Black Music Month Q&A with Maimouna “MuMu Fresh” Youssef
The full interview from the listicle, “6 Indie Rappers Dispel Myths About Being Independent And Explain Why They Wouldn’t Have Their Careers Any Other Way,” published on Blavity, June 2021.
The first time I saw MuMu Fresh perform live was at The Kennedy Center’s Arts Summit a few years ago. The second time I saw her live was at my husband’s Black Out Loud Conference in Baton Rouge. She is as genuine and talented as anyone could imagine. So when I was developing a list of six indie artists I felt everyone should know, MuMu Fresh was one of the first artists to come to mind.
The multi-talented artist has been singing since she was 4-years-old and rapping since elementary school. She’s traveled six continents as an artist and backed some of your favorite artists, including The Roots, Common, and Erykah Badu. She recorded her first song 22 years ago but has worked professionally as a solo recording artist for the past decade. Once signed to a subsidiary of Sony Records, she’s found her sweet spot as an independent artist. After reading over the gems she dropped in our interview, I knew you had to see the whole thing.
LR: What is one of your personal career highlights?
MuMu Fresh: It’s either between performing on The Black Girls Rock Awards on BET or performing on NPR’s Tiny Desk.
LR: Aside from having complete ownership of your work, what other benefits are there to staying indie?
MuMu Fresh: Some of the benefits of staying Independent for me include but are not limited to:
1). Maintaining control over the integrity and authenticity of my content, creativity, image, brand, and political viewpoints
2). Controlling the timelines of my releases (nothing is worse than being put on the shelf because a company without vision doesn’t believe there’s a market for you)
3) Staying out of debt and being able to control all aspects of how finances are being spent on my behalf since I will later owe them back.
These things can all be negotiated by the way but traditionally, it has been hard to get major labels to adhere to such asks.
LR: Based on your experience, what advice do you have for artists on the rise?
MuMu Fresh: Strive to be Consistent, authentic, and excellent always.
LR: What platform, outlet, or resource has given you the best ability to showcase your work and earn money?
MuMu Fresh: Performing on NPR’s Tiny Desk was a game-changer for my career. YouTube can pay pretty well for content. I mostly promote my music and brand on Instagram though. SoundExchange is a fairly new resource that has helped me generate a lot of new online residual income and also the MLC which I supported in Congress as a governor of the D.C. chapter of the Recording Academy. And lastly, Voiceover work was an unexpected source of residual income that I’ve been enjoying lately.
LR: Any indie artist myths that you want to bust?
MuMu Fresh: Yes. I’d like to kill the myth that independence is synonymous with low standard or low quality. Or that the only reason you’re indie is that you couldn’t “get” a deal. Also, the myth of starving artists should cease to exist. I have been thriving solely from my art for over a decade with a child and no record label. I’ve only had one normal job once in my life that lasted a few months. Other than that I have made an excellent living exclusively off my talent.
LR: What about busting some myths about women in rap?
MuMu Fresh: The myth about women in rap is that we don’t get along. That’s normally not the truth. Just because women may not appear together on a record doesn’t mean that there is any beef.
LR: You didn’t seem to miss a beat in 2020 and even took the time to create an online music education platform. Why did it feel necessary and timely to found “Muniversity Studies” during the pandemic? Will you continue this work in the future?
MuMu Fresh: I love educating other artists, and people in general, about the things I’ve learned along my journey. The classes weren’t just informative but also transformative. Many of my students were people who always wanted to do music but didn’t have the support they needed. Some also became parents young and felt like they had to abandon their art to be ‘responsible’ parents, but due to the downtime that the pandemic offered, they decided to take a chance on themselves and study with me. The writing sessions were therapeutic and healing for many. I felt proud to see the lives that were being positively impacted by my online university. The Muniversity will definitely continue in the future with plans to one day have a brick-and-mortar space to train the future generation of multifaceted artists that will follow in my footsteps.
LR: Why do you find responsibility in working as an arts activist and global citizen?
MuMu Fresh: I believe every human that is blessed to breathe air here on planet earth has a responsibility to make the planet better than they inherited it. One of my many middle names is “Hasan” which means “doer of good.” It’s a part of my destiny, set in motion before I was born, that life would call on me to be a person who fought for justice and balance and goodness on Earth. Every artist doesn’t feel this responsibility, but in my humble opinion, when God gifts you with a powerful tool such as music, why squander it? Why not make the world better than you found it if you can?
LR: What areas of activism do you find most important and relevant to your experience?
MuMu Fresh: I am passionate about personal development, spiritual elevation, mental health, decolonization, cultural reclamation, equity, abolitionism, environmental justice, education, and ending institutional racism.
LR: What ways do you hope your voice reflects the changes needed in those areas?
MuMu Fresh: I lend my voice through my music, my social media platforms, my educational services, and through my physical presence and financial support to assist these movements.
LR: How do you believe you’ve grown as an artist — from your lyrics to your performances; what has shaped you into the emcee you are today?
MuMu Fresh: My older brother started me on my journey of being an emcee when I was in the 4th grade. He held me to a standard of excellence that I still hold myself to today.
Since childhood, I have traveled performing and learning with some of the greatest artists of our time. All of the acts I toured with had amazing stage shows. I toured with The Legendary Roots Crew from Philadelphia when I was a teen and learned so much about putting on a great stage show. Black Thought is one of the greatest to learn from regarding breath control, cadence, and delivery. I learned how to milk a crowd and leave everyone on a high note wanting more. I Learned about vocal looping and layering and single parenting on tour from Zap Mama, I learned about team building, consistency, and excellence from Common. The list goes on and on. I am forever a student of all my experiences. My hunger to be the best keeps me working on my craft to continually get better. And I never like to do the same thing repeatedly. I get bored easily so I’m always seeking new creative challenges in my art. Most people hit a plateau at some point in their career and stop improving. I don’t anticipate that ever happening to me. (I keeps it Fresh lol). I promise you I will continually grow and get better until my last breath.
LR: Who is MuMu Fresh?
MuMu Fresh: I am a panoramic experience, you can’t see me in a 3 x 5. You’ll miss the magic. I invite you all to study my catalog on my website and take this journey with me. I believe myself to be the most culturally relevant, versatile, and dynamic artist of my generation. No hubris involved (cuz God doesn’t like that.) But I promise you won’t be disappointed.
LR: Any new music coming soon?
MuMu Fresh: I have an album dropping June 18, 2021, called Queen of Culture, please get into it and check out the short films we’ve created to go along with the album. You can find them all on my YouTube channel.
I also have several other albums in the tuck ready to release every six months for the next few years. I’m not playing with anybody lol. My creative well is endless by the grace of God.