"We’re on the cusp of something. I don’t know if it’s too damn great, but it’s something.”
A little less than five months ago, St. Louis producer, rapper, and sound engineer Mvstermind debuted the music video for his single, “Mali Moolah.” By early July, the video had made its first appearance on BET Jams. Since then, “Mali Moolah” has been picked up by nearly all of the major music television networks.
Asked what it means to him to turn on the TV and see himself alongside superstars like Jay-Z and Drake, Mvstermind (a.k.a. Muhammad Austin) says, “It really feels great, especially with it being ‘Mali Moolah.’ It could’ve been a song about me stuck in my feelings about an old relationship.”
Instead, Austin’s introduction to mainstream audiences across the nation is a socially- and spiritually-conscious effort that diverges sharply from much of what commercial hip-hop — and popular music in general — has to offer.
“The fact that I can get on national television and talk about knowing my worth since birth… It’s blissful,” he says. “It reminded me that songs that I have in-depth concepts on, concepts that connect to the universe, I should focus on those.”
Friday night, Austin will officially release the rest of the EP containing “Mali Moolah,” — entitled Cusp — at the Loop’s newest music venue, Delmar Hall.
The “cusp” — like just about every theme that arises in Austin’s work — is multifaceted, containing layers of meaning which intertwine and play off one another to create a dense conceptual web. He says that in terms of his musical career, “this is the actual cusp. We’re right here on the brink of something major.” And it’s hard to disagree with him, given his steadily increasing notoriety both here in St. Louis and around the nation.
“At the same time,” he continues, “everything that’s going on in this society, this upcoming election, the way the climate has been… We’re on the cusp of something. I don’t know if it’s too damn great, but it’s something.”
Austin also describes it as a way of understanding the internal balance he needs to achieve and maintain to be his best self.
“I write a lot about the situations that I encounter as an African-American male, or just as an African-American, period,” he says. “At the same time, I write a lot about self-realization, and meditation, and trying to find your purpose — and then manifesting those kinds of philosophy and ideals into my life.”
Finding the appropriate balance, however, hasn’t always been easy for Austin.
“At times, I would catch myself so lost in the world of finding myself and just meditating, and that whole world…” he trails off thoughtfully before snapping back. “We still live on this grid. We can’t ignore it. As much as we want to, as much bullshit as is around, we have to learn how to be a part of this grid and still find your purpose, still retain yourself, retain your self-worth.”
One of the experiences that really drove home the importance of this internal balance for Austin was his time protesting in Ferguson after the death of Michael Brown in August 2014.
“There’s times when I kind of stopped everything I was doing and I was just out there at the protest, and that wasn’t necessarily the best mission for me,” he reflects, confiding that his temperament was more likely to be counterproductive in such contentious and emotionally-charged situations.
“I’d probably defeat myself before I ever faced the actual enemy,” he says. “There’s other people out there where that’s perfect; that aligns with them. But I was out there and I wasn’t using my full value that I could to the overall goal and mission.”
While direct action wasn’t a good fit for Austin, he still intends to be a part of the movement. In fact, much of the subject matter covered on the Cusp EP is informed by the experiences he had in Ferguson, as well as their aftermath.
“My whole mission is to use my art as a platform to spark some change. In the midst of it, we gon’ turn up,” he says. “In the midst of it, we gon’ get hip. In the midst of it, you gon’ feel certain emotions, but the whole overall purpose is to build that platform.”
Summing up the titular concept of the album he’ll be releasing on Friday at Delmar Hall, Austin says, “I feel like me being right here on the cusp, that’s what allows me to complete my mission.”