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“I Learned to Bounce the Ball On My Own”

Q&A with Atlanta’s Own Young Mal

Abel Araya, Writer

Abel Araya

Writer

Updated

One of the biggest motivations for a young artist immersing themselves into the rap game is for them to earn their respect. It is seldomly given, but always presented in a manner by which the artist must take that opportunity and run with it; almost as if they’re strictly in tunnel vision. Fortunately, for this artist, he took the path that catered best to his approach and his style, in relation to hip-hop music. Khamal Michael Braud, aka Yung Mal, at the young age of 25, has already stamped his name in the dense collective of new wave rappers emerging from the streets of Atlanta. Yung Mal, now recently titled CEO with his label 1.5 Da Label, has just released his latest project 1.5 Way or No Way, with prominent features of Pooh Sheisty, G-Herbo, Lil Quill, Slimelife Shawty, and many more. We met up with Young Mal in the DTLA district, as he got to talk to us about how he inadvertently ran into Gucci Mane at a take-out fish spot in Atlanta, how his track production strategy differs from those in the industry, his journey into creating his own label, and his grounded efforts to highlight young black designers and entrepreneurs by showcasing their custom-made brands for the world to see.

Peep the conversation below:

We’re blessed to have you here. Can you talk a little bit about your journey and how you got started into making music from the beginning?

Abel

I was like 13, 14 when I recorded my first song; and I’ve always liked music, being from New Orleans, we always had all different types of music, bounce music, stuff like that. My mom always been playing artists like Mary J. Blige, Yolanda Adams. I didn’t know I was gonna find myself making music, but I was just always into the beats and the rhythm of it, just being from the South and all.

Yung Mal

Growing up in Atlanta, would you say that your music sort of blends with the music that roots from Atlanta or New Orleans? Or perhaps it is both?

I mean, early on, I was hip to the ones that were from New Orleans, like Wayne, Hot Boyz, Juvenile--my momma loved Juvenile. 400 Degreez, all that, I remember when I was a kid in the living room and my momma would always be bumping that style of music. And then when I got older, around 2005, that’s when I moved to Atlanta, and in 2006-07, that’s when I really got to see how heavy the Atlanta scene is, with Gucci Mane, Young Thug, all of that.

I imagine that back in that time, 2005-07, Atlanta was such a Mecca for bringing in talent and catching that wave early on.

I’m not gonna lie, I kinda missed the wave a lil bit.

Oh, you missed it?

Well, not really, because I remember like when I first moved to Candler Road, I went to Supreme Fish Delight and got something to eat. This guy comes in--big as hell, Gucci shoes on, long ass chain. But I didn’t know him, didn’t know who he was. Couple of weeks later, I see that same dude on 106th & Park, BET, and I said to myself, ‘Oh that’s the same dude I saw at the fish shop a few weeks back’.

Who was it?

It was Gucci Mane.

Really?

Yeah, forreal. The only way I could remember it was him was the long chain he was rocking, the Bart Simpson chain, grills out. It was dope to see.

Speaking of Gucci Mane, he signed you to his label in 2017, but you had been on your grind making music in 2013. Can you talk about the gap that was in between those two moments? I know that for you, putting in the work is the bare minimum, like that’s gotta be it off the rip.

For sure, yeah. Around 2010-13, I was rapping, but it was always with somebody else, so they’ll pay for the session, and I’d just come with my raps and be done, right? So, I kept doing that, on some hood shit, cuz they was just fucking with it. Then in 2015, I got locked up in January, and got out in October, spent like 9 months in jail. 2016, I took that time to get it all together, and then Oct 2017, I signed my first deal.

Being 25 years old and having that mindset of being not taking anything for granted, especially with the story that you experienced, it says a lot about where your focus lies and where you are with your goals in mind.

Now it’s getting to a point where it’s like I don’t like to play a lot, cuz this is my career, right here. This is my life, and I don’t really see any other route that I can take right now. So I use the rap lane to build other lanes and open other doors.

You own a record label now, 1.5. For a young man like yourself, who was the one to whisper in your ear and give you guidance on this being something you should be serious about? Was it anyone in particular?

Nah, nobody really whispered in my ear, it was just me going through my situations and experiences, learning from it all, making the most of it. Signing to Gucci Mane, moving on from that, and him becoming bigger, getting more artists. To me, it was something I needed to understand. That's how the game goes, I gotta bounce the ball on my own now. I always show my work ethic, I let people know, so that when time goes by, they’ll know what I’ve done, and know how serious I am with this. I went from being somebody else’s artist to having my own artist.

What was the biggest lesson you think you learned after being signed with Gucci Mane that helped you into building your own label?

I had to learn how to bounce the ball on the court and off the court. Gotta deal with my everyday problems and whatnot; stand up in the paint, handle the business on the rap side. I had to go all the way back, from when I first got signed and had to highlight everything--management, swag, my approach, my work ethic, everything. Had to go back on the drawing board, like no one’s holding my hand anymore. I’m my own boss now.

