The Power of Mario Judah
Mario Judah found his superpower. Now he can't stop going viral. He sits for an interview with Complex to talk about it all.
Photo by KATAI
In early 2020, Mario Judah was going through it.
He had been making beats for years, but things weren’t working out like he planned. So, when a friend suggested he try writing hooks for artists to sing, he gave it a shot. After several months of trying, though, he didn’t find much success as a songwriter either.
Holed up at home in Atlanta during the pandemic, he was in a dark place. "I was down, bro," he says now. "I was down to the bottom."
Feeling like he didn’t have anything to lose, Judah attempted to sing one day. He had played around with his voice in the past, trying to hit high notes, but on this day, he approached it differently. Using vibrato, he threw himself into a melody he had just written and bellowed, "Now it is time for you to die very rouuuuugh."
That's the day Mario Judah discovered his superpower.
"Before that, I didn't know I could sing at all," he reveals. "I had no idea. It's like if you found a treasure or a cheat code in a video game that you didn't know was available. It's amazing. It bugs me out. Now I wake up every morning, like, damn."
He recorded the song, titled it "Die Very Rough," and uploaded it to the internet. Centered around Judah's powerful vocal delivery and off-the-wall lyrics ("I'm a big dog, big bear, n***a, I'm a lion/I'm the predator of the prey that is hiding") over a hard-hitting beat, it was primed for viral success.
Within weeks, the song caught the attention of management and production company One Room Media, who invited Judah to Maryland to shoot a video for it. Then everything exploded. Within three months of its release, the music video racked up over 10 million plays on YouTube, spawned countless memes, and received praise from the likes of Trippie Redd and Lil Uzi Vert.
Since then, Judah has shown an innate ability to go viral online. Playing a short set at Rolling Loud's virtual festival on Halloween, he performed DaBaby’s hit song "Rockstar" without permission, and then laid on his back and screamed throughout "Die Very Rough." Memes ensued.
Then, in a hilarious twist, Judah decided to put his own release plans on hold and devote his full attention to a singular mission: force Playboi Carti’s hand into releasing his long-anticipated album, Whole Lotta Red. Using his newly discovered voice to scream into his phone every day, Judah warned Carti that he would "drop Whole Lotta Red for him" if Carti didn't release the album by Dec. 6. When that deadline came and went, Judah dropped his own interpretation of a Whole Lotta Red single (complete with his own spin on the baby voice) called “Bih Yah.” Within 24 hours, it had 1.4 million views on YouTube and Judah’s face was all over everyone’s timelines.
Now, Mario Judah can’t stop going viral.
As Boi-1da put it, "Mario Judah the most entertaining MFer on the internet fr."
To get a better feel for one of the most viral new artists on the planet, we set up a Zoom call with Judah this week. Completely on-brand, he scheduled the interview for 10:00 p.m., long after the sun had set. The conversation, lightly edited and condensed for clarity, is below.
What's a typical day in the life of Mario Judah like?
A lot of outbursts. A lot of screaming. A lot of singing. I like singing, "yeah, yeah, yeahs," all over the house. Talking with my fans. Making music. Enjoying life. That's every day for me.
What's one thing you need in order to have a good day?
You're very good at going viral. How would you describe your relationship with the internet?
I love the internet and what it has to offer. I love that the internet gave independent artists like myself the opportunity to speak and inspire young people. I love everything about it.
You have a distinct look with your red hair, eye makeup, and jewelry. What inspired that?
Well, of course, there's the rockstar aesthetic. Rock. Metal. Energy. That's where that comes from. But the hair? The hair is iconic. In the color realm, you have red, blue, and green. Those are the main three colors that grab your attention. Those are primary colors. And my favorite color has always been red, so I felt like making my hair red would symbolize dominance, because red is the most dominant color. It grabs your attention. It hits you. It's like, "Wow, what is that?!" I knew that I was a dominant figure, so I just wanted to make it clear that I'm here in an iconic way. It's loud. It's hardcore. It's rock. It's energy.
