MAHD has just slid into a Starbucks, discreet and unnoticed like a monk late for dusk service. He's swagged in a black tee, red sweats, and gymies. His voice is as understated as his demeanor, which makes it hard to believe he's the same cat that bustles with epic "it" factor every time he touches the mic. His newest single, "Hello Detroit" (which gives a visual shout-out to MT) is one of the most sincere and uncorniest odes to the Motor City ever heard. The YouTube views, radio spins, and hometown praise have been snowballing with every click.
"I'm satisfied with how the single has been doing," he says. "The reaction has been great; so far it's been my best release."
MAHD was born Amadeo Cross ("God is love" in Italian) and has spent most of his life around music. "My whole family was always doing something, whether it was producing, rapping, or whatever," he says. "I couldn't really escape it."
His eyes wander around the sparsely populated coffeehouse as he reminisces about being 7 years old with his older brother and cousins at Maurice Malone's Hip-Hop Shop, watching Eminem and others engage in rap battles. He talks Dilla, Royce, Lil' Wayne, Common, the '90s, and wanting to be known as a complete emcee.
But MAHD acknowledges that music wasn't always his thing. "I had hoop dreams," he says. "I hooped my whole life, but it started to fade in high school some as I got into girls and other stuff."
After graduating from Cooley High in 2006, MAHD enrolled at Wayne County Community College for a year and then transferred to Wayne State University, where he studied graphic design. "Graphic design was cool, but I just wasn't too focused on school," he admits.
By 2010, he was working for the City of Detroit Department of Elections when the music bug bit him like a giant termite. "Honestly, I wasn't feeling a lot of hip-hop music anymore," he says, "so I decided I was going to make the kind of music that I wanted to hear."
MAHD could have opted for an easier entrance into rap by riding his older brother's coattails (some guy named Black Milk). "I didn't want to use my brother's name for no handouts," he says. "I want to earn everything on my own."
Instead, MAHD chose the Lebron Method, forming a team out of childhood friends (some new to the industry, some not) who all have one thing in common: they believe in MAHD. There's AwillTraxx, who handles the lion's share of music production; Xavier Owners & Tremaine Edwards, who shoot the videos; TJ, who manages MAHD; and E-class, Dbeezy, Dree, Ralph, and TG, who play various administrative and promotional roles.
"We're not a label," says MAHD. "We're just a team. You can call up anyone of them to book me for a show."
MAHD's first offering was 2010's "It's On," a club-friendly song that he calls "a nice buzz song just to get people to recognize us." The song served its purpose by announcing there was a new contender on the block, and MAHD followed it up with another club hit with 2011's "Pretty Ladies."
"We worked Pretty Ladies for a minute," he says. "We got the video on WorldstarHipHop and pushed that song for almost eight months." The handwork paid off, as MAHD's fluid lyrical librettos became instantly recognizable to fans of Detroit hip-hop.
MAHD has the heart and flow of a '90s emcee. He cares more about rhymes, lyrical dexterity, and whole albums rather than over-the-top production or a catchy hook. "I've always been about lyrics and beats, not just one or the other," he says.
In between promoting the two singles, MAHD honed his chops performing at Plan B, Kingdom, Lucy's, Club Bleu, and leaked a series of cover tracks to keep his buzz going.
"Honestly," he says, "I just wanted to get good before I started working on an album."
His first album was 2013's MAHD Almighty. There was a listening party for bloggers, DJs, and music writers and an album-release party for admirers. The 12-track album continued to grow his fan base, punctuated by singles "HWPO," "Foundation," and the radio-friendly "Red Lipstick," which featured Detroit crooner John Brown. MAHD capped off the album by promoting and headlining his own show earlier this year.
"We packed it out," he says. "By 9 p.m., the place was full."
MAHD is busy gearing up to release his new single, "Gorgeous Chic," off his new album, 13, slated for release at the end of next month. "I felt the fans ... deserved something new," he says. MAHD spent time in Atlanta working on the album and considers this his best product to date.
"The biggest difference between albums is my maturity," he says. "You'll be able to instantly hear how much I've grown once you listen to the new album."
Detroit has always been one of the hardest places to succeed in hip-hop, but MAHD found a different vibe down south. "When I was in Atlanta," he says, "the support between artists and people there was crazy. People there will dance to your song whether they know you or not, and artists there will rock with other artists they don't even know."
MAHD also acknowledges the struggle of trying to bridge Detroit's different sounds. "You have the Doughboyz Cashout sound, and we have the more boom-bap style," he says. "They're two totally different worlds, like two different Detroits, but I feel there are few outside of myself that have a chance to touch both crowds." — mt