Monaleo Survived Pregnancy, Depression, and Her Debut LP — All at Once
Having celebrated her 22nd birthday roughly two weeks prior, and with her baby’s due date about two weeks ahead, Monaleo is confined to bed rest in her Houston home for our Zoom interview. It’s been a packed month for the fiery MC — her full-length debut is out on May 26. This means her first child is set to arrive just days after her first project.
In the two years since Monaleo’s first single, “Beating Down Yo Block,” broke through, her Southern charisma and blunt charm took her all the way to Coachella as a surprise guest in her collaborator Flo Milli’s set. There, last month, she revealed her baby bump wearing a skintight, lacy jumpsuit (in neon pink, a shade of her favorite color) as she and her partner, fellow rapper Stunna 4 Vegas, lovingly announced the pregnancy online.
Monaleo has dropped a compelling string of singles and freestyles — like her original “We Not Humping” and her take on Chief Keef’s “Faneto” — but her debut, Where the Flowers Don’t Die, is a true testament to her diverse tastes and ability to excel across them. Its vulnerability through traces of gospel, country, and pop are solid and striking among her brutal raps on men’s failures and her belligerence (“Don’t hide your hand whenever you’re rollin’ stones, because I’ma rock out,” she warns on “Wig Splitter”).
The aggression that’s become her signature developed as a defense mechanism when she was younger. She had grown tired of compromising herself as a childhood oddball, desperate to fit in. “I was always the new girl because we were constantly moving and trying to find stable housing,” she says over Zoom. She was almost beaten up once, after inserting herself into a sleepover she wasn’t invited to. “Apparently, the plan was, when I got there, all the girls there at the party were going to jump me — for no reason. I didn’t do anything to these girls,” she recalls. “I found out about it at the party because one of [them] had a change of heart and realized that I was actually an OK person. I should have called my mom and went home, but [with] that need to fit into those spaces, I just stayed. Obviously, I didn’t get jumped, and we ended up having a funky good time for nine-year-olds.” But by high school, she had become a bully, only reined in by a serious meeting between parents at her school.
Now, as a budding star, the slate of challenges in front of Monaleo are a little different. The bulk of Where the Flowers Don’t Die came together in the past nine months, with her navigating hard work, heavy gossip, and deep, preexisting struggles with depression and anxiety. Here, she describes filming a hilarious (but physically concerning) music video about her pregnancy, her suicidality (a note: she tackles it frankly here), and how she became a woman that can handle tough shit.
When are you due, if you don’t mind me asking?
I am due May 29.
That’ll make your baby a Gemini.
I love Geminis. I’m a Sagittarius, so maybe that’s why.
That makes a lot of sense — why you can deal with and tolerate a Gemini. Geminis are insufferable. My manager is a Gemini, nobody gets under my skin like he does. So I’ll be having a very interesting experience.
I want to get into some questions on Where the Flowers Don’t Die, but I do want to do just a quick checkup on you first. How is your spirit? How is your body?
I’m doing good. I’m managing, making it. I think I’m just tired. And that’s the phase that I’m in right now: fatigue, sleeping all the time, losing energy very quickly. Mentally, I’m good. Spiritually, I’m good. I feel like I’m in a good space. Peaceful. Finishing a project was something that I was really dedicated to, something that I really wanted to commit to. I was something that was a stressor at a point in time, so the fact that I finished it is kind of a weight off my shoulders. I’m just ready to put it out.
What work did you have to do for the project during the duration of your pregnancy?
The main thing that felt like the monkey on my back was recording. It would’ve been ideal for me to finish recording the records by a certain time, so that I would be able to shoot a couple of music videos for some of them, so that I could be able to shoot them without looking visibly pregnant. [I was] racing against the clock, but also dealing with hormones and pregnancy brain and writer’s block. There were a lot of things that were getting in the way of me just recording music that I felt like was worthy of being put out.
