[Editor’s Note: This is the second installment in Dominique Morgan’s “I Am R&B” and “I Am Hip-Hop” series, meant to showcase those genres’ untapped and under-recognized talent in Nebraska.]
* * *
It was late 2012 when I first heard the name Mola-B. I had walked into Icon One Music studios. Alfonzo Lee Jones, president and founder of Icon One Music, was mixing this track and it made me come to an abrupt stop.
“Who is that sounding like a young Kanye?” I asked.
Fonz (I call him Fonz because I can) says, “Mola, a young cat I’ve been working with.” I was taken back by his lyricism and wit. I love when someone’s sound makes me listen over and over to comprehend what is happening, because it’s just that genius. And the rest is history. The more I saw him perform, and the more I saw his work ethic, I came to admire this young man immensely. So it made sense for the first hip-hop artist in the “I Am” series to be Mola-B. You’re welcome.
Catch up with the first installment of “I Am,” featuring Dani Cleveland, here.
* * *
Dominique Morgan: I’m going to ask the question everyone else is thinking, what does your name mean?
Mola-B: It derives from the phrase make out like a bandit — to profit greatly. As a young man of color, that has always been my mission. Initially I went by KB The Bandit. Which still was rooted in being successful at all costs. Mola-B was me taking it to the root of my mission statement if you will.
DM: Whats does your hip-hop look like?
MB: It looks like no boxes. I started off doing R&B and singing when I was younger and ventured into rapping. Growing up in the Midwest and hearing rock and Top 40 music, I had a lot of influences that still come through in my music. I would say that I am a smorgasbord of artistry that I hope sounds good to your ear. Yeah, I’m a hip-hop artist, but I think that just generalizes what I do. In all honesty, I’m just trying to create the most unique sounds that I can.
DM: What is your best song and why?
“Gaudy” is a bit more personal and gritty. If I was really looking for that song to get everyone I would say “On Lunch.” It’s universal that we all gotta eat and we all gotta make it. Whether you are on Wall Street or in the streets, you are doing what you have to do to survive.
DM: What are some of your influences in the industry?
MB: Industry? DMX. Kanye West, Fabolous, Andre 3000, Jay Z (sometimes), R Kelly, Marvin Gaye, Usher and old school Cam’ron from Dipset.
Locally: The Whole Squadron, Icon One Music, Astronaut Club, Scarsworth, Matt, Absolute P, my guy Atilli. Both. Truthfully, my team keeps me sharp. We bounce ideas off of each other constantly.
DM: Let’s talk about the Astronaut Club. What? When? Why? and How?
MB: We started in 2010 with Fredro Spaced. He approached me about joining the group. He was deep on his rapping tip and he knew I was on my grind, too. I liked the idea of how they were the “different people,” the outcast if you will. We stood for people who didn’t fit in.
It’s more of a social club now. If you feel like no one understands you, we represent people who do. When we make music we want to push the envelope. We don’t want to make anything that sounds like its been heard before. Being different while keeping it intelligent is our goal.
DM: Let’s talk about your digital magazine Identity By Design.
MB: Identity By Design was a dream come into reality in a little bit over three months. It started with me and my girlfriend Chelsea, who is a photographer, and we decided we would start a venture. After I did a show for Both at Slowdown, a young lady name Ashley Knox saw my set and she liked my music.
We started talking and realized that we shared the desire to put together a project. And Identity By Design was born. We cater to the artists in every medium from culinary to 2D art, from music to hair design. I can say that it is urban focused because we saw a void where exposure and representation was needed for people of color. We want to make role models. You can see where people locally will completely support those from out of town and not recoge the talent here. We want to put a spotlight on that.
DM: This is a question for the reader, as well as myself: How did you get involved with Icon One Music?
MB: I had a working relationship with Alfonzo Jones since 2008. At the time I had linked up with Jus. B and after hearing him on a Shannon Marie collab, I reached out. I didn’t have a place to record at the time and we went to Icon because if you wanted to make great R&B or hip-hop music, that is where you went. We created a song called “I’m Feeling Good” and then started doing a lot of shows with D Witt at places like the Roxbury. I would say that it became really official in early 2012 that I would be an Icon.
DM: If you had to describe what Icon One Music is to the uninformed what would you say?
MB: We are a true powerhouse. We have excellent R&B artists, the best producer/engineer in the city and amazing emcees. No one is doing what we do. No one is [as] dynamic as we are. Icon One Music is what the city needs. We go against the grain when everyone else is doing the same thing.
DM: What is your point of view of the state of hip-hop in our community?
MB: There is a lack of professionalism and consistency. A lot of local rappers have no identity. They follow a trend. Us being where we are, we have to have something unique to really catch the attention of the people. If they want to hear a textbook version of a rapper, they will listen to that. Don’t give them a recycled sound.
DM: Let’s talk about hip hop shows. Pros and cons of paying to open for national acts?
MB: Kerrington [Mola-B’s government name] will not do that. It’s complete bull. Why pay to open up a show? I’m not paying for opportunity. I can go downtown on the corner and perform for a bunch of people. The only pro I see is that the promoter gets a bunch of cash and you aren’t guaranteed any connections or even a crowd. It’s weak.
DM: Why do you think that people feel like completely hip-hop-focused shows (with artists of color) are not a draw?
MB: I think the perception is that we have fans that may not mesh with their establishment, but I feel like there are artists who are versatile given the opportunity. Although I make every effort to stay true to me, I still make sure that I am relatable.
DM: Packaging, releases, rollouts and promotions…
MB: This is even something that I have lacked on. I think that we could really step up our design game. I have seen some great stuff from Both and Project Dead and my last project The Execution, if I do say so myself. At the end of the day, you need a complete package. And EPK! EPK! EPK!
DM: First time Mola-B hit the stage vs. now…
MB: My first performance was at the Sokol Underground. I was K. Bandit, 18 years old and I opened up for Chino XL and I had a track called “Like A Bandit,” produced by Iso, and we sampled Chris Brown’s “Kiss, Kiss.” It was so insane. There was no other feeling like that. I loved performing.
My most recent show: I was at Slowdown opening for Both. That was crazy for me because I was debuting my new sound, the new music and having the opportunity to give 110 percent on the stage. I put out a polished performance, handed out a bunch of music and just got so much love. It made me excited for the summer.
DM: What are you working on musically in 2015?
MB: In July we will release the third and final EP for the album, The Chase. I’m excited about this project. I have collabs with Karterboy, Absolute P and more. It’s going to give a preview of what to expect on the full length album which I hope to drop January 2016. It will be entitled The Spoils completing the Bandit concept. The plot of this music was me really working my way to the artist that I am today. From The Plot to The Execution to The Chase and finally I get to reap the spoils. It completes the story of my journey.
* * *
Mola-B’s Influence/Inspiration Playlist: