Jamaal Hale knows the dos and don'ts of the music industry all too well. After all, he's had to move away from his hometown for a fresh start after seeing his first rap group implode following a major label fiasco. A rapper since he was 13 (he's now 30), he could definitely be seen as a veteran in the rap game.
Working under the name M-Double-A-L (Maal, for short), he still warns up-and-coming artists about the potential pitfalls of the industry on his new mixtape, Think and Grow Rich: “If you don't know what this industry's like / Imagine riding a bike up a hill with no wheels / You got skills / But if the person that's signing the checks ain't knocking at your door / You ain't getting a deal / But think about if you need one for real / Cause even the Internet still caters to cheap thrills.”
In many ways, Maal looks at San Diego as a second chance after moving here from Ohio five years ago.
“I was in Cleveland, and my brother calls me and says, ‘Man, you need to move out here, bro—it's a black man's paradise.'” He laughs, and adds, “I visited in April and I was done.”
Although he'd just released his first solo album, Mackalactic Music, Maal says that once he was here, he stopped doing music for about a year until, one day, he made a beat and fell in love all over again. He started battling at the Hot Monkey Love Café and Club Recognize, gaining respect in the local scene.
“It was a good move to get out [of Cleveland], but the hardest thing was breaking into the hip-hop scene here. The thing is, coming out here, or anywhere, you have to earn it again. You're starting from ground zero.”
Sure, he was broke, but it forced him to concentrate more on his music, which is reflected on tracks like “5000,” on which he raps, “For me the unemployment line is another album budget / I take that money, press a couple up and make the world love it.” The subsequent album, Table Manners, garnered enough local buzz to get him nominated for “Best Hip-Hop Album” at last year's San Diego Music Awards.
This was great considering what happened with Maal's first rap venture. He was the ostensible leader of the Cleveland crew The Primate Foundation. Maal says they were signed to a record contract on the spot after freestyling in front of a major-label head. But like many young, naïve groups, Maal (who was 19 at the time) says, The Primate Foundation didn't realize what they were doing when they signed on the dotted line. The deal went nowhere, and the label shelved the album. They wanted out of the deal, but because of contractual obligations, the label now owned not only their music, but also their name. The group called it quits, and out of the six rappers, only two are still making music.Maal continues to vent about the experience in his lyrics, yet, in person, he doesn't seem bitter about it at all.
“You gotta go through the bad shit,” he says. “I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for that. You have to sacrifice something to get to the next place.”
If anything, the “bad shit” taught him self-reliance. Not only is he the MC, but he also makes his own beats and album art and is completely self-promotional. Think and Grow Rich is named after and based on a book by Napoleon Hill, who studied the habits of the rich and wealthy and found that their success had less to do with a desire for money and more to do with focus, love and empathy. It's a philosophy that Maal says reflects his own attitude toward his career.
“I wouldn't care if I made $50,000 a year, just something I could live on. If I get to travel and still make my music, then I'm good. That's the ultimate stuff.” He later adds, “Documentation beats conversation. I have no choice. I would feel like an asshole if I were sitting back, 60 years old, like, ‘Damn, man, I remember when—.' I'm not into that. I do it for the love.”
Check out M-Double-A-L at www.myspace.com/mackalactickmusick.