Mali Jose

Mali Jo$e On Becoming The Artist He Wants To Be

Mali Jo$e is one of the leaders of Australia's new generation of rappers. Writer Frank Tremain caught up with the 21-year-old to chat about his new EP ‘BREEZECATCHER’, and how he's grown in recent times. Words by Frank Tremain

By Frank Tremain, 14/8/2023

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Ask Mali Jo$e to share the source of his success this year, and he’s pointing to the growth he’s experienced in his personal life. 

While the Fremantle rapper has been around for a few years, it’s in 2022 and 2023 that he’s really made an impact on the wider Australian music landscape. After releasing his second EP, SUNSEEKER, last year, he kicked off 2023 alongside Kobie Dee on the headstrong and confident collaboration ‘NEVA THAT’. Almost six months later and it’s only got harder to deny the “I’m really him” bar in his verse from the track.

His list of accolades tell a story of an artist poised to take the next step. He recently featured on triple j’s Bars of Steel and was announced as an Acclaim All-Stars winner — two significant achievements for any Australian MC. Later this year, the 21-year-old is scheduled to perform at the inaugural SXSW Sydney, putting his name up in lights among some of Australia’s most innovative and exciting musicians, including FRIDAY*, Jada Weazel and Bayang (Tha Bushranger).

He’s also garnered international support, getting shout outs from radio personality Ebro Darden and the internet’s busiest music nerd, Anthony Fantano. The latter shared his track with Tasman Keith and xmunashe, ‘PRICE UP!’, on Twitter (or X..?). These are significant co-signs, especially if you’re from WA. “The odds are literally against us. Put your bets on us though for real,” he says.

A Hip-Hop Education

From a young age, Mali understood that hip-hop is more than a genre. In fact, it’s bigger than music altogether. This belief was instilled in him by his dad, who would often play KRS-One’s lectures exploring the philosophy and roots of the genre. Mali describes him as a hip-hop guru and “militant” listener of conscious rap artists like Black Star and A Tribe Called Quest. 

Combined with his mum’s love for Erykah Badu, these influences are seen in Mali Jo$e’s earlier work, like the 2019 track ‘Mistakes’, which saw him selected as a finalist in triple j’s Unearthed High competition that year. His influences have expanded since then, and he credits Bob Marley as influential in his growth this year. He’s inspired by his ability to maintain a message while creating world-class art, something Mali always strives to emulate. As a result of these shifting influences, his music has grown more genre-fluid. From 2021’s Hours B4 Sunrise to 2022’s SUNSEEKER, and now on his latest project, BREEZECATCHER, the intent and purpose of his bars has become even more evident. 

Keeping Things Moving On And Off The Field

Less than a year since its predecessor, SUNSEEKER, Mali Jo$e has just dropped BREEZECATCHER, the second instalment of his current EP trilogy. Featuring previous releases ‘KEEPup’, ‘TAKE A BREATH’ and ‘PRICE UP!’, BREEZECATCHER is a seven-track testament to realising your self-worth. Featuring an array of underground and established artists from across the country, the sophomore EP also boasts an impressive and esteemed roster of producers including OJC43, JCAL, Finbar Stuart, IJALE, Percy Flint, Otiuh, thatboykwame and xmunashe. 

BREEZECATCHER is a seven-track testament to realising your self-worth.

Before becoming the dread-headed musical virtuoso we see today, Mali played professional football for A-League team Perth Glory FC as a teenager. Reminiscing on the experience, he likens football to the competitive and cut throat nature of hip-hop, and believes the lessons learnt during his sports career have shaped him into the artist he is now. “As someone stepping into adulthood, I realised that was the best thing I could have gone through. Especially because this music industry is cruel, and this music industry is degrading. This music industry is fucked.”

Hip-hop has long been fixated on saying (and showing) you’re the best to anyone that will listen, but Mali is more concerned with believing it himself. The opinions of others are largely irrelevant. On the opening song, ‘INNERwealth’, he delivers an anthem for individuality and self-acceptance alongside Melbourne Latinx vocalist JUPiTA. “I have peace of mind knowing that I’m myself and I will do things in this life that are driven by me. It’s a testament to pursuing that,” he says.

The EP continues on with two of the singles: the fast-paced and jungle-infused ‘TAKE A BREATH’, which features OJC43, and the future jazz-hop joint ‘PRICE UP!’, which features Tasman Keith and xmunashe. The collaboration marks a full circle moment for Mali and xmunashe, who have been friends since they were “young ones paying attention”. Mali says the entire process of ‘PRICE UP!’ was completed in a few days, from recording in Port Kembla, NSW, to finding a videographer in five hours and filming the music video at a botanical garden in Sydney.

“I’m myself and I will do things in this life that are driven by me. [‘INNERwealth’] is a testament to pursuing that.”

Although unannounced at the time, the first taste of BREEZECATCHER arrived in March with ‘KEEPup’ as a two-piece bundle alongside ‘2THEDOME’, which features VOLDY (and doesn’t appear on the project). In the context of the EP, the breezy boom-bap cut delivers another anthemic hook from Mali while offering intricate and insightful lyricism. The same could be said for ‘(quietplaces// burnloud)’. It may be the most sonically daring track on BREEZECATCHER, and it’s also home to Mali’s favourite line on the project — an idea that he’s embodying now. He raps, “I don’t speak language of the doubts/I don’t speak language of the fears,” and he’s saying it with every part of his chest.

Looking Back While Looking Forward

The final moments of the EP find Mali embracing his roots on ‘BREATHEout’ and title track ‘BREEZECATCHER’. The title track features appearances from fellow Fremantle rapper Cruz Patterson alongside Melbourne’s Teether, while close confidante Cam Deg shines on ‘BREATHEout’. Mali and Cam are part of the artist development agency ALLBREED, and the pair met in Mali’s early teens at an open cypher. It was his first time touching a microphone, and he recalls feeling the pressure of having to follow Cam up. “I remember thinking to myself like ‘bro this guy is so steezy’.”

Mirroring the first instalment SUNSEEKER and its closing track ‘STOP BARKING’, BREEZECATCHER finishes with another collaboration alongside Cam. Although their friendship goes deeper than their music — as Cam raps, “That’s my little bro in real life” — Mali believes everything they touch together is a special moment. “He’s one of those collaborators I hold dear and I find so much enjoyment collaborating with him.”

BREEZECATCHER is the second and penultimate chapter of his EP trilogy, but it’s also a moment of reflection for the promising star. Breezing through memories and past emotions with a newfound wisdom and sense of self, Mali feels at a place of rebirth in his art. Already onto the next thing, and with a skeleton of the finale completed, the trilogy is just a trailer of what’s to come. “I’m becoming the artist I want to be. Everything is in my control.”

From the same place that gave us Tame Impala and Spacey Jane, hip-hop artist Mali Jo$e is the next chapter in Fremantle’s lineage of great acts. For those who are from the port city south of Perth, the industry powers on the East Coast aren’t always on their side. Passion is the lifeblood of their music scene. As Mali explains, isolation from places like Sydney or Melbourne, where the majority of the Australian music industry’s attention is focused, only adds to the flavour of Fremantle.

“All this self sufficiency ultimately builds callouses of integrity and individuality. That’s the uniqueness Fremantle gives its artists.”

Mali Jo$e’s new EP BREEZECATCHER is out now.

Frank Tremain is a music writer living and working on Dharawal Country. You can follow him on X at @FrankTremain and Instagram at @writtenbyfrank.

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