New Orleans is known for it’s many music schools, and children are encouraged to learn musical instruments and attend programs for music. This is how New Orleans artist, ML, discovered his love for the art. ML attended summer music programs, where he learned how to play the drums. During high school he went on to attend New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, and graduated with a degree in Music from Oberlin University. After spending years catching gigs and teaching music, ML has decided to pursue his own path as an artist. Wanting to revitalize Jazz for the younger generations, ML began creating music that is unique to the city. “I try not to call it rap. Its all music to me.” I recently met up with the young musician to talk about his inspirations and plans for the future. Enjoy.
Thanks for meeting up. I’ve recently heard your newest releases, and was pleasantly shocked to hear you rapping. Why the change from jazz to rap?
No problem at all man. It’s something new that I wanted to try out. Give it one good try to see how it turns out, because at this point with jazz I can already see how a career with that would go. There aren’t many roads to take that would get you to a unique destination, and I’ve just gotten tired of that. There’s skills that I’ve learned through jazz that are helping that change though. Like learning so much about composition made the switch to producing music electronically a really easy one for me.
So the artistic switch for you came through producing instead of rapping? How did that change come about?
I got into it through me producing more. Well first I just kept on listening to the music, and found out about this producer my age named Thelonious Martin. I heard about him, saw this interview where he talked about the equipment he was using, and I’m like, ‘Oh, I can easily get that stuff.’ And not that I could be like, ‘I can do it,’ but it just seemed more encouraging, because I always looked up to older producers. So as soon as I saw that the machines were like $200, I decided I could save up and get it, and I got it for Christmas of 2012. That was my third year at Oberlin Conservatory. I got it. Fooled around with it for like a month. Put it down and said, ‘I’m not gonna do this.’ And then my older brother came in the room like 5 months later after it was sitting in dust, and was like “Yo, if you ain’t about to use this, I’m bout to sell it,” and I’m like, ‘Uhhh give me like a week.’ I tried it again, and just started doing it more and more.
Wow I didn’t know you were practicing it for that long, because you didn’t start sharing stuff until early 2016.
I mean, I was putting stuff on Facebook as far as Soundcloud before that, but my first real stuff on Bandcamp wasn’t until June of this year.
And now you’re just steadily putting projects out?
Yeah, this next project I’m putting out is gonna be a tribute to Herbie (Hancock) and Stevie (Wonder). It’s gonna be like 5 beats, well like at the most 8 beats made from sampling their music, but I’ll mix it into 5 tracks. Then I’m putting out my EP, and after that maybe like 2 more beat tapes. It’s not like I’m making stuff constantly, I’m trying to, but I just got a lot of beats like stacked up, and if I mix it I can just turn that into a project. That’s really what I’m doing. I feel kind of bad, because I’m just throwing stuff to people, but I got so much made I have to release it.
Would you say you produce more than you write? Like you’ll play around with a beat more than you’ll decide to write to it?
Yeah, that’s really the method I’m doing for my album. I’m really just unloading all my older stuff made in like the last 6 months. I mean the Herbie and Stevie tape is something I’m making right now, but all of the stuff I’m super focused on in the present is going toward my album. What I’m trying to do is like, ‘Ok some of this stuff I give you is what it is, but when that album drop they’ll be like 'oh shit,' and it’ll be completely different.
You used to mainly focus on gigging and Jazz work, but have some pretty interesting views on that. That it’s more stressful than enjoyable. What do you think about that culture now?
It’s not stressful during the gig, but I can see how it can take a toll on musicians. Although the reason I’m changing art forms is really bigger to me. Like a bigger question about the music itself, the state the music is in, and honestly questioning if we are within a mentality regarding creation that has broken off from social issues, social relations, and things like human rights issues right now.
There’s people still doing it within music like J. Cole or Kendrick Lamar, and in some ways you can say gangster rap does it too. But I feel like as far as jazz, it’s become too abstract for it’s own good. As far as the people it attracts, it really attracts segmented groups. You can play at a big hall somewhere, maybe below that a local jazz club, or you can go play in like a bar. It really works in extremes as far as being certain classes of people. I mean luckily New Orleans has such a tourist based economy where most of the places you play it’ll be majority tourists. Maybe some locals, maybe some of your fellow musicians, but it’s mostly tourists. You know Frenchmen and Decatur that’s the exact demographic.
