Up Next: Meet Melii, The Harlem Dominican Rapper-Singer Making Explosive Club Bangers

credit: llya Savenok

Up Next is a FIERCE series highlighting rising Latina and Latin American women artists you might not know about but definitely should.

This summer, as Cardi B’s “I Like It” dominatied radio airtime across the country, another New York mixed dominicana had a fuego banger that was igniting her city: the artist, Harlem-raised Melii, and the song, the aggressive Spanglish hit “Icey.”

The visuals for the base-heavy single, which broke 1 million on YouTube and procured a co-sign from Rihanna, who shared the track for a Fenty Beauty ad on Instagram, shows a confident up-and-comer walking into a promising musical career. In glistening, white high-heeled boots, she’s unthreatened by shit men or shit-talking women. “Cuidado si me tocas te quemas,” the 20-year-old warns on “Icey,” and with explosive joints like “Sh*t Talk,” where Melii throws verbal grenades at her haters, and “La Envidia Mata,” a declaration to never entertain those who envy her, following her summer jam, the singer-rapper isn’t bluffing.

Melii signed to Interscope Records in December 2017, following the massive success of her remix to Cardi’s “Bodak Yellow,” which garnered nearly 2 million views on YouTube. The rising Dominican-Cuban-French act lures listeners in with her creative covers of chart-toppers and makes them fans when they hear her spit over hostile beats in both English and Spanish on original songs.

We spoke with the Afro-Latina talent, who’s slated to release her debut project, Phases, this fall, about her upcoming work, rejecting the myth that there can only be one dominant woman in rap, empowering female fans through music and more.

Following your “Bodak Yellow” remix, you were signed to Interscope and have since been throwin’ out back-to-back bangers, with your popularity growing massively this year. What has this been like for you?

It has been — I’m grateful for it — but it has been hard. I feel like I’m not doing enough. But, at the same time, seeing the feedback, I know that I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing. Just sometimes I wish things moved a little quicker.

What sort of music did you grow up listening to and how do you think your upbringing influenced your style today?

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My Biggest Blessing came in on one of my toughest years ,it was so bad I ain’t wanna be here no more . I Can’t thank God enough for guiding me through it all sending signs , giving me strength and sending the right ppl at the right time . One was my OG Manda who believed in me and constantly Gave me the confidence I needed and still does , the last thing I heard him say from the first time we met was “you’re goin be fine kid” and being a total stranger I believed him .I signed to interscope back in December and honestly lml I feel like I don’t thank my team enough n I don’t know all ya IG’s but I know ya going to see this ????????‍♀️ I love you guys and appreciate the one on one attention ya provide . The work ya put in for me doesn’t go unnoticed, so much progress in such a short period of time . Oh and thank you to my supporters ya are the best dead feel like ya my second cousins love ya ode . Just posting to say things may hit rock bottom but God never fails you . #melii???? #MELIIMOB????

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On the Spanish side, my mom would play soft songs, Dominican stuff like Juan Luis Guerra and Miriam Cruz. That influenced the soft side in my music, the Spanish stuff. But I’d always be in the Bronx with my aunt, who was listening to Lil’ Kim’s “Lighters Up” or Destiny’s Child. Then I got older and started having my own tastes, listening to Amy Winehouse, Drake, J. Cole, Tory Lanez, PartyNextDoor, a mix of different kinds of music, and it definitely influenced me in my music. I don’t do one kind of song; I do everything. People know me as a rapper, but if you search my name, I was singing first.

I know you credit J. Cole and Nicki Minaj as some of your biggest musical inspirations. I’m wondering if there are any Latinx artists who have played similar roles for you.

Miriam Cruz, she’s definitely one, and Melymel and Ivy Queen. They opened the door for women who don’t care, who say what they have to say, who express themselves and are daring on the things they speak on.

There is a lot of emphasis placed on your heritage in your music and social media accounts. You often rap in Spanglish as well. Why is cultural representation important to you?

I feel like it matters. Really, there might be words I don’t know in English but do in Spanish, so that shows in my music, but I also think people are more open to hearing Spanish in songs. The culture has more of an influence now. Artists like Messiah, even though they were like big in the ‘hood, expanded that, but I’m showing females can do it, too. It’s great because not many females are doing that. There’s a girl, Mexican, she’s been doing it, too, in California, the Spanglish rap, but not stupid stuff.

Snow tha Product?

Yes, her. She’s really dope.

You’re often bigging up women, encouraging them to be confident, own their flaws and recognize that’s part of what makes them bad bitches. Why do you feel the need to empower women in this way?

