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Monaleo’s 911 Call-Center Gig Helped Fund Her Early Music Dreams
Monaleo’s 911 Call-Center Gig Helped Fund Her Early Music Dreams,Monaleo spoke to Vulture about her breakout hit Beating Down Yo Block, morbid symbolism, what it means for rapping women to wanna beat somebody ass, and opening for Flo Milli on her first tour.

Monaleo’s 911 Call-Center Gig Helped Fund Her Early Music Dreams

This interview briefly touches on the topic of suicide. If you or anyone you know are in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.

For Monaleo, the last three years — having to rebuild herself after a terrible breakup, dropping “Beating Down Yo Block” (one of the hardest songs of 2021’s stolen summer), and poppin’ off on her first tour with her friend Flo Milli — have been “like a movie.” We caught up with the 21-year-old Houston-based artist after the drop of her deliciously bloody new music video for the homicidal bop “Body Bag.” This wasn’t just an ode to hearsing any maladjusted fuckboy that looked to distract her from her path. It was a callback to the young girl whose fascination with death and dying directed her to the mortuary, finding the beauty in transience. We spoke about morbid symbolism, what it means for rapping women to wanna beat somebody ass, and opening for Flo Milli on her first tour.

The “Body Bag” video is really fuckin’ dope. 
Thank you. I’m glad you liked.

Shit goes. We saw you had to explain the symbolism on Twitter, which I loved — just how it was like homicidal horror. But you also tweeted that you were into true crime growing up?
Let me not say true crime, ’cus I don’t want people to think I was just all day fucking watching First 48. ’Cus it wasn’t really that. I was interested in the fact that people died. I thought that shit was crazy. You mean, we’re good one day and then the next day we just fucking die? I had an uncle, whose name was Matt, who passed away when I was seven or eight. I just remember going to his funeral and seeing him in the casket and being like, this is some crazy spooky shit. It was my first funeral experience and I just couldn’t believe that this was a thing that people do. I was always grossly interested in it. So I ended up going to a high school in Houston called the High School for Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice. My mom put me in that school, ’cus she thought I would make a good defense attorney. She thought I just had a way with my words and I just knew how to explain shit. But I ended up following the forensic-pathology path. I was telling myself to go to school to be a forensic pathologist, to figure out how people died. Or I wanted to be a mortuary scientist.

So the symbolism for “Body Bag” came straight from that?
The theme for it was a butcher shop. And I really wanted to wear a meat dress, like Lady Gaga wore a couple years ago. But the production company was telling me, Oh, I don’t really think that’s a good idea. This is gonna be all day, the meat’s gonna start to stink, etc. But when people were saying that it gave them Jeffrey Dahmer vibes? I was just like, I’m not inspired by that white man at all.

Like, c’mon, please. 
I’ve never even seen the Netflix show; he killed Black and gay people and I’m not particularly interested in seeing no shit like that. So I never watched it. I just was like, yeah, this is not that.

Was there a specific moment that turned you off to forensic pathology?There wasn’t one thing where I was like, “Oh hell no, I can’t deal with this.” I saw some pretty morbid shit, but it was more so I was in a really bad space mentally. I was going to school, sleeping on couches. I didn’t have a car and I didn’t have a job. And through this post breakup experience, it was fucking tearing my insides apart just going to school everyday.

We had to do this thing where we would do this apprenticeship and we would have to go to actual funeral homes and help out. And that was triggering because I just used to see a lot of people that either look like me, my grandparents, or they look like my mom or they look like my dad or they were the same age as my sibling and I just kept thinking about the mortality of the people around me. It was the icing on the cake for me.

And then I was also having crazy experiences just being in and out of the hospital because I was having these different attempts where I was tryna un-alive myself and it was very difficult to keep up with everything. So really it’s not even that I quit going, I failed. I failed because I just missed too many days and we was literally going into COVID. I was tryna get the professors to understand but they weren’t very understanding at all. Then again they were white so I didn’t expect them to really understand or care to empathize with me. They just didn’t get it. I was in a terrible-ass space.

That’s so much, my God.
Yeah, that was 2020? From March to July I was pretty much moping around. I was depressed, I just didn’t have any energy and I really stayed in bed a lot. I ended up going to my grandmother’s house and I slept in one of her rooms every day. And literally it would get so bad to the point where I wouldn’t even wanna get up to take showers and do my hair and get my nails done. I was just in the worst state I’ve ever seen myself in.

