Melii talks about doing covers, friends in the industry, working with 6LACK on "You Ain't Worth It" and more.
Melii is one of those artists that has seemingly had it since she was kid-- the type of artist with an innate attraction towards music, one that's been reciprocated in the form of talent, a talent she's been developing and honing since she was a child-- whether or not she realized it at the time. She started keeping a journal in elementary school, and it is this passion for writing, and those exact journal entries, that would fuel Melii's foray into songwriting, when she was so young.
The New York-raised singer-slash-rapper broke into hip-hop's consciousness via a tried and true method: the freestyle. And she did it while clearly depicting her dualing talents, thus cementing this idea that we could receive not just heart-melting r'n'b from Melii, but hard-hitting bars, too. It's something that Melii has held onto in her music ever since, offering fans a multi-faceted persona and person. Perhaps even more than this, Melii is recognized by fans as someone who is pure and authentic in herself, someone who isn't afraid to speak her truth, who at the same time, doesn't feel the need to unnecessarily step into drama (or publicize it).
As the artist keeps fans on their toes in anticipation of a follow-up a 2019's phAses, we spoke with Melii over the phone to find out what she's been up to. While details on the new album are sparse, Melii speaks on getting into music, her influences and favorite artists, the possibility of a female-centric collaboration and more.
Check out the interview below, edited for length and clarity.
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HNHH: Hi Melii, how are you?
Melii: I’m good, and you?
I want to know, what exactly have you been doing during the pandemic? Have you been staying in New York the whole time, or like, what has life been like for you in this year of our pandemic?
During this pandemic, I’ve just been in the studio, just doing things for myself, and just chilling really, and just doing music. That’s about it. I’ve just been doing music and traveling back and forth from Miami to L.A. to New York.
So you've been staying in all three of those places. Which place is your favorite to be in and why?
I think my favorite place out of the three is Miami. More so because it feels like a second New York, and the weather is just hotter.
Would you see yourself one day living in Miami, like as your permanent home, as opposed to making your home in New York?
I think I would move out here and have a spot out here, but I don't think I'll permanently move anywhere until I’m old enough to know what's home, you know?
Okay. Yeah, so I want to start just by talking about your voice, because you have a such a unique voice, and I find your voice, like you do a lot of different musical styles, but your voice is almost like the key instrument that keeps everything like, “Okay, this is a Melii song,” even though like this one is Afrobeat-inspired or this one is hard rapping and this one is like super R&B. So I'm just curious, when did you discover your voice as a singer and as a rapper? Was it like, oh, you were only singing growing up and then one day you realized you could also rap or were you always doing both?
Well, my dad is a musician himself. He writes, he sings, he composes. So I've always been around him and music and, he got me like a piano, guitar and stuff, and naturally I could like play, in a weird way. But what I love to do is writing. I used to keep journals, and I think by my third or fourth grade, and I would turn my journal entries into music, basically. And we would have talent shows in school, where I was performing, and I just continued expressing myself that way into high school. In high school, once you get there, you basically fill out a form and tell them about your personality and they’ll assign a teacher to you, and mine was the music teacher. So, he was in some band or whatever, and when I was talking to him and I was there for awhile, I would come to school really, really late because I started going in the studio and he kind of encouraged me to be more serious about it and just chase after it, just all go off for it, you know? I did the “Bodak Yellow” cover and I headed off with that and ended up getting signed.
That's crazy. Like you got signed off of that. What other music did you have out at the time? And that’s a cover of a song.
I only had “Balling” and “BK Woe” out. My first song I ever recorded was also a remix to “Persian Rugs” by PartyNextDoor. I loved to remix other people’s music and make it my own.
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"My first song I ever recorded was also a remix to “Persian Rugs” by PartyNextDoor. I loved to remix other people’s music and make it my own."
Do you still dabble in remixes or doing covers now? Would you ever do just a full EP of covers just to do something different if you truly enjoy doing those covers?
I wouldn't mind doing that. I think a lot of my music is inspired by other artists and other people’s music and, of course my own life, but being that I pay so much attention to beats and stuff, I just love the inspiration. My music is really sampled off of other people’s stuff. One of my favorite songs is “See Me” by me, and it’s actually sampled off of the Drake song, “Come and See Me” with PARTYNEXTDOOR.
