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“There were a couple of times where shots were being fired and I had to run for my life,” Mari recounted for us while talking about his upbringing on the South Side of Chicago. Growing up in those circumstances, there unfortunately isn’t really a whole lot of hope for escape and prosperity. The street life sucks kids in like quicksand, suffocating any opportunity and leaving their dreams gasping for air. Some people just don’t have a choice but to conform. Others do. Mari adheres to the latter group.

Within the first five-minutes of our interview, it’s no surprise that Mari isn’t only surviving; he’s thriving. It takes a special constitution to be able to convert a depressing environment and dark circumstances into life fuel. With the help of attending a private high school, a bulletproof faith in God and the inspiring words of Lupe Fiasco, Mari was able to transcend his situation and not fall victim to street life’s asphyxiating abyss. Mari comes equipped with powerful lyrics, colorful production, gold accents and a remarkably bright, deep mind. His music without question aided his escape, but his intelligence is cementing his future.

Williams College is currently listed as the best liberal arts school. Their 16.8% acceptance rate makes them one of the most sought after schools, allowing them to admit only the most attractive applicants. Thanks to his impressive scores and resume, Mari found himself in the company of this 16.8%. College is a once in a lifetime experience and it’s imperative to seize every opportunity, due to its fleeting nature. With a major in Psychology and a concentration in Africana studies, a spot on their football roster (linebacker and running back) and track and field team, and developing a music career, I’d say Mari took full advantage of his time at Williams. He put out his first mixtape, Higher Edukation Tape, during his final semester, but at the time, music was more of a hobby than career.

Fresh out of school and hungry to put his degree to use, Mari took a great job at a Buffalo-based bank. At first, it was an attractive opportunity—a respected position, solid salary and the ability to dress to the nines.  But after about six-months, he felt empty and lacking purpose; trying to squeeze into someone else’s shoes and walk someone else’s life path. Thanks to some divine intervention, Mari traded in the Wolf of Wall Street lifestyle for a position at a New York City production studio, making jingles for commercials. It was a liberating opportunity for him, as he was able to utilize his creative, musically inclined mind. And while he really is appreciative for the job, at the end of the day, it was adjacent to his dream—not a perfect match. He quit his studio job to chase his music ambitions of rapping and producing. Thank God he did because Mari is an incredibly talented musician with a very bright future.

Do me a favor: go to Mari’s SoundCloud, press play on any track and I guarantee you will start bumping your head back and forth saying, “Yoooo this shit’s hot!!” He combines intellectual lyrics with extremely vibrant production to create a truly unique, fun experience.  From his beats to his album artwork, Mari exudes a colorful, artistic persona. Some tracks employ horns; some adhere to traditional Hip Hop beats; but no matter what, each song has a distinct texture and is a certified jam. The production off the first Mari song I heard, “Bliss,” immediately drew me in. Lines like: “So many questions unanswered, Like is it the air in the hood causing asthma and cancer uh, And why my nephew six with Bronchitis, Can’t touch the air that kill us, Yet still gotta fight it uh,”  forced me to plunge into his catalogue.

In addition to his rookie project, Higher Edukation Tape, his other official mixtape is the seven-track EP, Living Colored. On this album, Mari takes us on a piggyback ride through his life and allows us to perceive the world as he does: we witness the duality of life’s joys and hardships, and how navigating both can lead to a prosperous life. Each song is great, but the one that caught my ear the most is “Colorful Living”—a prime example of his horn instrumentals. His most recent project however isn’t a cohesive entity, rather a collection of singles dubbed, Mari Mondays.

I said it before: Mari is a smart dude. He surrounds himself with a team of likeminded individuals who have his best intentions at heart and want to see his music dreams realized. He and his team leveraged the Mari Mondays project—11-singles released on successive Mondays—as a marketing tool to simultaneously increase his awareness and demonstrate his skills. Standouts include: “Bliss,” “Up" featuring Taro, “Paper Game” (just recently made Spotify’s US Viral 50 playlist, debuting at #10), “All-Amerikkka” and “40 Flavors.”

The stories of those who don’t make it out of the hood greatly outweigh their successful counterparts. It’s a sad, harsh reality. But Mari escaped; he’s prospering; he’s thriving. He’s combining his intelligence and talent to position him for success. Trending in a great direction, I’m not worried about his future—I’m worried for his competitors. His upbringing in the South Side of Chicago tested his resilience and strength of character. Congrats, Mari, you passed.