Interview - Ms. Melody Monroe
The Female MC...The Femcee...
There is a long lineage of "Femcees", going back to the early years of Hip-Hop. Unfortunately, the label carries negative connotations. But it's not the artists themselves that have created the negativity. It has been the listeners, the audience and the music journalists that stir the pot for clicks.
In my opinion, Female MC's are essential for any real Hip-Hop fan's diet. Listening to a woman can give you a whole different perspective to a walk of life. Sometimes, they can talk about certain subjects better than men do! Simply put. If you don't have any Female MC in your diet, you're doing yourself a major disservice.
Today I talk to a lyricist, rapper, singer & producer, hailing from North Carolina. We talk about her beginnings, how her church roots took her to creating her own work, the aforementioned topic about being female in a male dominated industry and, of course, her Top 5.
Ladies & gentlemen, Ms Melody Monroe.
C: So we begin, as always, with the beginning. Where were you born? What was life like around you when you were a kid and what were you like as a kid?
M: I was born in Greensboro, North Carolina, USA. It's not a huge city, but it's the 3rd largest city in North Carolina. Life was simple and slow growing up. I moved around town quite a bit in my earlier years but had a consistent community in the church my family attended. That community was instrumental in helping me to realise my musical talents and put them to use. As a kid, I was actually very much like I am now - full of life and personality, well rounded, humorous. I was into music and playing sports, but as I grew older, I chose the more creative path which I have never regretted. I was involved in theatre and chorus in my teenage years. I would write songs at home and eventually started to experiment with recording during my last year in high school thanks to one of my teachers who had a home studio.
C: So let's dive into your family & community life since that was imperative for you. What's the Monroe family makeup? Large? Small? You guys certainly sound tight knit considering the embracing of the church community.
M: I actually had an interesting family life. My biological dad married my mom following the passing of his first wife. That gave me two brothers from his previous marriage. Then, he passed away when I was one years old. My mom eventually remarried which gave me three step siblings, two of which I lived with so it was a blended family situation to the max. The church community I was apart of was pretty small and close-knit which looking back, I think gave me the consistency I needed during those formative years as well as my extended family on my mom's side - we're pretty close too.
C: Very interesting dynamic there! So you have three siblings, are they older or younger than you?
M: I have two older half brothers.
C: Okay, so what was the music that you heard as a kid? What did your mother and siblings listen to?
M: I think the benefit of growing up in a blended family was that I was introduced to so many different styles of music. My mom and step-dad listened to a lot of Contemporary Gospel - Trin-i-Tee 5:7, Kirk Franklin, Carman, Byron Cage. And also introduced me to Jazz like John Coltrane. When my mom's side of the family got together, it was all Motown and 70's Soul music being played. My maternal grandfather loved the old stuff like The Temptations and Ray Charles. My oldest brother was really into Hip-Hop and put me on to the greats - Lauryn, Nas, RedMan & Method Man. My other older brother was into a little bit of everything but I specifically remember him introducing me to the Dave Matthews Band and Carlos Santana.
C: Wow so a real eclectic mix! Okay let's put a pin in that for the moment and get back to you. You mentioned earlier that you were about music but also into sports. Firstly, what sports? (I like my sports) But the real question is, was it difficult to decide between the two? Where were you at in life where you felt like you needed to completely focus on one path?
M: So let me preface this answer by saying that it was a REALLY long time ago and I was really young! I did sports in my younger years leading up to high school - Basketball and Softball. I think it was just a natural progression for me. I was better at making music. Sports was always more of a social activity for me than a love for the actual game. And I loved making music more. It was a no-brainer for me.
C: Ah okay fair enough! So you said that the church community was instrumental in you realising your calling. Could you expand on that? When was the exact moment that you realised music was your calling?
M: Yeah, it was instrumental in helping me to realise my musical talents and putting them to use. The church I attended was really small so everybody did a little bit of everything. I ended up helping out with services by the time I was 15 by playing piano and singing a bit. Having access to the church piano helped me to realise my love for playing and writing songs.
I'm not sure of the exact moment that I realised I had a gift for music, but it must have been somewhere between ages 15 to 18 years old. I realised that I could move people with music and that I really enjoyed it. I loved it (and I still do) so I knew that it was something I wanted to do for as long as I could.
