Photo Credit: Wyeth Collins
Okayplayer spoke with Mavi about his new album Laughing So Hard It Hurts, touring with Jack Harlow, and more.
It’s been two years since Mavi made his proper debut with Let the Sun Talk. Within that time, he has grown exponentially. He stole the show on Earl Sweatshirt’s Feet of Clay thanks to his emotionally-charged feature on “EL TORO COMBO MEAL,” kicked off The Alchemist’s This Thing of Ours 2 with “Miracle Baby,” and opened for Baby Face Ray and Jack Harlow for the latter’s Creme De La Creme tour. Now, he’s making his long-awaited return with new album Laughing So Hard It Hurts, a body of work that takes an inward gaze into his mind and soul.
Throughout the project’s 16 tracks, Mavi maneuvers the depths of his emotions as he tackles the ins and outs of increasing fame, the passing of loved ones, and pondering on the prospects of love. With production handled by Dylvinci, Wulf Morpheus, and Monte Booker, Laughing So Hard It Hurts achieves a more serene, “lullaby” sound that gives Mavi a perfect canvas to spill his feelings onto, as he explores what it means to grieve, hurt, and heal.
His raps are served with more clarity, and his cadence is more confident with his relaxed vocals. The growth shows in songs like “My Good Ghosts” where, with an influx of happiness in his voice, he tackles the emptiness of discovering the offerings of life without friendship. There’s also album-opener “High John,” where he wonders if Mother Nature even makes love fit for his size.
“I made this gentle album to be gentle with myself,” he said during a Monday afternoon Zoom call. “Everybody else don’t got to be gentle with me. Being gentle with the album, I feel is the best way to hear it and to listen to it. Like, you’re listening to a friend in the throes of real choppy water, dire straits…you holding down your friend as they going through something. I feel that’s the best way to hear the album.”
Overall, Mavi is proud of himself, having penned a vulnerable sophomore effort that he’s relieved fans will finally be able to experience, and has energized him for future albums he wants to make.
“This is the first album where I knew I would make 10 more albums after it, you know what I’m saying?” he said. “Even though I felt I could make 15 albums, I know after making this one I need to make 10 more. I think I’m just settling in, and that makes me excited for the future because this is one experiment, and I already know the next six experiments that I want to do after this.”
I heard you stopped smoking weed, right?
Mavi: For sure. Yeah. It’s been almost damn near two months.
How’s that been going?
It’s been pretty OK. I ain’t going to lie. The first few days were really rough. I had to figure out new ways to make myself tired, and I had to just get my biological clocks — as far as eating and sleeping — back in a place that was more natural and more self-sustaining, and expanded my range of emotions. There wasn’t a place where I really got annoyed or anxious. So, I was pretty unbothered as a human being — just reintroducing different emotions. But other than that, it’s been good.
You also just finished a tour with Jack Harlow and Baby Face Ray. How was that?
It changed my life for real because it showed me — it’s one thing to put on a show, but I feel when you go on tour you really feel you’re part of show business. I feel like you’re on a sports team mixed with the drama club mixed with the band, but mixed with movie stars, you know what I’m saying? And also just watching how everybody took care of themselves in different ways, because it takes a lot to be able to do that amount of shows with that much frequency. It was 28 shows in as many days or something like that. So, it was definitely a big learning experience that I was blessed with the opportunity to learn different stuff from Ray, and learn different stuff from Jack. At the same time as I was trying this really new difficult thing, they were really supportive of me and they they inspired different things for me to come home with, as far as supporting the homies that I’m trying to come up with, and what I would require out of my team so that we could one day travel in that way that they brought everybody with them. They just showed me a different level that I could take this shit to.
What was the most valuable piece of advice you walked away with?
G.T. told me that you’re blessed that you can change people’s lives with your voice, and that you should thank God for that. It was just very poignant for me to hear that from him. Because I just think they really cool, fly niggas. For him to bring it back to the basics of what is the joy of being able to rap, what is the blessing of being able to rap? For him to acknowledge that, I felt like I was doing something right.
I definitely feel that. Also, I’ve seen your growth as a performer at Baby’s All Right this past April. That was dope as fuck.
Yeah, it definitely helped me get way more comfortable. And having to do it that many times, that many nights, your body in different conditions, you become more tired. But you have to show up and do your job like you work somewhere. It really changed how serious you take this shit, what kind of rhythm you allow yourself to get. And it kind of puts you in a flow state.
Performing is kind of complicated. You got to look into people’s eyes, got to memorize the words, you got to move your body in a way that elevates the experience toward your singular vision for what the song is. Being forced to do that complicated thing while you’re already doing the complicated thing in terms of coordinating all your travel, keeping account of everybody’s mood and morale, making sure everybody is taken care of, it made me more of a natural at performing. It became a different form of muscle memory. So, the levels at which I would experiment with became more complex and more deep — it’s like when Harry Potter started learning the more complicated spells and shit toward the end of the series. But yeah, just learning how to perform and control the crowd from watching, doing, trying, failing and experimenting, that definitely has translated into more confidence for me.
I definitely see the improvements. But it also seems you have more mental clarity coming into this project, especially in the year since The End of the Earth EP. How’d you refocus?
I think the world slowed down and allowed me to do more focusing, for one. Also, especially after touring, I started to realize rapping is not an easy job. I already felt that just with what writing an album entails and requires from me. But I realized touring that rapping is more than just rapping.
So, the focus that drove me to try to become sober, the focus that I get my body more in shape — all of this is in that singular vision of being the best rapper.
