We sat down with Malik Yusef, the 5 time Grammy award winning spoken word artist, to discuss his contributions to the upcoming G.O.O.D Music compilation album Cruel Summer, his plans for expansion, and how to become a part of his team!
Poetry Globe (PG): How long was the creative process for Cruel Summer?
Malik Yusef (MY): We’ve been waiting for this moment for our entire life. When the student is ready, the teacher will come. Whenever you’re ready, the universe is ready for you. But are you ready? It’s all timing. You can go from being a relative nobody this January and the next January you’re everything. That’s one ride around the globe.
PG: Around the Poetry Globe?
MY: Around the Poetry Globe. Exactly!
PG: Known primarily as a Spoken Word artist, is your contribution on the album limited to poetry, or are you also contributing as a rapper and/or writer?
MY: I contributed in every way possible. I’m not a rapper, but I should start rapping. Being an artist on G.O.O.D Music, just makes me feel like it’s time to go to work. My contribution is as Malik as a whole. I bring Malik, the whole being to this thing. I helped come up with some ideas. I critiqued some ideas. I critiqued some lyrics and some beats.
PG: So you bring your overall experience?
MY: Absolutely! I have to grind and get more experience to bring to the world.
PG: On Cruel Summer, are you following the lead of the production, or is production created around your writing & delivery?
MY: Both. It’s not either or. It’s always on. If you can bring more stuff to it, go ahead and bring more stuff. That’s how it has to be.
PG: We know Kanye is a fan of collaboration. What other producers get shine on Cruel Summer?
MY: Everybody on our team. You’re going to see a list of producers that G.O.O.D Music f—s with. They all got some shine. Even if it wasn’t nothing but a drum, or a sample, a kicksnare, a highhat, or a baseline.
PG: So it was real hands on with everyone in the studio, and no one was really confined to one job?
MY: Hell no. Why would they be? You have to be opportunistic in this world. The motherf—-r that can throw the ball, run the ball, kick the ball, catch the ball has a better chance of making the team than the guy that can just kick the ball.
PG: Speaking of collaboration you have an artist here that you’re featuring on your first Luxury Music Mixtape Series.
MY: His name is Tyran Brown and the mixtape is titled Hard Work. The listening party was last week. Everything we present to you is going to be luxurious. We want to produce everything luxurious and make it beautiful and put our finish to it. Something prestigious. When you put on the Tyran Brown mixtape, any street you ride down, they’re going to want to know who’s that. We’re adding art to everything.
PG: Tyran, how’d your collaboration with Malik come about?
Tyran Brown (TB): Malik was in LA and I just happened to bump into him. I saw him and he told me to forget all the talking and rap. I was caught off guard, but I rapped for him. He was feeling me. We connected on Twitter and took it from there. I saw a lot of inspiring things in him. He saw some things in me that he liked. Business is business. You know how that goes. He saw my determination. We came together and just started putting in this hard work.
PG: Can you describe what you’re addressing and trying to get across with your mixtape?
TB: I’m a gemini, so we’re naturally weird. Happy one minute, sad the next. One minute we want to save the world, the next minute it’s f— everybody. It’s just the absolute manifestation of me as a young adult trying to make it in this world. You get the deep thinking introspective side of me. You get the side that I feel like I’m better than everybody. I’m trying to use my voice as powerful as it is. We’re at a different capacity than the generation before us. We feel like we’re going to be successful how we want to be successful.
PG: Can we expect any videos for any of the tracks on the mixtape?
TB: Yes, we’re going to do all of that. That’s mandatory these days. You can’t just have a half a product. You need video and behind the scenes content.
PG: Where can people find you online?
PG: Maliky, how many different studios have you recorded in for Cruel Summer? Where have you had to travel to for this project?
MY: London, France, New York, Hawaii, everywhere. Wherever we are, our music is there. We move around crazy. We all have individual businesses as well. Clothing and jewelry. At G.O.O.D Music we are very entrepreneurial minded people. Big Sean and Pusha-T have their clothing lines. I’m doing my clothing brand. Plus everybody has their music label as well. John [Legend] just got his label. I’m starting my label. I’m here in LA with my business partners getting the label started. It’s just maximizing and pushing it to the limit. People talk about when you get famous and you get real busy you don’t have time to live a regular life. Motherf—–s that have a regular life don’t want a regular life. You better turn it all the way up! We went out today and just talking about the label. You’ve got to take a bunch of things that’s regular to make something that’s irregular. We’re all a victim to gravity. That’s one thing. But someone said they going to defy gravity. They made an airplane. That’s what happens when you stop thinking regular, you create something that’s useful for everyone.
PG: People use to say think outside the box. Now they say, there is no box.
MY: If you could recreate everything, where would you start? If you could recreate the way buildings were designed you probably wouldn’t make it square. You would probably make it circle. People are rethinking rooftops and recycling. Why do you throw away in a plastic bag something that came from the ground. Someone made an industry off of that. I’m on all that. Renewable, reusable, green. I’m smart because I want to be smart. I desire knowledge. My music label partners are lawyers and a production team. I’ll hire executives, but we don’t need to make you a partner because you know some business. We are creatives. We want people to build with that.
PG: We like that you use the word ‘creator’ because we believe artists should not be confined to one artform.
MY: That’s right. I’m getting back into my painting and everything that I feel like I want to do that’s going to uplift humanity. Including myself, because I have fallen many times, and might even tonight fall in some way. But this whole thing is about getting back up, about resurrecting. We have a whole religion based on someone that resurrected. That’s what we love. America loves its heroes. We love the regular guy that turnt it up! That’s what human beings love. The guy that says “I’m going to take a chance.” The risk takers.
