Up Next: Meet The Dominicana Ready To Be The Global Matriarch Of Spanish Hip-Hop

credit: Melymel

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

As urbano music sets the globe ablaze, Melymel’s flaming rap en español is also burning vigorously. “La Mamá del Rap,” as the lyricist, born Melony Redondo, has been nicknamed in her native Dominican Republic, is prepared to be the matriarch of Spanish-language hip-hop outside of the Caribbean island as well, and with undeniable bars and versatility on the mic, she definitely has what it takes.

Melymel, 30, has been spitting fire since 2005, when the-then teenager earned the respect of local rap heavyweights Lo Correcto, who would freestyle with the young aspiring rapera and salute her gift. In a dominantly masculine genre, she was early proof that women, at any age, could compete with the male honchos. And for the last decade-plus, she’s been doing just that, reigning in DR hip-hop, sharing stages and mics with veterans like N.O.R.E., Cuban Link, Lito MC Cassidy and Arianna Puello and inspiring other girls to break into the genre. Now signed to EMPIRE, the U.S. label and distribution company that has released bangers by Cardi B, Kendrick Lamar, Fat Joe, Remy Martin, Tyga, DRAM and more, her sights are set on an international audience.

“I think hard work pays off. I’ve been promoting myself in places I’ve never been to. I’ve been doing interviews with outlets I would’ve never reached out to in the past,” Melymel, who splits her time between Santo Domingo and Miami, told FIERCE. “… These are places it’s taken me longer to achieve, but I’m doing it now.”

Last month, the artist dropped her latest album, “Dragon Queen,” a refreshing compilation of Melymel’s classic venomous rhymes with a blend of modern melodies. Describing it as a “female empowerment” project, the album has tracks like “IDGAF,” a High Quality-produced song for confident boss ladies, “Si No Te Amara,” a relatable joint about women growing through the BS they go through, and “Se Te Apago La Luz,” an Ivy Queen-assisted banger about outshining haters — something both reinas have experience doing.

We chatted with Melymel about her journey from child poet to acclaimed rapper, overcoming male shit-talkers, breaking into the global hip-hop scene, being the first woman to collab with “La Caballota” and much more.

Q. You’re not new to the rap game. You’ve been doing this professionally since about 2007. Why do you think it has taken the international audience so long to catch up to what you’ve been doing in DR?

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Because now I’m working with an American label, so they’re actually putting in the work of promotion in the U.S. I think hard work pays off. I’ve been promoting myself in places I’ve never been to. I’ve been doing interviews with outlets I would’ve never reached out to in the past. I’m going to important events like the Grammys and the Latin Billboards, and doing promotion on Hot 97. These are places it’s taken me longer to achieve, but I’m doing it now.

Q. When did you first start listening to hip-hip and who were your earliest influences and why?

Tupac and Lauryn Hill are my two top influencers. I was like 8 or 9 when I heard them the first time, or younger. I started writing when I was 9. I liked the poetry, and I picked up a lot listening to them. I liked the way they would say explicit stuff, like the way they didn’t cover what they felt like saying. That was big for me at that age, because I would get in trouble from my mom when I would say these things, but they were telling me it was OK, that I could say or do these things.

Q. How old were you when you started rapping?

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When I was around 12 or 13, I used to go to this studio called Lo Correcto, named after one of the first Dominican hip-hop groups. They used to live like two blocks away from me. One of my friends saw how I was so into rapping and took me to the studio to meet these cats. I was like 15 the first time they took me, and they were like 27 and 28, so I was the youngin’ and the only female. When they used to do their battle circles in the studio, they would say, “it’s your turn,” and this is when I started freestyling and developing the rapping skill. It’s not the same when you write as when you spit, so this is when I started developing my skills and saying, “hey, I want to do this professionally.

Q. It’s dope to hear that they were so open to helping a young female rapper. Women in the hip-hop game in the U.S. aren’t nearly as respected as men. Their brilliance is often disregarded because of their gender and they sometimes also experience other forms of violent sexism and microagrresions. Has this been your experience in the Dominican Republic as well?

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Oh yeah! After a while, it started getting harder. In the beginning it was different. I was the only female, so the guys were like, “this is cool.” But now that I made a name for myself, now it’s harder, because I represent direct competition to guys. When they see me getting publicity or booking a show, they see that as me taking food from their table. A female rapper, and one that’s good? That sells. So guys start hating. But honestly the hating makes me feel good. It makes me feel like I’m doing good.

Q. How do you respond to male haters who try to discredit you?

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They never discredit my skill. They can’t talk about my talent, so they make up other bullshit. If you can’t say anything about my raps, then I don’t care about whatever else they bring up. As long as I don’t confirm with actions what they say with words, then they’re a certified hater. Now if they say I don’t rap well or my music is wack, that’s different. But they don’t do that, so for me it’s a win-win.

