Harlem Rapper A-Mafia Hustles to Build Following

By Andres David Lopez on Dec 26th, 2012

Harlem Rapper A-Mafia

A-Mafia performs for a video shoot in Queens for his song “CEO Music.” (Photo by Andres David Lopez)

A-Mafia, the Harlem rapper, took the wheel of a cherry red 1970 Chevelle SS and headed down Jamaica Avenue in Queens. The Chevy’s owner gave chase in a SUV with a sunroof, through which a music video director popped up to shoot footage of A-Mafia driving.

They pulled up to a residential block with pretty single-family houses, where Mafia began lip-synching as his song, “CEO Music” blared from the SUV. His voice was deep but smooth, his flow aggressive. “This rap game is stressful/ In the crack game we was successful…”

The muscle car’s red matched the colors of his baseball shirt and skullcap. Tattooed from neck to forearms, he is 32, but can pass for younger.

Mafia shot the video a few weeks ago to promote the release of his eighth mixtape, “Straight Savage.” A rap veteran, A-Mafia self-finances his music and videos, then uses social media to extend his reach.

“’Straight Savage’ is the mentality of a lot of people where I’m from,” he said. ”Or any ghetto all over America. We live like savages.”

He said he represents “gutter music.”

After the video shoot, Mafia was driving the SUV back to Harlem when he got a text from a young woman scheduled to be in it. She overslept, she said. “No problem. It looked better without you,” he said aloud.

Mafia hustles. His Youtube channel, MAFIATHEBOSS, is loaded with 25 videos, all featuring slick production values and drawing tens of thousands of views.

His latest, an in-studio performance of his song “Story of my Life,” cuts from shots of Mafia in the vocal booth reading his lyrics from a smartphone to a studio surrounded by friends and a closeup of tattooed hands rolling marijuana into cigars.

It also shows engineer Dan “The Man” Humiston monitoring sound levels at the controls.

“Something that I love about A-Mafia is that he is always grinding,” Humiston said in a phone interview. “He is either in here recording, shooting a video or doing promotion.”

An engineer and producer who owns his own studio in Midtown, Humiston has been in the business since 1998. He’s worked with established artists like Big Pun, Lil’ Kim and Ice-T and more recently with up-and-comers like Sean Price and Uncle Murda.

“One thing that is especially important in this community is consistency,” Humiston said. “If you do a mixtape then you disappear for a year, it’s out of sight/out of mind and nobody gives a fuck.”

But Mafia has released three mixtapes in the last year, Humiston pointed out, amassing significant internet buzz and radio airplay. “I’ve been around a lot of artists and I think he’s got the work ethic and potential to make something happen,” he said.

Mafia isn’t on regular rotation, but “Story of My Life” is currently played by DJ Kay Slay on New York’s most important hip hop station, Hot 97. Kay Slay also provided the opening track introduction to Mafia’s 26-song mixtape.

Track 18 on “Straight Savage,” called “Correct Me If I’m Wrong,” is a gritty street anthem reinforced by dramatic strings and drum loops, courtesy of producer AraabMuzik. In it, Mafia rhymes Luther King with “stupid bling,” and shouts out Harlem and 140th Street, where he grew up.

“I’m just saying, in Harlem I’m the hottest,” he declared. “So correct me if I’m wrong. Who makes better music than me?”

Harlem rapper A-Mafia's neck tattoo

A-Mafia shouts out Harlem frequently in his lyrics. (Photo by Andres David Lopez)

 

A-Mafia, born Abdul Holmes, has been rapping since he was a teenager. “Coming up I didn’t think I had a choice, so I did the wrong things to get money,” he said. At 15, he was jailed for armed robbery and inside began writing lyrics every day. “I was really living the life I was rapping about,” he said.

Lek-Lex, 37, his cousin, remembers 15-year-old Mafia looking up rhymes in the dictionary. They call themselves “40th boys” — Lek has it tattooed on his forearm — in homage to their 140th Street and Hamilton Place neighborhood.

All told, Mafia spent almost 10 years locked up, according to his website biography. In 2007, Pennsylvania State Police found 105 grams of cocaine, with a street value of $10,000, in his car, according to media reports. He was convicted of possession with intent to sell and was released in 2009.

But while Mafia’s songs reference robbing and drug dealing, he doesn’t see himself glorifying crime “What else am I going to rap about?” he said. “I never went to college; I never rode a skateboard. I can only rap about what I went through and what I’ve seen.”

“Selling drugs is wrong,” he said. “Robbing people is wrong. I would never tell kids to rob somebody. I am just telling them what I went through.”

Two years ago, dissatisfied with the people managing his career, Mafia started his own company, Deep in the Game Entertainment. “Now I can work how I want to work, as much as I want to work, and reap the benefits of my work directly,” he said.

Co-CEO Born Dibiase, who portrayed a narcotics dealer in a video Mafia released in June, is the other main investor in Deep in the Game; he says he has also served time.

Mafia makes most of his money recording guest verses for other artists, he said, but he also sells T-shirts and books live shows.

“To rap now you have to have money, or you have to have a power player on your team,” Mafia said. “With radio and television, there is a lot of politics. But with the internet the politics are very minimal.”

It’s hard for New York rappers to break into the mainstream right now because attention is currently focused on Southern rap, Mafia said. “I’m just glad I can put my music out there.”

“Making your brand and name known on a national and international level, so people can hear your music, it’s a fight every day,” said Humiston. Now that artists can record inexpensively on laptops and use audio editing software, he said, “The most money you are going to spend is getting out there, getting seen and getting heard.”

Mafia’s operation still includes Lek-Lex, who recently accompanied his cousin to shows in Connecticut and Pennsylvania, where he sold CDs and T-shirts. “Whatever he needs me to do, I work.” he says. “I’m not ashamed to do anything.”

“Me and my cousin Lek/Run the streets, comfortably,” Mafia rapped on his cut “Ted Dibiase.”

A-Mafia’s cousin, Lek-Lex, stands outside the building on 140th Street in Hamilton Heights where Mafia grew up. (Photo by Andres David Lopez)

Mafia also takes advantage of Twitter to make connections and build his audience. He lists his contact information on his bio, and is a frequent updater, retweeting his fans, including photos and hyperlinks, and mentioning his collaborators. Recently, he used the social media platform to reach out to fellow New York rapper, 50 Cent.

“Maybe he can come sign me or link up with me—for no money, I don’t want no money from him,” Mafia said.

Mafia had amassed more than 70,000 followers to his Twitter account before it was hacked a couple of months ago. He had to start again from zero. “I was upset a little bit,” he said. “But life goes on.”

“One thing about me is I specialize in building from the ground up,” he said.

2 Responses for “Harlem Rapper A-Mafia Hustles to Build Following”

  1. Tim Sandberg says:

    Wow, that is an incridebly inspiring story and it’s interesting how artists are really using the internet today to reach people with their music. As mentioned in the article, Twitter seems to be HUGE along with YouTube for distribution of hip hop mixtapes and new songs. Anyway,s, I had never heard of ‘Mafia’ but I’ll certainly have to check out his music now. Thanks for sharing.

  2. 702pow says:

    TIM YOU HAVE TO CHECK OUT MAFIA HE HOT AND a TRUE INDIVIDUAL

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