In an exclusive interview Monaleo details the origins of her viral rap song, what she loves most about growing up in Houston, and more.
It’s hard to believe Monaleo started creating music professionally a year ago.
The 20-year-old rapper first garnered traction online when her single “Beating Down Yo Block” went viral last September. Following this moment, the spotlight was placed directly on her, and instead of shying away she leaned directly into it. The lyrical content on the track features biting lyricism that points to the ongoing moment women in hip-hop are experiencing.
Monaleo always had dreams of turning her interest in music into a career, even though she wasn’t sure what that would look like. She grew up in Houston between Mo City and Richmond singing and playing piano at church, and performed at family gatherings at the encouragement of her mother. But it would be through her younger brother that she made her first foray into rapping.
Monaleo’s first recorded rap verse ever was created on a whim in 2019 after she took her younger brother, rapper Young Rampage, to the studio as a birthday present. Over a phone call, she recalled how he asked her to hop on his song “Family Ties.” After that recording session, she posted the track on Instagram. This moment led her to keep releasing music in 2020 and onward.
Merion Krazy, the producer behind “Beating Down Yo Block,” first shared the beat with the rising rapper late last year. Monaleo was coping with a tough breakup with an abusive ex-boyfriend, and during her writing process, she decided to air out all of her grievances. “I was at a really low point,” she said. “I was trying to restore confidence, hope, [and] optimism back into myself, that’s why the lyrics are so powerful.”
Immediately after she wrote the song she felt it was a hit, but she wasn’t aware it would have a ripple effect. She shared she felt chills each time she listened to the track before it officially dropped, recalling texting Merion that she was confident the song would go viral. Unfortunately, since it featured an uncleared sample of Yungstar’s “Knockin Pictures Off Da Wall,” Monaleo initially wasn’t going to drop it. Then, in September 2020, she posted a snippet of the track on Instagram, where it swiftly went viral on the social media platform.
Months of negotiation ensued and by January 2021, the track went viral again. This led to the sample being cleared, providing a defining moment for Monaleo.
What makes “Beating Down Yo Block” work is how skillfully she throws out narrative-focused rhymes that paint a picture of jealous women and unworthy men, all while flipping patriarchy on its head. The boastful approach she takes inducts her into the current class of female rappers from the South who are thriving and impacting the rap industry. At the moment, the track sits at 3 million streams on Spotify and 3.4 million views on YouTube.
Monaleo didn’t stop with her first viral hit. She’s continued to build upon her momentum, having released a new song, “Suck It Up,” a month ago. Another track that’s a direct conversation with her naysayers, it finds Monaleo turning a sour situation with her ex and his child’s mother into another excellent song.
Flipping her real-life experiences into relatable songs is carving out the foundation of Monaleo’s artistry. She’s well aware that this is her coping mechanism and way of dealing with her past woes, but she’s also hopeful her music helps her fans feel empowered.
We recently caught up with Monaleo to learn about her Texas roots, why she creates music based on her experiences and her budding career.
What was it like growing up where you’re from in Houston?
I really love my city, and I have a deep appreciation and a deep reverence for my city as a whole. I had a really pleasurable experience just being able to be engulfed in Houston culture, whether it be going to block parties and seeing all the slab lines coming up the street or going to the Houston rodeo. It was a really fulfilling experience because Houston culture, in general, is so rich. I was able to really partake and participate in a whole lot of things that shaped me to be who I am now.
What type of music did you listen to growing up?
My mom loved R&B music, so I grew up listening to Monica, Brandy, Keyshia Cole — that type of thing. My dad really loved Houston music — I was also listening to Z-Ro or Slim Thug. In my own time, I loved Nicki Minaj [and] Beyoncé. I came up on the whole Young Money era, so I was super big on Drake, Wayne, [and] Nicki for the most part.
When you were in the studio recording “Beating Down Yo Block,” what was going through your head?
A year ago when I was going to the studio, I was going through a really, really traumatic breakup with this abusive guy. So, I was really looking for something just to take my mind off of things, and I was able to use rap as a coping mechanism. It was really one of my first experiences with a real true heartbreak.
When I started rapping, it was something that I was able to [use] to really express myself. I could be as aggressive and assertive as I wanted to be in a very healthy way. Also, it became one of those things I was able to make money off of, so it ended up working out. Now [that] I’m out of that hole, I think sometimes I can still tap into those emotions just because they were so strong, and it is going to take some time to really shake back from it all.
What was the writing process for “Beating Down Yo Block?”
When I was writing the song I was really channeling that fresh post-traumatic breakup energy. It was just like, “OK, let me just air out all my grievances. Let me just really talk candidly, and let me just speak that confidence in that life back into myself.” Because, like I said, I was at a really low point and I was trying to shake back. So, I’m writing a song — I’m thinking about who I hate so much from the bottom of my heart, but simultaneously talking to myself as just having dealt with that relationship. It just really took a lot out of me.
Did you expect it to blow up?
When I wrote it I knew it was a hit. I knew for a fact that it was a hit because I texted my producer Marion Crazy and I was like, “This song is a hit. This is going to go viral.” I had no idea what doors it would open for me, but I knew for sure that it was a hit. And I knew that I was doing something right because after I finished recording it and listening to it, I got the chills.
Can you walk me through the backstory for “Suck It Up” your latest single?
My ex, who I was referencing in “Beating Down Yo Block,” his baby mama was on Twitter [talking about me] because she was obsessed. He’s upset about the fact that I am doing so well off a song that is about him. And then, when I go do my interviews, they ask me, “Well, what was the inspiration behind ‘Beating Down Yo Block?’” And then I tell them the exact story. I don’t know if he’s expecting me to lie or what, but I tell them the exact story of how it came about. He was really upset about that and his baby mama was also upset about that.
She was on Twitter with this whole rant and I was like, “Should I respond?” I was tempted to respond. And I was just like, “I’m going to just [do] another song. I’m just going to do exactly what they would hate for me to do.” So I [wrote] another song and it was so fire. I freestyled the entire song. Then, the very next day, I was like, “Oh, we got to shoot a video to this. This is just too fire. I love it. The beat is crazy. The lyrics [are] all there.” The very next day we shot the video, and then we put it out.
How do you feel about this current crop of female rappers?
I love all of the female rappers that we have out right now. They’re all so different, so unique, so special in their own way. And they’re just furthering the agenda of women being, essentially, what Beyonce was telling us a few years ago — we run the world. Like I said, they’re all different, they all stand out in their own way, and they’re so supportive of each other. Honestly, with the exception of maybe a couple of little arguments and beef, we are really supportive of one another because we know how difficult it is in this day and age. It’s extremely difficult just being a female artist in general. We’re held to these ridiculous, unattainable standards.
There’s solidarity among all of us because we all know that this is really difficult. But it’ll make it less difficult if we were to support each other as opposed to fighting with each other. So, I appreciate them for welcoming me with open arms. I’m 110% behind all of the female rappers that are out right now.
Is there a project coming?
Yeah. I have a couple more singles that I want to put out, and then I want to put out a full-blown tape. I have a lot of songs in the bottle — probably some of the best songs that I’ve ever heard in my life. And that’s not even me being biased, there [are] some really amazing songs that are in the vault.