Meet Mercury, the Atlanta Rapper-Skateboarder Who Keeps It Extreme

In this Rising interview, we hit the skatepark with one of ATL’s most promising underground rappers, to discuss the city’s vitality and why she loves Kid Cudi

On a recent afternoon at Coleman Skatepark in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, the graffiti-covered bowls and ramps are crowded enough that you can hear the crashes from a block away. Every couple of minutes the noise of decks and wheels hitting pavement is overpowered by the sound of trains crossing the Manhattan Bridge, which makes the park tremble like an earthquake. The sights include a BMXer who zooms around the skaters in balletic fashion and a man with a graying beard who lethargically cruises the perimeter. Kids that look like they should be in summer camp appear at the gates with their boards and seem intimidated by all the experience out today, ultimately turning back around. For the most part, everyone is in their own world, focused on the music in their headphones, the blunts they’re rolling, or the trick they’re trying to perfect.

Mercury hopes to nail a 180 dolphin flip. With her red-and-blonde-streaked braids draped down her back, she lines up by the benches to gain speed before riding up the transition. Again and again the motion is repeated but something is off—her slip-ups seem to happen in slow-mo. She walks over to the bag area, mildly frustrated and sweaty in baggy camo pants, to chug water and catch her breath before heading back out. She never lands the trick but isn’t too stressed about it. “Skating is a mind thing, it’s about perseverance,” says the 21-year-old. “I need something extreme to keep me occupied.”

Landing the move isn’t the point—the process is. Besides, falling flat on her face sometimes looks cooler than smooth efficiency. “I love my slams, I be posting them ’cause I fall like a cartoon character,” Mercury says, laughing. Her music works in a similar way: She’s constantly seeking out new shapes for her Atlanta-style rap, and while she doesn’t always land on two feet, the audacity and ingenuity make it exciting anyway. If it works, great—and if it doesn’t, latch onto the imperfections.

Earlier this year, Mercury released her mixtape Tabula Rasa, which moves through moods and influences almost as rapidly as ’80s Hong Kong action flicks. She roasts a lousy ex over a mean drum break on “Running Round” and gets real zen on top of an airy Surf Gang beat on “Geeked Up.” “Run It Up” shifts between a swift Memphis-like delivery and feathery Kid Cudi-inspired croons. (It’s worth noting that Mercury has a tattoo of Cudi’s Satellite Flight: The Journey to Mother Moon album cover on her arm.) This is rap that strives to push boundaries not by suppressing the rapping, but by hoisting it up. That is always refreshing.

“When I make music I want it to be a different experience every time,” she tells me from the booth of a nearby diner, with her board by her side. “It’s really all about how I feel in the moment. If I’m feeling aggressive, it’ll be aggressive. If I’m in a motivational zone, the song will be motivational. If I feel like saying some bullshit, then I will say some bullshit.”

Her approach brings to mind the previous generation of Atlanta’s underground scene, specifically the mid-2010s rise of Awful Records. Like that collective, Mercury bounces off a tight-knit circle of collaborators, with features on songs by DavidTheTragic and Bear1Boss that stick out. (“I love getting on another artist’s song, it inspires me so much,” she says.) Her relationship with producers is collaborative as well, and she rarely writes without hearing a beat first. So you get songs like “MAC11,” where she pairs a breezy flow with a jittery dance beat, or “Cacti,” which boasts a rigid delivery ripping on the now-defunct Travis Scott hard seltzer on top of a surf-pop-inspired instrumental. Sometimes I listen to her music the way I did Young Thug leaks, where it’s more of a sketch and the incompleteness is part of the charm. “Merc’s music has this old ATL essence that I love so much,” says New York rapper MIKE, who brought Mercury on his West Coast tour this spring. “Her music stands out because of how fun it is—she’s always bringing in different friends and collaborators from home.”

Born Kennedy Malone in Memphis, Mercury spent a chunk of her childhood shuffling between her grandparents’ house in the city and her mom’s place in Jackson, Mississippi, where she was studying. Her memories of Tennessee are warm and centered around family: her grandfather spinning old funk records, her cousin’s Fourth of July fireworks show, her uncle’s insistence that all the cousins quiet down on nights when wrestling was on TV. One time, an older cousin arrived at a function with a new dance Mercury just had to know, the Soulja Boy.

When Mercury was 9, her mom married and moved them to Atlanta. She had a rough go of it: The rapper was bullied in school—“I was weird, I liked scary movies, Minions, and Slipknot,” she says with a shrug—and at 12 was diagnosed with the colon condition ulcerative colitis. Her teen years were spent in and out of hospitals, in a near-constant state of illness, until her colon was removed at 17. “I was sick so often, my entire social life was on the internet,” she says. “I only got to experience so much, so meme culture became my life.” On Instagram, she joined a private community for sharing memes and funny clips, consisting of about 600-800 users. There she met the New York-based rapper BISKHIT, who suggested Mercury hop on a song and sent her software to record through her headphones—her first time making music.

