“[‘insecure’] was a blossoming and awakening for Malcom as we have come to know him. It was the world’s first look at Malcom Moon—the pop star.” – Rachel Shuford
I’ve always been obsessed with music. While most kids were collecting Pokémon cards or practicing their jump shot, I was glued to my boombox studying the liner notes of my favorite artists’ new album. At a young age, I was becoming familiar with the various roles involved in creating a project. You had the singer, but then you had the songwriter, producer, and the like. I noticed that a lot of my favorites not only sung the songs, but they also wrote and sometimes produced the music too. That revelation built a deep-rooted appreciation for music as a form of storytelling and escapism. It’s crazy that my wildest dream of creating my own musical narrative would come true. February 7, 2020 would become a milestone in my life, and “insecure” would be the vehicle to introduce Malcom Moon as a singer, songwriter, dancer, director/producer, and visionary on the rise.
“Working on ‘insecure’ was an awesome experience. I had just moved to New York and working with Malcom was a great welcome to the city. We ended up working on many more songs, but ‘insecure’ is a special one for sure.” – Chris LaBella
On August 8, 2018, I had stepped off the JMZ line in a part of Brooklyn that wasn’t familiar. I was heading to a new producer’s spot to work on something brand new. We had met through Bird Language (a musical duo with production credits on “casual,” “honeymoon phase,” and “backstabbers”), and prior to this session, we had never truly worked together. I remember I was nervous as hell. I was still unsure of myself as an artist and songwriter, but I was excited to see what we could create together. Little did I know that this man would help me discover my sound and produce a majority of my upcoming record.
Chris LaBella is seriously a genius. His musicianship is otherworldly, from picking up the bass and laying down a funky line to playing the foundational chords on the keys. He also has a really good ear for melodies and harmonies. When I got to his place, I was freaking out because I had nothing planned. No lyric ideas or rough demos to springboard off of. All I knew is that I wanted to create something more upbeat with jazz chords. From there, Chris started to play around on the keyboard, while I sat back with my songbook in hand listening for anything that jumped out to me. Eventually, he played what would be the chord progression for the chorus. Immediately, my ears perked up, I opened up voice memos, and I started humming along and mapping out the melody.
“Dada dada da da da, dada dada da da da, dada dada da da da, I can’t get over you.” Chris has this unspoken way of just sensing the vibe in the room. He could tell that I was onto something and really encouraged me to keep going with that idea. So while he expanded on the production loop by adding bass and a drum pattern, I kept recording little voice memos of ideas. Questions started to formulate like, “Do I ever cross my mind? Do you ever wonder why? Do you ever think that l’d…” I recorded them. Then, I kept getting this melodic line that felt sassy and demanding. “What are we gonna do?” It was cocky yet vulnerable. I started to create a narrative of unrequited love, and how in previous life experiences, I desperately wanted to know where I stood. Then one of the greatest gifts came into my head. “How are you gonna fix it?” I kept repeating it over and over with little variations each time. I could hear it being layered and knew that it would be a special moment. At the end of the session, Chris sent me a bounce file of the track and I went home.
aaliyah’s infamous tommy hilfiger ad (left)
channeling babygirl on set (right) / photography by Rachel Indisposable
I wrote “insecure” in 25 minutes at Hamilton’s Cafe Restaurant on Broadway. It was a very stream of consciousness process where I just spilled out all my thoughts. I thought about all of my insecurities in a new “situationship.” How I used to wait by the phone for a text and how consumed my thoughts were on the possibility that this guy might feel the same about me. It was the first song that I didn’t make any edits or revisions. What I wrote in that coffee shop is what you hear on the record. When I brought it in for my next session with Chris, I thought he was gonna hate it. It was so different from everything that I’d done prior. The second verse was veiled in metaphor and rhythmically different from the verse. But he truly dug it and was excited to lay down the vocals.
