He cried a little, laughed a lot, got mad a couple of times, bragged a few more times and alternately showed flashes of curiosity, introspection, insecurity, melancholy and intense ambition. And that was all in one interview.
You can imagine, then, how much raw emotion MaLLy put into his second full-length album "The Last Great ... ," which the Minneapolis rapper-on-the-verge has been working toward for a year.
"I had to get people's attention first," he said. "Now, it's time they see what I'm really made of."
Minnesota hip-hop fans have seen a lot of the real-life Malik Watkins, 26, between last year's Soundset festival and this year's. He made his debut there last May, and later watched Slug of Atmosphere perform in a MaLLy T-shirt at the fest. He then played First Avenue's Best New Bands showcase and opened Atmosphere's "Welcome to Minnesota" tour over the winter. As his profile shot up, so did his music reputation via a download series, "Free on the 15th," featuring seven bouncy singles with his new producer partner, the Sundance Kid.
Following his album-release party Friday at 7th Street Entry, MaLLy will return to Soundset May 27, serving as co-host alongside Brother Ali, who guests on one of his new tracks, "Unplugged."
A lot of his success so far has been earned through his own grit, determination and intelligence. He's not just working off street smarts, either, although he certainly has plenty of those.
His father wasn't around when he grew up. Instead, there was a longtime boyfriend of his mom's who was in and out of jail and addictions (but was a good guy, he says). This explains some of the more venomous, wrenching lyrics on "The Last Great."
A fan of everyone from Nas and Joe Budden to the Black Keys, MaLLy shared a special love for Tupac Shakur with his "fake father," who recently passed away. It was Tupac who taught him to open up about the pain expressed throughout "The Last Great."
The truth is not exactly the stuff of thug life: Watkins is a University of St. Thomas graduate and works by day in an executive training program at Travelers Insurance, which he says has been surprisingly cohabitational with his rapper aspirations. He attended private grade school at Minnehaha Academy on a scholarship -- one of a very few African-American students there, he said.
His home turf was and is south Minneapolis around the Seward, Longfellow and Phillips neighborhoods. He met up for his interview last week at Seward's Brackett Park after visiting his grandmother nearby, at the house where he lived while his mom battled and defeated breast cancer. Those memories are what brought MaLLy to tears later at the Lake Street pub Merlins Rest.
"My mother, my grandmother, my uncle, they were there for me and put a lot of work into me," he said. "I think about that in my music. I can't screw up, because it would be an insult to them."
MaLLy feels a similar debt to his younger, Rochester-reared cohort the Sundance Kid (real name: Jonathan Cliby), whose vaguely electronic, synth-laden production steered the "Free on the 15th" series in many directions.
The sonic palette on "The Last Great" ranges from Daft Punk-y dance beats in "Hands High" to bass-booming grime in "Shine" to sunny, soulful R&B on "Good One."
MaLLy's lyrics in "Good One" are what really stand out, though: "Make good, do good / The rest should come."
He says it as a promise.