“I don’t feel like I’m an artist that is limited to anything. Whatever I can vibe to, I’ll make it into my own. I’m a person who adapts to any sound.”
“There was a lot of hard work before ‘Icey,'” says Melii. “I’m grateful that ‘Icey’ is doing what it’s doing. It feels good to know that I’m organically growing on people. Now, other people who are just listening to ‘Icey’ will be like, ‘Who is this girl?’”
That girl, is none other than Melii.
At just 20-years-old, Melii knows the undertakings of life through pulverizing her way into the music industry and growing up in the projects of Harlem.
“Growing up in Harlem, it really makes you,” she says. “It builds you to have tough skin. You grow up with this vulnerable setting. You know, being joked on sometimes and you gotta be ready to have a clap-back basically. Growing up in Harlem was very important to me. It made me who I am today.”
Her humble beginnings not only encompass the adversities of Harlem but the warmth of her Dominican heritage.
“I was born here but having Dominican parents, the first thing you hear is Spanish. My mom always made sure of that,” Melii says. “I grew up on listening to a lot of Spanish music like this O.G. named Juan Luis Guerra. So me listening to him or even salsa; how I talk, how I dance, that comes from him because he has a lot of love songs. I do like to tap into my Spanish side because I want other people to understand me. Also, my mom and my dad really support me so I make sure that they understand some of the songs that I have out. I want to tap in more into my Hispanic side but I want it to be equal. I want it to be a balance of who I am.”
Melii shows that she’s capable of finding balance on “Icey” as she effortlessly pairs her cavalier New York street chic with her fiery Dominican demeanor as she softly threatens, “Cuidado si me tocas te quemas.” Which — fun fact — translate to, “If you touch me, you burn.” Her brash lyrics come to life throughout the “Icey” music video, which was directed by YGA for AWGE and styled by Farren Fucci, who boasts Rihanna and Bella Hadid as some of his biggest clients.
“Working with them was amazing,” said Melii. “They were very supportive and understanding of what I wanted to do, and how I wanted to portray myself in the video. It was great because they held it down. They were like, ‘Take your time, whatever you feel comfortable with.’ Even my hairstylist and makeup artist, they were all great. I love my team.”
Melii’s team comes from Interscope records who she recently signed to after years of being an independent artist hustling across platforms like SoundCloud and YouTube.
“At the end of the day, they make sure that everything that’s going on with me is in my best interest and that’s the whole point. It doesn’t really matter if you’re indie or if you’re in a label because even indie artists, they might say they’re doing it all by themselves but there’s people behind you to help you out. So whoever’s behind you and they’re making sure that you’re good, and that everyone is on the same page on when things are being released, or when it’s being done — then that’s the main focus.”
Through Interscope, Melii will be releasing her debut project Phases, which is set to debut this summer.
“You’ll see a lot of diversity and how I tap into different styles. That’s the whole point of Phases, it shows different sides of me. It’s gonna let my fans know just how I am and a little bit deeper.”
She’s been spending countless hours in the studio to create an intimate portrait of her world, doing so the best way she knows how, through songwriting. With bad bitch anthems like “Icey” and “Balling,” it can be hard to imagine Melii as anything else but a Harlem hot-shot. Yet on songs like “BK Woe” and “No Simple Chick,” Melii presents herself with vulnerability.
“I started off with poetry because that was the only way I knew how to express myself,” she says. “My creative process is basically how I’m feeling at the moment. If I have beats in front of me, I’ll see what comes to mind and vibe off of it. Every song I do is just me, my experiences, and how I feel. I don’t like to describe myself as R&B or stuff like that because then it boxes me in. It’s all about the beat, whatever I feel on it or I feel could go into it, I’m gonna write to it. I don’t feel like I’m an artist that is limited to anything. Whatever I can vibe to, I’ll make it into my own. I’m a person who adapts to any sound.”
Melii credits J. Cole as being one of her biggest influences saying he motivated her to go harder in her career and to create a relationship with her fans.
“He’s a great artist. He inspired me to tell stories through my music and let my fans know that all you have to do is listen to my music and you’ll know how to get through things. ‘Crunch Time’ is my favorite [J. Cole] song but I could go on. I like ‘Premeditated Murder,’ ‘Dreams,’ — he’s a great story teller. Most of his songs are motivating and he speaks a lot to kids like me. I grew up in the projects and it rains but, the sun always comes out.”
However, if it wasn’t for the influence of Nicki Minaj, Melii might have never attempted to rap at all.
“In sixth grade, I started listening to Nicki Minaj and I wanted to start rapping, so I would turn my poems into raps. I already knew I could sing because I would do plays in school. After that, I started writing my own songs.”
While women have always been a monolith in music, it feels like it now more than ever, women are having a moment in rap. It seems like each day, a new female rapper is making her way into the mainstream.
“Honestly, I’m proud of females because there’s a lot of girls right now that are coming up and it’s about time. Nicki Minaj opened that platform for us, she was the one really on it for a few years. So to see that other females are coming out and sticking together right now, it’s great. I feel like the more that females stick together and support each other the less it’ll be like, ‘There can only be one.’ There’s a lot of male rappers and to see every female coming out and doing their thing, it amazes me. I’m also proud to be a female myself because I feel like every girl right now is putting in work.”
One of the biggest breakout stars within the past year is Cardi B, who often times Melii gets compared to because of small similarities.
“I feel like what [Cardi B] got going on right now is dope,” she says. “Any artist is gonna be compared to anyone who is coming from the ground and coming up, that’s just how it is. Other than that, kudos to her and what she’s doing. As a woman, I support any other artist that’s doing it. I don’t really get into comparisons or anything because in general, I’m an artist. Any artist is sensitive with their work and I feel like everybody is different in their own ways. Comparisons or anything like that — it doesn’t phase me. I don’t get angry or anything about it. We’re both coming from New York so I can’t really blame the fans for feeling like there’s similarities.”
Melii proves that she knows who she is as an artist and that internet chit-chat won’t ever change that. She is sure that her versatility as a singer, songwriter and rapper will carry her to the next level and distinguish her from the rest.
“I want people to take away that I’m real and that’s all I’m gonna ever be. Instead of me speaking a lot on the internet or even interviews, my fans will get to know me just by listening to my songs and that’s all I really want; to connect with my fans through my music so they feel like they know me.”
When asked where she sees herself at the end of 2018, she gently replies, “I don’t really know. I don’t like to predict my future, I leave it up to God. I’ll just keep grinding and doing what I have to do because at the end of the day, this is just the beginning. Even when you’re in the industry, you’re still grinding, you’re still hustling, there’s never a point where you stop.”
ALL PHOTOS COURTESY of CHRIS PAUL THOMPSON.