MFnMelo’s new album, Everybody Eats, is a celebration of growth thanks to his city and his family. When the Chicago rapper born Martin Anderson hosted a listening party in Pilsen, he made sure to provide guests with barbecue and mac & cheese, asking only that they tip the servers. The smell of chicken wings and blunt smoke lingered in the air as his Pivot Gang comrades and other guests like Guapdad 4000, Monte Booker, and Smino circled the speakers with Melo to rock to his latest project.
Melo released Everybody Eats on Monday, November 25. On Friday and Saturday, he played to sold-out crowds at the Metro for Pivot Gang’s John Walt Day. The show honors group member John Walt, aka dinnerwithjohn, aka Walter Long Jr., who was murdered in 2017. The annual concert benefits the John Walt Foundation, started by Saba and Walt’s mother, which offers grants to young local artists.
At Friday’s show, Melo emerged to rap his nimble verse from “Hero,” unbuttoning his jacket to get comfortable on stage. Hair swinging loose from a red wrap, Melo ran through his solo material within the group’s set, including recent single “Flow Seats” and 2017 cut “How You Live.” After Saba rapped his verse on “What A Life,” Melo added a coda of wordless vocal runs over the crowd’s applause.
After his listening party wrapped, with a crew of collaborators and family still eating leftovers in the venue’s kitchen, Melo sat down with DJBooth to discuss John Walt, working with Solange, and the artistic growth across his new album Everybody Eats.
Our conversation, lightly edited for content and clarity, follows below.
DJBooth: So much has changed for you in the last two years since your previous project [2017’s Melodramatics]. Most recently, you were working on the Pivot Gang album [You Can’t Sit With Us]. How did it feel to go back to working on your music after working on this group album?
MFnMelo: It was revitalizing. I was working on my project before we started on the Pivot Gang project. We was like: “We should just go to LA and do a project.” I put my stuff on hold because I knew that was the thing to do. It was rare that all of us [would] be together and putting all our energy into making this project. So it was a no-brainer. Let’s do that, and it’s gonna make me even more eager to put out my music. We did that, and then I instantly got back to work. It was beautiful. I was in the rhythm, even better than I had been before.
Between the Pivot producers and Monte Booker, are you at a point where you are telling producers what you want to hear? Are you working on production at all?
Nah, what usually happens is I be like: “Just play me some shit.” Then they’ll play me a bunch of beats they think I will like. And I’ll be like: “A’ight, play me the other shit.” I’ll usually pick something from the other shit. They hear me rap on certain things, and they know it’d be cool, but I like to do a lot of different shit, and I wanted to display that on this project specifically.
Was there any theme or vibe you were trying to display through the whole project?
No, I had no foresight whatsoever. I just wanted to make music more freely than I [had] been. That was the goal, to do whatever felt good, try different stuff, get some stuff on there I didn’t know I could do. Octaves I was singing, I felt like I could, but I didn’t know if it would translate properly on the track. To see some of those things come to fruition was the coolest thing about this process. I had no plans; I was just trying to make stuff, literally cooking. I let the beat speak to me. It tells me the emotion, and I’m like, “Okay, I can match that.”
Was there anything that helped you get your feelings out easier?
Sadly, it was the passing of Walt. We used to make music together. I may have wrote the hook, but didn’t feel comfortable singing it, so I told him to do it. In his passing, I felt it was only right I took heed and did those things. He used to always encourage me and say: “Bro, you sound good, you should do it; you should try it.” And I was like, “Nah bro; you can do it, I’ll just do some layers in the back or something.” Now, I feel that freedom to go. That’s solely based on his encouragement.
On this album, your flow is really musical. Is there anyone in particular that has a harmonious flow that you were listening to?
The crazy part about this is, Dylan, daedaePIVOT, is that person, that musical guy, [who] I go to when I need help with melodies. But with [Everybody Eats], I didn’t do that. It was all on me and how I felt.
Had you developed that sense yourself?
That’s another cool thing about this project. My ear has grown. Even with mixing, sitting in on sessions, and making suggestions, it was refreshing to see all the stuff I had learned. I didn’t think I was learning a lot [or] retaining that information, but I was, and it showed out on this project. There’s a lot of singing and harmonies, and that was all off instinct.
What are you looking for when getting features on your songs?
The music, it just comes. I don’t force anything or overthink it. It’s hard to say this because “Comatose” is such an amazing song, but I would have found a way to make that great [without features]. It probably wouldn’t have been as great, but the features are just add-ons, so I add it on as I go, none of it was premeditated. The only one I wrote with the person there was “Weight Lift,” and that’s because it’s Frsh [Waters], and he’s always around.
Is there anyone you haven’t worked with yet that you want to?
Realistically? Or are we shooting shots?
You tell me.
I wanna work with Solange. I love Solange as a person and as a musician. I’ve been a fan since the early days when she was still making Disney music. That’s like bucket list for me. Just in general, nobody off the top of my head. I’m just tryna build with the people I have, and if I meet somebody along the way that fits in the mix, I’m down to add them.
How was the first Pivot Gang tour?
It was the first time we ever hit the road as Pivot Gang. It was different in so many ways. Oakland was the first night, and I remember seeing the reaction we got and seeing Saba’s reaction to that was cool as hell to me because he’s played thousands of people. It was just a couple hundred [people], but the energy was so crazy that he looked back to me with the most childish grin ever. That shit was beautiful.
Tour was amazing. People showed up; they knew the words, they mosh pitted. It was black people. At a lot of Saba shows, there be a lot of white people. And that’s not a bad thing, they come out and support, that’s beautiful. But when you can see your people front row, that’s cool. I like that. They was there, they was screaming, they knew the words—that shit’s tight.
In 2013, you talked to Chicagoist about wanting to represent Austin and show what could come out of the neighborhood positively. Do you feel any different about that now?
I know I am doing the things I was trying to do. I know people see us in a positive light, collectively and individually. People are always telling me about how proud of us they are. Like tonight, everybody was coming up to me, and they just kept mentioning that it felt like love. Knowing that’s exuding off the movement, and I can see it firsthand when I go to these shows, and I meet these people, I know I’m on the right path.
[Editor's Note: This piece has been updated to reflect the proper name of MFnMelo.]