“The hair is iconic.”
Where did your love of music come from?
My love of music came when I was born. Everybody loves music. There's not a human being living right now that doesn't love music. It's a fact. It's the same thing with scent. We all have a certain type of smell that we like to smell. It's human genetics. It's how we're built.
But as far as wanting to make music? When I was 15 or 16, I was getting into a lot of trouble in school. I was fighting and doing the dumb stuff you do as a kid. So my father took me to military school, and it was damn-near like jail. It was a bad experience, but also a good experience, because I learned from it. I grew from it and I became a better man. Then, after I graduated from military college for welding, I got introduced to FL Studio, which is the program that I make my music on. The very first day, I got hooked. The first beat that I made took 18 hours. That day, I called everyone I knew and said, "Look, I'm sorry. I'm cutting off all friends. I'm cutting off all entertainment activity. This is what I want to do." Since then, it's all I do. That was about four years ago. I was 17 then and I'm 21 now. At first, though, I was only trying to be a producer and just make beats.
When did you start singing and making your own music?
In January of this year, I just got fed up with trying to work with local artists who weren't serious about their craft. They were expecting me to make free beats. I was putting in all the work, but they weren't. So one of my close associates came to me and said, "Look, bro. You should start doing hooks and songwriting. Maybe you'll make more money." I was trying to make it a career and I was not in a good spot financially, so I was like, "You know what? I'll do it."
So I was writing hooks for a few months, until COVID hit. When that happened, I was just depressed. I was in a dark place and people kept telling me, "Look, bro. What you have is amazing. The hooks are catchy. Please put it out." I didn't want to do it, because everybody wants to be a rapper, but I was like, "You know what? COVID hit. Everything's fucked up. What's the worst that can happen?"
I put out my first song on June 19. I'll never forget that day. It was called "Crush." The second song I ever dropped was "Die Very Rough," which was originally just a hook I wrote for somebody else to use. That wasn't a song I ever planned on putting out as an artist. Then a few months later, the video came out, and everything changed for me.
What drew you to the rap-rock sound?
Before making music, when I was 15 or 16, I was listening to Chief Keef, Migos, and Young Thug. Those were the top three. And my pops had also put me on to real good music like Earth, Wind & Fire, Heatwave, and Michael Jackson. But when I started producing, I was trying to replicate the kind of beats Chief Keef and them were rapping over. I thought they were the hardest beats in the world. And the inspiration for the rock vocals came from Breaking Benjamin, Five Finger Death Punch, and Pantera. Legends. Those are the three bands that resonated with me and helped inspire the vocal sound for Mario Judah.
You're known for the rock-inspired sound of "Die Very Rough," but it's already clear you can make all kinds of music. What are some styles you're going to try out that might surprise people?
I'm so happy you asked that, because I'm going to be honest: I didn't know I could sing at all. I had no idea. When I was making beats, even up to January, I had no idea I could sing. "Die Very Rough" was the first song that I really tried to actually sing on. That was the first song where I tried singing with vibrato and bends and everything. So, man, I might come out of the blue with a country joint. I might come out with a real rock song. I might come out with an R&B joint. I might come out with an EDM joint. I might come out with a pop joint or a disco joint. It can go any way.
So it sounds like you just discovered a hidden talent, and now you're figuring out how far you can take it in real time.
Bro. I didn't know! It's like if you found a treasure or a cheat code in a video game that you didn't know was available. It's amazing. It bugs me out. I wake up every morning, like, damn. It's a blessing. Really.
“I wanted the enemy to die very rough.”
Let's talk about the making of "Die Very Rough." Take me through your mindset when you wrote that song.
That night was magical, bro. My mindset was attacking the enemy, because I was in a dark place. A lot of negativity was going in, and I was depressed. I wanted the enemy to die very rough. You know, that little voice that we all have as humans, just making you feel depressed? "You can't do it. You're not going to make it." That little sound in your mind? I was just attacking that. Singing like that is very emotional. I guess it blew up so instantly because we've never heard anything like it. Or at least I've never heard anything like it. I've never heard nobody sing like that, and I'm the one who made it.
Sometimes I feel like I switch into a different person. Right now, as I'm speaking to you, I'm Mario Douglas. That's my real name. My entire name is Mario Diamond-Judah Douglas. But once I turn into Mario Judah, it's different. It's crazy. Then when I'm back to my normal state, it's kind of like, wow, did I really just do that? Did I really just sing like that? Shit's crazy, man. It's a blessing.
"Now it's time for you to die very rough" is a wild phrase. Where did that come from?
I just wanted to make something direct. I didn't want to come up with metaphors or whatever. I just wanted it to be like I was writing a book directly to you, as clear as possible. I'm very well-spoken, and I wanted to say what I had to say, but also say it with emotion, pain, and power.
“I’m about to go to Trippie Redd’s house right now.”
What's the story behind your tag, "Where the fuck is Mario Judah"?
I actually had a tag before that. It was just, "Judah, Judah, Judah." Maybe the world will hear that one day. But I wanted something that was going to grab attention. My name is Mario Judah, so I wanted my full name in it. Then one day I was just recording myself, saying a bunch of random stuff, like, "Mario Judah on the track." Just basic stuff. When I started getting more into it, I was like, "Where the fuck is Mario Judah?” Wait. Hold up. I like that. Then I edited it a little bit, put a dark vocal layer on it, with a higher MIDI sound to alienate it. And I've been using it ever since. I love it.
Have any artists reached out to you since "Die Very Rough" went viral that have blown your mind?
Yeah, I'm about to go to Trippie Redd's house right now.
Yeah. He's one of my favorite artists. And he showed love after I got done performing at Rolling Loud. That was a blessing. Shoutout to you, bro. You're a real dude. I really appreciate him for doing that. I appreciate everybody else that has been showing love in the industry, too. It's crazy to me, bro. I didn't even know I could sing! I'm grateful for everybody just accepting what I'm doing.
I feel like in this generation, we get too caught up in other people's opinions. So before we do anything, we think about what others will think. And I think that's where you fail. We all have lives that we have to live. Like you, bro, you're going to live your life the way you're going to live it. When you go use the bathroom, it's you by yourself. When you put your pants on or eat your food, nobody's going to do that for you. I feel like we don't really take into consideration that we're in this on our own. We're just around other people.
I know you're a big Playboi Carti fan. How did you become a fan of his?
Bro, Carti is another person who I really look up to and admire, because he obviously doesn't give a fuck. Even with the baby voice and the swag. He's a rockstar, too. Carti, Trippie Redd, Lil Uzi Vert, and Juice WRLD. I like people like that a lot. They have that rockstar aesthetic, wearing cut-off jackets and everything. Rockstar shit. Carti's been doing that. He's been on that energy and just going crazy on stage, but in his own way. I just resonated with it.
And I know what you're about to ask, with the Whole Lotta Red thing. So we can talk about that, for sure. It's funny, though. A lot of people don't know this about the Whole Lotta Red situation: Before I blew up, back when I was still songwriting, I was one of the fans in his comments section. I was like, "Bro, drop Whole Lotta Red! Drop Whole Lotta Red!" And I used to always think, "What could possibly be done to get this man to drop his album? We all want it. We all love it." But I'm just another fan in his comment section. He's not going to see my comment. He's a rockstar. So I just figured, now that I've got this platform and people know who I am, it'll get around to where it needs to get around to. Let me speak on this situation, because I really want this man's album.[Laughs.]
So I thought, "Let me try to go to him directly and beg him to drop. Let me put my career on hold for a whole other artist." It was past the point of just asking, because we've been asking him. I figured if I try to make a song to get his attention, that'll alert him. Maybe that'll work. So everything I'm doing now is just trying to get this man to drop this album. I honestly don't know what people might think about what I'm doing. But everybody has been glad that I've been doing it, because we're starting to see results.
