On the night of the release of her debut project, phAses, Melii headlined Hot 97’s Who’s Next at the legendary Sounds of Brazil (SOBs) in New York City. There, the visibly elated (and later, emotionally overwhelmed) Harlem native faced a sold-out crowd—a multifarious sea of heads and direct reflection of Melii’s cultural hyphen.
The sight of Black-brown youth rapping verbatim to Melii’s Spanish-language couplets over productions that draw on afrobeat and reggae stood as a proud moment for any child of the diaspora.
No more of an “overnight sensation” than her millennial contemporaries who use the internet as catapult for their music, Melii’s promising career in rap is bolstered by her potential to bridge cultural and musical gaps. On one hand, she fancies herself an adept wordsmith who lives for a good spar against your favorite rapper; on the other, her inner songbird assumes a role in the ever-evolving world of pop and R&B.
In a state of music regularly informed by our country’s political climate, however, part of Melii’s significance as a recording artist today is her presence as a bilingual singer-songwriter, whose upbringing hinges on the immigrant experience.
Born in the Black Mecca of Harlem to Dominican parents, Melii’s seamless transition between languages on wax is uniquely devoid of stereotypical tropes. Her English-to-Spanish rhymes don’t read forced or orchestrated. Her strength as an Afro-Caribbean artist brought up in present-day USA is her ability to speak to more than one audience, across more than one genre.
“I’ve been getting recognition for my work. A lot of artists have been reaching out, too. I feel like I’ve found the route I want to go in for sure. I’ve grown into the woman I’ve been looking for, and I know where I’m going now,” says Melii.
Bone up on Melii’s resume with takeaways from an exclusive Q&A, below. Spin her new project, phAses, today.
On her “overnight” ascent:
I’ve been out here making remixes for a while. One of my first remixes was to Jacquees’ “Persian Rugs” and Drake’s “Marvin’s Room.” I been doing this. A lot of people have been thinking, "Oh, we know her from this" or "Where she came from?" I was already an established artist before a lot y’all started to get to know me. I built my Melii Mob foundation, and I feel like we’re strong as a set. A lot of times, it was frustrating to feel discredited for my work and the hard work I’ve always been putting in. Like you said, it’s more so people getting to know me now. It’s frustrating because it’s like how can I tell a person, "Well, I’ve been on," if they only heard one song from me? It’s up to the listener to want to dig for more and to actually do the research on the artist and not be as ignorant.
I didn’t just get popping off of features. I went viral. A lot of people know me because I remixed a Cardi B song. I literally did that on my own. I had no co-sign when I covered Cardi B’s “Bodak Yellow.” It was just me and my manager, and then Interscope reached out and so did some other other labels. I talk about that on “Icey,” which also went viral. After that, I was just working on stuff. I kept releasing music. I did the remix of "Icey" in Spanish and “La Envidia Mata” to introduce my Melii Mob to my bilingual abilities.
Before anything, I dropped “No Simple Chick.” I was doing covers to “1-800” with the suicide stuff. There’s a lot of my work online as long as people are open to actually learning who I am.
On facing suicide:
I would get bullied on my looks and stuff like that. I used to cry about it and feel insecure, but I learned to stick up for myself and not let it get to me. There was this one time I had to run after one of my friends. I found her in the bathroom on the sink trying to suffocate herself with a bag. Knowing that I could talk her out of that, being a person who was also dealing with the same thing at one point. I used to hide my face. I used to wear turtlenecks and I would put my hair in front of my face to hide it. There were a lot of things I had to grow out of, and knowing that I could help her and her confidence that day… That’s what I was talking about the studio and what I was saying on “Pretty Girl.”
“Pretty Girls” wasn’t originally going to be on phAses. My best friend actually fought for it. She was like, “You know it’s going to touch a lot of girls,” and we do have a lot of babies around us like her little sister and cousins. When we played it for them, we felt a different vibe. We listened to it in the studio and it was like, “OK, this song is cool.” But once we were around [the babies] and we played it around them, I cried. We literally cried in the car just playing it to them. I still know the girl that I talk about in beginning of the verse when I was in PS 187 in Harlem.
On Tory Lanez, Meek Mill label discrepancy:
I can’t say nothing. I don’t want no more of that anymore. I just want to focus on phAses. I will say this: I feel speaking can add the wrong information or give the wrong idea to people that are not involved. So, the truth lies in us three and within time, God bless all different paths. Whoever takes the lead in acknowledging and saying, “Okay, this is what is” or “We can move past it,” then that day will come, but for now I’m just going to remain strong and grounded to what I believe in and focus on music and what’s more important, which is just elevating my career.
Photo by markus&koala