When I first picked up my camera I was focused on street photography, learning composition, and the history of the game. Taking portraits wasn’t apart of the plan. To tell the truth, I thought that shit was kinda whack. The only experience I had with portraiture before was back when I was in high school, when they would have all the students sit still for portraits for the annual year book. I remember being really uncomfortable with that process. I mean who could possible enjoy being told to “look natural” and smile while someone is pointing a camera right into their face? Plus most of the portraits I’ve seen were black and white and that really isn’t my thing.
Over the last couple weeks I haven’t had time to go street shooting due to working on a website, chillin and financial stability. I’ve been in the hometown though, chilling with family, friends and my camera. During all of this time I’ve had the chance to watch some documentary’s and interviews on YouTube. I ran across one about a photographer named Mary Ellen Mark who pasted away two years ago. Her portrait work got me fired up to actually take a take a chance at it.
I kept mentioning to my inner circle that I was trying to get into this, and I had a few hopeful prospects here and there, but most fell through. Soon enough I was connected with a local rapper who went by M.U.L.U., who wanted someone to take a couple photos for his new album artwork. So I added this cat on Facebook and the next day I met up with a mutual friend and M.U.L.U. to discuss what he wanted the cover to look like. After talking for about 2 hours, I figured I could do the job, and over the next couple of days I spent so much time watching YouTube videos, reading books on environmental portraits, and studying from the masters of portrait photography. I went over M.U.L.U. ‘s crib around 10 in the morning and took the shots I needed and bounced back to the house to see what I got.
After staring at the my laptop for hours, I thought about how so many of my friends make art but go unknown, never gaining anything from their hard work. What was stopping me from interviewing them? It would give me the opportunity to take more portraits and get their art out there. Here is the first installment of the Artist Endeavors series.
Let me give you some background on M.U.L.U., he is 24, lives at home taking care of his family and helps pay the bills, has a live in girlfriend (who just got a job as a waitress), has 5 dogs constantly running around the house. He works at a large chain retail company known to many employees as hell on earth, but you probably know it as Wal-Mart. Now, if you know anything about Wal-Mart, you know that they don’t care about their employees as much as those little smiley face commercials depict. They don’t pay well and they will happily cut your hours. So for M.U.L.U.to actually remain dedicated to his craft and constantly perfect it was something I admire.
KCV- Where did the name “MULU” come from?
M.U.L.U.- Well it’s not that complicated of a story; me and my cousin, Mayce, were at her house, and my family liked to get up, hang out, drink and play cards, whatever blast music. Me and her would always kick it, and one night the family went out on a beer run, and there was a bunch of alcohol on the table and we we’re like “Let’s make it look like we we’re drinking”. I remember her saying something about NUVO and I thought she said Mulu. I was like “What the fuck is Mulu?”
I told her I was going to make it into a word, you know, like a synonym for “cool” or “dope.” I made it into a song, which not too many people know about, “The M.U.L.U. Dude Song,” maybe some people I went to school with might. Then one day in creative writing class I made the…uhmm what’s it called? Is it an acronym? Yea, I made the acronym for M.U.L.U. which is “My Unique Life Unleashed.”
KCV- Where did you grow up and how do you think your environment affects your music?
M.U.L.U.– I couldn’t give you an exact count of how many times I’ve had to move. I grew up all around town, down Gallatin, North Gallatin, Hopwood, Bier Wood Acres, Confer Vista, East Main Street, I lived with my cousin for a while also. I’ve lost a lot of stuff, comic books and trophy’s, pretty much my entire childhood disappeared because of it. I’ve lost and gained friends, but it’s all really the same, it’s always the same kind of people.
I’ve been through a lot because of that process of moving. That’s where I draw a great deal of my inspiration: from my childhood, from growing and moving so often, a childhood divorce, when I changed school districts, everything man. Everything and everyone I’ve encountered. For the most part it affects my writing in many ways. Observation is one of my biggest things when it comes to writing, and I just seen a lot growing up the way I did in town.
KCV- How long have you been rapping?
M.U.L.U.– When I first started I was in third grade, and my buddy came up to me and asked me if I wanted to start rapping. I was like, “Sure, uhhh, why not?” We rapped Oochie Wally for the school, but it was a super edited version. I had a teacher, Mrs.Dunham, who I loved very much. She would have us rap it at the end of her class.
