Marino Maali lounges in the backyard of his friend's house.
His arms are covered with tattoos of Psalm 23, a coy fish, the name of his hometown, Windsor Castle, and the footprints of his son. His non-stop smile bridges the space between his ears. Behind his left ear, a hearing aid.
"These don't even work as good," says Maali. "They're broken, but they all I got right now. These shit expensive, you feel me? Them bitches go for, like, about $3000 each and shit like that. I went to the doctor the other day and they was telling me I needed surgery now. That's why I wear the hearing aids."
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Since elementary school the 28-year-old rapper has been aware of his hearing impairment, but has not let it control his desire to record evident by 2011's Me, Myself & High, 2012's Respect The Vibe and last year's Loud & Proud and Me, Myself & High 2.
Crossfade recently hung out with Maali to talk about being a deaf rapper, staying positive, what his son has taught him, and more.
Crossfade: When did you find out you were deaf?
Marino Maali: In third grade, second grade my teacher noticed I couldn't hear good, and then I went and got a test, and I found out I was deaf in both ears. I should've been wearing hearing aids from then but I always had a little problem with then. They was annoying to me, so I never really wore them as much.
One may think you find it more difficult recording.
Not really because I be feeling the beat, you feel me? Some people listen to it, some people feel it. I mean certain beats I may not catch, because of high frequency I can't hear them as good, but certain beats I feel it. It's what I was born to do.
What's the most frustrated you've felt while recording due to being deaf?
The only time I get frustrated I get is if the beat not my style. I like basses and shit I can feel and vibrations. But, I never really get frustrated because I love what I do. You're supposed to have fun when you're doing it.
As far as mixing and mastering, I can't hear everything that I'm supposed to hear, but I know I could do what I could do. I can hear myself rapping. My mind can tell me what to do. But as far as hearing everything else, that might be a little bit frustrating.
When did you start recording?
I grew up in the studio. My uncle is a Rasta. And he used to have all the big artists come from Jamaica and stuff like that. I was the only kid. My mom used to drop me off by my uncle when she used to go to work.
I used to always watch people recording and all that, but when I started recording my uncle's son, he grew up and became a producer. It was my little cousin. He was about 15, I was about 16, 17, and we used to play around in the studio. I went to Tallahassee, but I never went to school, I was just working. We started freestyling, me and the homeboy, me and the roommate, and we got the studio in there and that's where it really started off at, Tallahassee. And I came down here, started paying for studio time, because people was liking what I do. I started paying for studio time and I linked up with Sean Buck.
How long did it take for you to get used to the lack of hearing?
Musically or in life?
As far as adjusting, it's an emotional thing. It's like a religion. I smoke weed to get high to get away from the problems, music is like the same thing. So music was an adjustment from by problems. It wasn't really nothing to adjust to it. Even though I can't hear, music is my getaway.
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Was there a period where you felt like you're trying to adjust to the sound of the music and how you sound on a track?
As far as the beat, turn that shit up. Tell them to turn that shit up all the way 'til I feel comfortable with it. Take my time, count. It's all about rhythm and counting.
I can feel when that bass thump. I can feel it in my heart. When I feel it, I know where to start off and where to go at, and that's it. It's a passion.
Tell me about your relationship with Sean Buck because you always work with one another.
To be honest with you man we haven't talked in like six months or a couple of months. Probably four, five, six months. I don't know what's been going on. But I could tell you we started making music, had a little vibe. People was liking it. It's no bad blood. It's no beef or nothing like that. I think we always had our differences or what we do.
Have producers been frustrated working with you because they don't have experience with a deaf rapper?
They would probably get frustrated as first because they don't understand how to work, that's where the adjustment comes in. might have to make a little adjustment. Might have to turn it up a little more for me. You might have to do the mic for me. To be honest with you, when I go in the studio I record shit straight through. I write my shit quick.
It'll frustrate them at first, but once they learn the adjustment and what makes it comfortable with me to run straight and flow good it's all fun and it's all motivation. They see it and they see what I'm trying to do.
Do you have many sad days because you look like you don't frown?
:Laughs: Of course, I'm just like you. I'm sure all of us have sad days, but I might have more sad days because I can't hear good. I'm a deaf rapper. Not just that, but having a job, just an everyday life, it's hard if you want to make it hard. I try not to make it hard. But most of the time I just stay by myself. Most of the time I just write my music, because just like I say that's my getaway. I probably have pain in my life, and instead of taking that pain and making it pain I try to make that pain and make it something else.
What's best thing that your son has taught you?
Unconditional love. He aught me that I got to better myself and be somebody to make a better example for him. Taught me that I got to be a go-getter and get money. I got to man up.
Is he deaf as well?
That's another thing right there too. I'm trying to work on that because I just found out. He got hearing loss too. The same situation I went through he going through the same thing. I'm working on trying to get some Medicaid or something like that so I can get him some hearing aides because, like I said, it's expensive. Three thousand, $4000.
When is your next project being released?
I'm working on a CD called Watch Me Grow. Probably going to be 16 tracks. So far I only got a couple beats. I've just been writing. I got a lot of stuff written down. Just getting ready to go to the studio right now.
If you weren't doing this what would be doing?
Be a dancer. (Laughs)
(Laughs) What would you be dancing?
That's what I do. I be dancing too.
Are you trying to be Jennifer Lopez's next husband?
Something that got something to do with music. if wasn't doing this I'd probably be a business, or open up some daycares for the single mothers or something like that. I don't know. All I think about is music. I don't ever think about a plan b or nothing like that. Just music. That's my life.
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