Towards the end of high school, she stayed in Memphis while her grandfather was in hospice. Stuck in the house without a car, she began to write and record raps with more regularity, eventually uploading loosies to SoundCloud. Her breakthrough came in 2020 with “Slob On My Kat,” a spaced-out twist on La Chat’s Memphis classic, where her soft voice rides a brash beat. “The beat is so aggressive and my voice isn’t,” she says. “Lowkey, I like opposites in music.”

If “Slob On My Kat” was your introduction to Mercury, like it was mine, then her music’s evolution caught you off guard. Merctape, from 2021, is almost light and ethereal—even the harder tracks have a hazy feel to them. She recalls that early on in college, a lot of her nights were spent taking acid and skating until 3 a.m.. That sense of aimless drifting is captured in her music.

Tabula Rasa picks up where Merctape left off. Heavy on dreams and manifestation, she raps as much about things that have happened as things that she hopes will. It’s fairly optimistic, even on tracks like “On My Mind” where she blocks out dark thoughts by smoking a shit ton of weed. “I don’t want to be vulnerable in my music, I think I need to grow a little more before I can do that,” Mercury says, wiping away a few forming tears. “Like I still get sick sometimes and it’s something I’ve had to accept, but I want to have fun.”

In a new park now, she changes the topic by pointing out kids flying dangerously high on the swings and a pigeon the size of a softball. Questions about the future slide right off her. Maybe she’ll make a drill mixtape next. Or continue building the community of Black girls and non-binary folks she’s formed around skating in Atlanta. “I can do anything I want so fuck it,” she says. “I’ve done so many impossible things already that nothing feels impossible.”

Pitchfork: So why the Kid Cudi tattoo?

Mercury: I remember when I first fell in love with Cudi. I was in 7th grade and found “Just What I Am” on SoundCloud and was listening to it every day. So I just started going through his whole discography and when The Journey to Mother Moon came out I must have listened to that every day for six months. It was inspiring music for me. Even when Speedin Bullet 2 Heaven came out I was really sick and depressed. He was talking about the exact way I was feeling, like he could hear what I was saying without me actually saying anything. I know it’s a thing for people to say “Cudi saved their life,” but he really meant a lot to me.

Your music is more vague in comparison, do you think you would ever want to be that open in your music?

A lot of times I don’t make emotional music unless I’m by myself. Cudi used to say something like, “It’s hard when people are always prying into your life and talking about stuff that you’re really not over yet.” I’m not ready for that.

Which Atlanta rappers did you grow up listening to?

Young Thug is the best rapper alive. Everything from “Stoner” to the Black Portland mixtape with Bloody Jay is my childhood. He even let his sisters Doraa and Dolly rap on Slime Language, and that’s my favorite song on there. They’re so good it’s crazy. Of course, Gunna, too. He’s got that sassy rap flow. Some rap is just hard, and I don’t feel cute listening to it. But Gunna makes bad bitch music. Music for the girlies!

What about outside of Atlanta?

My dad played a lot of Memphis rap, Three 6 Mafia and Tommy Wright III. He played a lot of Rick Ross, too. I feel like every Black dad loves Rick Ross.

Mine did too, he had Teflon Don on CD.

Exactly. My dad even dressed like him. He’s been giving me a lot of old clothes so I guess I will now, too.

What is it about Atlanta that so much music and culture comes from there?

As a Black person, Atlanta is very inspirational. Everywhere you go it’s only Black people, so whenever I go somewhere else it’s a shock for me. I’m used to niggas. I swear to God every type of Black person exists in Atlanta. Rich as fuck, middle class, working class. You believe you can do anything because you see it right in front of you.

Is that part of what got you into skating?

Yeah in high school when my friend brought a board to my house and we started practicing I hadn’t really heard of that many Black girls skating except here. Representation can be whatever, but it sometimes makes you believe you can do stuff. Even now there’s a whole scene of Black girls and non-binary people with our own shit. Our own skate days and everything. It’s so cool and refreshing to be a part of that.

What do you love about skating and what do you not love about it?

I don’t skate as I often as I used to but when I did every day my body would be fucked up. You just feel like you want to die when you’re sleeping or in the shower because my body was so beat up. But then it really helps your confidence. Every day getting closer and closer to landing a trick and there’s no point in giving up because otherwise you’re just never going to do it.

Portraits photographed at Labor Skate Shop