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James Malik and Brio practice patience

Local rappers/producers learn that fools rush in on quality music

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James Malik and Brio, both producers and rappers, are a yin and yang of music and spirituality.

Their two personalities betray their musical styles. While Malik is laid back and soft-spoken in person, his beats carry a certain momentum; percussion-heavy and hyper, ready for a dance party.

Brio sings a smoother song on his tracks, producing slow jams and using them to slip between rapping lyrics and singing hooks so smoothly it's sometimes hard to tell the difference. And yet he's the more excitable of the two in person, sounding like a preacher at church while explaining the nonsecular spirituality that he hides within songs one might think are just about finding love or making it.

"To me, personally, spirituality means everything," Brio said when I sat down with him and Malik recently at Snug Harbor. "The days that we might feel down; just looking outside, looking at your son, looking at your hand, and being like, 'Damn, I have to remind myself that I have this purpose. I have something that I stand for, something I believe in, something that I'm here for. It makes me happy. It makes me want to continue to walk forward."

Spirituality came up a lot in my conversation with the duo, who aren't in a group together, but have pushed each other as best friends since meeting in Atlanta in 2013. Before that, they walked parallel paths, spending their childhoods in Charlotte and hanging with the same crowds, but never knowing each other. Once they met in Atlanta through happenstance, they began hanging out and making music every day. They eventually got an apartment together.

"The way it would work is we would wake up at 8 or 9 and smoke a blunt. 'You go in your room, do what you got to do, I'll go in my room,'" Malik said. "Four hours later, we'll come out, 'Let me hear what you've been doing.'"

The two moved back to Charlotte in September 2015, but the process that began in that Atlanta apartment is still not complete for Brio, who was in the midst of a three-year hiatus from releasing music to perfect the sound he'd been longing for.

"I used to release a lot of music early in my creating stages," Brio said. "I would get down from the lack of recognition from it. But I made a realization that I needed to get better. I took three years off, like, 'Alright, I need to just curate my sound.'"

He finally began releasing singles at the end of last year, and by the end of this summer he plans to release his first project since his intermission. Lite Bleu will feature eight songs that will serve as a prequel to Bleu, the project that will be the culmination of the journey to find his sound.

"The whole time I was going through that reconstruction phase, Bleu was the centerpiece," Brio said. "Lite Bleu birthed out of that. It's kind of like that first chapter towards it."

Some of the patience Brio picked up during the process has rubbed off on Malik, emphasized by the experience he had with his last release, The Manifesto, in April 2015.

"It's a good ass album, but I finished it and I was still recording songs," Malik said. "I released it and all the songs I made after that were way better than anything that was on that album. I was like, 'Damn, if I would've just took my time and just harbored that sound that I was working on, it could've been way better.'"

That's exactly what he plans to do with Red Ink, his newest project that he'll release sometime in 2017. The name stems from his habit to write all his lyrics in red ink, a metaphor in itself.

"Everybody that knows me knows that I write everything in my notebook in red ink. The reason for that is — I'm not a religious person but I'm very spiritual — everything that Jesus said in the Bible is written in red, so people take it seriously. Every time a teacher grades your paper, they do it in red ink. People take it seriously when they see red ink, they know it's not a game," Malik said.

While he continues to work on that album, Malik will be focused on his new gig as creative director with Meik Lama clothing line and sending out beats to music executives, waiting for that call back from one of the artists he's itching to work with.

For Brio, it's all about continuing down the path he's been on all along.

"I want to have the things that I release into this universe be received the way that I see it and the way that I create it: with love," he said. "To keep leading down that path that I see and my end goal, which is to be able to help as many people as I can and spread that message and using the music as that vessel; the small branch of the tree that is the true vision."

Preach it.

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