From Liberia to loss to lessons learned, his story is unusual. Maybe that’s why his music is so universal.
1. You’re kind of mysterious, right? There’s almost nothing about you online, except your music.
I like to tell my story through my music.
2. Yeah, but tell us your story anyway.
For starters, I’m 27 and my name is Mallay Massaquoi Kamara. That’s where “Mass” comes from, my middle name. I was born in the DC area. My family is from West Africa and the islands. I have roots from Germany and Europe. I'm the youngest of seven. My parents were the old school thing. They were hosts. They were active. There were a lot of cousins around, a lot of people around. I was raised by a lot of wise elders.
I started writing music by the age of 11 or 12. It started from literature; I loved to read as a kid. I was a good athlete, and I was always a class clown too. I was like, "Man, I can make people laugh. You know, old, young. Let me do something that's fun that could really, really, really turn their heads." So I found my way to a studio in high school --
3. A studio in DC?
In West Africa, actually. My parents took me overseas with them when they built their home in Liberia, right as high school was starting.
4. Wait, wait, you’re in ninth grade, and everything’s going along great, and your parents announce, “We’re leaving America?” What did you say?
I was like, "I'm not going!” I was scared, you know? But my father was like, “America is one of the greatest places, but it's not the only place in this world that exists. There are so many opportunities, so many places where people can thrive and have ownership, and do so many things as well.”
5. What happened when you got there?
I would compare my lifestyle there to “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air.” We lived in a mansion, my dad was a boss. I was going to private school, and there were people who could pretty much do anything for you. It was kind of weird. People went as far as like, "Man, I'll clean your room for you." I'm like, "Uh, man, I'm good. I'm good."
I was homesick, even with all the luxury that I could ever imagine. I was feeling like, "Yo, I want to go back to my middle class life. You know? That I'm used to." And I felt like I had my vision. I had my dreams. And I had my goals. I wanted to go to college.
6. But you didn’t.
I didn’t. In 2010, my senior year of high school, I lost one of my brothers; I lost one of my best friends. And that really put me in a place where I went through something, where I just had to work and find myself.
But what really hit hard after that was 2013. My mom, her appendix ruptured, and she passed in Liberia. My mom, she knew how to raise boys. She knew how to be hard without being hard. When I was in high school, I was always like, "Yo mom. I need some money. I need to go to the studio." And she was always like, "All right. I got you." It was always, "I got you."
My mom was spiritual. I could ask her anything. She was just one of the most complete women that I’ve ever known.
7. How did her death change you?
That’s when the real journey officially began. The chapter changed. I looked at the world differently. I looked at myself differently. I looked at my purpose differently. That’s when I decided to go back to school. That’s when I said, "What is it that I want to do?
8. You graduate this spring -- and then?
Next up is the albums. The shows. The pop ups. The forums. Some Ted Talk shit. You know? Music is just my foundation. I want to travel, perform, connect with everyone. I want to become a humanitarian. I want to become an entrepreneur. I want to impact the world with my art.
By making people feel spiritual. I want people to feel empowered. I want people to feel like they can question. You know, a lot of people are accustomed to just living with what's around them. They’re content to say, "Oh, I'm from here. I'm gonna die here. That's cool.” But that mentality deprives us as a people, and as a culture. So I want to spark peoples’ brains -- to seek answers.
10. What is your favorite song of your own?
Man, I'm writing some songs now that are going to be my favorite. But “When I Get Home” is pretty cool. "When I get home I solemnly swear to hold my own/To hold my weight forever will be great. We'll both be strong/My hometown state. This place I roam." I feel like in that song, it has all the experiences, the good and the bad. I feel so comfortable in it, because, you know, I don't consider a loss anything but a lesson.
Check out MVSS on Quadio!