That recording session is still my favorite of all-time. We were just so in-sync and laid down the demo quickly. The best part was coming up with harmonies and vocal layering. Channeling one of my idols Brandy, I was determined to have a rich textural climax with multiple stacks and a call-and-response section. We wanted it to sound like all the voices in your head building up to its boiling point. Hearing it back a cappella is still a moment of pride. Every piece locked in perfectly. It was the most fun day in the studio. I was able to try new things, and Chris encouraged it. Even when I was feeling very Janet Jackson a la The Velvet Rope and decided to record a spoken outro section. I knew the conversational aspect would be an important element. It’s all about the details.
levi directing the bedroom scene
photography by Rachel Indisposable
“In all of my conversations with Malcom, I got the sense that he was very meticulous with how he approached his career and his art. What really proved that to me was the fact that he already had a clear vision and plan for so many aspects of the EP.” – Levi Barrie
Whenever I create music, I immediately see color schemes, tableaux, and strong visuals. Maybe it’s synesthesia. Maybe it’s my love for film, theatre, and photography. Maybe it’s due to my obsession for 106 & Park and studying the work of Hype Williams, Dave Meyers, and Jake Nava. Whatever the case may be, I knew “insecure” needed a music video. I set up a meeting with my friend, Levi Barrie, to pitch my idea for a music video and see if he would be interested in directing. “Prior to this meeting, I had never heard Malcom sing,” Barrie recounts. “I listened to 3 essentially completed tracks from the project and my initial feeling was relief, which quickly turned into being impressed because I genuinely really dug the music.”
The overall concept was to visually showcase the feeling of solitude and isolation. Being trapped by your own thoughts and longing for connection. The only way to escape your mental prison is to take that leap of faith. “Needless to say, I was sold,” Levi states. From there, it was off to the races. Together, we fleshed out my rough outline of the treatment while I scouted out a location, choreographer, photographer, and crew for the shoot.
“His music makes me want to explore the emotions hidden in the deep fabrics of my being.” – Negesti
Negesti and I went to college together, and I’d always been a fan of her work on campus. Her movement had a mixture of fluidity and sharpness to it. You could feel the passion and intention behind each phrase. Not to mention, she also danced with the legendary Janet Jackson. So to have her choreograph my debut music video was a huge blessing. “Malcom is one of the most intentional artists I’ve had the pleasure of working with,” says Negesti. “So intentional, that creating for him was seamless and inspiring.” She made me feel so confident and gave me the best advice for working on sets. What many don’t know is that we only had one rehearsal together. I had to learn the choreo quickly and practice every day leading up to the shoot. It was definitely one of the hardest parts of creating the visual, but I wanted to show every facet of me as an artist. I wanted to feel like Aaliyah and shape shift into various aspects of the performer. This could be my only shot. “As a fellow Trinity alum, it was a blessing to have been a part of his project and I hope this isn’t the last time that I take part in his magic,” she expresses.
a still from the “insecure” music video
“I knew this project was special and it was easy to channel the inspiration since I connected with it so effortlessly. I’m honored to have been part of this and proud of my friend for creating something so so beautiful.” – Sakile Broomes of BlaqueX Nail Art
I wanted to serve looks in this visual. I wanted each shot to become progressively more and more striking to keep the viewer engaged. After creating each outfit myself and pairing them with each scene, I thought it would be really cool to collaborate with BlaqueX Nail Art. My good friend Sakile Broomes is the owner of the mobile nail art salon, and we had been speaking for years about a possible collaboration with my music. “Creating the nail art for ‘insecure’ was fun and easy,” Sakile recalls. Once she heard the song and saw my mood board, she created a custom intergalactic design featuring the moon, stars, and the Milky Way. I was obsessed. The nail art played on the dreamy production, my last name, and the duality of masculine and feminine in my work. “insecure” has a lot of references to discovering your sexuality with lines like “bit the forbidden fruit cause I wanted to explore.” I strived to make every element intentional and supportive of all the themes within the lyrics. Plus, the nail art just made me feel confident and badass.
the single artwork for “insecure”
photography by Rachel Indisposable
Thinking ahead, I knew that I would need some promotional footage to share on social and more importantly for the single artwork. I quickly enlisted my girl, Rachel Shuford of Rachel Indisposable, to capture the magic behind the scenes and shoot the cover art. What I love about working with Rachel is how relaxed she makes me feel in front of the camera. It never feels like work. She also has this unique gift of capturing the essence of her subject and showing you these hidden mysteries that you don’t often see in yourself.
