As we concluded our string of Onle Workshops this past weekend, I sat down with PG County native Leek Mali, an up-and-coming rapper who also doubled as the creator and host of the Onle Workshop space. Onle Workshops served as a chance for local artists to come together and share their artistry, collaborate, and receive feedback on their performances from other artists and the live studio audience. Not only would artists come to work on their craft, but they could also play games, mix and mingle, and have meaningful discussions about the challenges and obstacles they face as aspiring musicians in the industry. It acted as a safe space where artists could unite and be in community with one another, as well as feed off of the energy of each other’s creativity and performance skills.
The creator, Leek Mali, was inspired to hold this space with the idea of creating a positive environment for local artists to build together as opposed to competing with one another. He was motivated by the Onle Vibez platform to bring to the DMV artist scene what he felt was missing. The energy of every Onle Workshop was ecstatic. The space radiated positivity with the spirit of artists working together to pull each other up and push one another to their highest potential. As a musician himself, Leek utilized the Onle Workshop stage as an opportunity to expand upon his own talents along with networking with the various artists that come through the studio. He believes that collaboration and community can be big agents of change for the DMV artist scene, and more spaces like these could be used as a tool to elevate the region to the next level musically. For his upcoming project, Emotional Gangsta, the Workshop’s atmosphere contributed largely to refining his sound and performance abilities as well as making room for a variety of artists to work with on his project. As the series of workshops comes to a close, Leek is committed now more than ever to putting his all into his artistry and putting everything he’s learned from this experience into practice.
Music has been a passion of Leek’s since he was a young child. From being classically trained in middle school to poetry and rap in college, Leek Mali has always considered music as one of his first loves. This is evident in the way his lyrics and tone grab the ear of everyone in the audience. With a deeply ingrained storytelling ability, Leek Mali hints at something lying deeper beneath the surface of his lyrics. His music is inspired by the same sense of community that motivated him to create the Onle Workshop space for artists. “I'm not really here for the gimmicks. I just want people to know that I’m solely here to move people with my music and to help out,” Leek explains. “If I’m able to get to the next level, then other people should as well.” With his irrefutable talent and fierce passion for connecting others, it is safe to say that Leek Mali is on the road to success — and he’s bringing this region of DMV artists with him.
What’s your name, your pronouns and Instagram handle
Leek Mail, He/Him/His. And you can find me on Instagram, Twitter, Apple Music, Spotify, and on all streaming platforms @LeekMali.
What was the goal of hosting these workshops and do you feel like it was successful?
Well, initially the goal was to just bring more artists in the DMV together. I felt like in the past, a lot of DMV artists don't really work together. It's always somebody trying to backdoor somebody. Me, I'm all about love and elevating together, you know what I’m saying? I feel like that's the only way to get to the next level: having a team around you and having supporters. So I wanted to bring other artists, as well as myself, in to support each other so we can get to the next level.
To just work on performance abilities and just get better every time, that was my goal. I think the goal was met, honestly. We sold out this last show, the finale. I get a lot of love! I feel like after this, I gained another family right here in Maryland. So it's great!
So how are you feeling with this being the last one/the finale?
It’s bittersweet because I know people love this. I love this. I met new people every week, you know what I'm saying? But i'm also astounded to get out my project Emotional Gangsta. That's coming out and you know I got to put myself first. I have to set some time aside to do the rollout for my project. Emotional Gangsta coming soon!
Tell us a little bit about your new project Emotional Gangsta. What's the genre, vibe, and feel?
So, a lot of times in life and the relationships that I have I’ve been told that I am emotionless. Sometimes I can have a hard shell on the outside. I’m a cancer, so I have a hard shell on the outside, but I’m soft on the inside. When you really get to know me, you understand that I have a lot of love for a lot of people. Emotional Gangsta was inspired by a past relationship that I had that didn't really end in the best of terms. I Just needed to talk about it. I needed to vent, you know? And a lot of things that happen in relationships stem from things that go on in the past and in your family. Everything is a snowball effect. It's an emotional rollercoaster, that's what it is.
So how has hosting these workshops impacted your music and this album?
I feel like performance wise. That was one of the main goals coming to the workshop, was to really get better with my performance. A couple years back when Travis Scott was on the Astroworld tour, I went to the first stop in Baltimore and his performance was electrifying. I was like if i'm going to do this rap shit, I have to perform on this level and nothing less. That’s what I wanted to bring to the table and the workshop gave me a place to practice in front of people.
When did you get started in music?
I got started in music because in high school I was an athlete most of my life. I got to college and was no longer playing sports and had to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. I kind of fell into a depression and was really down on myself. I picked up a pad and a pencil and started writing poetry. I ended up joining the poetry team in college, at Towson University. They actually recommended me to go to the studio I guess because of the way that I wrote my bars. And I’ve been 10 toes ever since.
How would you describe your music?
Honestly, before I started this project, I didn't really sing too much. During the quarantine I actually linked up with another amazing artist, singer and songwriter, Tadiwa Nashe, and I asked her for singing lessons. Literally. So once a week we would go to the park and she would give me lessons and I would literally work on my craft. I wasn't born with the best singing voice so I worked at it.
Now, I feel like I'm creating a new genre in hip hop. It's like an alternate hip hop genre. I guess we can call it emotional gangsta for right now since that's coming out soon [he laughs].
So Emotional Gangsta, where can we look for it? When is it dropping? Give us all the details!
You could look for it in late spring/early summer. I’ll be dropping a music video with my single. I have Tadiwa Nashe featured on it. Basic the bassist, he also comes through Onle Vibez as well. And then 3 months from then, you all can look for the deluxe. And a lot of the artists that you see coming through Onle Vibez are going to be on that as well!