AN INTERVIEW WITH MAMADOU.
This is an edited transcript of an interview with rapper Mamadou., who we hosted on our podcast, Two Virgins. The full podcast episode can be found on Spotify here.
Mamadou.'s newest project, “To Stitch a Rose” dives into the psyche and consciousness of an 18-19-year-old Mamadou. as he navigates and reflects on his coming of age as a 1st generation Malian man in Harlem. The album embodies the different vignettes/dream-like states of Mamadou.'s inner thoughts as he grapples with his experience dealing with young intimate relationships, coming of age as a young man, and with the new, confusing emotions that come with loss. “To Stitch a Rose” is a sentimental and intimate journey of evolution, the process of unlearning and learning for the young Harlem poet. The loss and revitalization of faith when things fall apart. Within himself. Within his Islamic faith. Within his Harlem-Mali identity. To stitch himself back into the rose Allah nurtured him to be.
Sam: Could you tell us a little bit about the new album?
Mamadou: Absolutely. I just released my debut project "To Stitch a Rose." It's been almost two weeks since it released officially on August 7th and it's been surreal. It's definitely been a journey prior to that moment, but it's been cool, putting it out to the world and seeing how people resonated with the music.
Sam: Could you tell us a little bit about that journey? Where was the project recorded and how long did it take to get all the songs together?
Mamadou: You know, to backtrack a little bit, I think just in terms of what I was grappling in the midst of that time of creating the project, creating the music was that avenue that I think I needed to take in order to dissect and really process the things I was going through. The mental, as well as the external wars that I was battling. What I'm seeing on a day to day basis and try to maneuver through. It just was an all-organic process. That was really my first time starting a project from scratch. I had made a high school tape prior to that -- that was kind of me tapping into it -- but this was really a project where we built it from scratch. Built it from everything I was dealing with from 2017 to 2019: from the ground up. It was just me and two good friends, two talented brothers.
Teresa: We were talking about how we know a lot of people who are artists but rarely do people actually put out a full-length project. Was there a turning point in your experience where you were like, "In order to dissect what I'm feeling right now, I have to get it into music?"
Mamadou: The journey and my creative arc has always put poetry first. I've always written poetry first. In seventh grade, growing up in Harlem, one of my good teachers and mentors to this day was an English teacher. He introduced poetry and creative writing, Black poetry, in our class. I feel like in the public schools it's rare to find teachers that will put that into the curriculum. That's where it really started in terms of me getting into that journey, poetry, and dabbling with storytelling. My songwriting is intertwined with my poetry.
Once I sat down with my two friends. I said, "yo, I'm going to try it." I'm trying to make a project. I'm trying to really tap into the feelings in this... Everything. How I feel as well as just the passion."
Teresa: You just talked about your background in poetry, what are your inspirations for your lyrics. poets, authors, other rappers, who inspires you?
Mamadou: Just in terms of storytellers, I go back to the past. Before I even listened to soul music and hip-hop music it was a lot of Mali music and Kora music in my household. That whole lineage with Kora music is huge. The instrument is directly passing on stories and traditions from generation to generation. So, I was growing up with that in my household, which was inspiring in terms of the musicality of it and the delicacy of the instrument. That was one of my first inspirations.
And I think as it evolved, growing up in Harlem, I listened to all the soul. I listened to Jodeci, WV, I was listening to Keith Sweat -- Harlem Legend. I was just walking around and hearing people and what they was listening to. In terms of that hip hop region, the Nas, the 2pacs, the Bigs, the Rakims, you know, the storytellers. That was really my inspiration.
Right now, I'm loving Saba, loving, Mick Jenkins, loving Noname. I love Noname so much. A lot of Chicago love. And for real, like in terms of like right now, right now, that's where my heart is at. Those types of cadences and the flows and stuff like that. Brent Faiz, I'm loving and his whole group. I got a whole list right now.
