Photograph by Sandro Miller
Paul Diaz, Malissa Hunter, James ‘Groove’ Chambers
Two Chainz, Mali Hunter, Lenny Kravitz, and KY
Malissa "Mali" Hunter is a twenty-first century Renaissance woman. Known to some as a executive in the entertainment and advertising world, she has received her first Grammy Award nomination for her role in the “New Flame”, song with Chris Brown, Usher, and Rick Ross, which is up for Best R&B Song and three other categories. As a music industry leader, she continues building her community at the world famous Tree Sound Studios in Atlanta, GA, where she runs the show. Hunter is General Manager and as she calls it vibe technician. As a celebrity host and chef, Hunter has become famous for her industry parties that feature farm-to-table organic family-style dinners that make everyone feel right at home.
Hunter speaks with The Chic about her life in music, and how it has come full circle over the years. She recalls, “When I was a young girl I wanted to be a business woman, a singer, and rich like Richie Rich. [Laughs]. But if you asked me I would say that I wanted to be peaceful & happy, oh and also a doctor. I was curious about the planet and how we got here and was great in science. Yep, I loved it, but I was also a little songbird. My Dad used to play the flute and guitar all the time and have me sing since I was as young as I can remember. I was influenced by his love for music and the records that he played and taught us. So it was kind of passed on to me. It's in my blood. I had raw talent but I also grew up in my Aunt Catherine's church that was a big influence as well.
“I did musicals and was in choir in high school. Carl Johansen was my music teacher. He was amazing. My girlfriend, Michelle Burden, worked at WGCI radio in Chicago and then on to major labels like Def Jam and Warner Bros. I was always watching her moves in the biz she was an inspiration. We did talent shows and found producers that had in home studios to sing in. My sister Stephanie Harris and I ran over the country for many years after, making music and moves. She managed me until I got to Tree Sound and now that I'm finally working on my music she will be with me on this next part of my journey.
“Moving into the business side of the music industry was natural for me. I wanted to sing my whole life and when people tried to control my creativity or get me to sign things I decided I really wanted to know how the money was made and collected. I’m not one to be told what to do or pushed around and it wasn't the fame that I was after I really love music and I am patient so that's saved me from what most artist get roped into. As a child, I was an entrepreneur. I did everything from running lemonade stands and selling candy to singing at weddings.
“I didn't come from a wealthy background with celebrities but they were always attracted to me and comfortable around me. When I realized most artists I met weren't really happy, it scared me into learning the biz (which is ever changing with technology and the new ventures surrounding the industry). Seems like every time I got close to signing a deal, something always happened that lead me in a different direction. I was never going to be out of control with my own record because in my heart, music is supposed to be fun...
“I came to Tree Sound Studios to do a record with Grammy Nominated/MultiPlatinum Producer James ‘Groove’ Chambers. After just a few months of making music, we found ourselves on tour across the country and in front of many labels offering deals, including Clive Davis and his team. He and the team were excited about us and they offered us to come back perform and take a deal. At that time, Groove and I came back to Tree Sound where I became close to proprietors Paul and Sunshine Diaz.
“I was very much into the eco-friendly and loving energy that Groove, Paul, and Sun gave off. In 2005, I decided to put the music on hold and build a community and partnership with Groove and the Diaz family. At first, I was in Artist Relations and then moved into the position of General Manager. I have done everything from human resources, marketing, public relations, event planning, sales—you name it; I have done it. [Laughs].
“A decade later, the Tree Sound brand is strong and is known as a loving, magical, eco-conscious community in the entertainment industry that cares for artists. If you become a part of it, you are automatically welcomed into the industry with open arms.
