“If I were everybody else, I’d be doing what everybody else is doing,” Monaleo says over the phone, assuring that it’s not a streak of cockiness but simply the bottom line. The statement isn’t unorthodox for the 21-year-old rap phenom whose brash lyricism and verve approach beckons a new sonic vanguard. It’s just the moxie she has and all soon-to-be superstars need.
Her latest single, “Miss U Already,” a collaboration with No Cap’s rhapsodic wordplay, not only explores her promising vocal capabilities but her cognizance of the brevity of life (a nod to her former mortuary science studies). The love letter to those she’s lost is candid about the willing denial of abrupt finality and the fragility of it all. It’s a revelation of the grief the young artist shoulders and evidence of the compassion she grants herself to sort through it all. “I want to take my time with the things I share and the things I open up about. I want to make sure that I do it in the correct way so it won’t fall on deaf ears or be done in vain,” she says.
Ahead, Monaleo chats with Essence Girls United about the depths of her new sonic pivot, her first time touring with Flo Milli, and her destigmatizing the sullied perceptions of mental health on TikTok.
You have made great strides as an upcoming artist, gaining more fans and followers by the day. What’s one thing you feel is missing?
“If something is missing, I don’t think it’s anybody else’s fault. I just think I’m not doing a good job of portraying that other side of myself. I’m very cognizant of that, so even in the music I’m getting ready to release, I’m consciously showing another side of myself that people aren’t familiar with. So if there’s anything missing, I’m just not doing my due diligence at displaying it.”
Speaking of tweets, I often see you display a distinct level of transparency on Twitter around confronting depression, procrastination, and the fear of failure. What spaces in your life do you feel like these recent moments came from?
“It came from putting together this whole album rollout. It’s been a very overwhelming experience mentally trying to prepare myself to fixate and dedicate all my time, effort, energy, and money to this project. I procrastinated because I was anxious about putting my best foot forward. I know that it will be met with much scrutiny and criticism since this is my first body of work. For many people, this will be the first time they hear me, and there’s a lot of anxiety. In the same breath, I get upset about procrastinating because I want to get ahead of it. It was just a crazy vicious ass cycle, and I was like, ‘Is anybody else dealing with that?’ and a lot of people were dealing with it. I found peace in that solidarity that other people were experiencing that kind’ve chaos in their mind.”
Even on your TikTok, you’re super relatable. The clip of you cleaning up your depression room is a vulnerable trend on TikTok that we don’t see from many artists. You’re going viral for showing that sense of humanity. What is the reception you’ve gotten from your fans for even being that transparent?
“That was a genuine, vulnerable moment for me. I kept waking up, and the mess in my room was getting bigger and bigger and bigger. The clothes were piling up. The drinks were stacking up on the side of my bed. It was getting crazy and chaotic. I started doing this thing on TikTok where I was telling people to comment and tell me to get up out the bed cause I was losing my motivation to do some things. I thought if I opened this experience and shared it with other people, we could hold each other accountable and create a forum or safe space for us to congregate and talk about these types of fucking small but big issues. I thought it was dope that people didn’t judge me either for thinking, ‘Girl, why is your room dirty?’ You know how that type of shit goes. People met it with a lot of compassion as opposed to being judgmental.”
What new sound can we expect from you in your upcoming projects? What are we going to be able to explore more about with your upcoming projects?
“I’m very vocal about the way that I feel and my emotions for sure. I’m going to be talking more about a different emotion outside of anger. I feel like I’m always expressing my most aggressive, angry emotion cause that’s the space I was in. Now, I’m moving into a more somber state and a calmer space. I’m getting into the private, quieter emotions.”
Are there any collaborations that you are excited about?
“My collaboration with No Cap, for sure. I think he’s extremely talented, and I think he’s really tapped into a particular feeling and emotion. He’s very articulate. We come from the same background, but he can articulate himself in a way that blows my f*cking mind. He’s a poet, so he has a way with his words that excited me to collaborate with him. He did not disappoint me, so I knew he wouldn’t disappoint anybody.”
You recently wrapped your first tour, Flo Milli’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” tour. At such a young age, you’ve become a rap phenom. What are your biggest takeaways from that experience?
“It’s one of the most refreshing experiences I’ve ever fucking had in my life because I get to meet a lot of people who genuinely support me and keep up with me and my story. While I’ve been doing shows, my life is just completely different than it is now. I never really had a lot of friends — this is not a sob story either. Because who cares? It’s plenty of people with this same story. I had a hard time just integrating into different peer groups and being normal amidst a bunch of kids, and I struggled with that. So to be on tour and receive my flowers from people is crazy.”
For someone so young, it always feels like you’re so sure of yourself and very forthcoming in your lyricism. How did you find that?
“Growing up, I couldn’t integrate into the peer group system, so I always struggled with confidence, self-esteem, and awareness. I did a lot of embarrassing shit to fit in or put up with a lot of stuff that I wasn’t comfortable with to be around people and feel accepted. I look back on that time and I get very embarrassed, but it lights a fire up under me. I was always very talented, super intellectual, and super empathetic. Those traits in themselves are gifts and a lot of people don’t have those gifts. I had to embrace that about myself, giving me that confidence boost to know I’m not someone people come around often.”
You’re not a Leo. You’re actually a Taurus. What are your favorite Taurus attributes?
“Being grounded and being super down to earth. That is our best character trait is being down to earth. Being super talented is also. Tauruses are some of the most gifted people in the world. Lizzo, Kehlani (we share the same birthday), Rico Nasty, and Janet Jackson are all Tauruses. We are super talented with control over our throat chakra.”
Artists sometimes present a new alter ego when they shift into a new space. Are we getting one, or are we just uncovering the next layer of who you are?
“This is most definitely the next layer – just like an onion. The layer you saw on the outside was super aggressive because it was the exterior. It was a way to protect myself and those super vulnerable emotions that have put me in very troubling states. I had to build that tough exterior. Now, it’s like we’re peeling that layer back.”