Fast-forward to August 2020 and I recorded “Beating Down Yo Block” and then I posted it and it got traction. That was kind of a sliver of hope for me. In September, I was just continuing to record music and figuring out, okay, I like rap and I feel it’s giving me a confidence boost. In October, I started working at a 911 call center. I had worked there in high school. So I started making more money and I was able to continue going to the studio. I was able to scrape some money together to get myself a car and shoot music videos. And then in 2021, I dropped the song, and the rest was history.

That is outta this world. Just a wild-ass story.
Some shit out straight out of a movie. So that’s why I’m just, all these experiences, I soaked them in and I’m grateful and I’m appreciative ’cus I know that this shit was a totally different situation two years ago.

Was it weird going to a school where all these people who wanted to be cops and FBI agents and shit? 
It really wasn’t weird, honestly. I really didn’t fucking talk to anybody. I had my inner circle and I never deviated. We were friends from ninth grade all the way to 12th grade. There was a shortage of Black people at that school though, so it was just only a few of us. So we all just cliqued up and just gravitated towards each other inevitably. ’Cus it was just like, Shit, okay, well this is the thing that we have in common. You could probably count on one or two hands how many Black people that were in each class.

You were performing before that though right?
I was singing in church — actually when I was in elementary school, we had a play at the end of the year that I tried out for with this song called “It’s My Party.” I had rehearsed religiously for that in the mirror for hours and hours. Finally come time for the audition, I was like, okay, I killed this shit. I boohoo-cried when I didn’t get it.

Did you find the love for performing in those years?
No, I didn’t. I wish I did. I still don’t love performing to this day. It’s a very nerve-wracking experience. I just get extremely nervous. My hands start shaking and stuff like that. I have to calm myself down that people are there and they’re staring at you and they’re judging you. I don’t know if I grew to love performances. I think I built up a coping mechanism for the anxiety that was associated with performance.

We talked to Flo Milli last month and she told me that she started out singing too. Is it wild that both of y’all are touring together? And are both rapping?
It’s just a trippy experience for me and especially the people that grew up with me because I never was rapping, I never was a rapper to the people around me. Everybody knew that I loved to sing — and I’m not saying that I was the best singer, ’cus I wasn’t. So now that I’m making a name as a rapper, people are just thrown off.

Right? It’s like, hey yo, now she rapping? What the fuck?
It’s a really dope experience to be able to tour with her because she’s an awesome person, she’s an amazing sweet girl. She’s always making sure that I’m taken care of and we share similar fan bases. So it’s not uncomfortable or awkward for either one of us — specifically, me — because I just feel like as an opening act sometimes people aren’t always the most receptive to you. I’ve been to concerts and there have been opening acts and I remember thinking, Damn, can we hurry up and see fucking Drake or whoever.

Does it make it easier having a relationship with Flo outside of music and stuff?
Yeah, it makes it way easier even though we don’t really do too much. I feel like we both are super stressed out. We don’t really do too much invading each other’s spaces. She is very similar to me in the sense that she might get a little bit of anxiety when she’s getting ready to perform. I feel like we just kind of respect each other’s artistry, craft, and spaces — but we always check up on each other periodically in the most respectful way: Hey, I’m just making sure you’re good, I’m not trying to bother you, don’t wanna interrupt. It’s a really respectful environment and it’s the most ideal situation. I’m really soaking it in.

Touring is a fucking beast. How are you adjusting to the pace? 
I thought it would take me longer to adjust but it’s so ideal and it’s such a fun experience. The biggest burden is just mentally wanting to be home. But that’s the hardest part. The actual tour stuff isn’t really bad. Even just the bus, not the worst thing in the world. Not the most comfortable, but it’s not the worst thing in the world for me personally. ’Cus I’ll just be sprawled out on the back seat just laying down all the time. I ain’t gonna lie. It’s not that bad.

Do you think there’s a necessity for more music especially from rapping women of “I will beat y’all ass” anthems?
Definitely. There’s an influx of more abrasive music specifically coming from women. We’re taking our power back and taking back control, so I feel like the music is definitely getting a lot more aggressive. I mean shit, we’re tired. For me personally, I went through years of just turmoil and fucking chaos at the hands of stupid niggas. But I’m 21 and I’m an adult and I’m stepping into my womanhood. A part of what I wanna take with me from the lessons that I’ve learned is just not to let anybody walk over me. So I just make that very clear in my music. It really just be a constant reminder to myself because I’m one of those people that is super empathetic and I will forgive anybody. I probably would shoot somebody and then help them fucking put pressure on the wound.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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