Yung Mal has a lot on his mind. It’s September, and up until now, rapping is mostly how he’s processed a year in confinement: several months in jail, and now house arrest. “I be in a different type of bag when I go to the studio,” Mal, who’s surrounded by blank white walls, explains to me over FaceTime. The 27-year-old rapper was only recently granted permission to leave his Atlanta home, where he lives with his two children, to record and perform. “I've been like a dog that’s been locked in a cage all day,” he says of his situation. “You know how dogs start running around after being in the cage? That's how I be in the studio. I be happy, you know what I'm saying? Just recording, instead of being inside the house so much.”
In July 2021, Mal was arrested and charged with murder and held at Dekalb County Jail, just weeks after the release of 1.5 Way Or No Way. The solo project, which featured the likes of Pooh Shiesty, G Herbo, and Lil Gotit, marked Mal’s new chapter as the CEO of his own venture, 1.5 Da Label. “Everybody was looking at Mal. ‘What Mal gonna do?’ ‘How Mal feel?’,” he remembers. A rapper being locked up on the heels of a major breakthrough is a story that’s all too familiar—but Mal, who’s in good spirits throughout our call, tells me he hasn’t let it weigh him down too much. “I was just locked up and I'm right back out / My feet touched the ground and I took right off,” he raps on his latest single, “Right Back Out.” “A lot of the music you’re going to hear from me is going to be me breaking it down, explaining how I was down, I was at my lowest,” Mal says. “Now I'm right back and I'm back to myself. I'm back to that person, I'm back to the Mal that you guys know me as. I'm finding myself and getting back to that person, but better.”
Born Khamal Micheal Braud, Yung Mal was raised in New Orleans, Louisiana before making his way to East Atlanta to become a fixture in its underground scene. By the age of 13, Mal was rapping over the beats of popular rap songs, and went on to showcase his lyrical ingenuity with early tracks like “#s.” Mal’s collaborative tape with Lil Quill, Kids of the 6, caught the attention of Gucci Mane and landed him a deal with 1017 Eskimo Records in 2017, which he has since sought independence from. “[When I] parted ways with 1017, I was in a space where I just wanted everybody to know that I could hold my own as an artist,” Mal, who’s three studio albums in and determined to succeed even amidst legal struggles, tells me. “In the next five years, I see myself definitely building up my own label, with a home at a major label.”
Recently, Mal has been sharing footage from his marathon studio sessions on social media, and says he’s currently recording a project due early next year. In his first interview since coming home in January, the rapper spoke to BRICK about his musical process, where he’s headed next, and how his support system has helped him navigate incarceration.
Right now, you’re dropping some singles here and there and we can see from social media that you've been really active in the studio. What’s it been like being able to go back into the studio, having been on house arrest since earlier this year?
Well, there’s definitely an album in the works. Definitely. At first, I had to get approval to go to the studio, so I was working from the house. These days, besides recording at the studio or performing at a show, I’m at home. That's all I do. I be at the house, with my family, with my kids. So I was doing a lot of recording at home. Actually, I’ve only been going out and about for maybe the last two months. Everything before that was just home. Mind you, I had a lot of music prior, you know what I'm saying? So I got so much music, I was just recording at home and then I started going to the studio and recording. So now I'm just pulling all the hardest songs and then putting them together, and I'm just going to roll something up. I’m getting touring and all that stuff together as we speak right now—by the time the album comes out, hopefully by the end of the year, I'm definitely going to be on tour.
What was your home recording setup?
I like the studio vibe. Well, I like both vibes, but it's two different vibes. So when I stay in the house, I be kind of more laid back and kind of in chill mode. But when I go to the studio, it's kind of like I'll actually be at work. I be in a different type of bag when I go to the studio. Different mindset. You'll see me recording and being active on Instagram and stuff like that, ‘cause I be in there working.
Yeah. You're the kind of artist that has these marathons in the studio, until the morning.
Yep. That's how I usually do it. They used to have to beg me to go to sleep. I'd be in the studio from 12 to seven, sometimes nine in the morning. Then I'd leave, maybe get a couple hours of sleep, and take one of the songs that I recorded that night and try to shoot a video for it that day. From around six to seven, to maybe ten, I’d still be working on the video. Then I’d go back to the studio again at 12, then keep just doing it, doing it like that and just keep doing it and doing it.