You put out "Bih Yah," and it got a million and a half views in 24 hours. Why do you think fans are reacting to it so well?
Because we love Carti! [Laughs.] We fucking love Carti and it sounds exactly like him. And the reason why it sounds exactly like him is because I'm a real fan. I listen to his music a lot, so I was able to replicate it. All of his fans can pretty much do the voice. If you're a real fan, you can do it.
That song surprised a lot of people, though, because it sounds completely different from "Die Very Rough" and your other songs.
Yeah, people were like, "Wow, you did that?" It shocked a lot of people, like, "Wow, he's very versatile." I'm glad everybody appreciated it. I'm sure Carti himself also appreciated it, too. I just really want him to drop, man. Honestly, I just want him to drop. So whatever I can do...
Have you heard anything from Carti or his team?
I'm not expecting him to. I'm not doing this to get a response out of him. I'm doing this so Playboi Carti will drop that album. It's all about the music for me. I couldn't care less about the antics.
Have you thought about five or 10 years down the line, if you take time off music, you might have fans demanding you to drop. Do you think it's important to keep steadily releasing stuff?
Oh, yeah. For sure. It's about the fans. You've got to give the fans what they want. Yeah.
You gave him another warning recently. Can we expect more music from you if he doesn't drop soon? A song? An album?
Hopefully not. Hopefully he drops and we're good. That's the deal. Hopefully no more from me.
But you have more music ready in case?
In case. But I hope I don't. I want his more.
You've had a lot of viral moments and it's clear you like having fun online. How much of the time are you serious and how much time are you joking and having fun?
I have fun all the time, but I don't think I've joked so far. I've been pretty serious and having fun with it. I just feel like everybody is appreciative of what I'm doing, and they're resonating with it. I do laugh at the memes. Those are pretty funny. I really enjoy the memes. They're entertaining.
Right. But the Mario Judah persona is the real deal? That's you being yourself?
Oh, I see what you're saying. Yeah. It's real. Yeah. I love rock music and everything. Yeah. It's all real.
You've already developed a cool relationship with your fans. What's that relationship like?
Oh, it's family. They're brothers and sisters, all of them. What I do is for them. Every move I make, if my fans aren't with it, then I don't do it. If I were to sign to a label or whatever, if it's not going to benefit the fans, then I don't want to do it. Me and my fans, we move like a collective. We move like a squad. I love them with everything in me.
Do you believe in manifestation?
Oh, man! That's why I'm here. You feel me? The universe, man. Manifestation and energy. That's why I'm here. Literally. I've been keeping my energy high. I'm just glad to be here, because I was down, bro. When COVID hit? I was down to the bottom. And for me to hop out and do something different, and for it to come out in the way it came out? Listen, bro. I'm proud of myself. It's amazing.
Who are two artists you would manifest working with in 2021?
Drake and Carti. Oh, and Chief Keef. Sorry, I can't just give two. I've got to give you a few. Uzi. Young Thug. And on the rock side, I've got to work with Breaking Benjamin. I've got to work with Five Finger Death Punch. I've got to work with all types of rock bands. I've got to work with Marilyn Manson.
Would you want to produce for big A-list rappers, too?
Hell yeah, bro. Because that was always my dream before. So to come through, being an artist now, I can do both at the same time.
What's one big goal you have for yourself in 2021?
I want to inspire the world. That's what I feel my purpose is. I want to show people things that they didn't know was available to them: different ideas, different goals to set. I want to be the one who can open people up to a new world. I want to inspire literally everyone on Earth, and give them that hope and that extra push they need. That's what I wanted, and that's what I am, and that's what I will be.
What's the most important thing you want people to know about you right now?
A few things. First and foremost, I am a real rockstar. My definition for being a rockstar is someone who's fearless, confident, a leader, driven, and who just doesn't give a fuck about anyone's opinions. Just high-energy and ready to go destroy anything negative that comes their way. That's the message I want to give out to the world.