Team Building and Family Ties: An Interview with Mvstermind & Fatimah Austin Hunter
Being an artist is a natural thing, but building an audience and a brand out of that artistry can be very difficult. That's where building a team comes in handy. Even with the difficulty, there's hope when there's a great team built around the artist. In the case of this conversation, its foundation is set on family ties. For years, I had hopes of interviewing Mvstermind, and once I found out that his sister, Fatimah Hunter, was his manager, I hoped to interview her too. After years of off and on tweets and emails, the three of us finally got to chat about Mvstermind's artistry and goals, team building, the music industry and what's coming up for him.
All three of us live in different cities: Muhammad in St. Louis, Fatimah in Atlanta, and I in Baltimore. So, I decided to have our conversation via Google Hangouts. While he was running a little behind to our conversation on his way to his studio, Fatimah and I reacquainted ourselves and chatted about her journey into motherhood, family, and career goals. Once Muhammad came into the call, we delved into our conversation, which included nothing but gems and love for the art and the work.
The Artistry of Mvstermind
Muhammad Austin, whose stage name is Mvstermind, is a producer, rapper, and songwriter. Our introduction came from a friendship that I have with two of his older sisters. One is a creative of multiple art forms and another was an assistant to Nikki Jean, a singer-songwriter who is known for her collaborations with Lupe Fiasco and Ab-Soul. These two sisters introduced me to Muhammad’s work, which I have been keeping up with since 2009.
Mvstermind’s beginning didn’t start in 2009: he started creating music at a very young age, coming from a household that encouraged creativity in many different art forms. He learned a lot very early about the music industry: a deal that he had with EMI as a part of a songwriting and producing duo when he was 12 fell through due in part to EMI’s merger talks with Warner. At 16, he decided to get into rapping solo, which was hard for him because of his shyness. But, as he became more comfortable in his purpose and in his work, that started to fade. It helps that his support system, his passion for creativity and for people, and his love for his city, St. Louis, are very strong. Like Baltimore, some artists tend to want out of the city once they gain notoriety or even in the early pursuit of their career. However, Mvstermind hopes to be a part of the solution by encouraging more sustainable systems and platforms to have St. Louis be a place to stay and thrive as a creative. Mvstermind also has other artistic talents, including graphic design and videography.
Fatimah Austin Hunter and the Success of “Mali Moolah”
Fatimah and I both share a love for the intersectionality between music and law, with hopes to go to law school and represent artists with our law degrees. However, we’ve both gone alternative routes in helping artists to achieve their dreams. Hunter’s deep introduction into the music industry has come from supporting Mvstermind’s career. During her time at Agnes Scott College as an International Relations major, Fatimah completed a music business course with Al Thrash, who has worked with OutKast and managed Killer Mike. Even though she wasn’t able to solidify any meetings with Thrash in reference to Mvstermind, she decided to work with her brother. She learned and understood early in her work how important it was to be all about the work of her artist and how real the grind would be in managing him. Fortunately, in the spirit of her influences (Jay-Z, Russell Simmons, Shanti Das and Dina Marto), she hasn’t shied away from the task.
The duo has grown a lot and has seen many successes in their two years together. His first EP, Cusp, a project that he worked on by himself that he describes as a “prelude” to the sound that we will hear from him, included his breakout single, “Mali Moolah.” The success from “Mali Moolah” has been amazing: the video played on BET Jams and Mvstermind has performed at A3C Fest two years straight. He and his collective, MME, was featured in Complex for their work in St. Louis. This success did not come overnight and without a lot of work, which they are still doing more to capitalize on.
The Importance of A Strong Team and Solid Fan Base
One of the first things that I noticed about Mvstermind and Fatimah during our chat is how close and succinct they are. I don't believe it's solely from their bond as siblings, but because they really appreciate and value each other's roles in his career. Mvstermind mentioned that it was so easy to bring her on board because “their connection was already there” and he felt confident in her making the right decisions for him as his manager. Even though Fatimah labeled Muhammad as a perfectionist who takes his time, they understand each other and value each other’s work ethic.
They both discussed how important it has been for them to have a solid foundation in terms of their team. For them, a strong team is imperative to the successes of an artist. Finding team members that take the initiative to do difficult, yet necessary tasks are important. Trust is necessary; healthy competition, great time management, and inspiration are important as well. However, what is even more important for them is a team member that is a go-getter that sees the vision of the artist. Because they are a small independent team, they know that they have to “function harder than a label” and be inspired enough to see the vision through.
We also talked about the importance of blogs in an artist’s success. At the time, Russ’ rant about DJBooth was a big talking point for it. Mvstermind noted and Fatimah agreed that while blog placement and the notoriety that can come from it is important, their goal is to keep up the momentum of their successes by continuing to not only build their fan base but to solidify it. Because of the over saturation of music being released, things move quickly and are obsolete just as quickly as they took off. A solidified fan base that is passionate about the artist’s work will continue to be there.
Mvstermind and Fatimah have done a lot since our interview and have a lot to look forward to in 2018. Mvstermind released beautiful visuals for the song “Ain’t Nobody on the Water Tower” from the Cusp EP. He also released “Halal,” an anthem on police brutality and media censorship. He talked about “Halal” more with Hype Magazine here. Since his performance at LouFest and his main stage appearance at the 2017 A3C Festival, a step up from “securing a spot at a smaller A3C venue last year,” he has teamed up with Squarespace and Dr. Scholl’s (which includes a national ad); these partnerships will release sometime this winter. He and Fatimah have gone into creating their own music label which should be revealed in 2018. Fatimah is also preparing the early 2018 launch of her artist management consulting firm, Austin Hunter Management, a company that will “allow artists to reach out for a la carte management services, while also incorporating a few highly selective full-time management clients.”