C: Damn, I'm just imagining you just going beast on the piano with nobody around now!
Okay so since you've given us a range where you realised your love for it, how did you move forward? You know you can write, play piano, sing a little bit, where did you go from there to begin your journey as musician/artist?
M: That's actually exactly how I got "discovered"! I didn't have my own keyboard at home so I would try to play as much as possible when I had access to one which meant either at church or school. One day I was playing and singing after school in the Chorus classroom and a teacher heard me. His name is Mr. Florance. He had a home studio and insisted that I come record my songs. We were both novices then and the recordings were pretty horrible looking back, but that was my official beginning as a recording artist!
Mr. Florance gave me a lot of equipment and I eventually was able to buy some more after I went to College (where I minored in Music) so I just kept at it. This was around the time that MySpace was flourishing so I uploaded some tracks there. After getting positive feedback, I decided to do a mixtape which was called "The Human Xperience". I did another called "Popular Demand". And just kept going. I released my first official single in 2012 called "Ladies Room" along with a mixtape called "RETURN OF THE L.A.D.Y."
C: Big up Mr Florance! So you have done a lot before your latest project which we'll talk about a little later, but let's get into your first few tapes & tracks. Looking back at them now, over five years ago now since "Ladies Room", how do you feel about the tapes you mentioned now? Quality, lyrics, vocals etc. And in addition to that. How was it being part of that MySpace generation? Because it's a generation that really fascinates me in how it was what SoundCloud is now but with a bit more community feel because of it being a genuine social network at the time.
M: Yeah, looking back I see A LOT of growth. Those were formative years for me. Finding my sound and my "why". I was very much influenced by the artists I was listening to at the time which included a lot of CHH (Christian Hip-Hop) artists like Da T.R.U.T.H. and Eshon Burgundy, but as I grew older and had more experiences, my worldview was developed more and so was my sound.
The MySpace days were so much fun! There was so much hype over page designs, music playlist, and who you chose as your top 10 friends. It was a really fun time. Like you said, it was built off of community so when you shared any song or picture or status, there was immediate expectation that you were going to engage with your friends about it. Emerging artists could literally expand their fan base on word of mouth alone.
C: For those that haven't heard of the people you mentioned, what were their vibes in terms of their music?
M: Yeah, just really lyrical. I'm a fan of lyricism. I'm the person who immediately hops on genius.com when a new song comes out to read the lyrics so it's always been an important element in the music that I listen to and the music that I create.
C: So with that said, let's get into your latest release. "Motivation EP"! How has the response and feedback been for you so far?
M: It's been wild! (in a good way!!) I hear from people pretty much every day about how they either really like the music or really appreciate the message. The whole project came from a really personal place and me just wanting to encourage people to keep going.
C: I'm so glad you said the word "message" because you don't waste time in getting your message across here. By the end of every song I know the message you're trying to get across. Let's start with the name of the EP and the first track "Motivation". Why did you pick that word specifically? And what does it mean to you?
M: Great question! Motivation for me means drive. It means the will to continue and to persevere through hard times. It means getting up even when you don't feel like it. I chose to name the project "Motivation" because it's what I felt most accurately described the story and spirit behind the project. Everything I talk about on the project are all things that I experienced personally and I really wanted to encourage people, especially millennials, to keep going.
C: And that's a great answer! I don't know about everybody else that have heard the EP. But the track that hit me the most was "Changes". Would you mind if we talk about that track?
M: Yes! That is a song that is very close to me as well. It was inspired by personal experience as well as the experience of people I know. I really dug deep when writing it and wanted to take the listener on a journey. I hope people are encouraged to know that they are not alone in their challenges.
C: And on the track. The subject matter alone is something that not many people wouldn't even know where to begin. And the way you began with the phone call really added a dimension to it. Have you ever written anything as deep as that in its subject matter?
M: I don't think so. Particularly, not on a personal level. I knew that if I didn't get emotional while writing the song, I wasn't digging deep enough. I usually don't get emotional while writing, but I actually cried while writing it because I really put myself back into certain moments and feelings to recapture it all.
C: I agree. If you don't get emotional writing it, how will people feel the emotion if you can't feel it?Thanks for expanding on that track in particular. It really hit me when I initially listened to it. So you talked about the reason for calling it "Motivation". Are there any other words that you would associate with this EP? Words that the consumer would gain while listening.
M: I'm glad you could connect with it! I would say encouragement, endurance and perseverance. This project was inspired by a span of a few years of my life that were really challenging. I experienced a lot of loss, including my job and friends, but I also grew in that time and learned that "delayed doesn't mean denied" so I wanted to spread that message especially to millennials who may also be experiencing similar challenges.
C: Delayed doesn't mean denied... Never a truer statement! I think we have learned a lot about you during our time. As a lyricist, as a person. But as a woman, in the music industry. More specifically, the Rap industry. What struggles have you encountered so far and in the perspective of a Hip-Hop fan, how visible are the boxes that the industry puts women in?
M: I've been fortunate to receive support from men and women off of talent alone, but in the early days of releasing music, specifically more in the CHH realm, it was very clear that I was being treated differently and not being afforded certain opportunities for simply being a woman. I remember sending my single to a pretty popular radio station at the time and the DJ telling me that I sounded like another female artist (she was one of the only female artist doing the same type of music at the time) which I strongly disagreed with. Later, I had a conversation with another woman and found out she was told the same thing by the same DJ. What it showed me was that we weren't being taken seriously and being listened to seriously.
I think the most visible box that I currently see in hip-hop is the belief that only one woman can "make it" at a time. This is more in mainstream hip-hop than indie, but it's like it's either got to be Cardi OR Nicki. It can't be both. Which is ridiculous. But it just speaks to the limitations in the industry to embrace women as an equal. Thankfully, there is much less of that in the indie scene as it works better in the end for everyone to support each other.
C: Ah yes. The "Highlander" Theory. There can only be one. Well with that said, I'd say the female rapper numbers are very healthy at the moment. Two of my Top 5 today are women. But obviously that's just me. I'd guess by your answer you think that the Independent scene is more accepting of female MC's. And you mentioned the DJ giving you BS reasons. It made me think of a recent thought I've had. Obviously you're a product of Streaming. If I said that streaming sites are the new gatekeepers of music, like DJ's were when radio was the main source of attention getting recognition, how would you feel about that?
M: I'd agree to some extent. Streaming most definitely is taking the lead in how new music and new artists are introduced on a wider scale. However, I still see value in the DJ especially when it comes to establishing yourself as an artist geographically. DJ's are the people who are spinning the music at parties and introducing artists to venues so they definitely still play a role in my opinion.
C: That's a fair point. It's a conversation worth having these days.
So what's next for you? What's next on the Monroe agenda?
M: Well, I have a lot more music up my sleeve! Just pursuing my creative ideas, travelling and doing shows all over, meeting my supporters, and hopefully spreading more light along the way.
C: Well I'm looking forward to seeing what you have next! Penultimate question, for people that haven't listened to you, how would you describe you & your music?
M: Thank you! I would say inspirational hip-hop soul (but not in a corny way). My mission as an artist is to share a message of truth (honesty), light (conscientiousness), and love.
Sonically, I would say I'm closely related to Nitty Scott MC, MC Lyte, Ms. Lauryn Hill, Rapsody, and D'Angelo. Just depends on the track.
C: And that takes us very nicely into our final question.
What's your Top 5?
M: Ah, this is SO HARD! Okay, I'm going to with the Top 5 artists I would choose if I could only listen to these artists for the rest of my life and it would be: Ms. Lauryn Hill, D'Angelo, Kierra Sheard, Kendrick Lamar, and Michael Jackson... That was stressful!
C: Very nice Top 5!
Well, the hardship is over! That concludes our talk. Ms Monroe, I truly thank you for the time you have given this past month or so. I have really enjoyed getting to know you and your story.
M: The pleasure has been all mine Charlie. This is one of the best interviews I've ever done! Thank you for having me.
That concludes my interview with Ms. Melody Monroe. Once again, thanks to Ms Monroe for the time. Be sure to listen to her EP "Motivation" embedded below and watch out for her next projects. She's only getting started.