By Grant Golden
April 8, 2021
Photo: Khalid Riley
In November 2019, 20-year-old Omavi Minder dropped his career-affirming debut album, Let The Sun Talk. Let The Sun Talk poised “Mavi” for stardom, garnering high praise from national outlets like NPR and Pitchfork. As the young rapper was on the cusp of kicking off his first self-booked national tour and a highly anticipated South by Southwest performance, the coronavirus hit the United States and the world shut down.
Between the weight of a pandemic, having your musical momentum thwarted, and trying to maintain an academic career at Howard University, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. “There was a lot of fear.” Mavi says plainly, outlining his struggles with severe depression throughout the past year. Like many of us, it started to affect his daily life, and he found the need to return home to Charlotte to recharge as a “student, man and family member.”
Raised with a love for music, Mavi wrote his first raps at 14 years old. As a student at West Charlotte High School he soaked in the tunes of acts like Noname, Saba, Vince Staples and Earl Sweatshirt, but struggled to find an outlet for his art in a live setting. Despite those struggles, a steady stream of releases leading up to his 2018 mixtape, No Roses, helped Mavi finally start seeing success with his music. And while he received cosigns from acclaimed acts like Pink Siifu and Earl Sweatshirt– local love seemed to be contained to his high school peers.
“I wasn’t able to get shows, especially in Charlotte at the beginning,” he said. “[But] it makes [me] really appreciate and be efficient at doing for ourselves. When I started rapping in Charlotte it wasn’t as simple as ‘this guy shoots videos so he’ll make you a video’ or ‘this guy mixes music, so hit him up and he’ll mix your music.’ In addition to the creative side where you have to construct this music out of an empty space, you also have to craft every facet of your art existence out of pure nothing.”
And perhaps that’s where his DIY mentality got its start, because without an agent, publicist or manager, Mavi rose quickly through the ranks of underground hip-hop with his insightful messages of self-empowerment and mental emancipation. Let the Sun Talk opens with a spoken-word intro that delineates his goals of Black liberation. “Knowledge, wisdom, understanding, freedom, justice, equality, food, clothing and shelter,” but to get that, one needs “money, guns, lands and useful knowledge.” It’s a bold proclamation for some, coupling philosophical ideas like gun ownership to pro-Blackness, but confronting these complexities is what’s made Mavi the national name he is today.
“My music can speak to more than one person at a time, so I’m trying to shout the propaganda I need to be heard to as many people, in as little bit of time as I can,” Mavi says. “The reason I even do this is to let people know they’re not imagining [what they’re going through.]”
The balance between the personal and the political is something Mavi particularly excels at. It’s clear that he’s telling his own story, but painting in such broad strokes that he’s able to make it relatable to the masses. At 21 he’s nearing the end of his academic career at Howard University as a neuroscience major, but he still struggles with a life and school balance. He wants a stable future, but also wants to pursue his musical dreams.
“To me, it’s acknowledging [the] hang-up and reality that ‘this is where we at now, this is what we need to survive,” Mavi said. “To grow as an individual, exploring the contradictions I do [in my music] teaches me about how to conduct myself as a human being.”
These contradictions take the limelight on his latest release, End of the Earth, a 14-minute EP released in February to heavy fanfare. On this short musical excursion, Mavi packs in a tremendous amount of both lyrical and sonic ideas that help to expand his musical palette even further than Let The Sun Talk did. With cover art that pays homage to Shel Silverstein’s Where The Sidewalk Ends, Mavi outlines society’s long and winding path to the tumultuous existence we’ve found ourselves in, jokingly referring to himself as a “doomsday predictor.”
One of the short EP’s standout tracks is “Methods,” a track that juxtaposes braggadocious, bass-heavy sonics with a lyrical criticism of hypermasculinity. “I was trying to capture something amazing,” Mavi said. “The delicate multiplicity of being a young Black man from Charlotte. I’ve got half a foot in the streets and a foot and a half out, you know? I’m dealing with school and progress and music and all that, but with young masculinity that’s the challenge of the day for me. [I wanted] to capture that and make a song that sounds like our lifestyle and that contradiction.”
This same nuance and attention to detail that propelled Mavi to this current level of fame is what promises to keep his popularity ever increasing. With the release of End of the Earth he’s already hyping up his forthcoming sophomore full-length record, Sango. Named for a deity of the Yoruba religion of Nigeria, Sango is the god of thunder and lightning but it also represents song, dance and love. “[Sango] is about me exploring masculinity as this tale of two truths…and a man struggling with the virtues of love and the destructiveness of anger,” he said.
With Sango already fully fleshed out and pending release, Mavi is positioned to pick up right where he left off at the start of the pandemic. On April 3, he was able to throw his first proper show in Charlotte with a pop-up event at 128 Park Ave. Packed out and masked up, this event shows that Mavi is finally getting the love and praise that he’s long craved from his hometown.
“I need Charlotte to love me and evoke me as the man,” Mavi said, as we wrapped up our discussion. But if things keep on the trajectory they are for this young visionary, it’ll be a lot more than just Charlotte singing his praises.
Listen to Mavi‘s latest EP End of the Earth.