Malone is no stranger to the music industry. The Chicago native got his start at the tender age of 14 when he recorded his first demo, which caught the attention of music execs. He ended up signing to an independent record label where he worked with his cousin VuDu Spellz, a producer, to develop his sound. From that moment on, Malone has had many ups and down in his career. He’s had an opportunity to sign with a major record label, appeared on season five of “American Idol,” and has worked with Syleena Johnson. In fact, he sings background vocals for the “R&B Diva.”
Even with great opportunities put before him, Malone is ready to take his career to the next level. After releasing his debut EP “Outside The Box,” a compilation of his unfiltered, unreleased music of many genres fused together to display his versatile style as a singer/songwriter, Malone is focusing on his debut album.
The 30-year-old singer recently dropped the title track to his forthcoming project, “Now.” The soulful tune has received many positive reviews from fans and critics.
We recently caught up with Malone to learn more about him as an artist. In our interview, Malone talked about his musical beginning, how he got discovered by Syleena Johnson, his experience being on “American Idol,” and his new music, among other topics.
Check out our interview below.
How did you get started with music?
I got started with music professionally around the age of 14 when I cut my first demo. My uncle provided funds for the project as far as studio time and things like that. From there I got signed to an independent record label and started to work with my cousin — he’s a producer named VuDu Spells — from there we went to New York and did a showcase where Ryan Grant was one of the judges. He liked what he heard and what he saw…he had a situation set up for me at Epic (Sony at the time) but the record label I was with thought it would be more worthwhile to keep me versus letting me going about my business…
How did you get discovered by Syleena Johnson?
I was doing a showcase at a venue in Chicago. The promoter at the time was working hand in hand with Syleena on her “Chapter 4” album. She came to the event and heard me sing. She liked what she saw and heard and asked for my number. She actually kept in contact and two months later she gave me a call and asked me to come demo a record called “Little Things,” which is on her “Chapter 5” album. It was originally written for Anthony David. So I came in, did my thing and she was thoroughly impressed. She called me the next day and asked me “Malone, what are you doing with your life? What are you trying to do?” I just told her after “American Idol,” I needed a platform. I needed someone to help me reach the next level. She said that she would do all that she could. From there, she has been in my corner ever since. It only made sense for me to do background vocals for her because we’re always around one another and she’s my mentor so it made sense. It’s been a dope experience. I’ve learned a lot.
Speaking of “American Idol,” tell us about your experience being on the show.
I gave it a try. I wasn’t expecting anything from it. I made it all the way to Hollywood down to the last round before they started picking the Top 40. It was crazy. Randy Jackson was the one who voted me off (laughs). Paula [Abdul] and Simon [Cowell] tried to fight to keep me on. He felt that I didn’t bring it like I did in Chicago.
What did you learn from being on the show?
I learned to never do nothing like that again. It was strenuous and mentally draining. It was so much to learn songs in a short time. It’s just mentally jarring to be in a competition and you’re being set up to do these songs. You have 45 minutes to learn it. The producers are telling you if you mess up on the words, that’s an automatic disqualification. Of course in the industry, you run into things like that all the time….
That’s understandable. Now you were recently in France with Syleena Johnson for a festival. I also heard that you had the opportunity to sing to Erykah Badu. Tell us about all of that.
It was amazing. I was in Cognac, France doing the Cognac Blues Passions Festival. Overseas, they are so passionate about our music — R&B, blues, jazz– I learned so much from Syleena’s uncle Jimmy Johnson. that was super dope.
As far as Erykah Badu, that’s an experience that I will soon not forget. She has a song called “Orange Moon” and it means a lot to me because I dedicate it to my deceased grandmother every time I sing it. I get so emotional when I sing it. It’s very special to me. I was waiting backstage to meet her. I was getting kind of restless so I thought about what I could do to get her attention. I posted on Facebook “Man, I’m about to bust out singing Orange Moon” and see if she will come out her dressing room. I was kind of joking but kind of serious because I wanted to know what the feedback would be. My assistant responded and said “what’s stopping you?” As soon as I saw her post that, I just started singing the first couple of words out loud. I had my phone on record just so I could remember this forever. Sure enough [Erykah] came out of her dressing room. I sang the first verse up to the chorus and got super emotional. I forgot words, I was pitchy but it wasn’t even about that it was just a full circle moment for me to be able to sing a song that’s so touching to me to an artist that made the record. She began to tear up. I balled. It was an amazing experience. I told her it was an experience that I would never forget and she said it was for her too — she would never forget it too…
That’s an incredible experience. I assume that Erykah Badu is one of your musical influences. So who are some of your other influences?
Carl Thomas, Dave Hollister, John Legend, Stevie Wonder, Donny Hathaway, Luther Vandross, Kim Burrell, Brandy…and of course Syleena Johnson.
Let’s get into your music. You recently released a song called “Now.” What’s the song about?
It means so much to me. The single is about a man who is tired of playing around with his love interest. He wants her right now. I think it’s a timeless piece of work. To me it’s the best record in my catalogue vocally and as a writer.
Tell us about your debut album “Now.”
I’m so excited about this project. ”Now” has a lot of meaning to me. I’m 30 years old and since I’ve been doing this professionally I’ve seen a lot of this industry. I’ve always been so close and almost there. I feel like I’m almost famous. I just feel like the time is ‘now’ with releasing my first EP and continuing to tour with Syleena Johnson and building my brand as an artist, I just feel like right now is my time — vocally, production, my look….I’ve come full circle and believe in myself..I feel like I’m a great artist and deserves to be heard.
As an emerging R&B singer, share your thoughts on the direction of today’s R&B music.
It’s all sex driven. It’s not about love and substance anymore. It’s about turning up and things of that nature. I think the stuff artists are talking about are played out. I don’t want to say “real music” because who’s to say what real music is…We need to get back to the stuff we can listen to at our family reunion…like music our grandmothers and children can listen to…I want to talk about things that matter and will continue to matter…
What matters to you?
I’ve always been about progress and uplifting people…whatever I can do to inspire, I’m down for it.