There are a few faces who’ve been instrumental in the meteoric rise of the purple-haired North Philly trap artist known as Lil Uzi Vert. There’s Don Cannon and DJ Drama, two of the industry’s leading mixtape DJs, both from Philly and both currently working out of Atlanta, where they made sure to focus Uzi’s come-up. Back in Philly, another key member of Uzi’s team is Maaly Raw, the 21-year-old producer who’s only been making beats for a few years. In the past year, he’s been behind a handful of Uzi’s hottest tracks, including “Safe House,” “Hi Roller,” and the biggest one yet, “Money Longer.” When a track begins with a helium-stoned Uzi bleating out “Dat Be Maaly Raw,” fans have learned to expect automatic fire.
Maaly is close to the opposite of Uzi both in looks and personality. He doesn’t watch anime or listen to Marilyn Manson. Whereas Uzi comes across as a ditzy extrovert, Maaly is shy and deeply focused. He prefers to be alone when he’s coming up with a beat, admitting that Uzi’s in-studio antics can disrupt his workflow. He laughed when asked about what it’s like to record with his closest collaborator. “Uzi annoying,” he says with a smile. “I can’t make no beats in front of Uzi.”
Our interview took place on the same day as the NFL Draft, and word had just broken that Ohio State RB Ezekiel Elliott, the Cowboys’ No. 4 pick, had walked up to accept his jersey to the tune of “Hi Roller.” Maaly arrived right as Zaytoven, a recent subject of Behind the Beat, had finished his interview. Maaly walked up to Zay, whom he has long idolized, and earnestly asked, “You got any advice for a young n*gga?” “Just keep grinding,” replied the Atlanta vet. Maaly took those words to heart, though that advice has been instilled within him ever since he began getting serious about his craft.
Beginnings in North Philly and “Luv is Rage”
Maaly grew up on Southern rap and took a special interest in the producers who now stand as the forefathers of trap — Zay and also guys like Lex Luger and Drumma Boy. The music resonated with him not for the lyrics but because of the production, often the more important element in bringing a trap song to life. “When I listen to a song, I listen to the beat,” says Maaly. “If the beat’s not hot, I probably won’t like the song.”
He was introduced to beat making by his cousin B-Jones, a veteran producer in Philly. He’d long been fascinated at the sounds coming out of his cousin’s computer, and one day, Maaly decided that he wanted to learn Fruity Loops for himself. He claims that he was able to get a handle on the basics of the software in two minutes. “Ever since then, I never stopped,” he says. “Literally, two minutes. I basically taught myself.”
That was when he was 17 and by the next year, he landed a beat with a locally esteemed street rapper named Quilly Millz. “That’s what started me off, getting on his mixtape,” he says, referring to HSH V, which also featured Philly talent like Kur and Redi-Roc. “Back then a placement with Quilly was pretty big, for Philly.”
After his first placement, Maaly hit the ground running, eager to become the go-to producer for the most promising artists his city had to offer. Basically unknown at the time, Lil Uzi Vert was managed by the fiancé of the renowned DJ Diamond Kuts, who gave him his first look by playing him on Philly’s Power 99. At first, Maaly thought Uzi was from the South, and upon discovering that he was a local, he decided that his own Southern-inspired productions would be a good match for Uzi’s decidedly innovative approach to trap.
Before Uzi, Maaly was able to link with the aforementioned Uptown rapper Kur, who’s just now getting his due recognition. As luck would have it, Maaly would soon find out that Kur had recruited Uzi to guest on a song that he produced, entitled “I Don’t Give a Fuck.” Both Kur and Uzi were teenagers at the time, and both rapped with a bracing sense of abandon, clearly a result of their impoverished surroundings.
With his music, Maaly seeks to bring the energy that has always lived in the Philly streets into a sonic world fit for the IMAX. He would soon find that Uzi shared in his adventurous visions, and the two have since created otherworldly music that somehow never forgets its street-level birthplace.
After hearing Uzi on his beat, Maaly asked his manager, also from North Philly, to put them in touch. This was when Uzi had been working on his breakout mixtape, The Real Uzi, hosted by Don Cannon. Maaly ended up producing 5 of the final 7 tracks that appeared on the tape, which touched down in the late summer of 2014. A lot has happened in the two years that have since passed. “It seems like just yesterday I was picking him up from the projects in North Philly, taking him to the studio,” Maaly reminisces. “Back and forth to his grandma house. It’s crazy, now he just sellin’ out shows everywhere.”
