An undergraduate student at Howard University at the time, Charlotte-born rapper MAVI released his 2019 album Let the Sun Talk just a week after his twentieth birthday. He is considered by many to make abstract hip-hop. It’s a hard-to-define sub-genre but some shared qualities amongst its artists, songs, and projects are pushing sonic boundaries, emphasizing the use of symbolism and metaphors rather than straightforward lyrics, and on some level being “weird” and/or experimental.
He explained in a 2019 tweet that “Let the sun talk is 3 movements 4 songs each. like a clock. or sundial.” Some hold that MAVI himself is the sun, telling those close to him that they need to pay attention to his words, and others hold that the sun is his own mental state, and this album is him addressing his problems. In his own words, he explains the album as being “about writing your own laws, creating your own cosmology, adapting the laws of physics to your reality, and being the center of your universe.”
A skillful mix of poem and prose, the influence of Earl Sweatshirt is evident but by no means is it derivative. In fact, many fans were introduced to MAVI on Earl’s 2019 FEET OF CLAY EP, a project that came out just two weeks after MAVI’s own album. He cites other artists like Noname, MF Doom, Stevie Wonder, Project Pat, and Thelonious Monk as influences along with rocksteady, salsa, gospel, soul, and reggae music.
The opening track, “Terms & Conditions,” begins with a speech explaining what it is “to be pro-black.” There are three tenants: the relentless pursuit of tangible assets to build and maintain black communities, the “cultivation of a culture that reinforces a unified vision of black well-being and continuous advancement”, and the use of one’s own voice to share with their community ideals such as understanding, freedom, equality, love, and happiness. A jazzy instrumental is soon introduced and the song switches to a narrative on the origin of the sun and the moon in the sky that draws largely from an Efik folktale.
Track four, “Self Love” is a fan favorite. When I attended MAVI’s “Laughing So Hard, It Hurts” Tour in April of 2023, the entire crowd sang this song together at the end of the show. A sample from Sonia Ross‘ 1969 track “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” is used in the chorus and bridge with the repetition of “just because I love you.” So many of the messages core to this album are illustrated in this one song. “The moral of my story is I’m impure / The horror in my story is I’ve been through it and I still do it / And my pencil is in earnest.” It’s a deeply emotional song, seeing MAVI detail his relationship with marijuana and his internal struggles. He recounts how his mom has noticed how often he’s “gone” while at home and her love won’t allow him to keep poisoning himself like this any longer. His list of sins is so long that feels unworthy of even talking to God. The song climaxes in the third verse, sounding much more distressed than the rest of the song. Referencing the album title, he raps “I self-aggrandized in the past / But now the sun talking.” I think he means that in the process of making this album, he has begun to shed his arrogance.
We sprouting, now we plant seedsMAVI, Self Love
You plant love, love will grow
You plant fear, fear will grow
If you planted me, then me would grow
But I was branded negro
He metaphorically explains that external labels hinder the fulfillment of his potential as a black man. He looks beyond just his own reality though, rapping “And I offer free smoke to any nigga behind a #MeToo / ‘Cause to my niggas, we ain’t free until she free, too.” He is deeply angered by the culture of rampant sexual abuse and harassment of women and recognizes that the black community won’t truly be free until its women are free from this as well.
“Sense”, the eighth track, is my personal favorite and was actually produced by Earl Sweatshirt. Just barely over a minute long, this was the album’s lone single. He describes himself as “Breathing out of love for respiration” rather than just living because he enjoys it. The majority of lines on this song begin with “I”, with MAVI using this track as an opportunity to tell listeners what he thinks about himself. Alluding to his words on the #MeToo Movement in “Self Love” he raps, “I give a lot of thought to what my daughters look like free, chainless.” In a line that is both boastful and truthful he poses and answers the question, “What kinds of songs you make? I make the kind you gotta read, baby.” MAVI, like his influences, makes lyrically dense music, whose full value can be better attained by reading the lyrics.
This album is so special to me on a personal level. This level of candid vulnerability from a fellow black man, especially one who is about the same age as I am, is something that I value deeply. Mavi is inspired by a mix of ideals and people: experimental jazz composer and poet Sun-Ra, legendary Black author Toni Morrison, cartoons, the Five-Percent Nation (whose Supreme Alphabet you may be familiar with by virtue of rappers RZA and GZA and singer SZA), and so much more. Searching for meaning and purpose in his own life, he is someone that draws from things all around him. He accepts his faults and recognizes his pain, but he still seeks to grow as a plant does toward the sun.
Adeboye Adeoye is a student at the University of Georgia studying Economics, Sociology, and Music Business. As an avid playlist maker, he always looks for connections and themes across albums and genres. He listens primarily to Hip Hop but enjoys R&B, Neo-Soul, Pop, Afrobeats, Indie, and more beyond that as well.