I feel like it’s important because artists don’t realize we have influence on those who listen to us, and being a person who has felt insecure, dealt with being depressed and now being in the limelight, where I’m still developing, where I get comments and trolls and people putting their insecurities on me, that can bring me down. But I’m here to set an example. I’m human, too. I go through what we all go through. And so I also know it’s good to have someone in your ear, through music. J. Cole bigged me up when I was down. If I can do this through my music, then I’m doing my job as the artist I want to be.

The hip-hop industry often tries to pit women against each other. Most recently, you have Cardi B and Nicki Minaj brawling — literally. But you resist the idea that there can only be one female emcee in the spotlight. Why?

I feel like it’s a mindset, ya know? I’m big on energy and what you allow in your space. If you allow that mentality that there can only be one, then you’re only making music to compete with others rather than being an artist and sticking to your purpose. I don’t just have female fans. I have male supporters, too. We need to realize that we are big influencers. We set a tone. There’s a lot of power behind that if we stick to it.

Talking about the sexism of this industry, in previous interviews, you’ve spoken about your horrible experiences with managers before you were signed to Interscope, even having one who tried to sleep with you. Can you talk about the bullshit you’ve had to deal with so far as a woman in this game and how you’ve handled these situations?

What’s crazy is that being in the industry now, I’ve only had like one day I felt uncomfortable and that was in the club, no one in the industry. Apart from Rihanna supporting me, it’s mostly been men who have supported me. Not one has disrespected me. I would think that in the industry I’d still be dealing with that, but I’m not. As far as the past, I see that as something that happened, how life goes, but it hasn’t been that way so far in the industry.

Talking about Rihanna’s support, how did you feel when she shared “Icey” on Instagram earlier this year?

It felt good. Rihanna is a person I grew up on and has always been someone you see do what they do and live by their truth. I’m also a person like that, so having someone who I feel like I could relate to, someone who grew up and flourished into the woman she is, reach out without me even asking, meant the world to me. A lot of people think there could only be one female, so it feels good to see more females supporting each other. And then having it be Rihanna to me, of all people?

That’s a major co-sign! I know you’ve been working on a new project called Phases. Is there a tentative release date?

Not yet. It was supposed to be for the summer. Hopefully, in September, hopefully. As an artist, I just feel like I need to go back in the studio, like it could be more. Something happened yesterday, and I’m like, can we put this in the album? Can there be more? I just want my fans listening to know who I am, what fits in the moment and what can go. I’m a perfectionist. I wouldn’t call it an album, more of a project. I just want my fans to know who I am.

And are you doing that with this project, showing people who you are?

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???? “SHIT TALK “ in 5 more days . Dear MeliiMob ????I’m only dropping gems one at time to give ya the different sides of me that I can tap into musically ‼️???? just know I’m working my ass awf ‼️ I put time in to every record I finish in the studio before going to the next . “Shit talk “was made back in December in downtown studio in nyc , I was pissed tf off at some bitches and also reading comments from all these trolls I decided to WRITE And throw shots at everyone that be on my nana???? I WANT ALL THE SMOKE ????I can’t wait for ya to see the video n hear the full song ⏳ BE THE FIRST TO SEE IT ‼️SUBSCRIBE TO MY YOUTUBE LINK IN BIO ????????‼️???????????? what’s ur fave melii tune????

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This project, Phases, like the name says, shows different phases in my life. People get caught up in their own world, only reach out to strangers, so my whole thing is putting my truest out to people who, like me, didn’t have others to speak to. It shows me going through my angry phase, heartbreak, confused, insecure, everything wrapped up. For those feeling troubled or going through it, it shows everything will turn out OK. It’s phases.

Outside of Phases, what else do you have coming up that you can tell us about?

I have some features coming up with artists they’re familiar with — mostly men. Big names, that’s all I can say.

You’re 20 years old, at the start of your career. In a few years, what do you hope the people can say about Melii?

I hope that they can see that I’m an open book, and I’m a legend in the making, and that they see the difference in me is that I’m a real artist. This is my passion. This is what I do. But I’m human. You can reach out to me. You feel me, like these are the people who make you. People forget that supporters are people who make you who you are. If you lose that support, you’re no one. So I appreciate them and love them.

Read: Up Next: La Mera Candelaria’s Lead Signed Her Emails With A Man’s Name Just To Get A Chance To Perform At Clubs. Now She Dominates LA’s Cumbia Scene

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