Okay, cool. Well, one of the things I was going to ask you, just in regards to your diverse sound is who influences or who inspires you? How do you absorb all these different sounds? I'm just curious where your tastes are, like your personal playlist. Are you listening to a diverse array of R&B and Latin music?
Yeah. I grew up on different types of music. Being that my parents and stuff, you know-- like old head music and cultured music. I grew up on Ivy Queen, Juan Luis Guerra, Nicki… It was just a lot of different things. And then, getting older, when I got to choose for my own playlists, I listen to a lot of Drake, PARTYNEXTDOOR, and Jhene Aiko-- which was like my first love to like, a woman that could just do it, you know what I’m saying? So I think that's where, like my sound actually comes from everything that I've listened to. And also living in New York, you know there was a time, you know, where we're listening to a reggae and going to reggae parties and stuff with the thing. So I always fell in love with Gyptian. Gyptian means a lot, and I actually got to collaborate with him on “High For U” and phAses.
Is there a type of sound that is more fun for you to create? Is doing a banger like “Gangsta Talk” or “Copy” more fun in the studio than doing something like “HML” or the “TM Interlude” or something like that?
Music and doing what I love to do, is fun in general. But what I would call fun, is when I’m on an acoustic beat, and I just like to flow on it, and we don't really know if it’s gonna turn into a rap or if it’s gonna stay like that [acoustic]. It’s also because the producer then has the freedom to build around the beat. So that's really where fun comes from, with interacting and building with other artists in the studio.
Speaking of acoustic beats, I saw you put on your Instagram the other day. You put out a call for acoustic beats. So I'm just wondering, do fans reply to your idea, to an Instagram story and then you get a bunch of DMs? Do you actually go through those? What happens after that? You go through them and check them out?
Yeah, a lot of my supporters are very talented. There's one that’s from New Zealand or Ireland, I'm not sure. I met him over Instagram. So I started working with O12Beats in 2018 and that was off of a post that I made. There’s a lot of talented supporters that I stay connected with.
That’s cool. So one thing I wanted to talk to you about and just get your take and your insight on is, I feel like you, I mean, obviously you were low key during 2020. You didn't drop any music, but I feel like you're also low key and you keep yourself at arms length from rap game gossip and drama, like the, you know, Instagram news cycle, that kind of thing. And I just wonder, are you aware that you do that?
I'm very aware. I'm very aware of protecting my space. Music is me, you know. At some point, we have to realize that, yes, we are a brand and then there's the person, but the music is also you. So it's like the more you stay focused on what you're supposed to develop, then the other stuff that has to do nothing with you, shouldn't affect you. So that's just something I've just been focused on ’cause I feel like my life in general has a lot going on, so I try to separate anything else that would just be an extra baggage, you know?
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"I'm very aware of protecting my space. Music is me, you know. At some point, we have to realize that, yes, we are a brand and then there's the person, but the music is also you."
There was an interview that you did with Ebro a while back where you talked about not really having relationships with other females or other female artists in the game. I want to know if that's changed now. I know you went on tour with Summer Walker a while ago. Do you have any relationships now that you feel you can call this fellow female artist a friend or someone that like you talked to outside of music?
In general, I do have a lot of black female friends in the music industry...But I just [need] genuine connections. I don't like forced connections, or just ‘cause we work together or we're in the same label, I'm going to be your friend. To me, it’s like, this is my job and my dream. But when I meet people and I connect with them it’s because I genuinely want to speak to them. So when it comes to female or any male artist too, I usually wait to meet them in person and then if we vibe, vibe.
Is 6LACK someone that you've met in person, like when you guys did your most recent collab?
Yeah, 6LACK, he’s a dope person. I think he’s a label mate, if I'm not mistaken. So when it comes to 6LACK, I admire his music. So most of the time, when I'm following artists, it's not only because we're friends, it's usually because I admire them or I listen to them. So with 6LACK, when I actually did the record for “You Ain’t Worth It,” I had sent him another record and he was like, “not this one, but send me another one.” The next day, I went in the studio and I did the “You Ain’t Worth It” record, and I sent it over to him and he sent it back. And then after that, we became really cool, like always checking up on each other. And honestly-- before that-- I'm lying-- before that, during the pandemic along with Rosalia, 6LACK was one of the two people that actually checked in during the pandemic.