Looking at your IG, there’s a lot of buzz coming from what you would only describe as Custom Drip. I initially thought you had some secret designer you was hiding from the people, but that’s not the case, right?

Nah, I just kinda started this on my own. It went from like simple pieces like people painting/drawing stuff. Then one time, I was getting Custom Made Air Forces, and I took a picture of it, and I knew that it would stand out, a lot of rappers wasn’t doing shit like this at the time. And then it just kinda blew from there, so I don’t have one person, it’s like a whole collective of people from all over the world, and they just send me stuff. For me, I get a thrill of just showing love to them, posting what they made, and helping them get their buzz off the floor, feel me? I get a lot of messages from designers saying Thank you, and it means a lot for me to help them in those times.

Looking back on it, did you think it was gonna blow up in the way that it did? Or was this something that you had always envisioned?

That was kinda the plan, so I wanted to do my own wave. One of the main reasons was because I can go to the mall, spend $500-$5000, get dressed; I take my pictures when I scroll on IG and somebody got the same exact fit I got on, so at that point, I was like ‘Yea I gotta do something else, stand out and be 1 of 1.’ I mean I’ll rock designer every now and then, but 99.9% of my closet comes from a black-owned business.

You talk a lot about influence and wanting to give and uplift black voices that helped you along the way. Gucci Mane had his influences and that motivated him to build his brand, same thing with you as well.

Everything comes full circle.

Right, exactly! I’m sure that sometime in the future, there’s going to be a new Young Mal that’ll be looking up to you as an influence, so knowing that how does that motivate you to keep making music?

I mean that’s it right there, it keeps me motivated. I got my team checking my DMs, and seeing messages from people showing love from Africa, France, Iowa, wherever. I try my best to send personal messages, cuz anybody can send a strong arm emoji or whatever.

Shifting over into your music, most artists usually have 1 or 2 producers in their sessions, covering most, if not all, aspects of production. Looking through your IG lives, you got at least 5, 6 producers in the studio with you. So, do they all play intricate parts to your style of production?

I look at it like, we all pulling up to the kitchen to cook. This producer might have the chicken, that producer might have the salt & pepper, and this producer might have the flour to blend everything in. Everybody can play a part, and I just let them come up with whatever they come up with. All of these producers might have their own beat, and then we all collab off of that one beat that's already made, or there’s some situations where all 5 of us make a beat that night, instead of having one already made.

How are you able to get them all to see the same vision that you see?

I mean 9 times out of 10, they already fk with me, anyway. So they know what I’m about, off rip. I’ll play like 3-5 songs and then we mostly just vibe with it, and just kinda start cooking from there. We all have a mutual understanding of it, feel me?

The album 1.5 Way or No Way, you mentioned that you lost your lil bro-

I lost a lot of them, fasho.

A lot of people that you had grown close to over the years were tributed in this album, and you paid respects to them. It definitely shows the type of aggression, but also the amount of emotion you had in this album as well. Coming off a classic tape like 6 Rings, talk a bit about the motivation that brought you into making this album.

During COVID, I was basically just at the house recording, I had my people pull up on me and we were just recording song after song after song, catalogued on so much music. So much to the point where I would go to the drawing board and have to filter out certain songs that me and my team wanted to feature on the album; they would let me know if this one was fire, or save this one for the next album, or put this one out as a stand-alone.

So, you were pretty hands on when it comes to song selection, beat selection--

Everything. Label-wise, cover art, tracks on the board, I had a hand in everything. I’m the driver in this, so everything has to go through me.

So what should we look for in the near future for you?

Everybody keeps telling me, I should drop the deluxe for this album. But, I feel like that’s just half-stepping. So, for the next 30-60 days, I’mma be working on another album.

So you just stay on the grind, consistent.

Yup, another album already in the works. 95% done already, got the outline, just gotta work on the details for it, and stay working.

“I wouldn’t be where I am today without..” whom?

God, number one. My family, my whole hood, my whole team. I rep it all.

Rep yo hood, let them know where you’re from.

Candler Road, on the East side. I’m not gonna say I put it on the map, but we put it on the map. I’m from New Orleans, but I got people living in Atlanta that have been there for 20-30 years, telling me that what I’m doing is something they’ve never seen before, and it’s always love and respect from them, and I’m just blessed to be a part of their lives, feel me? I got young bros, old folks, showing love for me, especially on Candler Road. That’s my street, I can say that. That’s 1.5 Way or No Way, that’s where that comes from, from my homie Plug. He started that, and I definitely wanted to give him his recognition and his respect; I just want to keep the legacy going, that’s my only focus. It gets deeper than just me, we all rooting for Candler, the same way I am too. We doing it together, we got that rocking, and turned that shit into a label.


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