What was probably the greatest change you made coming into this?
Really, I would say just getting older. I made my last album, basically, as a 18, 19-year-old. I released it on my 20th birthday. This one is being released a little bit after my 23rd birthday. I’m getting old. Also, I think mainly not being married to youth in the American adolescent loving culture sense, and really being serious about what it’ll mean for me to rap forever.
You have certainty about the future now, and to get there you had to make Shango, which was right before this album. Why did you end up scrapping it?
Technical difficulties, for real. If I had my way, it would’ve came out when it was supposed to come out.
Do you feel between the two projects it shows your growth as an adult and artist?
Yeah, and it showed duality in me period, because there was certain shit that I wanted to represent about myself more deeply when I was making Shango, which is a kind of heavy and deeply thematic project. That shit just made me feel it’s necessary to cover all bases at once as an artist, because I don’t really feel pressured the further I go. It’s more so giving me the peace of mind that I said what I really needed to say, personally.
You said to make sure you have everything that you wanted to say at this moment in time?
Right. And it’s more complicated than it looks to speak your mind.
Because there’s repercussions for things we say, and we have that natural ability to hold back sometimes.
And to go beyond that boundary that I felt but I didn’t create with the last album, I had an opportunity to make good on that and cut deeper and say more on this album.
So, what does this new album mean to you?
It means an opportunity to make new life out of my grief and my pain, and an opportunity to smile, not to cry.
Why did you go with the title, Laughing So Hard it Hurts?
It’s kind of a double meeting. It’s laughing so hard while it hurts, or laughing so hard and it hurts. It’s really representing the coexistence of these two emotional expressions that are opposite poles from each other.
People with more complicated social perceptions still have really simple problems. Especially like I feel about show business — they call it the star system. James Dean, Marilyn Monroe — all of those first movie stars in Hollywood history, those aren’t even their names.
Whereby we got this tabloid culture of musicians and artists and actors and who they’re dating, what they’re eating, and what they’re suffering with — this is all a marketing system to exceptionalize the lives of these people. To make it seem there’s something essentially different about a “Star” from you. But a star is you, they just work in the entertainment industry. So, all the problems that you might face or feel at work or at home are the same thing that we do also. But it just feels — and I notice too, especially coming from a small town where it’s not so much show business representation — that it can feel like the lifestyles of the people that you watch through a screen are so far away. But it’s really the same lifestyle. Certain people just dress it up like something else.
You take an inward gaze on this album. How’d it feel to pen a more vulnerable project?
I feel a sense of debt to the fucking subject matter of the album — to my family that’s represented, to my love that’s represented — through what the album is about, and to see the album through as far and as good as I possibly could, which is a different level of responsibility than if you are making something that’s a little less autobiographical.
What did you hope to achieve with this album?
Opportunity to make another album. Literally, it’s like a semi automatic gun. You gotta shoot one round and cycle the gun to shoot the next round.
Keep the momentum going.
Yeah. And not even in a sense of career progress but in a sense of continuing self-expression. I feel I needed to say what I had to say on this album in a complete sentence kind of way, before I can start expressing the next idea.
I feel there’s frequent expressions of love, as well as loss, throughout the album. But there seems to be this veil of uncertainty behind them at times. Do you feel love is for you and have you found love yourself, or that’s just something that you don’t gel with?
No, definitely I’m made of love. I don’t have a life outside of the love that’s been extended to me, especially when I look at what I’ve been allowed to do more recently through being able to try to make art to a higher level. It’s not something that’s possible without everybody who loves me from a familiar sense, romantic sense, and a community sense. I’m an average Black child who’s been loved sufficiently. I think love found me more than I found it. I just had to grow to understand it.
On “Chinese Finger Trap,” I feel like it also deals with a lot of frustration and feelings of loneliness. How do you personally cope with those heavy emotions?
That song came from a conversation I was having with one of my closest homies. I was driving back from Atlanta from having visited my girl, and we were just dealing with the after effects of some shit that we went through at the beginning of the year. And me and my homie, we got in the car together and was driving back home, and I had to stop by my little cousin’s funeral, and it was just us feeling like the rest of the album was done before that song. That’s the last song I wrote. It was just me feeling like damned for all that I’ve done. For all of the work, the way out feels like it’s shrinking.
Tell me a bit about working with Dylvinci, because a lot of this production is softer and more serene than usual. Why did you decide for a softer approach for the album?
Because when I talk about love, care, protection, and mournfulness in this way — first for the people that I can’t talk to, and all the people that I lost through this process — I wanted a feel of “Stairway to Heaven,” something peaceful and beautiful like a lullaby. I just wanted to channel through the soundscape more feminine energy and gentle sounds.
You only have one feature on the album with Amindi. How did that come together?
Well, my close homie, he’s like the weed man to the stars in LA, and he’s also my weed man. He was going to deliver some weed over to — I don’t even think he was delivering weed, he was delivering shrooms over to [Monte Booker’s] studio. And then the guy who did some BTS recording of my album sessions was also doing that for Amindi and Monte. Both of them were there and the weed man was like, “Hey, Amindi wants to make a song with you,” and Amindi hopped on the phone and she was like, “Yeah, I’m trying to make a song with you.” So, I just pulled up. We took a little bit of shrooms, made the song.
Definitely. It definitely was a song that I was called to make. That’s why even among this album that feels like me running the marathon, I felt free and right in sharing that space with her.
Anthony Malone, is a music journalist based in Brooklyn, NY with a love and passion for everything hip-hop, especially from NY. Rap music is his life and he couldn’t want it any other way.