Teresa: The album also sounded very high quality. The production seemed professional. How did you get that sound and who were you working with to get it.
Mamadou: It was me alongside my two good friends, Donovan and Krishna. We all were producing and putting our hands in it. As I said, a lot of it was just organic and kind of the grace of God, just meeting those people at those times, creating those bonds, and improving as a writer along that whole journey.
I give credit to all of us as a group. Really showing up for one another, sacrificing, and being willing to teach one another. It was a collective effort to show up.
Sam: I know as another Columbia student, the school year can get really hectic and become a complete mess really quickly. How do you make sure to keep writing poetry, to keep staying on your musical grind, even when school gets to be a lot?
Mamadou: For me -- and I think this whole quarantine and everything put a lot of things into perspective -- but you have to find that balance of taking breaks for yourself and also showing up for yourself. Both can be ways of showing up for yourself, really just detaching yourself and being about protecting and preserving your mental as well as your physical. Tapping into the art form and making sure you're showing up for your art and showing up for your craft. It's always been that balance, especially during these times.
There's always time to create space for what you care about, as cliche as it does sound, there's 24 hours in the day. The biggest mental shift I had to make was if I put a certain amount of hours into something that I love until I care, something will manifest. Whether it's this or that, that's all material, but putting passion, putting in the effort and all that stuff will create some type of manifestation. I create time to write and to have the opportunity to express myself. So, I'll take the time when I wake up, I'll try to write a journal and I don't be hard on myself either because I think as creatives and writers, there's this feeling of, "yo, I have to get it right. I have to create the art." But, don't be too hard on yourself and don't judge yourself: allow yourself to keep growing as this person who's pursuing the art form.
Altogether that's kind of a process. Remembering not to be hard on myself. The breaks, mental breaks as well as, you know, spiritual breaks from just everything and coming back to it with no biases; open-minded. Open-mindedness, that's super important. I think that a lot of people, our age are starting to realize that because of quarantine.
Teresa: Do you think the project would have come together as quickly if not for this weird, stay-at-home time? What have you discovered through this process?
Mamadou: I think the biggest thing for me is timing everything in life. I'm Muslim, sometimes the law is time over everything. Initially, before the pandemic happened, we were gearing up soon to finish the project. We had a couple shows we were going to open. We were going to open up for MIKE at Middlebury. Obviously, unfortunately, that got canceled. Things happen, but it was never like, "Oh, we need to just put it out" The only thing that makes people rush is this idea of feeling like you have to compare yourself to other people. Thinking, "I have to put this out now because I have to do it."
It's like, for what? When you think about it, as long as you reach your barometer of success, then that's the only true test that you have to pass. You want to be able to connect with and interact with the world, but when it comes to the art, you have to remember what you're doing it for.
In terms of the project, when it was time to release we were close to finishing. I feel the sentiment of the project and what the project is talking about work in parallel to what is going on with our world.
Sam: I really love the song, "Love Don't Rain." and I was wondering if you could take us through your process of writing the lyrics on that track. What is your writing process? How do you get into that groove of the beat and the track in general?
Mamadou: I wrote those lyrics in 2018. That's why when I listen to them back, I'm like, "dang, I don't know how I feel about what I'm saying." I've grown so much. Cause you know the sentiment, it's young love and feeling like things were not looking good for me in terms of my prospects; what I thought about my significant other. Looking back I was so young. I feel I've matured so much since I created that song.
The songwriting for that was in 2018 - 2019 and that was one of the first times I was able to collaborate with other instrumentalists alongside my two good friends. We had a lot of people who played piano and played guitar and pulled up and that was cool to really have a couple heads collab, and trying to get certain vibes and aesthetics.
I would write a little bit, to certain parts of the beat, attack different parts, different melodies, and try to experiment. I was really interested in that in the phase of letting me keep experimental with my flow, based on my experiences and my inspiration. That's how it came together.