At family cookouts me and my cousin, Josh, would rap A Tribe Called Quest’s song “Find My Way.”
Ever since then, we would write all the time in his basement, and rap to each other, but I didn’t start pursuing it till like 7th/8th grade. I didn’t start recording till like freshmen year. I always had a notebook with me, writing in it all the time. People stole the notebook one time and they were reading it and making fun of me, because they were corny bars.
KCV- Who introduced you to music and what music played in your household when you were a kid?
M.U.L.U.– My dad is the one who introduced me to music, in a wide spectrum, not just a hip-hop aspect. He had a lot of white friends, which makes a big difference cause he was listening to Ice Cube, Grandmaster Flash, Afrika Bambaataa, Earth, Wind & Fire, Snoop Dog, Nas; but he would also be listening to Queen, Pink Floyd, Metallica, AC/DC. That’s the type of things that played in my house. The most random would be Frank Sinatra. You’d be sitting there watching this big black man sing Frank Sinatra, and he has the swag and everything going on, just really loving it. He taught me to enjoy music, not just one genre. He’ll be happy I said that.
KCV- So we’ve been hanging out a lot lately, and one thing I noticed is that you have a lot of distractions in your life, with five dogs, a live in girlfriend, a younger brother, your mother and your aunt… shit, we had to work our first couple meet ups around 3 job interviews. I’m not asking how you do it because the dedication is obvious, but I guess what I’m asking is how do you remain focused on your personal work?
M.U.L.U.- It’s tough, I’m not going to lie. There are times when I don’t to do a damn thing: just be by myself, chill the fuck out, play video games and talk to my friends; but I have a goal, and I’ve had this goal for years. It’s time to really pursue it and I’ve been giving myself the kick in the ass I needed.
In a way my distractions kind of contribute to it, ‘cause you do it so that you can not only have a better situation for yourself, while perusing our dreams to make something happen, but with whatever money I am getting I can also help out my family, and make it so they’re not always in my face. I can get out, but I can make sure they’re comfortable also. It’s not really about the money, but the money that I do get would help as far as that. I wouldn’t call them distractions, they’re kind of inspiration in a way. It’s like observation, they add substance; it goes back into them making me who I am today.
KCV- Do you think they feed into you and help you with your rhymes, the stories and just the life style?
M.U.L.U.- Yea, because I rhyme about my everyday life. So like, when I say, “My mom was a hippy and my father was an OG;” my mom is still a hippy, she’ll gladly burn one with you. My father is pretty well known for cracking heads, also being a good man. I owe a lot to him. What you hear in my lyrics is inspired by our journey, and what he instilled in me as a man.
My little brother and everyone I helped contribute raising, it’s all in the rhymes man, and the more albums I drop, the more people will get insight of that. The 5 dogs though… uhmm not so much, they’re straight up distractions, ha-ha, but I love them.
KCV- You were free styling earlier today, and I’ve noticed that your style isn’t about the classic “fuck bitches get money,” “I’m balling on these motherfuckers” style that has over saturated the culture. It reminds me more of self-actualization. What led you to that style? Have you ever tried to rap about the life you didn’t live?
M.U.L.U– When I first started rapping, it was always about shit that wasn’t me, you know what I mean? Everybody starts rapping to sound like the people they listen to; those are your influences. Then you draw from that and get your own style outta that.
It’s the people who I listen to man. Honestly, I was struggling with myself until I listened to Kendrick Lamar’s Section.80 album. I used to work the night shift at a gas station down the road from my house in Hopwood. I’d have to close up and walk home pretty late at night. My cousin put me on to the Section.80 album. So I would walk home with Section.80 pumping in my headphones and the poems, the spoken word, the content he had on that album; he had “Keisha’s Song” and tracks that let me know the stuff I wrote down in my notebook wasn’t stupid. You know what I mean? It wasn’t something people wouldn’t listen to.
When you’re yourself and you’re genuine about it, like Kendrick was, when it is very real and raw, people accept it because it’s a real story, man, and people can tell.
KCV- Do you ever feel like you aren’t marketable for that reason?
