I always loved to write. As time went on and I got older, my writing started to rhyme and develop to the point where I had to call myself an artist or a rapper. I used to wonder if and when I used my voice where it would take me, who I would become and if anyone would hear me. In the beginning, before I was MaLLy, I grew up as an only child in a single-parent home raised by my mom in South Minneapolis. Although nobody in my immediate family was a musician, they loved listening to music…loudly and proudly. Whether it was the gospel flavors of Mahalia Jackson, Shirley Caesar and John P. Kee at my Grandma’s house, or Terrence Trent D’Arby, George Michael, Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson and more at home, I listened.

Times in my life as a youth were a complex bag of excitement, sadness, happiness, confusion and the desire to feel connected. Listening to music was my way to dream, escape my current reality, deal with emotions and explore my soul to see who I was and who I wanted to be. Over the years, my joy of being a fan slowly transitioned into me secretly writing my thoughts down in countless journals, which evolved into poems and then became rhymes. What a find! I felt like the man, invincible and as if nothing could stop me because I discovered a place where I could be myself unapologetically. I didn’t have to be proper, be polite or be tough; I could just be.

From high school to college, I became fully submerged in a wide range of rap artists such as Jay-Z, Phonte, Joe Budden, Skyzoo, Big Boi of Outkast, as well as my childhood favorites across all genres. Their music (and many others) was my blueprint for manhood, survival, independence, love, self expression, style and personality. Writing became my way of discovering my voice – a form of therapy to heal from feeling invisible in academic settings, growing up fatherless and lacking self-confidence.

Throughout my work, I have always used the persona of MaLLy as a vessel to channel the experiences of myself, Malik Watkins. Rooted in positivity, my content explores themes of love, social justice, relationships and spirituality, like many artists I idolized as a young boy. The same life experiences that molded me, and in some cases took life away from me, now energize me to write, record and perform. Since 2016, I intentionally decided to let my heart guide me on this artistic journey and walk the path at my own pace and chase nothing. I put that newfound energy into myself and my latest album, The Journey To A Smile. I was able to fully embrace my lifestyle of sobriety, identity, and to redefine my spirituality and masculinity.

For the first time in a long time, everything made sense, and I wanted to make music just to make music, and whatever came or didn’t come from it was fine. This new mindset, impacted by my Buddhist practice, has shown me to appreciate peace, quiet, clarity, laughs, jazz, r&b, a good conversation and to be present for all the unpleasant times as well. My plan is to put all of those truths into my future work. I truly desire to empower and enhance the lives of those that listen to my music.

See more stories from our multi-media series Art Is…

Production Team: Kate McDonald, Ryan Klabunde, Jim Kron, Eric Pagel, Terry Gray.

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“Writing, sewing, painting, dancing, singing, sculpting, you name it – if it was creative, I did it. It became a way for me to understand myself and define my own identity, my own beauty in a world constructed to eradicate my very existence. Art was a way for me to process difficult things in the world and in my life, and I suppose it still is.” Get to know Lady Midnight, who also uses the power of music to explore experience and identity in an often topsy-turvy world.

“I am Witt Siasoco, a community-based artist working at the intersection of art and civic life. For over 20 years, I have been creating visual art that reflects on community conversation and engagement. What ties all of my artwork together? Art as a tool for engagement and community conversation.” Discover more about Witt’s passion in binding together art and community.