So there was a tug of war there, and I was trying to force myself to produce. It never really works. I had to take a step back and just give myself time, because I would’ve rather had quality music to put out as opposed to rushing to put something together just so I can hurry and shoot visuals. So I didn’t get to shoot as many visuals as I probably would’ve liked, but I was able to shoot a lot of things in March and April, where I was seven and eight months [pregnant]. So I was already visibly pregnant, but still very fun.
Would you say that the bulk of the music on the project was recorded in the past nine months
Yeah, definitely. Most of it.
That is so impressive. The video for “Ass Kickin’”— where you’re very pregnant but also a blaxploitation heroine who fights a lot — is so good. It seemed very intentional. So it wasn’t originally the plan to do a video that played on the pregnancy?
No, it was not. Absolutely not. That was one of the songs that I recorded before I knew that I was pregnant and one of the records I actually was going to throw away. But when I was compiling the song list, I felt like I was missing the aggression that people really love to hear from me. I pulled that one, and I played it again, and I was like, I actually really like this.
From there, I applied it to my current situation. I knew that I was getting ready to announce the pregnancy, and I knew that once I announced the pregnancy, there was going to be a lot of chatter and opinions. So I wanted to lean into that. I feel like this whole experience of being pregnant is a roller coaster of emotions just in and of itself, but being pregnant and also being an artist that is still building her career — people just have a lot to say. It wasn’t a shameful experience, but at a point in time I did feel more reserved. When I thought about sharing my pregnancy, I wanted to shy away from it at times because I knew that people would be very judgmental and I just didn’t want it to affect my mental.
After I announced it, braced myself for whatever was going to come, and decided that I wanted to lean into it, I came up with the concept for the “Ass Kickin’” video with my team.
And you see in the beginning, the people are whispering and the guy at the end who was my older brother, he whispers to my belly, and he notices it’s me. And then I just kind of take that power back after I see people gossiping, basically. So it was very symbolic. But it was just me proving to myself and to other people, if I’m being honest, that I could still show up and perform to my fullest capacity even while being pregnant.
After we shot that music video, the very next day — I brought my midwife with me just to make sure that everything would be safe and healthy, so she could check up on me on set and make sure everything was good — I was definitely one centimeter dilated. So [since] that music video I’ve been on rest, limited to being home and not really doing anything too strenuous. That was kind of my big bang, because we were doing stunts. I was really just pushing myself, because I wanted to see it all come together.
I don’t know a lot about the mechanics of pregnancy. Was the dilation a result of all the physical activity?
Is that OK? Is that scary? What does that mean?
It depends. I was OK. I’m OK and the baby’s OK, everything is fine. I was getting ready to be going into my ninth month. Some people are dilated one centimeter for an entire month. It wasn’t uncommon. It was just something that I needed to monitor. Definitely, I needed to take break after that because I didn’t want to dilate any further. I wanted to make it all the way to — or as close to — my due date as possible.
Totally healthy baby. Everything was totally fine. Music videos themselves are very long, and so I was on my feet all day just dealing with the anxiety and that stress of shooting an actual music video, which is the reason why I wanted to have my midwife there just to check and make sure. I definitely pushed myself to the limit, but not to a point where it was hazardous to myself and to the baby.
Wow, so you’re going to be watching the project come out from the bed, basically. What have you thought about explaining this to your child in the future?
I think there’s a lesson in it: tenacity, being able to persevere, really committing to a goal, and being able to commit regardless of the circumstances.
That reminds me of your cover art and even the title, Where the Flowers Don’t Die. You’re the flower on the cover, but there’s no text. What did the title mean to you? What did representing it through you mean? Can you talk to me about the choices and significance there?
It symbolizes being the rose that grew from the concrete; being around very hardened people in a very hardened environment, being faced with adversity and still able to bloom and blossom into this beautiful being that wasn’t able to be killed by its circumstances. It’s not like I was just fucking out in the streets risking my life or some crazy, but just in a sense of having my spirit killed.
What were you like as a child? Tell me about little you.
Well, little me was very reserved. She was very quiet. She was super shy and very unsure about who she was and what her plan was here in this world. I always had difficulty just really meshing and blending with friend groups, and it would really consume me. I remember I just wanted to be a part of something and it always felt like I just stuck out like a sore thumb.