M.U.L.U.– Yeah, but we don’t do it to be marketable. The stuff that’s marketable is the merchandise and the logo, you know? The words are the words.
KCV- Something I have experienced from living in a small town is that its frowned upon to have a hobby that isn’t hunting or rebuilding cars for the local county fair’s demolition derby.
Do you ever feel that way about rapping?
M.U.L.U.- It’s definitely frowned upon; people don’t think you’re ever going to make anything out of yourself. People assume that you’re just making “jungle music.” People think that you’re making music with no weight. When I introduce myself as a rapper I have to say, “But it’s more like poetry. It’s not like the trap rap.” You have to introduce it that way, otherwise people are like, “Oh yea, that’s cool,” and they’ll brush it off.
It’s sad that I have to do that; I shouldn’t have to. When you introduce your hobby that way, most people will say, “Oh, you’re one of those.” Everyone raps around here bro, which isn’t a bad thing, but people are just like, “Oh, you too,” which makes me angry sometimes.
KCV- It’s not like we were in the middle of nowhere, we’re an hour away from Pittsburgh. It’s very possible for artists to get noticed, but so many people from this area stay at the “local rapper” status. What do you think holds most people back?
M.U.L.U. – Originality and a lack of drive. ‘Cause if you’re looking to get signed, you’re not going to sounding like everybody else. You gotta bring something to the table; you gotta bring some type of “You” to the table. Whoever you’re influenced by, if you sound exactly like them, no one’s going to listen to it, bro, they already got somebody who sounds exactly like that.
Also we talked about it before, it’s the small town mindset of comfortability, and not trying to reach outside of here. I feel like that hurts people in a major way. Pittsburgh is one thing, but even going out to Pittsburgh, if you’re not at the “Rex” or some shit, who even knows you’re out there?
You have to have the drive, and also a team bro. A team that knows what the fuck they’re doing. If you don’t have a team, (which is something I’m still trying to put together myself), you’re not going to go far without running into janky promoters and shit like that.
KCV- What’s your favorite verse you’ve heard recently? What really made you laugh, like you couldn’t believe this person put this verse together so well?
M.U.L.U.– Chance’s verse off of Ultra-Light Beam. When I hear it I get goose bumps. I also want to say “ONE MIC” by NAS. I couldn’t rap a full verse for you, but just the hook alone, just that repeating in the song. I remember it being one of my cousin Josh’s favorite NAS songs. Like just hearing that hook over and over, “All you need is one mic.” You could just feel it bro, all you need is that one mic to let shit go, and it will be alright.
I remember at one point I was recording in my buddy’s basement and we had a microphone hooked up to a mixer board. It was the most ghetto D.I.Y recording you will ever see. It sounded terrible. I don’t know if they still have that recorded It’d be crazy if they did, but I did a “one mic” song. That’s generally what hip hop is bro. You’re saving people. People listen to rap like it’s a religion.
KCV- What is your least favorite verse?
M.U.L.U- Shit… that’s a harder question to answer. The first people that come to mind are the Uzi’s, Yachty’s, and that “Percocet Molly Percocet” song. Joints like that are catchy, but they’re polluting the airways and the minds. It’s not good; it’s not a good look that that’s the norm for a hit in hip-hop now. There’s no “one shitty verse.” Hip-hop is in identity crisis mode right now. You got some people spittin’ bars, and then you got that dumb shit man. It’s not my place to judge someone else’s art I guess, by all means get your money, but when you are disrespecting the craft itself, exploiting it for money, that shit’s lame bro. It shows through a lot of songs that some people only do it for the fame. It’s disrespecting the artists who do it for the love. They did it ‘cause that’s what kept them cool, sane and outta the streets. I wish I could go back to that time; sometimes I wish I grew up in the 80’s.
KCV- Who influences you the most right now?
M.U.L.U.- Obviously Kendrick, J.Cole, and Chance; people who really stay true to themselves. I also like Pusha-T with his raw talent. He got that rough, coming at you spitting bars style. It sounds like gun shots. You would think that it would just be that gangster rap style, but it’s that thug on the block who is smart, you know? Who’s got that real intelligence? I just like his energy, the raw feeling to his words, the intensity.
