it's becoming more acceptable, but still surprising to a lot of people," he said. "If you stop drinking liquor, people will jump down your throat for a good 20 minutes and it confuses them, it really throws them off." MaLLy hopes that events like Hazelfest or the Sober Bowl will "encourage more people to tell their story or maybe try something different."

In addition to his journey to sobriety, The Journey To A Smile also speaks to MaLLy's efforts to practice gratitude and humility. He told Swensson that the album is about "really finding a way to be grateful and exercise some gratitude. Whether that's gratitude for self, gratitude for family, gratitude for being able to think and make decisions on your own."

While the album highlights MaLLy's personal growth, also a reflects the relationships that have helped him get to where he is today. MaLLy said that Last Word has been with him "along the whole way," saying that the two musicians are like family now. Last Word has also cut back on alcohol, and said that he enjoys performing at shows without the pressure of drinking.

"The experience quite honestly was a team experience, from Aby Wolf to Last Word to Paul Yutaka, to the producer PC, to Medium Zach who mixed and mastered it," said MaLLy. "Everyone that contributed, whether it was artwork or the photos or the music, it's one big team effort. Whatever you see or whatever you hear is not just me. I want people to understand that too — it's a team effort. Everyone believed in the mission and the vision of the project."

Songs Performed

"Black Moses"
"All That"
"Praying Since 22"

Hosted by Andrea Swensson
Produced by Jesse Wiza
Engineered by Michael DeMark
Visuals by Mary Mathis
Web Feature by Colleen Cowie

2 Photos

  • MaLLy
    MaLLy performs in The Current studio. (MPR Photo | Mary Mathis)
  • MaLLy
    MaLLy performs in The Current studio. (MPR Photo | Mary Mathis)