Oh wow. So just talking about the new project a little, I don't know if you can really reveal this, but are there any other collaborations like that we can expect on it?
No, not really. I'm not supposed to talk about it, but there are collaborations in the works and stuff I'm trying to collab more also with Spanish artists. So we've been focusing on the Spanish stuff too. But there aren’t any collabs. We’ll just have to wait.
I would really look forward to a Melii and Summer Walker song or a Melii and SZA or a Melii and Jhene, just a, you know, girl on girl collab. I don't know if that's something you can talk on?
You know, hopefully those collabs happen down the line. Honestly speaking, I have a collaboration with Ivorian Doll. But we’ve always been going back and forth trying to find the right songs to get on. ‘Cause there's a lot of girls that we just have to find the right song, but it's not a thing, that like I don’t collab with female artists [laughs].
It needs to be the right moment, right song.
I wanted to ask, on the producer side, can you tell us who we can expect production-wise on your new album?
There's a lot of different producers. Just yesterday I was going over probably like more than 50 songs and just different producers. But one of the people that I've been working with is Z3N. I don't know if you know who that is. He works with a lot of artists and stuff. I've worked with different producers, but sometimes I get beats from fans or just people that I'm familiar with, a lot of producers aren't known. But when it comes to bigger names... I've worked in London on da Track, Murda Beatz, and other people.
I really liked the song that you did with London. Do you guys have anything else in the stash or like is that someone you would want to work with again?
London had sent me a big beat pack and stuff of things to choose from, and that's definitely somebody that I would work with again, along with Murda.
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And what about like the New York rap scene itself? There's so many drill artists coming up now. And I know you, I really liked “BDE” that you did with Smoove’L. How connected do you feel within New York and the New York rap scene ‘cause you move around a lot? So do you feel like you're in that scene?
Now when it comes to New York rappers, CJ’s coming out, “Whoopty,” I’m cool with him, I was just on the phone with him the other day. Lil Tjay’s from New York, I’m cool with Lil Tjay too, he actually lives in Jersey. A Boogie is a cool friend. Most of the people from New York were cool. I’m just very low key, I don’t flaunt my relationships with artists.
What's the story behind the Smoove’L collab though? Was that just a loose song? Is that going to go on your album or is it that was just like a random release?
No, that was a random release. I was actually also with Fivio [Foreign] because Fivio was supposed to also be on the song. He put in his verse a little late, so we decided to collaborate on something else for Fivio on like, reggae music. So that's going to be, you know, I don't know, interesting.
Wow. Okay. That's different. Okay, cool. That's exciting. You don't do crazy amounts of collabs, so that's why I feel like it's exciting whenever I hear you on a collab because it's always nice, especially when you're collabing with artists that we already love.
I'm not an antisocial artist. It's not that. I just felt like sometimes because our size and, you know, a lot of people just hop on features and stuff like that to be like, “Yeah I hopped on a feature with this person.” I always respect timing and just hopefully knowing when the time is right and what type of beat is good, so that the feature isn’t wasted, you know?
So I just wanted to end just by, I mean, like you said, like 2020 was the year that you really took it off and now we've already started to hear new music from you with 2021. So I just want to know what do you want 2021 to be for you?
My 2021 would probably just be letting my fans in a little more. Cause I've been hearing a lot of like that I’m very secluded, or that, like, people don't really know what's going on with me, and even just hearing on you express yourself on how you think that I am, I guess, is just letting people see more of the real me and not being so private. But also opening up so that people don’t feel so strange to who I am or my personality.
"My 2021 would probably just be letting my fans in a little more."
Is there any timeline for your album or like any last reveal or words you can say on it?
There's no real timeline on it, but definitely this year, I'll be coming out with the album.
That's all we need to know, as long as we get it this year. Thank you so much, Melii. Thank you for your time. I'm so happy I was able to talk to you, and, you know, I'm looking forward to all your new music. I really love everything you've released so far.
Thank you. I appreciate that.
For sure. Okay. Have a good day.