Do you feel like being able to go to the studio lately has been a positive thing for you musically?
It's way better... It gives me relief, you know what I'm saying? My music be more… I be happier that's all I could say, I be more happy at studio. Just recording, instead of being inside the house so much.
Yeah, I can imagine it’s not just conducive to your creativity, but it also gives you more resources to make music. Who have you been working with, producers and features-wise? I feel like that process must be so much easier with studio access, you know what I mean?
I got a better relationship with most producers over rappers. Not saying I have a bad relationship with rappers, but it's like, all the producers in the world want to work with me. You know what I'm saying? I’ve been working a lot with Gudda Tay, who’s been my producer for years, before everybody knew me. I've been working with DY Krazy a lot from 8-0-8 Mafia. Too Dope, the whole Krazy Mob, I work with Southside. Who else? CashMoneyAP. It's a lot of them, it's a lot. More than a handful.
I know you used to be signed to Gucci. I'm curious, do you work with him in any capacity anymore? I know you are linked up with some of his artists on the last album, like Pooh Shiesty.
No, not as of now or as of lately. ‘Cause I'm still getting myself together too. It's like no bad blood or anything. We just parted ways and it's all love, I appreciate everything he did for me while we were working together. His whole lineup, we locked in. Everybody over there, obviously they are still family, you know what I'm saying? They still mess with me. I'm just over here, they over there, whatever. But we still have a good relationship.
You've also spoken about how that period where you broke away and started doing your own thing, was very conducive to your growth as an artist.
You know it. It kind of just made my own level. ‘Cause everybody was used to me being under Gucci Mane. So when we parted ways, everybody was looking at Mal. What Mal gonna do? How Mal feel? I just went into a mode where it was just like, I was the one driving.
Being independent gives you a lot of creative control, but it has its challenges. Can you speak to how that has empowered you and if at all, how it may have even been challenging for you?
Of course there are a lot of challenges with everything, but to be honest, I'm the type to go towards my challenges, not away from them. If I feel like something's a big problem, I'm going to just go ahead and go to it, and try my best to go ahead and solve it and get over it, instead of just running away from it and then still have to come back and face it. You know what I'm saying? I mean, I faced a lot of challenges, to be all the way honest. I wouldn't really say that they were challenges, because I just got over it so fast and got through it, so it looked normal for everybody else that's looking outside in.
When it comes to my inner thoughts and when I’m dealing with my inner team, I'm going to have complaints here, complaints there. I don't like this, I don't like that. But publicly, I'm never going to come out and cry about my problems. I'm just going to handle them. Even when it comes to my music, I did my own thing. I never really looked up to nobody as an artist to be real. Yeah, I have my influences—Future, Thug, Gucci. But I always had my own twist to it. I always just did it on my own, figured it out on my own. I guess that's what makes me so different, ‘cause my sound is like nobody else.
You’ve got your own label you’ve been working on, 1.5 Da Label. I remember a couple years ago you and Lil Quill were talking about working on that together. Is he involved?
Quill is my brother, so of course we always try to keep everything we do. We let each other know, but as of now, he's just becoming his own boss as well. He’s doing everything he's doing, and I'm proud of him, because he’s holding his own weight, his problems, his situations, whatever he got. He has to handle him on his own. But it's still a family thing. He’s doing what he needs to do. I'm doing what we need to do, and we’re always proud of each other. In the next five years, I see myself building up my own label, a home at a major label. It's a lot of other things I want to get into as far as investing. I know for sure, I'm going to be one of the people that has my hands in everything. Music, makeup, barber shops, trucking companies, food companies, whatever. In five years, I see myself having everything set in stone for 15 to 20 establishments. Different establishments.
“I make music for people to relate to. I'm trying to send out a message for people.”
1.5 Way or No Way was one of the rap albums that really impressed me last year. How did that project come together, and how’s this next project going to be different?
So as you know, I made that project after I parted ways with 1017. I was in a space where I just wanted everybody to know that I could hold my own way as an artist. Mind you, a lot of stuff, it was recorded while we were quarantined. I was locked inside of the house, but it was like the house was the studio, because I can go outside, you know what I'm saying? It’s different from my current situation. Now it's like I'm actually stuck in the house and can't go outside the house. I might go outside and see things and do different things, and it makes me open up my mind and rap about certain things. With this new album, I'm stuck in the house and I'm on my phone watching things, I'm scrolling on Instagram and seeing things, versus going to the studio and recording. The process as a whole has been way different. This project is going to have some songs on there from when I was at home and I wasn't so tuned in, and then some songs from when I was in the studio and I’m turned up to the max, happy to be out, happy to be recording, happy to be back in the studio. It’s all gonna be mixed together.
You’ve been under house arrest for the last ten months since getting out of jail in January. What are some of the things that you've been thinking about and processing?
A lot of the music you’re going to hear from me is going to be breaking it down. A lot of the music is going to be me explaining how I was down, I was at my lowest. Now I'm right back and I'm back to myself. I'm back to that person, I'm back to the Mal that you guys know me as. I'm finding myself and getting back to that person, but better. That's how it is.
The system has a very devastating impact on families. You've been able to be around your kids these past few months, which I think is really important. During the time that you were in jail, what was that like in terms of keeping in touch with your family?
Of course it was a sad situation, but I always made it positive. My kids are always there. Their mothers made sure that I got on the phone with them, I spoke to them and my mom. Everybody was there—my managers, my team, family, friends, they was there with me the whole time. So it wasn't like I was in a position where everybody turned their back on me. It was still up because they could keep me up. Being around my kids has been the best thing. I’m grateful. It's like a privilege, because for so long, I could not be around. I’ve made sure to spend the most valuable time that I can spend with them. It’s been the best time for me to just bond with them more, and work at the same time. I definitely didn't feel alone while I was in jail. Definitely didn't feel alone. When I was in there, there were people that I was around that felt alone. They don't have people to be with them, they don't have no money on the phone to even call nobody, and if they do get money on the phone, nobody wants to hear from them. People don't send them notes, people don't send them pictures, and they really be alone, going through what they’re going through. So I thank God that I was able to get through my situation with support.
I'm curious—was music something that members of your family put you onto? Did you always feel supported by your family in making music or is it kind of more your own thing?
My mom always listened to music when I was young, like Mary J Blige and Too Short and things like that, Snoop Dogg. She loved Snoop Dogg. But that wasn't something that made me want to rap, it was just something that I had at an early age. I was singing songs word for word when I was four or five years old, ‘cause my mom was listening to him. To be all the way real, my mom wanted me to do other things besides rap. She wanted me to do whatever it was cause she felt like maybe rapping wasn't going to be the perfect thing, or she just felt like I needed to have a plan B.
What did she see you doing, if you don't mind me asking?
I remember one thing for sure was she tried to get me to sign up for the army and stuff like that. I remember that. She was like, “Well you get a lot of benefits that make sure your kid is good,” and stuff like that. I remember actually trying to enlist at one point, but God said he wanted this to work for me. To this day I be like, "Mom, you remember you ain't want me to rap?” and she would be laughing. She be proud too. “Well, you did your thing.”
Do you feel with your own children that exposing them to music is something that is important to you?
My son, I can't tell him nothing. He a rapper. I can't tell him to be nothing. I can't tell him to do nothing, no. Even though now I understand where my mom was coming from, cause I be on some stuff, I be thinking like, well I want him to look into other stuff even though he’s still young. But he got into rapping at a real young age. At his age I wasn't even thinking about all the stuff he’s doing as far as music is concerned. He records his own songs on his phone, makes his own album covers. He’s got Instagram. He’s only eight years old, fixing to be nine years old and he does all of that on his own. Give him a few more years, and he'll be bigger than me.
For most artists, there's always something or a person, or maybe a group of people, that motivates them. Who do you make music for?
I make music for people to relate to. I'm trying to send out a message for people to relate to. I know my family, they can relate. I wouldn’t call it making music for my fans, because there’s people that probably haven't been following me my whole way that hear my music for the first time, and find something to hold on to. I make music for other people. I make it for the world. I make it for other people, not for myself. A lot of stuff I make, I’m using my voice to simply express myself for people that feel the same way, that don't know how to make it come out in a creative way. And right now, I’m ready to do way more. I'm back, I'm back, I'm back. I'm back in full effect. Mal is back.
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