Fresh from a makeup appointment, a glowing Monaleo entered the South By Southwest conference room ahead of her performance that night during the Rolling Loud showcase presented by RapTV. This year’s festival marked the rapper’s first time at SXSW as a performer. Judging by her long pink and rhinestone nails remaining from a video shoot and her flawless ginger-toned hairstyle, one wouldn’t be able to guess the rising rap star shies away from the spotlight.
“I don’t like to be the center of attention,” she told VIBE when discussing her preparation for the stage. “I don’t like people looking. Obviously, it’s crazy ’cause I’m an artist, but it’s like, I don’t like people looking at me. I don’t like to be the center of attention.”
With the release of “We Not Humping‘,” “Girls Outside,” and more solo tracks, Monaleo has proven to be a fierce rapper, expressing a range of emotions through song with southern swagger over fun beats. With her “CEE CEE” feature on Maxo Kream’s 2021 album Weight Of The World and her “Bald Head Bi**h” collaboration with Muni Long, Monaleo is ready to work with more people and drop a full project, both of which she promises fans in 2022.
“I have a tape coming, an album coming, and I have a couple of different features on there. But most importantly with the album, I’m just really being vulnerable and open and honest and just being me and just doing whatever the f**k I wanna do—period,” she proclaimed.
Still, currently in the early stages of her rap career, Monaleo has millions of YouTube views. When her breakout song “Beating Down Yo Block” went viral, she celebrated every step of the way. Initially recording Triller videos from her grandmother’s backyard, she took her newfound success as a sign to officially launch her rap career. As her ascension in Hip-Hop continues, Monaleo makes sure to prioritize herself and her mental health as social media and fame add new expectations and new commentary, both positive and negative.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
VIBE: I wanna talk about “We Not Humping.” Could you talk about your creative process with that song? The message is clear. It’s very direct. But it’s still such a fun song.
Monaleo: It literally was just one of those nights, I was just in the studio. I was recording. I probably had recorded two songs at that point. I just pulled up the beat, and the first thing that came to mind was, “Put that d**k up, we not humping,” ’cause it was just a fun beat. I had just taken a couple shots of Casamigos, chile, and it was up from there.
When I listen to it, it kind of gives me old school vibes a little bit. I’ll be in the mirror dancing, feeling like I’m Salt-N-Pepa. Were you inspired by any of that making this?
I feel like inadvertently, probably subconsciously, in the back of my mind that’s kind of what I thought of when I heard the beat, too. So, it was like, oh, let me come on there with that type of flow. It was easy. I feel like it was natural for me to do that. With that being said, it probably was natural because of my influences with other female rappers who came before me. I think that it definitely channels my Salt-N-Pepa.
What was your initial reaction to when “Beating Down Yo Block” started getting big?
“Beating Down Yo Block” was slow… Even though it happened quickly, it was still very gradual. When I first posted it, to me, viral was 400 comments and that’s what it got. I was like, “Wow people are really fu**ing with this,” because I only had like 7,000 followers. When I posted it again my following jumped from 7,000 to 15,000, and then it goes on Twitter and it gets 5,000 retweets. It was a gradual, slow thing. It definitely didn’t all happen at once. I was able to process every small milestone. It was a big deal to me. Every little thing was a big deal to me.
I know you’re a big advocate for mental health. Does being able to express your emotions and how you’re feeling through music help?
I would say there are pros and cons. So, pro: Obviously, I get to vent my frustrations, whatever it is that I’m angry or upset about. I write it down or I go into the booth and I freestyle and then I can turn it into something that I can profit off of.
Cons: You are very vulnerable to the world, and you subject yourself to other people’s opinions. Part of healing in real-time while also trying to put the situations in your music and subjecting yourself to other people’s opinions.
When people comment on some of the s**t that I’ve been through, it’s still very sensitive to me sometimes. I do find myself getting triggered, especially on social media. At the end of the day, I have to remind myself why I even decided that it was a good idea to put whatever it was in my music. Because it was what was gonna help me at the time and help me release. I don’t hold on or harbor any ill will… I just really don’t wanna hold all of that stuff anymore, because when I do, I feel the weight of the world.
How have you been able to navigate some of those added pressures from social media that newer artists have, especially for black girls and black women?
It’s very difficult to navigate, but I just take breaks and I go at my own pace. That’s the reason why I enjoy being independent. It kind of ties all together. I do what I want to do whenever I want to do it because it’s my world essentially, just like in your world everything is about you, and [for] whoever else, everything is about them in their world. I move at my own pace. I do what I want to do. Nobody can tell me, “You should do this or you should do that.” If I wanna just decide I don’t wanna be on social media today, I will log out. It’s that simple. Or delete the app and move on about my day in real life, or lock my phone and turn it over and tend to like real s**t that’s really going on in the world.
I give myself time [and] space to deal with whatever it is that I’m dealing with. If I wake up and I’m feeling really sensitive, I won’t go on social media, and I have the luxury to be able to do that because there is no label or there’s nobody like pulling any strings. If I don’t feel like it, I just simply won’t and I don’t care who has anything to say about it, everybody just gotta respect it.
For people who might not know who you are, what would you want them to take from your music? When listening to it myself, I feel invincible. It’s a confidence booster.
Let the record go to show who I am as an artist and who I am as an individual are two different people. Sometimes who I am as a human being is very complex. The persona that I’ve built, Monaleo, she is very aggressive in a respectful way. Monaleo, she’s assertive. She’s just that bi**h. When people listen to Monaleo, like how you said, I want their confidence to be boosted, self-esteem… I want them to love themselves, put themselves first. That’s what Monaleo is wanting to promote. Not even just women, people in general, literally everybody in general. I just want them to love themselves and understand and realize that you don’t need—keyword: need—anybody in this world to be able to believe in yourself, to be able to have that confidence in yourself. Whoever it is that you wanna be.
As an individual, I’m multifaceted. I feel like this is with everybody. We figure out who we are the older that we get. I feel like even when you’re 90, you’re still gonna be figuring out things about yourself. It’s very hard to pinpoint. I just want people to know me as an individual. I’m genuine, I’m authentic. I’m real, and I go through real things. I’m a human being. I feel things. I get emotional. Sometimes I wake up a mess… I’m sad, I’m happy, that’s just what comes with me as an individual. Everybody has their own baggage and trauma or whatever that they deal with. I just want them to know that I’m a human being.