When people bemoan the death of hip-hop, they often point to lyricism as a fading art. Apparently, the new class of rappers just do not care for intricate rhymes and storytelling. Or, the alternative, hip-hop is not dying and there are plenty of talented and rising acts who prioritize the story and their bars over everything. That's Detroit rapper Monalyse's bread and butter, actually. For her, catching a vibe is telling a story, which is likely why Pusha-T handpicked her to be one of 10 artists chosen for his 1800 Seconds album released with 1800 Tequila.
"It’s a way to communicate with crowds," she says of her storytelling raps. "It’s a way for people who don’t even know you to get a glimpse inside of my head. I just like painting pictures. I really like telling stories and having people look at a situation in different ways."
Her penchant for writing and passion for music naturally comes through as we talk. While being selected by Pusha-T sounds too good to be true, Mona never had any doubts.
"When it happened, I was at work," Monalyse tells me over the phone. "I didn’t know if it was confirmed yet, so I was anticipating the confirmation. It was exciting... It meant that my music has something special and it was an honor to be handpicked by such talented people."
Once in the studio, Monalyse rifled through her array of sounds, from the aggressive to the slick-talking, and landed on a sultry beat that matches one of her more sensual moods. "The energy was very positive," she says of the studio vibe. "Everyone only had positive things to say. I didn’t feel not one negative vibe and everyone was so encouraging."
With her star now officially rising, the greatest lesson Mona has learned from this experience is that the grind is always worth it, even when it appears you aren't making moves. "Opportunities are always around the corner," she concludes. "There’s always people that are there to support you."
DJBooth's full interview with Monalyse, lightly edited for content and clarity, follows below.
DJBooth: When did 1800 reach out to you initially?
Monalyse: When it happened, I was at work and I did believe it. I never doubted it from the beginning. When it first happened, I didn’t know if it was confirmed yet, so I was anticipating the confirmation. It was exciting.
What does it mean to have been handpicked for this record?
It meant a lot. It meant that my music has something special and it was an honor to be handpicked by such talented people.
How would you define the energy you bring to the album?
When I first got to the studio… I rap in a lot of different ways and I didn’t know what I was gonna come up with, so the engineer played at least seven beats for me and I just narrowed it down to three. The beat that I picked was a little bit more sultry, so I came to the record with a sultry type of flow.
How was the energy in the studio?
The energy was very positive. Everyone only had positive things to say. I didn’t feel not one negative vibe and everyone was so encouraging.
Biggest takeaway from the whole experience?
My biggest takeaway was the fact that anything is possible and things happen fast, and opportunities are always around the corner. There’s always people that are there to support you.
How do you usually create?
I always go off of a vibe.
How do you know that a song really sticks?
I know if something really sticks if I like my song. There’s a lot of songs I make, where even though people like it, I don’t really like it. So if I can see myself vibing out to it, I know that this is something a lot of other people will like.
With an array of styles, which of them is your favorite?
Definitely the storytelling style, when I slow it down. What comes close is when I go really hard and I rap really constant and aggressive. It’s so different, it’s dynamic.
What is it about storytelling that strikes a chord in you?
It’s a way to communicate with crowds. It’s a way for people who don’t even know you to get a glimpse inside my head. I just like painting pictures. I really like telling stories and having people look at a situation in different ways.
Do you think music is enough anymore, or do you need a viral moment as an artist on the rise?
It used to be enough, but now you definitely need something different. You need a backup, you need to look a certain way, you need a social media presence, or you need a personality. Definitely need music and something else, nowadays.
What is your “something else”?
I have social media followers that really support me and the people who support me push me in the faces of more people.
With so much music dropping from so many artists, how valuable has the first impression become?
It becomes important, but it’s more about how often they see you. Things are so quick in people’s faces, so when they see you only one time, they forget about you. If they see you one week, then a second week, then a third week, I think it’s about how often they see you.
How do you make sure people remember you?
Definitely the content. I do a video every Monday. A lot of artists nowadays don’t storytell, so I stand out with that aspect, talking about subjects that most people don’t talk about and rapping in a way that most females don’t rap. It’s like shock value.
What’s the shock?
My voice is very confident and aggressive. The tone with which I rap is different.
How do you plan on using this opportunity to your advantage?
Definitely going to have more exposure so I’ll have more opportunities to do more performances, another project, drop more videos, and have more content so when people see me they can go to my page and have something to look at.
After this, what one piece of advice would you give your younger self?
Just keep doing what they’re doing. Keep believing in yourself. And keep going with the vibes.