The unexpected nature of how the single artwork came together highlights the magic of challenging your perspective. Rachel sent over the photos from her disposable camera which were great, but I remember she took some Polaroids and I was interested in seeing them again. When she sent over the scans, it had multiple Instax shots on the frame. She had grouped them by outfit and color scheme. When I got to the scan with the bed shots, I couldn’t stop looking at it. First off, it was the only set that I didn’t have my glasses on—which if you know me, you know I never willingly take off my glasses in public. Normally when I see photos of me without my glasses, I feel like I look haggard and gross. But this time, I saw a beautiful vulnerability. With the negative space surrounding the shots, it gave me a sense of putting together the pieces of my emotions and thoughts. I then thought what if I wrote out the title “insecure” in my handwriting on the image to give it a more textured, human vibe. And based solely on that emotional response is how the artwork was born.
“We did a lot with minimal resources, and we had a great time making it. Many projects come and go without much of anything that is memorable about them, but this is one that comes with special memories.” – Levi Barrie
The “insecure” video shoot was an 8 hour day at Theaterlab near Hudson Yards. Levi and I had mapped it out to ensure that everyone got a break to grab a meal (except for us). It was a long day, but it was extremely rewarding for me as a creative. It was my first time making a music video in which I had support. Thank God for all of my friends who agreed to help make my dream become a reality. I had a production manager, sound operator, lighting designer, and makeup/wardrobe assistant. I was doing it big! Everyone had the same goal and truly believed in the project. That’s what I loved most about the process. That unconditional love and support.
my favorite photo ever
photography by Rachel Indisposable
There were so many great memories on set from creating my own labyrinth with huge moveable panels to creating the ending phone call scene. By the way, I thought it would be super cool to plant an Easter egg in the video. When my phone rings, if you quickly freeze the frame, you can see that the caller ID is “Casual.” That was an intentional nod to a song on the EP of the same name which directly follows “insecure” in the track listing. Also, the entire phone conversation alludes to the title of my EP, Conversations In My Driveway. Again, it’s all about the details.
Anyway, I have to talk about the bed scene in the video and one of the most important props. So, the premise around the scene was to showcase those late night thoughts of seduction when you’re by yourself and a little tipsy. You get all roused up in the fantasy but eventually realize that you are all alone. “Man, I think I drank too much.” Levi was brilliant in directing the scene, and I knew that I wanted it to be hot and steamy. So I got this idea that we should spray my body down with water to help my skin glisten and activate the muscle tone. Listen, it works. But it soon became a running joke between takes. We need more water. Hannah Kern was dubbed my “spritz queen” and made sure that my skin looked amazing in every shot. Every time Levi yelled “cut,” another spritz was applied. It’s those little moments that I’ll never forget.
“insecure” would become my most successful single to date with over 1,000+ streams on Spotify. It would also land a placement on Spotify’s New from NYC: Pop playlist and garner more positive responses from friends and strangers around the world. It would also attract good feedback from industry professionals during its early development stages, which still blows my mind. Never in a million years did I think this song would change my life the way it did. I’m forever humbled by the continued love and support that I receive. As we celebrate one year of “insecure,” I cannot help but smile. Who knew that a song about insecurities, the fear of being alone, discovering your sexuality, and doubt would connect with so many. It makes me extremely excited to keep going and present new music. Whether it’s 5 people or 12,000 people listening, I will always be abundantly grateful to the listener for taking the time to experience my journey—my truth.