Teresa: My favorite track is "Childhood Memories." I'm surprised it's not the most popular one on Spotify. But my first question about that song was who is the person that comes on at the very beginning?
Mamadou: The album version was a little bit different. We released that song a year ago in April but for the album version, we had one of my good friends Erin. Erin's awesome. I just wanted to try to keep a theme. I took a step back and hearing reviews -- and in talks with people, I'm close with when we were in the process of putting out the album -- the theme of maternal care, and maternal love we tried to keep that idea of waking up. Erin is amazing.
Teresa: On that theme, can you explain your album cover? I assumed it was just pictures of you, but I'm also not sure. Can you explain how that fits in with your whole album concept and how you came up with that artistic vision?
Mamadou: First, shout out my homie Annie, she goes to Barnard. She's been helping me with the past couple of covers. I love collages like that. One of my things right now, I been inspired by collages and this idea of weaving things together, and seeing things from past and present intertwining.
The cover is a couple of pictures of me, a couple of my friends, my cousin who passed away, my good friend Ta from middle school who passed away as well, family. The main things are the pictures and the little rose on the side. In terms of a representation of the rose, I've been so in tune with it. The reason why I use the rose emoji and that rose symbolism, I just feel like I've seen that in different pockets of my life in happiness and sadness. You see a rose at a celebration, you see a rose on a date, and you see a rose at a funeral. That symbol is in everything. So I was thinking, "How do you stitch that together? How do you put those pieces together to really create a rose?" I feel like we all are roses.
Sam: Going off that theme of collages, it seemed like you had so many collaborators on this project, some that weren't necessarily credited as a feature and just their voice kind of pops in which I loved. How was it working with all these different people? How did you pick who you wanted to work with?
Mamadou: It was just a blessing. Vanessa, whoswyLee, is somebody I obviously respect since I got to Columbia. I always just wanted to do something with her and I feel like "Wusulah Remnants." is also another song that represents my songwriting right now.
On the first song, "Soil," with Uwade and TV Nomad, that's Chloe, it was just a blessing. I have known her since my freshman year and I've always been amazed by her talent. She's amazing, her voice is so angelic, so powerful. And I met Chloe through Krishna. It was just energy; resonating with one another resonating with the art and just being willing to collab.
I have a lot of gratitude for them feeling willing and wanting to work with me. Donny is on "Comfort U." He's so talented, so multifaceted as a creator. Throughout the journey, I learned a lot. I was able to improve as a producer and on songwriting too just being around a lot of people who were extremely talented. Organic and blessed, that's the only way I could put it.
Teresa: Was there a specific message you wanted to get across or an audience you wanted to reach with this project?
Mamadou: It's crazy to see how the project evolved. At first, it was just me and Donovan back in 2018 talking about what we wanted to do. Saying we wanted to kind of make it a mixtape, a couple of songs.
And I think as it continued to deepen, my songwriting continued to get more intentional, I started writing to paint a picture of what's going on mentally as well as outside. That was the first inspiration. Let me just make that vision and paint that picture. But towards the completion, I was trying to do this for young black boys in disenfranchised neighborhoods. Talking about that whole bottleneck and a lot of emotions and being unwilling to share them. Hopefully, all young black girls will get the same. People in these disenfranchised communities who are holding and bottling up emotion, whether that be about young love, whether that be about losing somebody who was close to yourself. At certain points not knowing how to talk about these situations and bottling it up cause that's what seems cool. That's what's seen as survival.
All in all, I think that was, that was my inspiration. That was my intention, to put that out to the world and at the end always, always put the most high as the way in which I navigate. It was a journey for me in my belief in the most high.
Sam: What's coming next? What should people look out for? What direction are you trying to take your music next?
Mamadou: I'm just steady working on new projects, continuing to work on my craft as a poet and as a storyteller. Stay tuned for a lot more projects, a lot more musical work. I'm continuing to collab with new people and doing a lot of features. Just keep doing things with intention and purpose and do it for the love and the faith.