After The Real Uzi, Maaly watched as Cannon brought Uzi to DJ Drama and signed him to their Generation Now label, which they started along with acclaimed engineer Leighton Morrison. Another deal was soon inked with Atlantic Records. Uzi went on to become a buzzing name in certain taste-making circles before much was known about his music. He officially solidified his presence in the game when he got put on Carnage’s “WDYW,” responsible for the opening verse and the hook on the monstrous anthem that also features A$AP Ferg and Rich the Kid. And he officially blew up with his Luv is Rage mixtape, released in October of last year — the source of immediate clamor throughout the industry.
He got less placements on Luv is Rage than he did on The Real Uzi, competing with Atlanta stars like Sonny Digital, FKi, and TM88, but Maaly’s two songs were among the biggest on the tape. He set the tone of the project — strange, dangerous, and intoxicating — with the intro track, “Safe House,” which features additional production from Cannon. Maaly makes a flute melody dance around crushing layers of techno synths, executing a blend of sounds both playful and threatening, much like Uzi’s flow itself. Later on the tape, Maaly dropped off another beat, “Enemies,” that’s brimming with similar machine-driven intensity, featuring careful builds that climax with quick floods of racecar-like synths, eliciting goosebumps each time.
Lil Uzi vs. the World & Becoming a Leader of Philly’s New Guard
Intentionally or not, almost each one of Uzi’s collabs with Maaly has been a smashing success. With his penchant for far-off sounds, Maaly has proven himself especially capable of inspiring Uzi to enter into Super Saiyan mode. Even as Uzi has relocated to Atlanta, it’s been a no-brainer to keep Maaly as a crucial part of his team. After the release of Luv is Rage, Cannon flew Maaly down to Atlanta to start working on the next project. Released in April, the 9-track Lil Uzi vs. the World has already delivered upon the dramatic increase in hype that resulted after Luv is Rage. Maaly’s name sits beside the first three songs on the tape: “Canadian Goose,” “Hi Roller,” and “Money Longer.” All three of them are hits that even non-Uzi fans have likely been unable to avoid.
Whether they’re working remotely or side by side, his partnership with Uzi has continued to get stronger. “As time went on,” Maaly explains, “I got better and better. His sound got better. So our chemistry just got crazy. It’s still goin’ crazy. We just continuing to create sounds that sound like nothing…nothing else.”
The anticipation surrounding Lil Uzi vs. the World skyrocketed upon the February release of “Money Longer,” which now safely stands as Uzi’s biggest-ever hit. Before Uzi even starts rapping, the track sounds like an undeniable anthem thanks to Maaly’s synth melody, which lays down an easy template for Uzi to reel off his free-flowing flurry of punchlines. The song has been a staple in clubs and on street corners in New York, so it wasn’t surprising when Maaly named “Money Longer” as the biggest song in his hometown, despite it sounding nothing like what one might expect to come out of Philly. Part of that is because the city has had a fragmented — and often neglected — history in hip-hop, failing to build an established sound that has extended beyond its own borders. Maaly sees that as an opportunity to become a integral part of Philly’s current reputation, proving that the best artists from his hometown are just as inventive with their music as those from Atlanta.
Aside from Uzi, Maaly’s closest collaborator has been Kur, who’s just beginning to reach seven figures when it comes to his own plays on SoundCloud. Both Maaly and Kur began making songs that were directly inspired by the streets both in content and energy. More recently, Kur has demonstrated his ability to convey relatable narratives of his inner-thoughts, and Maaly has been helpful in leading him to express a wider range of emotions, such as the youthful nostalgia of their new one, “No Matter What,” a tranquil beauty on which the trap fades into the distant background.
The year 2016 has greeted Maaly with success that he couldn’t have dreamed of when he began making music a few years ago. He just produced the electric second half of Desiigner’s New English track “Da Day,” the first part being handled by the legendary Mike Dean. Maaly now sees opportunities way beyond the artists of his hometown, though Philly is still where he intends to dedicate his movement. The next big artist Maaly has his sights on is Meek Mill, whom he spoke to for the first time earlier this year. For years, Philly hasn’t been seen as a viable competitor on the East Coast, but a trip through Maaly’s SoundCloud shows that his hometown is more than ready to prove its stripes on the national scene.