Words by Sophia Hill
Photography by Olisa Amadi
NYC STORIES: MELVONI
NYC Stories is our most recent series at New Wave dedicated to showcasing artists around the concrete jungle. The eclectic collection narrates a story through photography documenting the lives of the artists while capturing the allure of the cityscape. New York is like an iceberg – the top is there for everyone to see, but to truly understand the scope of the city you have to go under the surface level.
Self-described as ‘BabyFace’ Melvoni is a prodigious, introspective penman, who examines his youth with an ancient calm and seldom found discernment. At the age of 17, the New York rapper carves out a path of his own with heart-wrenching lyricism over melancholy piano loops and trap beats.
Having spent his younger years travelling between Jamaica and the States, the impact of Melvoni’s voyages and experiences become an intrinsic part of what makes every single track a hit. Shifting from singing in a melodic falsetto to rapping, while pushing and pulling his lyrics with an indelible sense of rhythm.
His debut album WHO TF IS MELVONI is an introspective collation of stories and words to the wise – relaying the tales of growing up in Flatbush, Brooklyn and the struggles of living in the hood, detailing his rise from rags to riches. Melvoni creates a playful world of his own, balanced between youthful exuberance and unsettling adult poise. The production compiles a refined selection of beats, provided by J West, Young Kimj, Yung Ting and others.
With bigger aspirations than the average person, it’s this phenomenal ability to aim high and captivate us with his story that will take him far in life. Making it thus fair on his own, he will certainly carry the torch and continue on to do great things. We spoke to Melvoni about his goals, his past, his music and more as we document him in his hometown of Flatbush New York.
When did you first start getting into rapping?
I first started rapping when I was very young, like 6. I was into rap battles a lot – at the park and school cafeteria. Then I started writing my own stuff.
I don’t know much about Flatbush. Can you tell me a bit about your experience of what it’s like growing up there? How has your environment influenced your music?
I rap about what I know – so everything I sing about I’ve either experienced or it’s something relatable that everyone’s experienced. Flatbush is like any other hood. You got the good, the bad, the ugly – but it’s for me, I love it.
You attended Crown Heights school in Brooklyn - on ‘NO MAN’S LAND’ you say “ I don’t think you know how it feels to go to school in the field” - is going to school there something which has inspired your music at all?
Definitely – I used to get into a lot of trouble over there. That whole area was trouble and it was hard to avoid it. All that translated into my experiences which translated into my music.
You’re a pretty good narrator... do you usually freestyle your raps or write or both?
I used to write all my songs. The first song I freestyled was “Memories”. Sometimes I go in with a verse or a line and come up with everything else. I’ll turn the lights off, close my eyes and sing whatever comes to me.
Your videos feel pretty authentic. Is that something you pay close attention to in your work?
The majority of my videos is just me having fun – so yeah it is authentic. A lot of the time when I’m shooting videos, the people around me don’t know the song. You know that feeling you get when you hear a good song for the first time? It’ll be their first time hearing the song so they get the same excitement, it makes it feel right.
The video for ‘CHROME’ switches between you being surrounded by people, to being on your own, headphones on, and dancing - would you say this can reflect how you are in real life?
Yeah. Everybody who knows me will tell you that – I just dance. I be in my little zone and go crazy. Everything I rap about is based off of experience. Same with everything you see me do. Like walking down the street with my headphones on, it’s what I’ve done from age 6 to now.
There's a strong Jamaican influence that come through in your recent EP WHO TF IS MELVONI, has growing up in a Jamaican household impacted your music a lot?
Yeah it definitely did. I grew up listening to a lot of it. I feel like Jamaican music is more moving than American music. And American music has a lot of genres so you get to choose what you want to hear. Jamaican music is like everything all at once. Sometimes when I hear a melody in American music it’s something I’ve heard in Jamaican music years before. US music just garners more money and fame.
The track ‘NY’ seems to be a bit more raw than some of your other releases last year... Did that track come from an emotional place?
Yeah. It was just me talking about how things happen, why things happen, where things happen. If anyone isn’t from new York and wants to know what it’s like in Flatbush, that song is for them. If someone from Flatbush hears it, they’ll relate and see that we live similar lives.
I noticed you use military terms such as ‘ONE MAN ARMY’, ‘READY FOR WAR’, ‘NO MAN’S LAND’ and generally make quite a few army references in your work, is this a deliberate move on your part and if so where does the influence come from?
Half and half – I didn’t realize till I saw this question. I realize I do that a lot. As a kid my dad used to tell me ‘move militant’. I’ve come up as a soldier. Learning how to move smart and sturdy. Don’t let anybody get the best of you. I’ve always have been interested in war cause that’s the life I live. I guess that’s another thing that translate to my music that I didn’t realize.
What do you want fans to take away from your music?
I just want them to love me. I’m a person who can surely say I’ve been through almost everything. Fans are always going to know what I’m talking about and feel what I’m talking about.
You dropped music every two weeks on ‘Melvoni Approved Friday’s’, do you think that’s helped with last year's success?
Yeah it did. By being more consistent, you see the numbers grow. More music means more fans, more fans just means more success. I might even do that this year again – maybe an annual thing. You’ll have to wait and find out.
Can you tell me about APM and what it’s about?
It’s a music group – we rap, some of us are into business mgmt., some of us are into stocks. We’re about the money. We’re young kids who were broke at one point and we’re trying to find a better way of life. Music became the connection and everything else followed.
Since joining Epic has that given you more confidence in navigating the industry?
I don’t know but one thing it did do – it made people take me a little more seriously. Once you establish yourself and get signed, people see you as an actual artist. It does make me a little more confident. I’m living out my dreams. Getting the chance to live out what I’ve seen on TV and YouTube, hell yeah it fuels my confidence.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Successful, wealthy. Sitting around the table with billionaires. Making everyone else I know a billionaire. Living life – I’m still gonna be pretty young. I’ve never been a big car person. Probably have a few properties, women.
Anything coming up you want to talk about? I’ll just say it... What’s this about potential link-ups with Usher, Polo G, Toosii, YoungBoy and Jake Paul!?
I’ve got a project in the works. Like a mixtape or EP, later this year. Hopefully it goes crazy and gets me bigger. I might add some features. Willing to work as much as I can.