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T-Mal's rappin' at breakout door

ALBANY -- Yes, it's appropriate that Terrance "T-Mal" Mallory would name his record label HOOD-RAISED Records.

Mallory was, after all, raised in one of Albany's meaner neighborhoods, and he experienced the urban realities that faux "thugs" looking for street credibility only concoct as a front.

"I ran with gangs; I got shot at; I've had guns held to my head," T-Mal said during a recent conversation at his Odom Avenue home in South Albany. "No matter what else happens in my life, I'll always be a product of this place where I've spent all my years.

"And while I've had to struggle in life, if I had to do it all over again, I would. I'd just get to where I am now a lot quicker."

Where T-Mal is right now is on the verge of a breakout rap career that is just short of 15 years in the making. His "Game Day" video, a collaboration with veteran BET producer Kofi Oliver, is blowing up on the Internet, and Mallory's getting ready for a second appearance on BET's "The Mo'Nique Show."

"This is a whole different level than I've ever experienced," Mallory said. "This (appearance) will be a door-opener for me. This is that one opportunity I've been waiting all my life for. There's no turning back."

T-Mal's career started when he met former partner Rodney "U.T." Moore at Monroe High School. The pair recorded a pair of albums as Innocent Felonz. But just as their career was set to kick off, Mallory was arrested.

"We were starting to make it and had a new album coming out when I was arrested," Mallory said. "I spent the next year incarcerated, and that pretty much killed the momentum we had going.

"I didn't give up, though. I continued to write music, and that helped me develop a closer relationship with God. I feel very fortunate to have gotten out ... I was in any number of situations where I could have been in prison now or I could have been killed. But God kept me here for a purpose."

A SECOND CHANCE

Through Mallory's closer-than-a-brother friend Reginald Baldwin, who initially signed Innocent Felonz to his Artesian Records label, the Albany rapper was hooked up with Oliver, whose 13 years at BET include duties as field producer for "The Mo'Nique Show."

Oliver was so taken with T-Mal's music, he agreed to produce videos for the rapper. The pair's first work together, "It Cost to Ball," set the stage for "Game Day," which includes a sample from the theme music to "NFL Today" and vintage sports footage.

"I got the instrumental from (influential producer) Knight Rider, and the 'NFL Today' sample gave it a kind of sports feel," Mallory said. "I started thinking how my career parallels an athlete's who starts at the Pop Warner level, works his way through high school and college and becomes a No. 1 draft pick.

"That's the way I view my career; I'm ready to be that draft pick."

T-Mal spits lines like "I am the future, the future is now ...," "It's now or never for me ..." and "I tell you when I'm through -- when I'm No. 1" on the synth-driven up-tempo "Game Day," the first single from his work-in-progress mix tape "Game Time."

"(Mallory's appearance on) 'Mo'Nique' is one of those things that could take him to the top," said Baldwin, who owns a Florida flooring business but still maintains his position as HOOD-RAISED Records' vice president. "That will get him exposure that will get his Internet numbers up. Record deals are determined these days by the number of hits an artist gets on the Web.

"T-Mal has evolved a great deal as an artist since we first met, and he's ready to spread his wings. This national and worldwide exposure may be just what he needs."

Oliver got Mallory a ticket to a taping of the Academy Award-winning comedian/actress's show in Atlanta last September and introduced the rapper to the host as "one of the hottest undiscovered talents in the country." When Mo'Nique had an opportunity to check out T-Mal's music, she invited him back to another taping.

'COME CLEAN'

At that show, Mallory was invited to participate in a recurring skit called "Come Clean," in which Mallory admitted to burning down his family's house when he was nine.

"I think she wanted to see how I would react to being on camera," T-Mal said. "They told me backstage to just come up with a story, and I 'came clean' about burning down the family's house when I was a young boy.

"After the taping, Mo'Nique told me, 'Get ready to be a star.'"

With his impressive off-the-cuff appearance at the first "Mo'Nique" taping under his belt, Mallory is preparing for that door-opening shot.

The host invited him back for a guest appearance in September, during which he will perform and talk with her.

"I'm one of those people who waits for opportunities," T-Mal said. "It's hard to deter me. About the hardest thing I've had to endure over the years is watching other artists who didn't have as much talent make it.

"But I'm ready for my shot. I'm ready to give back to this community. I called my record label 'HOOD-RAISED' because my story is a typical story of someone who grew up in what they call 'the 'hood.' But I'm now in the process of raising the 'hood to another place, to another level. I'm taking this 'hood up with me."