Local singer, songwriter, actor and entertainer, Malcolm “Mookie” Tolliver, 33, uses the hashtag “#AlmostFamous” in his social media postings.
Although Tolliver has opened for major entertainers, performed across America, created his own music videos, starred in a movie, and was an actor in a stage play last year, he says further acclaim lies ahead.
“I’m my biggest critic and I know how hard I need to work to be further than I am now,” Tolliver said.
“In five years, I see myself being way more advanced musically; I see myself getting more into the business aspect of music, licensing and getting my music in movies and TV shows and pushing myself more as an actor.”
Tolliver remembers always loving music. In an interview last year on the “Kandi Dish” radio show, he recalled “just goofing” around singing R Kelly’s “I believe I can fly” from the 1996 movie ‘Space Jam.’ He recalled how, at the age of six, friends and strangers complimented his vocal talents.
Born and raised in Madison. Illinois, Tolliver embraced and mimicked the styles of boy bands and singers including B2k, IMx, Dru Hill, and Jodeci. Unlike many other youngsters, Tolliver preferred R&B over hip-hop or rap music.
“When I hear rap, I think of hardcore, thuggish music,” Tolliver explained. “When I think of R&B…that’s singing, that’s love.”
Word spread as Tolliver reached middle school that he was a talented singer.
While in sixth grade, a school superintendent urged him to sing a song in front of his classmates during lunch break. Tolliver obliged, singing a B2k song. He was hooked and became determined to make it in the music and entertainment industry.
After his lunchroom debut, Toliver became quite popular, especially among female students. He said he experienced “love and heartbreak” in his teenage years. He found translating those feelings of euphoria and sadness into poetry quite cathartic.
“I didn’t really know what love was, but I felt like I did,” Tolliver recalled. “But I came to regard music as a window to the heart.”
His music, he said, wasn’t about his feelings or his experiences alone. Inspiration, he said, also came from his peers.
“I’m a relatable person so they would come up to me saying things like, ‘Bro, I’m going through this or that, could you write a song about it?’ So, I did.”
Lessons he learned about music as a teen are evident in the songs he writes today.
“Relatable music is timeless music…people can always go back to it because it reminds them of something they can connect with,” Tolliver said.
The host of the radio show, Kandi Marrs, asked Tolliver about the “vulnerability” she heard in his music. He answered that it was “innate” and stemmed from his mother’s death when he was just nine years old.
“Growing up, going through middle and high school with all those emotions; it just caused me to be vulnerable because I didn’t have that mother love,” Toliver explained.
He did have “love” in his life, however. His sister-11 years his senior-raised Tolliver. Also, he had his mother’s identical twin who, he said, kept his mother’s face in his mind.
Tolliver equates his success to steady grinding, hustling, researching opportunities, acting on them and word-of-mouth praise of his talents.
He remembered singing a Dru Hill song at an afterparty downtown when members of the group walked into the venue. Impressed, they invited him to sing with them.
“I was like, ‘who me?’” Tolliver recalled, adding that he sang two songs with the group when lead singer, Sisqo, handed him the mic demanding he sing his song “Incomplete.”
Because of word-of-mouth, Tolliver has opened for musical heavy weights like Keri Hilson, August Alsina, Trina, J. Holiday, Keisha, Day 26 and more. He’s also recorded with nationally known talents like Dondria and singer, songwriter Sammie.
“When artists come to town looking for an opening act, I get mentioned, my name seems to come up,” Tolliver humbly explained.
Acting, Tolliver added, came via his music videos. In the video for a remix of Ella Mai’s song “Boo’d Up,” he shows his acting chops. He believes it was his music video work that persuaded St. Louis filmmaker, Barron Smith, to cast him in his short film, “A Reckless Victim.” Tolliver said he depicted a “dirty cop” in the movie. Last year, he played an ex-con in “Enigma,” a stage play by local playwright, Phoenix Bell.
Last month, he was featured on a FOX 2 News segment with field reporter, Blair Ledet. An admirer reached out to the station to help promote Tolliver’s new “Open Mic Night with Live Band” show at the House of Soul downtown. As host, he said the show was designed to encourage and support new singers.
With all his creative endeavors, Tolliver also holds down a full-time job. He works at Worldwide Technology as a shipping supervisor overseeing more than 30 employees. The fact that he works for a multi-billion-dollar company co-founded by David Steward, isn’t lost on him.
“Dave Steward inspires me. To have someone who came from the ground up and is so successful is eye-opening and inspiring,” Tolliver confessed, adding: “It says to me, ‘somebody else has to leave a mark like he did.”
Tolliver says he’s using all the “gifts God has given” him to advance his creative ambitions. Whether he’s famous or almost famous, Tolliver’s career trajectory is definitely hitting the mark.
Mookie Tolliver interview with Kandi Marrs can be found here.