“Tree Sound has influenced me musically in many ways. Growing up within the 20,000 square-foot walls of Tree Sound has been invaluable to me as a musician and a businesswoman. From meeting and spending time with my idol, Whitney Houston, to intimate conversations with artists like Neyo, Lenny Kravitz, J Cole, Andre 3000, Jill Scott, Justin Bieber, Usher, and Drake, I have studied this business almost like a med student has to do for residency to become a Dr. The things that I have seen and learned at Tree Sound have been awesome, crazy, amazing, scary, and surreal. I always knew that I needed to prepare myself and my heart for what happens after you drop a record. I don't believe that there's a better place on earth better to have done this.
“When I took off my singing/writing hat and put my record on the back burner to be on the business side, I had to do something creative so I wouldn't go crazy. I love cooking, I love people, and hosting great energies, I've also eaten clean non-GMO and organic food for almost twenty years. I guess my heart created this MaliWorld celebrity dinner series and brand for the artists I work with.
“I know how important it is to find a vibe and feel at home when you're being creative. Eating to go food out of a box didn't quite make me feel like I was doing my best to create that vibe for the celebs in Tree Sound. I decided if they were in my new found the home, I would have to treat them the way I was brought up. So I started cooking for the staff then the clients, and then it became the thing to do when you come to the ATL. We’ve hosted movie wrap parties for Billy Bob Thornton, Woody Harrelson, a book signing dinner for Rosie Perez, and record release dinners for Janelle Monae,TI, B.O.B, Anthony Hamilton, Future, 2 Chainz, and more, feeding thousands of people.
“I’ve always cook for my family and friends and they loved it so I treated everyone in the building like my family and friends, who I’ve missed so dearly. My great granny, Malissa Garret, was the biggest influence for me. She lived in a little project apartment in the hood and her hundreds of grandchildren would come eat throughout the night and day. Guess that’s where I got my loving desire to make people happy with food. Also, as a kid, my Dad gave us cooking lessons.
“I’ve also always eaten at the top restaurants in whatever town I was in since I was about twenty years old. I guess you could say I’m addicted to great food like some ladies are to great shoes. I bought a ton of books, met a bunch of cool chef pals, and watched the Food Network every chance I could. My partner Sunshine ran our farm in Gainesville, and we got lots of fun veggies for our dinners from her, as well as from other local farmers. I began making the family-style dinners for which I am now well known. My favorite events lately are our yoga soirees where my yogi pal and energy balancer Erin Kincaid and I teach yoga and share positive vibes with light yummy in season veggie dishes.
“At the same time, I noticed I wasn't always hearing the songs of artists who had recorded at Tree Sound, so I decided to build my boutique agency to help my celeb friends with exposure for their new projects. My marketing/social media online exposure team is the absolute best at helping the artist they get to know by working hand to hand with their labels marketing teams. For the first four years, I spent my own personal money, food and beverage for my dinners. The word was getting out about my dinners so I then went to food, liquor, clothing, and electronic companies to partner with my growing Retnuh Agencies celebrity dinners and press events. Because the artists were all my personal friends, it made it easy for me to find the right match for co-branding/online exposure driven dinners with the press.
“I've been feeding the press since 2005, not just physically with my farm-to-table organic food, but also spiritually with love and friendship. One thing I noticed was that celebs were sometimes rude and unappreciative of these creative writers and journalist. Most people would've stayed far away from the so-called gossipers but I realize that without these writers, no one would know about these artists and that they needed their credit and to be loved as well. 3 Little Digs is our in house film company. They have been capturing the magic in Tree Sound for five years and their amazing clips are posted on over 250 websites around the world. That's how I funded my dinners and how I have become so well known in the industry as Chef Mali, celebrity host and tastemaker.
“Chic to me is about balance, positive vibes, being an honest leader, and a genuine human being. You cannot give a darn about what anyone thinks, but you move with confidence, good character, and humility. If you are wining and humble, it's so sexy and chic to me! You’ve got to be fashionable as well. I'm not saying thousands of dollars on clothes, I'm just saying you need to own it whether it’s from Neiman's or the thrift store. It’s a must for you to being comfortable in your own skin.”Links
Photographs courtesy of iAmMali
Social Media: @Iam_mali
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Curated by Miss Rosen
With Trinidad James