Personally I don’t have that certain attraction right now to confront social issues and questions through Jazz. I don’t have the attraction for me to continue depending on this music financially and in many ways creatively. I’m very happy I started there, and I’m very happy for the history I have with some of my favorite artist in the music. I’ve just so happen to spend also half of my time listening to electronic music and hiphop. When I started producing, I was like, ‘Oh that was pretty fun. I actually really enjoy this.’
Then I got to the point this past year where it’s like I’ve been living in my parent’s house for like 2 years, but I had money to move out. I could easily move out. I could invest in a car. Pay rent and also find ways to pay my loans. I could have done that. I just would have had to hustle. If I did that, I would have spent most of my time depending on day jobs and on jazz gigs. I know that would be really it. I decided to not do that, and until this time next year, if I’m still in the same place and I haven’t developed any reasonable grasp on this music or any reasonable momentum, I’m going to move out with the money and do the jazz thing. That’s why right now I’m going to put like three grand probably into this project, really push it, really work on it, develop it. Do it a certain way where it’s done right.
I know we’ve covered a lot of criticisms about jazz, but how do you feel about the present day rap culture?
Personally I think about myself first. I’m at a point now where I just have so much to improve on as far as music, but I know I’m not s---. I at least know I’m not being fake. I just started in April, and I’m just really determined to make myself better. These rappers now a days have a technique and an approach to what they do to make them sound really distinct. Even with that though, another reason why I started rapping was because I don’t listen to a lot of guys because of their content. Sometimes yeah it brings up social situations or context where you can see why a person would say what they’re saying based on the information they’re given. I’m tired of the same information being said though.
With all that, I turn to myself. I look at myself and say, ‘Ok I’m not great at rap. I can produce, but I know I’m better than some of these people.’ Not really regarding technique at all, but more so a path to quality. I see an end, a limit to most of these rappers, already, just personally, based on past evidence. I see where a lot of them are gonna start their own brands. A lot of them got into the fashion industry. Leaders within groups start their own companies or record labels. I don’t want that. I want to make films. I really want to be a film director, and what I want is to really get on another financial road to a bigger spectrum of people. Maybe through that I can reach the right people in that spectrum of just artists.
Do you see yourself producing creative music videos for yourself to demonstrate your talent and aspiration for film through that aspect?
Oh yeah of course. I’m putting money in for that, the music videos, it’s going to cost a bit to capture the vision I have. I want to be a film director so I’m trying to go about showing people how I see things versus how other people see things, and what does that really say about their mindset. I want to show how personal I am with the music, and really highlight that aspect. The last people in my opinion to really demonstrate their personality thru videos was Odd Future. You could really tell that the ideas for the videos were really coming from them. Curren$y has that thing too where you can tell he really shows exactly what he wants to show. Like you can tell he doesn’t mind showing that he’s always in New Orleans. He shows that he loves cars. Shows that he’s always at We Dat’s, and you can tell he’s not trying to make it bigger than it is, and keep it authentic.
Is the album the next thing you’re going to release, or are you putting out a couple of smaller things to build a following before you drop your first official debut?
Before the album, I’m thinking about putting out an EP. Playing around with the concept of calling it “Dreams.” I know it sounds a little corny, but the way I’m approaching it is thinking about the abstract thought of dreams. I’m also thinking about putting out maybe two beat tapes because I just got so many beats. Some of them I really like, ya know, but I just got a lot of beats that I’m tired of sitting on. After that, I’m putting out the album. Even though it’s not the first thing up, I’m really focusing on that album. Trying to debut what I’m working towards the future with my highly specific mix between rap and live instrumentation, because there will be live instruments on the album. Then by the time the album comes out, that’ll be my seventh release in the span of 9 months, and I can really focus on promoting those releases. After that I can see how my career would work out from there. That’s my goal for right now, because the last thing I want to be is idle. I’m smart enough to know that I don’t have to do this.
I know what I can do. I could easily get a job, and work a bunch of gigs, make that money from that, but I don’t want to consciously go further down that path without seeing where this one will get me. And luckily the right people will find out.