Monaleo Is the Most Honest Rapper in the Game

The rising Houston artist speaks to Hypebeast on her new song, being an “outcast” and the necessity of mental health awareness.

Music 
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Rapping was never in the cards for Monaleo – at the very least, “rapper” is a title she’s been reluctant to claim since achieving viral stardom. It was only two years ago that the 21-year-old Houston native, whose real name is Leondra Gay, tagged along with her brother, the rapper Yung Rampage, for one of his studio sessions. While she grew up singing in church, it was only after some familial encouragement that she got behind the mic herself, trading bars with her brother on-the-fly in a series of clips shared online.

While documentation of the sister-brother duo’s early recordings has since been wiped from the internet, encouragement from fans on social media and the growing like count on her videos planted the seeds for Monaleo’s next move. Then a student at Texas’ Prairie View A&M University considering a major in computer engineering, Monaleo left school to focus on recording her first batch of solo songs, including her 2021 breakout track “Beating Down Yo Block.”

After capturing listeners’ attention with her punchy, witty rhymes, the artist went on to put out a series of one-off singles, with last year’s anthemic “We Not Humping” earning a remix from Flo Milli after Monaleo slid into her DMs.

Despite the Milli co-sign, Monaleo says she struggles to embrace her newfound popularity in the music industry, having grown up as a self-described “outcast.”

“Those experiences that you have growing up, they create the adult that you are going to be,” she tells Hypebeast. “I was an outcast of my own making. I just didn’t want to be around people, because I felt like I had difficulty fitting in. I had never been to a club, I had never been to a house party. I was very socially underdeveloped.”

For Monaleo, rapping has served as a crash course in pushing past social anxiety by sheer virtue of having millions of eyes on her at once. On top of being extremely shy as a child, Monaleo notes that the transition into adulthood – having been only 19 when she dropped her first song – is an entirely new learning curve.

“Adulting is hard, period, but just becoming an adult and then at the same time becoming a public figure are two very difficult things I’ve had to get used to,” she says. “I have personal life things going on too, things I’m learning I need to know … like staying on top of bills”

Shouldering a major music career as she entered her twenties, Monaleo has used her experience of the stressful plunge into adulthood — as well as her own past struggles with depression and anxiety — to propel conversations on mental health awareness and suicide prevention. Vulnerability is often mistaken for weakness in the rap scene, but the artist has cut through the stigma to speak openly and honestly on social media and in interviews about being a survivor of suicide. Today, as an advocate for realistic self-care, she doesn’t shy away from difficult conversations on dealing with trauma, setting boundaries and prioritizing oneself.

“I always said to myself that if I were to ever get a platform that I would want to be able to be personable with people.”

“Growing up, I always felt like I was grossly misunderstood,” Monaleo shares. “People were judgmental of the things that I did or said, as opposed to trying to understand the place that I was coming from.”

“That’s the reason why I’m so open about my experiences now,” she continues. “It requires a lot of hard work, it requires a lot of skill, a lot of discipline and a lot of mental capacity. Sometimes I wake up and I just really don’t have it.”

Her latest release, “Miss U Already” featuring Alabama rapper NoCap, marks a peak in Monaleo’s constant pursuit of vulnerability. Eschewing rap to draw on her childhood years spent in the church choir, Monaleo flexes her vocal abilities as she reminisces the losses of those near to her.

While a full-fledged album may still be a ways away, Monaleo reveals that making “Miss U Already” has opened her up to the idea of experimenting more with R&B music.

“I love melodies. I love to sing,” she says. “I grew up singing in church. I grew up playing in the street. That is really where my heart lies.”

“I definitely can see myself moving into that R&B space pretty soon – maybe not permanently – but delving into it, going back and forth between R&B and hip-hop.”

Whatever her next move may be, it’s sure to be an honest one as Monaleo continues to carve her own path in the music industry, remaining candid and true to her sense of self.

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