Hip-Hop

Malcolm Whyz3's Second Act

Less than a year after releasing his first EP, Malcolm Whyz3 (born Malcolm Whye) has his first show as a headliner on August 13th.
Less than a year after releasing his first EP, Malcolm Whyz3 (born Malcolm Whye) has his first show as a headliner on August 13th. Drew Dettke
At 29, rapper Malcolm Whye, who performs as Malcolm Whyz3, has a few extra years on his peers just starting to break into the music industry. But he's content to progress at his own pace: He wrote his first song a few years ago; released his first project, Before the Streetlights Come On, less than a year ago; and is already about to headline his first show, on Saturday, August 13, at Loaded. Whye's just getting started, he says, pointing to legends like Jay-Z, who released his debut studio album at 26 and still has a booming career at 52. Whye has been a college football star at UNC, a wunderkind for several startups, a motivational speaker, an entrepreneur (he still owns Mindset of a Hustler, a business he created to help educate and inspire young adults), and an account manager for a software company, but he's finally found his true calling in music.

Whye split time evenly between Denver and Harlem growing up, and considers both places home. "When I was growing up, my mom lived out here and my dad lived in New York. I would go to school out here, and as soon as the school year was over, I would hop on a plane and spend months in New York," he explains. "So I have a lot of influence from New York, but I was born and raised in Denver. I guess the tougher versions of me come from New York. I fell in love with music out there, because there's so much culture and history out there."

Though he grew up frequenting Harlem jazz clubs with his father and watching his friends in Colorado try their hand at performing, being a musician was not on Whye's radar until the last few years. "I was not musically inclined. I never tried making music or anything like that. I always liked to write, and was creative in that sense, but I was always kind of afraid to get out on stage and that sort of thing," he says of his past apprehensions. "My dad was super big into politics, and I always hated the idea of having to speak in front of people. So as I got older, I saw how much my mom and dad did that, and I got into more things that took me out of my comfort zone." To assuage his stage fright as a kid, he threw himself into activities where he would have to confront a crowd: sports, theater and even circus (he can still juggle, but says he needs to brush up on his unicycling).
Malcolm Whye was raised in both Denver and Harlem.
Halley Prince
The idea of recording and performing his own music was daunting, so Whye remained on the sidelines, until a personal loss put things into perspective and inspired him to write his first single. "I grew up with a lot of people who were performers, so a lot of my friends were doing shows locally, and I would go to all their shows and be like, 'Damn, that looks like so much fun.' But I just never got the courage to do it," he recalls. "In 2019, my grandma passed away, and it was kind of the kick in the ass I needed, where I was like, 'You might as well do what you want to do.' And one of the things I always wanted to do was make music, so I wrote my first song, called 'What You Make It.'"

He also started meeting some of the creatives behind Authentic 100 Entertainment (A1 for short), a local entertainment and media collective, who encouraged Whye to pursue music — whether he was ready or not. "They were like, 'Yeah you should just come out to Chicago — we're about to go record some music and meet some people.' And I was like, 'Sure, I'll come!' I didn't know that they had booked studio time specifically for me to record, and they were like, 'I hope you're ready!,'" he recalls with a laugh.

He recorded "What You Make It," but was still not convinced of his own potential. Luckily, he had friends who were, including Korey Williams, aka Hyp3, who will be behind the DJ booth at Whye's upcoming performance. "I wrote that song, recorded it there, and I didn't release it for a long time because I was so self-conscious about it. Eventually, I released it, and still was like, 'Eh, I don't know if I want to do music,'" he says. "Then my friend Korey was doing a show at the Marquis, and he texted me out of the blue, like, 'Are you ready to perform?'"

Whye wrote five songs in a month to prepare for his debut performance, and once he finally got on stage, he was hooked. "It was like an 'I can do this' moment. That first show — I don't know how to describe the feeling. I played football in front of thousands of people, and that show was probably a couple hundred, but it was just like nothing I'd ever experienced before. And it was the first time I'd done anything that was just me, and I was just like, 'Man I love this feeling.' So here I am," he says. "I'm still learning a lot. I by no means consider myself a great musician yet, but I'm learning."