I like Chance because he stays true no matter what. When people are like, “This is how it’s supposed to sound,” he’s like, “Nahh, this is the way I make it.” I like J.Cole because he is a story teller. I like Kendrick ‘cause not only is he a revolutionary sounding artist, but he is a story teller, but he likes to bend genres. It’s hip hop but he brings other genres into it.
KCV- Would you do anything else creatively if you didn’t rap?
M.U.L.U.- Hmm, I think in some way I would still be a writer. Writing is something I feel like is just in me. Even in school my grades sucked at other subjects, but if it was in English class or creative writing, or even the art class it just flowed.
KCV- What do you love about our home town?
M.U.L.U- I love that it’s like a big family. Everybody is connected in some way. Even if people hate each other, eventually there will come a time when everybody loves each other again. Everybody cares about each other even though we don’t like to act like it. We all hurt when we lose someone; everybody is happy when somebody is winning.
Yea, you get the haters. Anywhere you’re at you’re going to get someone who hates on you whatever reason, but for the most part everybody shows love. Especially with this gofundme, it showed me that people do care. People do love out here. Sometimes it’s cliquey, but even in those cliques there’s so much love. It’s a big family, but even in big families you get them cliques: certain cousins hangout with other cousins. I just like the family aspect man. If anything I wish there was more to do though.
KCV- You mentioned the gofundme. That’s to help with the tour right?
M.U.L.U- It is a strong possibility; to me it’s more of an experiment. This is to see if I can conduct my own business without the help of somebody backing me very strongly (outside of my own city sharing the money with me to help get me out to this opportunity).
It’s a promotional tour, so a lot of it is D.I.Y.. I got to find my way out there, so I’m looking to rent an RV, get a couple friends to ride out there with me, and were going to film it and put it on YouTube.
KCV- Your new album, how many tracks are going to be on it?
M.U.L.U.- It’s looking like 7 or 8. It is a peek into my mindset through-out the writing process, and the difficulties to try to make something that I like, but also other people will listen to. There are songs in there where I’m literally talking about the writing process, songs about observation and the way that people move in the city.
KCV- When do you think you’re going to release the EP?
M.U.L.U.- I don’t have an exact date. It would have to be after June though, maybe July would be cool. It really depends on how quickly I’ll be able to record it. I don’t wanna rush to get it out in the summer time and have it sound like trash.
KCV- What was the first album you bought and how old were you?
M.U.L.U.– “Ready to Die” by Big. I lived on Whiteman Avenue; I was probably in 7th grade? I forget how old I was, maybe 13/14. I got some money and I went to F.Y.E. and I got “Ready to Die.” There’s a skit, like a sex scene in it where Big is banging out Lil’Kim, and you’re like “What am I listening to?” …Sorry for saying “banging out.”
KCV– What’s the last album you bought… hard copy?
M.U.L.U – Curren$y Pilot Talk2, the joint with the green album cover, with the planes and the grass, no wait… Pilot Talk1 has the green cover. Pilot Talk2 is the purple joint, with “Airborne Aquarium”, and “Michael Knight” all on it. It was riding music. My cousin put me on the Curren$y, and it was good music to ride to. Curren$y is real big on cars anyway, like low riders and shit, so everything he does is for riding. Everything else I burn or stream, cause that’s what everyone else is doing. The last album I bought though was “to pimp a butterfly”
KCV- Any last words, messages for the kids?
M.U.L.U– There is one simple rule: If you’re passionate about anything, make it your life mission to master your craft. It’s so easy to get side tracked by the haters, lime light, drugs, drinks, complacency, and good times.
Like what Kanye said in that line on spaceship “you cannot fathom my love dude, lock yourself in a room doing 5 beats a day for 3 summers”, you have to perfect it and do it for the love. Don’t hoe out the game, don’t exploit it, stay true to yourself. People want authenticity, people want to know they aren’t alone in certain situations that life gives us, just as much, if not even more then they want to be lit… and lastly bro bring the lyrics.
Thank you M.U.L.U for your time and openness with the interview. Here are the links to M.U.L.U.’s socials, check it out and give my boy a listen.
Keep coming and visiting the blog. This post took a while to write up, thanks for being patient with me. Tell your friends about us. Thanks again for coming through.