Since her 2021 breakout single “Beating Down Yo Block,” 22-year-old Monaleo has become known for her slick rhymes and girl power anthems. Razor-sharp lyrics like, “And I taste like sugar, but ain't a damn thing sweet, b*tch,” have led fans to rally around her.
On a recent Thursday, the Houston-based rapper, born Leondra Roshawn Gay, is weeks away from giving birth to two big milestones in her life – her first child, and her first full-length project, Where the Flowers Don’t Die, out May 26. In recent weeks, she’s been everywhere, from sharing pregnancy candids on Instagram to releasing her unapologetic new single “Ass Kickin” and its hilarious Blaxploitation-inspired companion visual that’s gone viral.
Virality aside, Monaleo tells NYLON that “Sober Mind” from her new project is the most meaningful song at this moment in her life, as its lyrics have a double meaning of sobriety and mental wellness, and was last performed on COLORS. Now, at the tail-end of her pregnancy, the artist has been facing mindfulness head-on, not being able to indulge in alcohol for the past nine months.
“I’ve been able to work towards acquiring mental clarity,” says Monaleo over Zoom. “I’m just really having to deal with those uncomfortable thoughts and feelings, and not masking them with substances.”
Ahead of the release of Where the Flowers Don’t Die, which is sure to position her as Houston’s next hottest rap sensation, NYLON caught up with Monaleo to talk about becoming a first-time mother, doing her own stunts in the “Ass Kickin’” video, and how rap still needs to change for women artists.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.
In what ways has your mindset changed since you learned you were going to become a mother?
Initially, I really did buck. And when I say “buck,” I rebelled against changing my mindset, like, “Ugh, people are gonna expect me to fucking change?” I feel like, in the beginning, I really didn't acknowledge the fact that I was pregnant, other than being physically sick. I kind of powered through it and focused on career-related things. But the closer I get to the end, and the more time that I have to just really sit at home and reflect, you want to be a different person, and you want to work on the parts of yourself that are not presentable. When you think about the fact that you are responsible for cultivating a life and creating experiences for someone who didn't ask to be here, you want to make sure you're on your Ps and Qs. I just wanted to continue to be an individual in the midst of having a child and I feel like there's definitely a balance.
How do you prioritize self-care despite having such a hectic schedule?
My self-care definitely comes before the schedule now, for sure. I can't even show up in the capacity that I would like to show up in if I don't take care of myself. I feel like I always knew that but I never really applied it to my situation. I would always just keep going and just keep showing up even though I was anxious and that would make me irritable with my team because that’s a side effect of being anxious. That was something that I really was struggling with: [being] easily aggravated when they call me, or easily aggravated when they text me. So they would probably be annoyed at the fact that I'm taking more time myself, but I think it’s for the better, for all of us. [Laughs.]
The idea of God being a woman is often debated, but this is something that you tackle on “Goddess.” How did that song come about?
It’s me being satirical, lighthearted. But in the same breath, if we're talking about unpacking the layers, it was really denouncing some of the harmful practices [I experienced] with Baptist churches. I grew up in church since I was baby, but as far back as I can remember, there’s a lot of harmful rhetoric being taught in Baptist churches or churches, in general.
My personal relationship with God… I don't think that God is a man or a woman; I think God is everywhere all around us. It's actually really funny because if you knew me when I was in middle school and high school, I was really heavy in the church. Like, going to Bible study every week and choir rehearsal – I kind of lived in the church like four out of the seven days of the week. I had a purity ring, like it was just f*cking OD. But I just feel like I was led to believe a lot of the stuff that I was taught and it never really made sense. Some of the most judgmental people I've ever met in my life claimed to be followers of Christ. I never understood how transphobic they were, how homophobic they were, how sexist they could be, and pushing these harmful narratives when it comes to what a woman should be and what a woman's role is in a relationship or in a marriage. That whole experience was just mind-boggling to me.
So I feel like ‘God is woman,’ it's satirical but it is unpacking those harmful narratives when it comes to the way women should be through the eyes of Christ. I definitely know that that's gonna offend people; I've come to realize people are very dense. But it’s a very specific audience that I'm talking to and they’ll see the irony in it.
“Not everything I do is gonna be perfect. I’m not gonna say the right thing all the time. I'm not going to create the right music for everybody.”
Let’s talk about the video for “Ass Kickin,” because that’s gone pretty viral. With you being far along [in your pregnancy], how was it shooting the video?
It was a very long shoot but it was very fun. I actually wasn't supposed to be doing any of my own stunts. We had two people who could have done my stunts, but we were really crunched for time, so I was like, “F*ck it, I’ll do it myself.” I brought my midwife with me just for medical [purposes] so she could make sure everything was good with me and my baby. But the very next day when we did the check, she saw that I was one centimeter dilated. So she was like, “Okay, you need to take a chill pill.” So I’ve been on bed rest, but I think it’s symbolic of what I'm capable of doing and I wanted to see it through.
You've been open about the colorism that Black women face in the music industry. How do you feel about your place in hip-hop when the topic of colorism still arises?
I don't want people to think that I'm trying to put myself at the forefront of all dark-skinned women. I just want to open the conversation for women my shade and darker, really. This is also really subjective too, because it really depends on where you grew up. There are women who are extremely talented who are darker than I am, and I just wanted to speak up on my behalf for the experiences that I've gone through, and for every woman who’s darker than me.
It's about desirability in this industry and currently what people deem more desirable is lighter skin. That ties into not only just colorism but texturism. They like to make it seem like they appreciate curly hair girls, but they don't mean dark skinned women with 4C hair. When you have a group of women who are being vocal about the fact that they feel like they’re underrepresented in certain spaces and would like to be afforded the same opportunities that other people have, I don't think that's a crime. It's not to denounce or take away from anything a lighter skin woman would experience in this industry, I just want to open up the conversation to change some shit around. Just maybe make it more fair and a better experience for people who feel like they're underappreciated.
Do you think there's any other improvements that need to be made for women in hip-hop?
Absolutely. I think we need to be paid more. I think our time needs to be respected, I think we need to be respected as human beings. Latto spoke on this in one of her interviews, but she talks about men trying to take advantage of her. It's something I have experienced, it’s a very uncomfortable experience.
When you’re serious about your craft and you're doing something that you love, you want to be able to show up and everybody conducts themselves in an appropriate way. People don't always do that. I don't want people to think I'm just living in “rapper world” all day long and thinking my problems are the biggest f*cking problems in the world. There are just certain things that we shouldn't have to experience as women who just want to create art.
What do you want fans to know about you through Where the Flowers Don't Die?
I want fans to know that I'm multifaceted, I’m not just one type of artist. Most importantly, I want people to understand that I'm a human being with real human feelings. When I die, I want people to remember me as a human being who was going through the motions, making mistakes and f*cking up. Not everything I do is gonna be perfect. I’m not gonna say the right thing all the time. I'm not going to create the right music for everybody.
I was literally just a girl who was writing music at home and I went to the studio, scraping up the last little money that I had to book the studio time and recording songs and it just so happened that I recorded a song that people like. Now I’ve been thrust into this realm, essentially, and it feels weird, because I feel like I'm not allowed to make mistakes. I'm one of those people who makes a lot of f*cking mistakes and I deal with very real emotions that really take over my whole f*cking body. I want people to understand that about me when they hear this project. I'm a human being. We're all human beings just doing human shit.