At the time it was very troubling for me, so I did a lot of compromising [of] my personality and my interests. I wanted to just camouflage, and I feel like people noticed that. It was very embarrassing, now looking back. And I was really bad at social cues back then. When I think about everything now that I’m older, I’m just like, “Those girls really ain’t fucking like me.” But at the time, I couldn’t see what was really going on.
I didn’t really get a lot of reassurance at home. That’s not anyone’s fault. My mom was preoccupied with other things, so I never really grew up hearing that I was good enough. I always just fought to just be in people’s good graces, accepted, and feel that love. Because of those experiences, I created this persona, Monaleo, to really just vent and air out those frustrations and really just take my power back and be as assertive as I feel like I want to be. Because it’s just like I let a lot of shit slide that I should have never let slide.
Your music is often aggressive, but you’re also very funny, from your music videos to your tweets. Why is humor a part of you and your work?
I really enjoy that comedic relief. I’ve been through really heavy things and I could very easily dip into those serious topics, but I think just kind of joking about things really does help me cope. Mentally, it was very difficult to see some of the negative comments that I did see [on her pregnancy]. It was difficult to see so many people agreeing with negative opinions about something that was very personal to me. I wanted to take that control and power back in a way that I’m most comfortable with, [comedy].
Because I deal with anxiety and just really bad intrusive thoughts, especially since I [became] pregnant, the hormones and depression have been absolutely insane. I have these thoughts that will multiply and be bigger than they need to. So it always feels good to be lighthearted and fun and just take the weight off.
I appreciate how open you’ve been about your mental health and your struggles. What is one new thing that you’ve found over the course of experiencing depression and difficult emotions during pregnancy that has helped?
I think just being more open about how I feel. I feel like as Black women we really do bottle up a lot. I made [a song on the project called] “Misunderstood” to acknowledge our strength but also the need for comfort. [I’ve become] more comfortable with being open with my emotion, especially with the people around me — just giving them an opportunity to help me and actually accepting the help.
You have to know who your support system is because not everybody should know what’s going on in your personal life. Not everybody has your best interests at heart, but [I’ve been] more open with the people who have created safe spaces for me.
I’m really glad to hear that.
I’m really glad. [Growing up] I would just do very irrational things like try to hurt myself to — I guess subconsciously — get people’s attention, for sure. Sometimes when [people] describe people who have been suicidal at a point in time, they say like, “Oh, they’re seeking attention.” I never felt like that was a terrible thing, because sometimes you do. Everybody wants to be somebody to someone. Everybody wants to feel important to someone. Everybody wants to feel that somebody is paying attention to them. Nobody wants to be the fly on the wall. Nobody wants to feel like nobody is paying attention to them or that they don’t matter or that they’re insignificant. But that’s how I grew up feeling a lot of the time.
The older I get, I understand the importance of allowing the people who make themselves present to you to be in that space with you. When I think about the people that I really love and care about hurting in silence, that is hurtful to me. So I like to give people the opportunity to be there for me, not only for me, but for themselves, because I’ve seen a lot.
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I’ve been in a lot of different mental health hospitals, so I’ve met a lot who struggle with depression and anxiety. And I’ve met a lot of people who have passed away who have died by suicide. I know that feeling, that lingering feeling that the people around them feel. I meet a lot of people who wish they would’ve had the opportunity to be there and would jump at the opportunity to be there for somebody — or me specifically. They would jump to come over to my house if it means saving my life. [I’m] just getting people to understand who I am and giving [myself an] opportunity to really have a fighting chance at life, fighting chance at happiness. It’s so pure and it really strengthens the relationship. I’m just really glad that I was able to lean into it during this pregnancy.
Dial 988 in the U.S. to reach the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline. The Trevor Project, which provides help and suicide-prevention resources for LGBTQ youth, is 1-866-488-7386. Find other international suicide helplines at Befrienders Worldwide (befrienders.org).