Rapper Mazzi on finding success in today's world: 'Nurture your art and give it the attention that it needs'

The New Yorker has been impactful on and behind the hip-hop stage

Mazzi Behi speaks at the Emirates Music Summit. Courtesy Emirates Music Summit
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If you are a hip-hop act then you want to have Mazzi in your corner. He is the man to go to if you want your work to be heard far and wide.

Such was the case for a range of artists belonging to the Def Jam Recordings music label (home to Jay-Z and Rihanna to name, but a few) who sought his keen marketing and promotional skills.

“In the label I work in the frontline,” he says. “Our team sets up the radio interviews, we make sure the songs get on the radio and we facilitate all their club appearances. Our job is to break the artist and their songs.”

Speaking to The National from last weekend's Emirates Music Summit – with the session to be uploaded on YouTube on Thursday, March 19 – Mazzi (full name Mazzi Behi) tells aspiring artists that while there are no shortcuts to success, it can be achieved more efficiently within a group effort.

It is an industry dictum confirmed to him through his work with star rapper Logic. Long before the US artist became a top-selling act and Eminem collaborator, Mazzi recalled how Logic’s joined Def Jam Recordings already with plan in place.

“He was an independent artist and when he signed with us we discovered that he wasn’t just a flash in the plan. He came with a team,” Mazzi says. “He had three managers, a producer and an engineer. It was like a little militia. I saw his team and I realized that these people are ready for war. And his success shows.”

This is one of the many industry tips Mazzi gleaned and applied to his own work as a revered independent artist. As the leader of the S.O.U.L. (Sense Of Understanding Life) Music collective, he built a decade long career that saw him collaborate with international hip-hop scenes, from France and Uganda to Kyrgyzstan, for albums whose profits go to charity.

A comic book fan, he describes his solo career as Spider-Man while his work at the label as the alias of “Peter Parker.” But it ultimately all blends together, with both creative lives providing with a deeper appreciation for the art form.

“First of all, I still view myself as a student of hip-hop,” he says. “And to travel the world and connect with so many people from different cultures because of the art form is still crazy to me.”

His latest album, last year's The Check In, is a great example of his fast and furious approach. This time around, he was in South Africa and following the same marketing principles he learnt from Def Jam Recordings, he wasted no time in connecting with the local hip-hop scene who, in turn, shed light on what the local community needed.

“I don’t work with NGO’s or charities. For my philanthropic projects I work with people on the ground,” he says. “Some people I met had connections with the Nelson Mandela Foundation and they told us about their hospital in Johannesburg, so we decided to support that.”

This resulted in over 50 songs completed with a range of South African hip-hop acts –such as Mr. Beef and Jimmy Wiz – in a space of six epic days. All profits of the album go to support Nelson Mandela's Children's Hospital.

That intensive work ethic not only comes from his community activist mother, Mazzi says, but from the kinetic excitement of creating art with a purpose.

“It lights a fire in me,” he says. “It reinvigorates my art and it gets me hyped to do the next project.”

And that’s the parting advice he gives to all creatives: love what you do.

“And not even just that, you need to respect the art,” he says. “Don’t create something that is disposable. Understand that you are always a student and nurture your art and give it the attention that it needs.”

All Emirates Music Summit sessions will be uploaded online on Thursday. For more information, visit www.emiratesmusicsummit.com