PG: What meaning do you find within the cover art for the album?
MY: We saw a beautiful piece of art on the ceiling. We thought it was gorgeous. It was artisan. They put a lot of time and work into this. That’s what we went with. That’s the artists I like. I don’t care if it’s digital art, design, clothing, interior, or jewelry. That’s one reason why, at ASCAP, when I got up with Tyran Brown, he was a risk taker. There’s artists out here that do what they do, but I would challenge them to turn it up. I felt like I could let him into the camp a little bit.
PG: We talked about that in a previous conversation. Just the number of artists out there. G.O.O.D. Music is a pretty deep squad, covering a lot of ground in terms of artistic style and genre. What artists outside of the team have been brought in to put their stamp on the project?
MY: Marsha Ambrosius, Robert Kelly, Dream, a lot of guys. Ghostface. Jay-Z. Which he always does. Did you think he wouldn’t? Did you think Hov wasn’t going to put something on it?
PG: I love how Kanye tends to give a middle finger to radio format when creating music! Can we expect more of that on this album?
MY: Yes, you better prepare for it, because you know you going to get it!
PG: We know you’ve worked with Kanye for years, but have any new elements manifested during this recording process that builds on that creative relationship?
MY: Definately. We spoke for the first time ever about the Malik Yusef brand, what it means to the world. What people expect from that. What we want to see it be and become. Aesthetics, what the show should look like. What the feel should be. Women, street dudes, and creatives are in my audience. I’m not a poet that poets just love. I go to a spot and spit a poem I won Grammy’s for and I get two claps. Someone marginal gets up there and gets a standing ovation. So, two million albums sold later, I come back and he’s spitting the same poem. I don’t believe my primary audience is poets. I wish they would like me more, but that’s okay. How much more artistic can we be with the process? It doesn’t make me less gangster or less of a man or a father to add more artistic elements to my work.
My production team, everytime I go back to them, they’ve improved. That’s what you want to be around. They raised the bar. That’s what you have to look for. I’m not going to say my people are the best, but my people work the hardest!
PG: Now we see where that Hard Work mixtape title is coming from.
MY: Yeah, y’all thought I was going back to my roots. Thought it was some drugs. Nah! It’s just hard work man!
PG: For the music lovers that will be discovering Malik Yusef via Cruel Summer, what do you want them to find?
MY: I just want them to find themselves in my words. Find themselves a place to rest their weary and achy souls. We choose to give to people. Kanye wants to share, which in turn makes us all want to share. Come get a piece of this peace. This inner peace. This self love. This album is about I, you, we, they. This whole album’s about that.
Because we getting money and you don’t know how we getting money, because you can’t quantify how we move, what we do, now we have to be the devil? Is that really what you’re trying to start. I’m an amazing soul. I’ve been amazing since I was 20 years old. Is that what you got to do to explain that we’re achieving and you’re not achieving. That’s what you’re going to put your failures on, that we got the devil on our side. So, you’re supposed to be a firm believer in God and can’t beat us and the devil. We don’t worship the devil. That’s all I got to say about that.
For those that love us, they going to love this album. The people that hate us are going to find other reasons to hate.
PG: I’d love to see a live show around this album. Do you have any insight on the possibility of that happening?
MY: It’s always a possibility of a big show. It’s always a part of the conversation. It’s not in stone because the artists all have things going on. But we’ll make every effort for it to happen. I would love to see it. I know the fans would love to see it. I know ‘Ye himself would love to see it. It’s up to our leader, Kanye. I have full faith in him. He has full faith in me. I’m going to challenge him and push him.
PG: We’re familiar with Hawaii’s teen poetry slam team from the Brave New Voices competition and series. Have you had an opportunity to connect with any local artists during your time there?
MY: Not really. It really was just an excersise in movement. From the studio to the hotel and maybe grab some food, then back to the studio. A lot of nights sleeping and waking up in the studio. Given Kanye’s career, he still spends the whole night in the studio. Not because he’s too drunk to go home, but because he’s working hard and the flow is too good, and he says “Hey, we staying the night.” I’ve been to Hawaii plenty of times. When a Motherf—-r like Rhymefest is out here, you stay in the studio. He’s a monster!
PG: Any words of wisdom for your fellow poets around the world in relation to your work on Cruel Summer?
MY: I like that you ask this question. Be more observant. Of self and others. Observe how you act and conduct yourself based on their actions. You can spend a lot of time in the mirror, but you can’t just be introverted. You have to be extraverted. A sword fighter thinks he is the best in the world until he runs up on a better sword fighter. We don’t start off with success.
You can hire someone to write a beautiful piece of poetry or collaborate with other artists. You have to know yourself. You have to know who you are. Who you are will be instilled in your poetry. You have to become a better person. I know some straight up cold poets that are garbage people.
PG: We’ve spoken before about your intentions for a music label. You’ve recently been accepting contributions for a mixtape. Will the mixtape serve as a scouting tool for your new venture?
MY: Everything is a scouting tool. We are all always under constant observation. I’m a constant observer. I’m looking at everything and for everything.
PG: On the lighter side of things, you’re good for showing your fresh on Instagram, especially your sneaker game. So, for the sneakerheads out there, how many pairs are we talking?
MY: About 900 maybe.
PG: And quality over quantity, which pair is your prize?
Malik, thank you sir for taking the time to speak with FromNYtoParis.com, Poetry Globe’s international poetry news blog. We look forward to more art from you.