Local emcee Maffii takes his "savage talk" to the Pacific Northwest
The music business has changed dramatically in the past decade. Record labels are no longer the gatekeepers picking and choosing who gets the hype and the access. Getting signed to a major or top-tier indie label is no longer a required step to filling arenas and sheds.
In the rap game, soundcloud rappers such as Trippie Redd, Lil Peep, Lil Pump and Lil Xan (seeing the pattern?) all entered the industry through a side gate ripped open in part by Bay Area emcee Lil B, who rode Myspace to fame a decade, and a digital platform, before the current wave.
While most older hip-hop heads and many youngbloods decry the proliferation of “mumble rappers” and the staying power of trap beats that still dominate mainstream rap, it is possible for a nonmainstream artist to carve out a space in the crowded field.
Akron emcee Maffii, born Marlon Lee, has been taking those alternate routes to further his career. He’s gaining a reputation as a fierce battle rapper, using his self-described “savage talk” to win $1,500 at a recent battle at Akron's Uptown Lounge, hosted by national battle rap legend Arsonal. He also performed at the House of Blues Dallas and on the West Coast.
Maffii released several singles and two full-length albums, including his debut, co-signed by Akron hip-hop scene OG Ampichino, who presented his debut 2017 “Big Gas” and appeared on his 2018 album "Featuring Maffii Vol. 1." Maffii credits Ampichino and King Locust with helping inject his name into the West Coast underground.
Maffii comes from a musical family with his father and a few uncles having played in various R&B bands over the years, including Ivy, Ultimate Choice and the still-active Rumplestiltskin. Last week, Maffii performed at Stafford Creek Corrections Center, a prison in Aberdeen, Washington (former home of Kurt Cobain), as part of a Black History Diversity Event organized by the Washington State Department of Corrections.
“It was a big deal for me. It was a dope experience," he said.
He got the gig with help from his California-based distribution company, which submitted his music to be voted on by the inmates as a possible performer. And he already had fans at Stafford Creek who contacted him about possibly collaborating.
“It was way different than what I was thinking coming in there,” he said. “I was thinking we were about to perform in a back room, something like that. But it was a nice big area [in the visiting room] and they had it all done up.”
Maffii knew he had one fan residing in Aberdeen.
“It was crazy, man. Because the inmates knew everything word for word from my songs, and it kind of took me by surprise,” he said. After the performance, there was much love directed at the Akron emcee with inmates praising his simile- and metaphor-packed hardcore verses filled with menace and humor and delivered with rapid and varied cadences.
“I got to stick around for a few hours and everybody was coming up to the table and talking with me, and it was crazy to hear some of their stories. You got people doing 15, 20 years, and they’re coming up to me and saying 'Hey, man, some of your songs are inspiring and we appreciate you even coming down here and messing with us on this side of the wall, a lot of artists wouldn’t do that.' "
The prisoners even sent him home with a parting gift, a homemade bead necklace touting the “330.”
Maffii called the experience one of the best he’s had and said it crystallized that being a king of your hometown is good, but it will only get you so far. Bolstered by his trip to the Pacific Northwest, Maffii is ready to take the next step, and it doesn’t involve getting signed by a major label or hooking up with a mainstream rap crew. But it means getting out of Akron.
“The Akron scene right now ... there’s not too many places to perform, and it’s kind of stagnant. Akron’s so small that people know everybody. So, you put out a CD and a lot of people are like, 'Let me get a CD.' Do you know how much time and effort I put into this, and you don’t want to give me the $10? But out of town and everywhere else, they have no problem purchasing it."
Maffii knows his style doesn’t adhere to the mainstream zeitgeist heard on 107.9, but he doesn’t believe chasing the sound of now is necessary for him to be able to feed his three boys, ages 17, 10 and 5 months.
“You can still make money off of the underground and be comfortable. Everybody’s goal isn’t to be filthy rich. Some people’s goal is to be comfortable,” he said.
“Of course, I’d like my bank account loaded up, but as far as switching up everything totally, I don’t agree with it. I feel like you need to be you, and stick with what you're doing and sooner or later some of those people will migrate to your style. Otherwise, you have to be somebody totally different every time you pick up the mic.”
With the inspiration from the trip fresh in his mind, Maffii is ready to promote his next album, “Blessed With Gas,” which comes out March 22. He also has a few West Coast shows in the works and plans to do a release show and listening party in Akron sometime in April.
Congrats to Northeast Ohio rocker Michael Stanley, who will be honored with a lifetime achievement award from the Cleveland Arts Prize celebrating the singer-songwriter’s “incredible 50-year career in music, local media, and philanthropy.”
The big night will take place May 4 at the Beachland Ballroom. At 6 p.m., there will be a pre-show VIP party, followed by a silent auction, and at 8 p.m., a benefit concert, “An Acoustic Evening with Michael Stanley & Friends." Go to http://clevelandartsprize.org/ for tickets and more information.
Malcolm X Abram can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 330-996-3758. Like him on Facebook at http://on.fb.me/1lNgxml, and follow him on Twitter @malcolmabramABJ.