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Mamadou: Harlem’s Newest Rose

Tupac Shakur’s “The Rose That Grew From Concrete” has remained relevant since its initial publication in 1999. Growing up in Harlem to immigrant Malian parents, Mamadou. personally connected with both the poem and the author since his exposure to the craft. In August, he released his debut album To Stitch a Rose., a comprehensive nod to his many influences. Besides the project’s title, the sonics of the album carry the torch of Tupac’s philosophy and ability to depict the black perspective in America at such a young age. I spoke with Mamadou. about his storytelling, outlook on life, and what went into creating such a cohesive body of work.

Mamadou.’s Concrete

“Harlem back then was a beautiful and a tragic place. The soul, people, certain vibes. It’s amazing but you gotta watch your back at the same time,” Mamadou. tells me, reminiscing about his childhood. The standard New York state school curriculum didn’t push creativity when he was younger. It wasn’t until seventh grade that his English teacher and mentor introduced him to creative writing. The injection of the work of black writers into the classroom inspired Mamadou. to begin writing poetry; it provided him a medium to inspect himself and the world around him. Midway through high school, the then-poet began tapping into hip hop, although his lyrics were still more introspective than the typical subject matters of the genre.

Half a decade later, Mamadou. blessed us with To Stitch a Rose. After a piano-centric intro track, he writes about his version of concrete in “Soil.”

"No disrespect, I love my mama a lot/ but she tried to tie my future in knots"

Finding a form of expression wasn’t Mamadou.’s nurtured priority. Yet he found his adolescent focus shifting between academics and the creative world of music, poetry, and storytelling. Initially, it proved difficult to communicate his indulgence in music to his traditional Malian parents. The music industry, particularly the hip hop scene, naturally carried the stigma of fame and drug consumption, leading to a loss of spirituality. Thus, he turns to his literary strengths with “Soil.” while still emphasizing his respect for his roots. Navigating such contradictory emotions runs through the many verses of the project, and is ultimately necessary in order to grow from such concrete.

Mamadou.’s Growth

With steadily increasing internal confidence, Mamadou. readied himself for a deep dive into the art form that called his name. He harnessed the sounds of summer barbecues, including Tupac, Jodeci, Keith Sweat, and countless other R&B and Soul artists. Tapping into his nostalgia further, Mamadou. created an album standout in “Childhood Memories.” His music morphed into a platform to release previously unspoken events and pain from his soul. The emotional track “Small Caskets.” inspects his relationship with his late childhood friend, along with a brutal realization of the media’s nonchalant response to the tragic deaths of black teenagers. The news simply pushes it along.

Mamadou. reminds me that when it comes to his music, “the intention is not to be famous; it’s a mechanism to heal and reflect.” A rose can’t grow without first healing its wounds and revitalizing its sense of self. The dynamic writer realized towards the end of the album process that the pain we face in life is Allah’s form of a character-building test. Its flawless outro, “Homegoing.,” consequently strengthens Mamadou.’s connection to his Muslim faith. “If this is my last verse, I want to know I put my faith in God. I submit myself to the most high.”

Preservation

“I’ve always asked ‘once you grow out the concrete, how do you keep yourself together?’ You can emerge from the concrete and go through adversity, but how do you keep your sanity? How do you preserve that strength? It’s not natural for a rose to grow out of concrete. You can wilt.”

The making of To Stitch a Rose. was driven by an assembly of vignettes from different corners of Mamadou.’s life. He knows the generic way to care for a rose requires water and sunlight. But in reality, what works for one rose may not work for another. The process of stitching a rose is craftier, more intimate. And making sense of the dynamic, hectic world around you, while maintaining your integrity, naturally requires intimacy.

Now that the album is off his chest, Mamadou. has been spending his time seeking new influences. Notably, Arabic prison writing piqued his interest, intertwining Islamic faith with perspectives on trauma. Additionally, he’s been diving into song structure, finding new rhythmic pockets in both the music and lyrics. “Recently I’ve been waking up, writing a page, trying to collect material. Anything can find its way, even if it’s a little detail of the way someone acted on a train,” he says. Mamadou.’s greatest literary strength lies in documenting the human experience. Or rather, it lies in stitching together human experiences.

You can bet his seventh grade English teacher is proud.

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