Q. Does it ever feel overwhelming?

Nah, it’s just a few guys, maybe a top promoter that has artists or people with a TV show that also has artists. I represent a threat to their product, so they hate. But the majority of them give me love and have been my friend since ‘06-’07.

Q. And now you are considered “La Mamá del Rap.” Where did this nickname come from and how do you think you were able to establish yourself and gain the respect you deserve?

La Mamá del Rap! They started calling me this after like 2009 and 2010, because I’m the first female in the newschool Dominican hip-hop realm, and still till today I’m doing it. There are a lot of other girls now doing it, but they came after. The guys are very respectful with that, even the haters will still call me by that name. It’s because I’m the first and the longest lasting. There are girls who came after and started rapping, but after awhile they stop and go back to doing reggaeton. They don’t maintain in the rap game, so the rap game was the movement that gave me my name.

Q. And now you aim to tackle a more international audience. Talk to us about your latest album, “Dragon Queen.” How is this different from what you’ve done in the past?

I think I have grown as an artist. I’ve chosen to work with people I haven’t worked with in the past. I worked with producers I never imagined, like Mozart La Para, Neka One, Mestiza and Kool Kojak. I won’t say this album is completely fresh, but it is different from what I have done in the past. I would have done a full rapping album, but here I have melodies and dance songs, which show my versatility as an artist. And I think that is a sign that I’m also growing as a person. I’m getting old. I have different tastes. I respect the young fans who are listening to me, so I try to keep it classy. This album is definitely a very precious project for me. It’s my first album released under an American label, and I feel like a superstar.

Q. Much of your music tackles social issues, particularly womanhood, gender violence, the street economy and self-love. Why?

I try to be as low-key as I can when I touch these subjects. I don’t try to be an old-school rapper where all you hear is, “fuck the system.” I’m trying to live. I don’t want someone to kill me for saying that. But I try to come in where people can talk about these issues without feeling uncomfortable, to feel empowered, to make a difference in the world. “Si No Te Amara” is a track that resembles a woman going through issues. It’s a way of recognizing that I fucked up, that I wasn’t treating myself as I should by allowing this guy to not love me, but I’m gonna cut you loose now. The first step is admitting and accepting you’re wrong. The song says, “I’m wrong, but I’m not going to stay here and be wrong longer.” I’m not a crybaby or a full bad bitch. All women fall. We let ourselves get brainwashed by assholes, but it’s all in the way you carry yourself and outgrow the situation. You don’t have to feel embarrassed. You’re not the first, and you won’t be the last. Brush it off, sis.

Q. I love that. We have to be patient and gentle with ourselves, for sure.

Right! This is my acceptance, it’s about dealing with issues in ways that help you grow instead of making you feel less than, like you’re a piece of shit. I was slippin’ for a minute, but I’m going to brush it off. That’s the music I write, and that’s also how I try to live in real life.

Q. I feel that! Natti Natasha, another Dominican artist in urbano, has expressed interest in collaborating with you. Is this something you’re entertaining?

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Hell yeah! Natti is the bomb. She has taken the flag all over the world, not with hip-hop or rap, but she’s still doing that and that’s bomb. She said she wants to collaborate, but I haven’t had the chance to meet up. I like to have a couple hours with someone, chill, cook. It’s a matter of being in the right place at the right time but also about energy. People can be poppin’, but if the energy is off, then nothing good will come from the collaboration. I’m all about how you make me feel.

Q. Talking about collaborations, you linked with Ivy Queen for your song “Se Te Apago La Luz” off this album. That’s major! How did that pop off? What was that like for you?

It was super lit. We weren’t planning to collaborate. I was in her house, cooking and eating with the munchies. A producer was playing some beats, and she started flowing, I started writing and we got that super track together. It came out of nothing. Like I said, the personality comes first. We were just chillin’, two friends chillin’, and then she came up with the idea. I’m super honored and blessed about the opportunity to work with “La Caballota.” A lot of girls look up to her, and she’s super picky with who she works with. She has never collaborated with another female, so this is very symbolic. It’s something that makes me feel proud of myself. I feel super blessed.

Q. That’s beautiful, for real, for real! This album is out and the reception has been well. Tell me, what can we expect next from Melymel?

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We’re gonna be doing a few more videos, but I also think it’s a good start for women empowerment. The boss bitch vibes continue.

Q. Haha, love that! As your fame and talent begins reaching far beyond the Dominican Republic, what do you hope people can say about Melymel in about 10 to 20 years?

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I want them to say that I’m a proud Dominican. I want people to be like, “damn, that’s Melymel.” I want people to see me as big as Cardi B one day. I want people to support me and give back some of the love I put into my music for them.

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