Whether you know it or not, Malik Yusef Jones is a major influencer in Hip-Hop culture. The 6x Grammy Award-winner has worked with incredible artists including Kanye West, Beyonce, Common, John Legend, and many others. On top of that, he’s been a player behind-the-scenes in film and television. Over the last couple of decades, Malik has worn the hat of a poet, a writer, an actor, a songwriter, a producer, and a philanthropist. Most of the time he wears them all at once.
Poetry and music have truly guided Malik throughout his life. As a child, he immersed himself in the words of those who came before him, particularly the ones written by poets. He admired the way they were able to use words to express their emotions and say exactly how they felt. Malk gravitated towards William Shakespeare, Edgar Allen Poe, Sam Baldwin, Nikki Giovanni, and Langston Hughes. These poets gave him an inspiration light that lit a torch inside him. Malik continues to carry that torch well into adulthood.
Eventually, poetry led him into the realm of entertainment. When Malik took the stage for the first time at Spices Jazz Bar in Chicago, he did not know that his performance would land him a spot in the 1997 production of the iconic film Love Jones. That same night was the last time that Ted Witcher would host at Spices. Ted went on to write and direct Love Jones, which was a film based on his own dating experience in Chicago. After seeing Malik perform his poem “If Roses Came in Black”, Ted asked him to help with the film. Malik’s job was to help actor Larenz Tate learn the ins-and-outs of being a poet. He also received a cameo in the film.
Malik’s writing skills and reputation as a “wordsmith” allowed him to create music and collaborate with many artists. He went from working with only local artists in the Chicago area to having an extensive list of impressive mentions; including Grammy Award-winning artist Kanye West. Malik and Kanye would go on to collaborate on a lot of projects, some of which earned both men Grammys. According to Malik, working with Kanye is just as hard as people think it is to work with Kanye. However, he loves him and thinks that the work that he gets to do with Kanye is a blessing that he never takes for granted.
This year he won his sixth Grammy Award in the “Best Urban Contemporary Album” category for Beyonce’s Lemonade. He wrote “Sandcastles”, which was featured on the album. It’s also a song that is very close to his heart. He’s also won four Grammys for his work with Kanye and with John Legend.
It’s safe to say that over 20 years in the music industry and numerous awards have made Malik a staple in the Hip-Hop community. He’s seen the culture change so much in his lifetime that he often misses the “brassness” of it all. Back in the day, if you told someone that they were whack, it was taken as a form of constructive criticism. In today’s Hip-Hop culture, insulting someone’s music could lead to an ongoing beef that will be carried onto social media or handled in a violent manner. Without the honesty or the tough critics, Hip-Hop has become watered down, a cheap imitation of itself.
A great metaphor that Malik brought up is the fact that designer clothes are so expensive and popular, because of the craftsmanship that goes into producing them. Designers use the best materials and put a lot of work into every little detail. However, if the designers take shortcuts and use cheaper materials, the value of the clothing goes down. From Malik’s point of view, the same thing is happening in Hip-Hop. The quality of the material and the craftsmanship just isn’t there anymore.
Malik’s other fond memories are from his childhood. He’s a native of the southside of Chicago, an area known for drugs and violence; most of which is initiated by street gangs. His memories of his childhood are both good and bad. Most of what he remembers is the excitement of meeting new people. The opportunity of getting to know a fresh face is an experience that Malik enjoys, even to this day. He’s simply a person who loves people.
The most outstanding aspect about Malik is his authenticity. He uses the vernacular of the streets to communicate the ideas of a scholar. His title as a husband and father is never greater or less than his status as a human being. Malik is the type of man who wants to save the Earth, protect the people, and touch souls with his work. That’s just who he is and there are no sound reasons why he should ever apologize for it.