If you’ve ever been downtown to Art Walk and seen artists/emcees freestyling in the streets, Mal Jones is probably the guy you spotted displaying his talents. If you haven’t seen him at Art Walk, allow us to introduce him.

Mal is a long-time hip-hop artist, founder of The Lyricist Live, educator, artist and documentarian. Originally, Mal has roots stemming from New York, but now, he’s a proud Duval denizen.

For many years, he has embedded himself in the local hip-hop scene. On any given day, you can find him at any of the various rap battles and cyphers you’ll find throughout the area.

One of his biggest contributions to the local scene was when he and local emcee and curator Mas Appeal hosted The Lyricist Hour, a radio show that highlighted the work of local and independent hip-hop artists. He decided to further enrich the community with his talents in 2012 by bringing visual art, poetry and rap through documentaries.

Photo by Cole LoCurto

Outside the show, Mal also conducts the Lyricist Live event that occurs every first Wednesday at Art Walk in downtown. The Lyricist Live is a public event in which inspiring artists, mostly rappers and spoken word artists, come to share their talents in a cypher (a jam session where everyone contributes to the creative experience) setting.

At this event, you’ll find him exhibiting emcee styles in an effort to showcase Duval’s talented rappers. He encourages this style of showmanship as a form of giving the youth and other inspiring artists a platform to be part of the culture, without anything inhibiting them.

“My thing has always been about giving back to the kids that wanted to be involved, but don’t have the means or know [someone] that can help their kids expand their [musical] talents,” Mal said. “I just became that person based off what I’ve been through and who I am. So by the grace of God, I’ve been able to do what I do with The Lyricist Live.”

While building his brand that drew attention to the arts and music communities, Mal has been honored to perform at numerous speaking engagements at local schools and universities. He has also done a number of art exhibits and has traveled to various places, such as Europe, to show off his craft.

Photo by Cole LoCurto

In 2013, he became the first hip-hop artist in Florida to be labeled a “Folk Artist” by The Florida Folklife Program and Division of Historical Resources. With this title came an apprenticeship program he curates that gives him opportunities to educate the community, mainly children, about the art and literacy of hip-hop.

His 14-year-old apprentice Amari Murrell, an aspiring rapper whose parents discovered the cypher at One Spark in 2014, is Mal’s second apprentice in the program.

Outside of Mal being a positive force to the Duval hip-hop culture, he also does tons of work with the local arts community. Each month, he hosts the networking event “Every Single Artist Lounge” along with Kandice Clark. The event (coordinated by the Cultural Council of Greater Jacksonville) happens the second Tuesday of every month and is held at different businesses that parallel with the arts world.

Mal’s portfolio doesn’t just end at musical contributions though. The artist has inspired work in various art exhibits around Jacksonville — like his role in the recent exhibit at Cummer Museum titled “LIFT” (created by Ingrid Damiani and Hope McMath).

Photo by Cole LoCurto

The exhibit pulled lyrics and meaning from the negro national anthem, originally written by Jacksonville natives James Weldon and John Rosamond Johnson, and made them into stunning art displays with Mal and his son photographed for the piece.

In addition, he exhibited freestyle rhymes at the exhibit’s opening and has written educational poetry on the topic of Shakespeare for The Cummer.

Recently, Mal took a trip to Europe as a cultural ambassador for his work on the poem titled, “Jax to Bristol,” a first for an artist of his kind from Jacksonville.

“I killed like three birds with one stone with that one life goal,” Mal said.

The trip was granted from The Cummer, which celebrated the 400-year anniversary of Shakespeare and his work. Local artist Overstreet Ducasse also shared the ambassador role during the journey, and there is a documentary in the works which discusses the importance of the trip and the two artists’ contributions.

Photo by Cole LoCurto

For them, and the community at large, it is important to note that Duval’s hip-hop history is recorded and documented in our history books for meaningful accomplishments, not just a record going platinum. To them, they felt the need to break out of the stereotype that hip-hop often carries.

When asked how important documenting his work is, Mal gave a genuine answer.

“It wasn’t like I studied it, but I became it based on what I cared about. Now, those archives are part of the state’s archive. That was my goal,” Mal said.

Keeping a log for himself was, at once, important for him, but as time passed, he realized the moments he was capturing were history, and others were creating and adding to the legacy, whether it be direct or indirect.

“It’s everybody’s story,” Mal said. “I want people to know that Duval hip-hop is the best thing in Jacksonville. It’s all about caring about people.”

The future for Mal Jones holds all possibilities that include continuing to embrace the good that he has been doing over the years. “I’m just exploring what positive influence I can have with the culture.”

Be on the lookout for his upcoming documentary on their historical trip to Europe and other great ventures from the hip-hop pioneer. Stay up-to-date with Mal by following him on social media @malsmind or visiting his website at maljones904.com.