On his first full-length release Hold Your Tongue, Melo Makes Music confronts depression, mental wellness, loneliness, and heartbreak with a sense of self. The South Side rapper might be best known for last year’s “Sleepless,” his song featuring Taylor Bennett, but he’s been evolving as an artist since early songs like “Murphy’s Law” (featuring Ju & Tatiana Hazel) and “Drain U” (featuring Ravyn Lenae). Now, on “Hold your Tongue,” he confronts his inner demons with music—and comes out of the other end with a message of positivity.
Last week, the Weekly met with Melo at his new home in Humboldt Park to discuss the inspiration for his most recent releases and the power of a positive attitude.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
When you’re making a song, are you conscious of the person that’s going to listen to it?
Yeah, but like, no. Recently I went through a process [where] I explored the idea of, you know, creating specifically for an audience—and it was dope, because I think it gave me some pop sensibilities. But I feel like I don’t really try to do that [in general]. I really want to make something that I like first. I guess I am trying to make something that is easily palatable, but at the same time, I’ve got to get my own point across.
What goals do you have for your sound right now?
What I’m trying to achieve is this really wacky, but down to earth, sound. Something more down to earth than I’ve ever made. The most down to earth music, but also really exuberant and bright—kind of, like, bombastic.
During “Hold your Tongue” I was going through a super dark time. It was like a snowball effect of shit that was going on—so I [feel] like there was so much of that energy throughout the tape. It’s definitely addressing some of those topics, like mental wellness within myself.
I want to focus on the positive aspects of living with mental wellness issues. Talking about positive coping mechanisms and healthier words to go along with a healthier lifestyle…[that’s] what I’ve been pushing in newer stuff I’ve been writing.
My goal is to just keep spreading awareness on the subject, but then to also flesh out who I am, to express myself. I feel like that’s what artists are always trying to do.
What was the inspiration behind the chain around your neck on the cover of “Hold Your Tongue”?
I think my environment wasn’t super conducive to my growth. I wasn’t able to enjoy my success. I kept [feeling] this mounting pressure. I still do, but I’ve just identified the things that make me feel that way. I’m just coping in a different way, ya know? Trying to progress, to push past it.
For me, writing is dope, because I can just put [this all] on paper—it really is the same thing as writing in a journal. I kind of lost all fear of being vulnerable publicly once I realized people were creating this public perception of me anyway. So I might as well control what that is, instead of letting other people create that for me.
And my music wasn’t really speaking too much to the person that I am. Not in a bad or a good way, just those first few songs were blanket topics, really universal subjects. Which is probably why they streamed so well. But I also think it’s important to express myself—because that’s the whole reason I do it.
As an artist, you’re not afraid to break gender norms, and your lyrics reflect a pride in expressing your feminine side. But in your song “Disposable,” for instance, your message about women seems to conflict with that. Can you talk a little bit about that?
You’re probably talking about the part [where I say] “the women in my pictures are disposable,” Yeah. I feel like [the lyric] can be misinterpreted, read in a different way than I intended. But I thought that play on words was cool. I also see how disposable is a harsh connotation to add to a human being—so yeah, there is a conflict. But that song specifically is a freestyle that was coming from, almost like a monolithic viewpoint, and I was trying to express this feeling that I had in that moment.
You know, I feel like for men to properly conduct themselves in society and talk to women the right way, sometimes that does take a level of filtering your words—you gotta sit and think about the right thing to say, even if you’ve got good intentions.
I think hip hop has almost prided itself on misogyny, on blatant misogyny. I’ve never felt like I fit into that mold. Even if I listen back to some shit where I’m referring to a women and I say “bitch,” that shit kind of makes me cringe, you know what I’m saying? I don’t really rock with that.
So I’ve definitely confronted that with my own shit, and made adjustments to be more inclusive. Also to not be disrespectful—because my mom definitely didn’t raise me that way.
How has living in Chicago influenced your music?
It’s weird! I honestly think Chicago makes me [slightly] sad—it makes my music a little more introverted in a way. I can’t really explain why, I don’t know if it’s seasonal depression or something. I think I have just grown up here, and have so many life experiences here, that I’m always living in my past and present at the same time. I’ve just been here, I’ve walked the grounds of this city up and down way too many times now.
Do you have anything you’d like to shout out?
I’m in the process of putting together a very big event—it’s kind of a pop-up shop for some new merchandise, and my first venture into performance art. I’m really just trying to raise funds for children who have been affected by mental wellness problems and issues: specifically children who have been expelled for having issues, whether it’s anger management or schizophrenia. So many of these kids are undiagnosed, and then they just get expelled and can’t go to school—and they’re young.
I don’t know if you’re familiar with Camelot, the school on the South Side, but most of the kids there have been expelled from other schools. It’s the only school in the city that takes kids that have been expelled. And sixty-two percent of their student body is affected by a mental wellness problem.
So I don’t know where to begin the conversation for changing that—but hopefully bringing some awareness to it is a good start.
Maya Horton is a contributor to the Weekly and SSW Radio. She is also a criminal justice reporter for Free Spirit Media. Follow her on Twitter at @Maya_Jamaica. She last interviewed AMFM founder Ciera McKissick.