Rapper Mvstermind gets inventive and personal on new album | St. Louis Public Radio

Rapper Mvstermind gets inventive and personal on new album

Oct 21, 2016

Muhammad Austin doesn’t have top of the line equipment or a world-class studio. He records most of his music in the basement of his parents Spanish Lake home. But that hasn’t stopped him from making some of the most innovative hip-hop in St. Louis — and people are starting to notice.

Over the past two years Austin, who goes by the stage name Mvstermind, has risen through the St. Louis music scene to become one of the dominant voices in the young hip-hop community. Today, he performs at Delmar Hall in support of his new album, “The Cusp.”

Austin’s work is inspired by the tradition of self reliance in the black community and among artists in St. Louis. He writes, raps, engineers, and produces all his own music while exploring the importance of turning limitations into assets.

“That creative process was pretty much me using what I have to get the desired results that I want. All the rest is just creativity,” he said. “I don’t have the best resources in the world you know what I’m saying. But that’s what makes it — the fact that a lack of resources is going to heighten your creativity.”

His lack of resources continues to inspire and challenge him, just as it did when he was a child.

This summer he released the song “Mali Moolah” which has over 20,000 streams on Soundcloud. The song’s music video by Louis Quatorze drew national attention in hip hop circles and appeared on BET this summer in the same rotation as videos by Jay Z. The song highlights how Austin turned his imagination into art since he was just a kid sometimes with the help of his sister Khadijah.

“The song title “Mali Moolah” was a board game that me and my sister made, realistically because we didn’t have no money to be buying Monopoly and stuff like that,” said Austin, 25. “We made our own board game. I feel like that goes back to the creativity of using what you got and creating what you want.”

Austin’s approach comes from growing up in a creative family. His mother, an independent clothing designer, would bring the family to fashion shows in other cities, where he saw people and places far from his own experience. Austin cites such trips as influential to his understanding of the broad spectrum of human experience.  

Austin’s father, who played in various reggae bands, would allow his young son to play percussion along with the groups. Austin’s interest in music developed over the years. He’d compose music on children’s electronic toys and refuse to let people change the settings in order to preserve the melodies he created.

Later, as he started making beats and melodies, Austin relied on free basic versions of software designed to create electronic music. These demo versions didn’t allow the young musician to save his compositions, so he developed a work-around that involved exporting individual audio tracks each time he worked on a new song to ensure he’d be able to work on it again in the future.

On his new album, “The Cusp,” Austin revisits his childhood. On one track he explores his childhood growing up in Fairground Park near Natural Bridge Avenue.

“I go in there and I talk about my upbringing and how I grew up, and realistically it’s just as real as most folks you hear on the radio and it’s like it’s such a hard life, that’s where I grew up, that’s where I live, that’s where I was raised,” he said.

Austin later attended Loyola University in New Orleans before returning to St. Louis and beginning to work with a group of like-minded musicians and rappers including Con, Ciej, Dante Wolfe, and Amir. They formed the music collective MME and have been gaining momentum over the past couple years, playing shows at music venues and performance spaces throughout town. Austin made beats for various group members to rap over and has developed a business producing tracks out of his basement studio.

According to Austin, this do-it-yourself approach is part and parcel to the creative process he started establishing as a kid.

“That creative process was pretty much me using what I have to get the desired results that I want. All the rest is just creativity,” he said. “I don’t have the best resources in the world you know what I’m saying. But that’s what makes it — the fact that a lack of resources is going to heighten your creativity.”

The musician also translates this process-driven mentality into actual song content.  “No More Mercury” is one of the tracks of which Austin is most proud. The song’s dominant metaphor is a call for people to “hit the ground running” after a long fall from grace. Though not explicitly part of the music, the song’s construction was largely influenced by a friend’s suicide, a veteran who struggled with post-traumatic-stress-disorder.

Austin said friends and some fans have expressed feeling a sense of PTSD from the death of Michael Brown and the police response to protests that followed. The tumultuous events and the community response further cemented his attention to the power of self-reliance. He tries to articulate his vision by applying a critical lens to his own experience.

“It’s like listening to my music is an aerial conscious view of somebody trying to decipher his position with the world,” he said.

Listeners will have a chance to hear Austin work that position out at 8 p.m. today when he takes the stage for his album-release show with St. Louis performers Arshad Goods and Dante Wolf at Delmar Hall in The Loop.