When rapper MAVI released his recent album, “Laughing so Hard, it Hurts,” he hoped to encapsulate feelings of Black joy, grief, vulnerability and growth on the project. Dealing with the loss of his uncle, 17-year-old cousin and his baby, MAVI experimented with a softer, lullaby-like sound for his sophomore album.
Born Omavi Minder, the 23-year old artist described that the idea for the album was conceived during a very traumatic time in his life, and tapping into his more vulnerable side was a very scary thing to do, out of worry for how it would be perceived.
“Sometimes I feel like with Black artists, identity politics say that the easiest path to being granted pseudo-humanity by the mainstream media is by explicitly demanding it,” MAVI shared. “On this album, my humanity and my emotional capacity was more self-evident and self-justified, rather than explicitly stated. That made me nervous for people to hear me out.”
MAVI shared that the album was written in D.C., and about two months later the artist flew to Los Angeles to record the project with numerous producers, including Wulf Morpheus, Dylvinci and Angelo LeRoi. He described the process as documenting his access to happiness and the multitude of changes in his life at the time.
The 16-track album, released Oct. 14, opened with “High John,” expressinging MAVI’s challenges navigating fame and money as a rising rapper from Charlotte, North Carolina, while also reflecting on his past and relationships. The lines “Praying they still make love in my size / Sober up and wipe the crust out my eyes,” repeat throughout the song, expressing themes of longing and sonder.
The title for the two-minute song was inspired by African-American folklore character High John de Conqueror, who was the son of an African king and later sold into slavery. To MAVI, the character High John symbolizes the need for Black laughter and joy, even amid the most challenging of times. This duality of joy and grief was evident in the album’s title and the cover art, designed by the artist Kightek.
In addition to inspiration from African-American folklore and literature, MAVI said he also drew inspiration from artists like Noname, the Isley Brothers and the Cartoon Network show “Adventure Time.” The artist hoped to invoke a more “gentle” and “soft” sound for multiple songs on the album.
“Because it’s about me losing a baby, it’s meant to sound like a lullaby…it’s meant to be soft and furnishing instead of jagged. I tried, with my vocal performance, to nurse the beats into that as much as possible,” he said.
For junior history major Joseph Sturgeon, the artistic sensitivity in the lyrics is what made him enjoy the album even more.
“The album wasn’t much like I expected. It felt raw and incomplete, more free-flowing and less targeted than his first album was. I still enjoyed it though, free-flowing is what Black music is supposed to sound like anyway. It’s like jazz. And I feel like he definitely improved as a rapper from his last project,” Sturgeon said.
While MAVI experimented with newer sounds to complement his expression of vulnerability, he credited his confidence and comfortability in dedicating himself to the arts back to his time at Howard University as a student. MAVI had come to Howard as a biology major and sociology minor in 2017, but ultimately decided to leave once his music career became more demanding of his time.
The artist shared that he had plans to register for classes this semester after being readmitted, “but I was doing all this album s**t that I didn’t have time to get my shots. I had a medical hold,” he said, laughing. “I’m trying to come back next semester. I have like less than 30 credits left.”
MAVI explained that while he doesn’t quite intend to use his degree in biology, he has the utmost intention in owning, possessing and using an education, as he feels that Black artists are often discouraged in doing so due to anti-blackness in the entertainment industry. He shared his belief that education is of equal value to all people, and serves as a tool to increase the quality of one’s life.
To students at Howard interested in pursuing a career in music, MAVI encouraged them to take advantage of the opportunities to perform at Howard, reminiscing on his time performing as a student at open mic nights and at various organizations on campus.
“Make room for the opportunity to perform, to share, to experiment, all of that. There was seldom a performance opportunity during my matriculation that I did not take. Feeling the support for your friends and your peers, that’s going to translate into a different comfort with the artistic process and performance development,” he said.
MAVI will be performing his songs at multiple venues in the coming months, including a Los Angeles show with producer Kenny Beats and rapper Rico Nasty on Nov. 5.
Copy edited by Chanice McClover-Lee