Whye leans into conscious rap, a subgenre of hip-hop with a lyrical emphasis on philosophical questioning and social commentary. His biggest influence is J.Cole, who is credited with helping bring conscious rap back into vogue in the mid-2000s. "I still remember to this day the first time I listened to one of his songs, and he just sounded so different, and he was rapping about things that related to what we're going through as young Black men," he recalls, also listing Nipsey Hussle, Mac Miller and Erykah Badu as influences. "I like melodic rap, and artists who are saying things."

Like J.Cole, Whye favors slower, more melodic beats that complement his un-rushed, self-assured flow. Both artists deliver meditative lyrics on family, faith and the Black experience in America with a similar stoic confidence.

On his semi-autobiographical debut, Before the Streetlights Come On, Whye explores his own personal memories, from his mental health struggles to his brother's open-heart surgery. "[For] the first EP, I wanted to take pieces of my life and put it on paper like it was a journal entry. The reason it's called Before the Streets Come On is that it takes me back to the New York days, when I would play ball all day long and my stepmom would always say, 'You'd better be home before the streetlights come on!'" says Whye. "To me, that's where I'm at in my music career. It's fun for me now. I'm exploring, finding my sound. I'm writing about the things I want to; I don't have anyone influencing me to write a certain way, and it's fun. It's like playing ball to me — whereas I know that, if I get some level of success, it's going to be a job. So I'm enjoying where I'm at right now."
Whye's latest single, "Drunk & Lonely," features fellow Denver rapper ReSrface.
Kevin Hernandez
A recurring theme in Whye's lyrics is his ambivalent relationship with religion and faith. While his mother and grandmother raised him Catholic and he attended a Catholic high school (Denver's Mullen High School), he says he now considers himself more spiritual than religious. "My mom was super Catholic, but I think being at Mullen — I wouldn't say it turned me off from religion, but in a way it sort of did. Then, when I got into college, it gave me that freedom to explore my spirituality a little bit more. I wouldn't say I'm religious, by any means, but I do believe in a higher power and that we're all from the same being, same god. I haven't gone to a church or anything like that since probably high school. But I do find time every day to meditate and to be out in nature, which I believe is a form of god," he explains.

Since releasing the EP last October, Whye has dropped a few collaborative tracks, most recently "Drunk & Lonely" with his friend and frequent collaborator Jesse Santana (aka ReSrface), who is also affiliated with A1. "I love working with him," says Whye. "Every time I go in the studio with Jesse, he elevates my music. He's a big influence for me, and I've told him this, but I don't know if he fully understands how much he influences not just me, but our whole squad. I'd love to do an EP with him, and we've talked about it; it's just a matter of getting it together." Santana will join Whye on stage at his August 13 headlining show to perform "Drunk & Lonely" so fans can get a taste of the friends' undeniable artistic chemistry.

"Things are moving so fast," Whye says. "I consider the start of my artistry when my first EP dropped in October of last year. So it hasn't even been a year, and I've almost sold out shows, I've traveled and been paid to do shows in different cities, and now my first headliner is obviously a huge step. It's hitting me now that I am an artist, and that I have a following and I have the talent to do something like this. At first it was just proving it to myself, but now that I know, I'm going all in on it. I feel like now is the first time that I'll have full control of what I'm going to do on stage. I'm excited — a little bit nervous, obviously, but they're good nerves. It means something is happening."
Conscious-rap enthusiasts will appreciate Whye's thoughtful lyrics.
Anthony Chavez
After checking "headliner" off his to-do list, Whye plans to continue throwing himself head-first into music. "I have enough music now that I can pretty much put out music every couple of weeks for at least a year. We want to get our stuff on Netflix and video games and that sort of stuff, so we're exploring that a little bit. We're trying to build the A1 record label up a little bit more. Doing more shows and traveling," he hints.

Next up is learning how to engineer, mix and master his own music, but for now, Whye is simply enjoying the beginning of his second act. And as listeners, we are, too.

Malcolm Whyz3 with Hyp3, O.T.I.S., Tyja3, Lily Nova and TheRealAge, 7 p.m. Saturday, August 13, Loaded, 1941 Market Street. Tickets are $15 online.
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Cleo Mirza is a real-life Daria Morgendorfer who worships at the altar of Missy Elliot. She left the East Coast to live vicariously through Colorado's drag performers, and only returns for the pizza. Cleo has been a contributing writer for Westword since 2019, covering music, arts, and cannabis. She loves white wine, medical marijuana, and her possessed chihuahua, Rudy.
Contact: Cleo Mirza