Mali Music 

Mali Is...  

Kortney Jamaal Pollard — "Mali" for short — is the most innovative and refreshing singer, songwriter, and rapper to have emerged in mainstream R&B this year, if not this decade. Four years ago, the Savannah, Georgia-bred musician was living in Fresno with his parents and was garnering a national following of young, mostly female admirers for his singular approach to gospel music. Now 26 and based in Southern California, he's on the verge of superstardom with his secular recording debut. Released two weeks ago, Mali Is... entered Billboard's R&B/hip-hop chart at #2 and the pop chart at #16. On the trade magazine's Gospel Streaming Songs chart, two tracks are in the top fifteen. Love of God and respect for women in general — his woman in particular — permeate Pollard's lyrics. I can't let 'em take you/I'll be your protection/I'll be your direction, he croons in an urgent tenor over a crunching, J Dilla-like groove on "I'll Fight for You." During the song's spoken interlude, he adopts a faux Jamaican accent. On tunes like "One," reggae rhythms, contagious melodies, and inspirational messages recall Bob Marley. Particularly touching is "Johnny & Donna," an insightful, nonjudgmental ballad about single parenthood on which the only accompaniment to his tender voice is his own acoustic piano. By melding the sacred and the secular so brilliantly, Pollard has fashioned a unique, ultimately uplifting style and found a mass audience for it in the process. (Bystrom/RCA)

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