We’re at a fascinating creative moment in which artists can follow their creative whims to whatever end they desire. Through a mixture of improving technology and access, as well as the degradation of previous artistic norms, more artists are taking their work into numerous mediums, even combining those mediums to create a larger body of work.
One of these creatives defying medium and genre is Brooklyn’s MeLo-X. The rapper, producer, signer, songwriter, filmmaker, art curator, and app developer has worked with Beyoncé, Jay-Z, and PARTYNEXTDOOR, is now working on a film and a new album. He’s curated art shows with his own artwork and performed in multimedia art spaces at the MoMa and beyond. And again, he’s also working on his app with his partner Lou Auguste.
There’s something specifically intriguing about artists who refuse to be boxed in and easily defined. To that end, I hopped on a call with MeLo-X last week to discuss his multifaceted creative approach, his CURATE app, working with Beyonce, his Jamaican roots, and what he’s got coming in the future.
With all of his different artistic pursuits, I asked MeLo how he defines himself, he told me he can’t really define his creativity, it’s just all about inspiration:
“I don’t even know how to fuckin’ define that shit it’s kind of like, I’m just a creative I guess. If I have a need to create something I just go for it, you know what I’m sayin’? I can’t really define it just like, anything I want to create, if I wanna do a film I kind of know who to go to.”
MeLo tells me this diverse approach started as a kid:
“I just kind of always have been into a lot of different mediums, a lot of different things. Even when I was young I used to like play mad different sports, roller blades and bikes and mad shit so I guess since I’m in this realm of art, music, and technology, I kind of just do the same thing.”
But I’m particularly interested in this idea that if he wants to make a film, he knows who to go to for help on that. So much of being a creative, especially a creative who has seen success, is putting others in positions to succeed, to identify other creative talents to help you make the best possible product. MeLo tells me he had to learn to trust in others to help execute his vision:
“In the past I kind of wanted to do everything myself. So, I taught myself how to produce, how to do this, how to do that. I bought a camera, I got Final Cut Pro. This is like more than 10 years ago I’ve been doing it like that. So now that I kind of like have put in my 10,000 hours in these different places, I kind of know who to hit up for specific things. I use Jason Banker for my director of photography for a lot of stuff that I do.
“I have my own company XTRA Creative House to kind of just build a pool of different creatives that I can and bring projects to and ideas to and collaborate on. So, I think the team, when you get to a certain stage of like just creating constantly, it definitely helps to have a team that can execute a lot of those ideas that you can’t do, because there’s only 24 hours in a day.”
MeLo’s collective XTRA Creative House gives him the resources to do whatever the hell he wants artistically.
When I ask if there’s a specific vision behind the collective, MeLo tells me about the importance of having the tools (and minds) you need to see your vision through:
“There isn’t really any goal. Right now, XTRA Creative House is almost like a hive of minds or a brainstorming fuckin’ super group. It’s started by me and my manager Claude ‘visionary’ Dary, and when I have projects with Nike, with Tidal, or I do stuff with Parkwood, if I can’t do it, or it’s just a project that calls for two or three different people or we need someone to develop this or that, we kind of, because of the years we’ve put in work, we have just like a cool clientele, a cool Rolodex of different creatives, different artists that we constantly work with.”
And through XTRA Creative House, MeLo-X wants to keep pushing the boundaries:
“The goal really is just to like keep creating shit that has more depth to it, you know. Like the app that I did, the CURATE app, the reason why I even created the app was because I wanted people to be able to feel the project, like touch it in a way. So with the CURATE app you’re able to fuck with the music and listen to it and alter it in different ways. And that’s kinda what I want to bring to different industries, like those little things that bring that little extra touch to different projects and shit.”
When I ask more about the CURATE app, I can tell MeLo is excited to talk about it. He sees the app as a sort of personal playlist or DJ application that the user can both listen to their own music, but also establish a sort of physical relationship with that music, and truly interact with the art.
“The app is a space where you can get all MeLo-X’s stuff, but the great thing is with the app for Version 2 and 3 is that you can upload your own music [from other streaming platforms] into the app and just use it as a playlist tool, so when you’re driving or shopping or whatever, you can play music within the app and be able to add effects to it. So, it’s almost like you’re DJing without having to mix records, just move the shape and add effects and cool shit.
“But also on the producer’s side, for me I produce a lot of stuff on my phone and on my iPad, so you can do loops and add effects and save it and send it different places. It’s basically a tool for both the most novice user and the most experienced.”
In this way, CURATE is an app for music listeners and players alike, and a fascinating way of bridging the gap between technology and art.
For future versions, MeLo wants to incorporate blockchain technology so users can make money while they’re using the app:
“We’re using blockchain technology, so as you’re using the app, you’re mining coins and you get bread. So you connect it with an account and get cheese as you use the app, it’s like a different way of utilizing apps and technology to like, not only can you use it to just have a good time and play some music, but you also like gain some kind of income from it.”
Seeing someone with such a unique vision naturally begs the question of influence. When MeLo and I talk about his own set of influences, the Flatbush native said inspiration is more related to what he’s working on in that moment:
“A lot of my inspiration comes from different places, I get it from different modes. Because I do a lot of shit like, I’ll have a month where I’m just in film, so like for the last two years I’ve been working on this film called JUVÉ NITE [based on Caribbean celebration of J’ouvert]. So I shot a film during Jouvert Night just documenting the people, the sounds. Now I’m working on the color correction, so for the last like four months I’ve just been studying Belly, just studying the one scene when Ox goes to Jamaica, when DMX goes to Jamaica for the first time and like just that imagery when he walked up for the first time how that is shot, Hype Williams really killed that shit.”
And much of that inspiration is derived from his Jamaican heritage. MeLo told me about how his roots shaped his creativity:
“Musically I’m always drawn from the drums and the heavy bass from this real dancehall heavy music you know. Visually, always kind of playing with those colors; the reds, greens, yellow colors, colors that we see on the flag. And I’m kind of playing with that now, just creating real dope kind of a Future-Caribbean vibe. That definitely stems from being Jamaican-born in Brooklyn, but I do have a lot of inspirations from other places as well that I kind of use within my work. And bring those two worlds together.”
One prominent example of MeLo combining his Caribbean influences with more poppy American styles is his work on Beyoncé’s Lemonade. MeLo produced and wrote on a bunch of songs on the album, including “Sorry”, one of the wildest sounding pop records in recent memory.
“Sorry” is grimy, bouncy, and touched with dancehall roots in its production. So I asked MeLo-X about being able to bring those sounds to Beyoncé, one of the most popular artists on the planet:
“I was definitely surprised when they chose that as the first single or whatever because it definitely has a dancehall vibe, a lot of the songs I worked on on that album have those elements. But yeah, I put those sounds and inspirations within everything that I do. But “Sorry” specifically, I think it’s a great hybrid and I’ve seen some YouTube videos of people like breaking down shit and this and that and I kinda like seeing people talk about the track because it definitely is a hybrid between like a pop/rap sound but still dancehall. It’s real different.”
He added that it’s kind of fun to be able to “infiltrate” pop music with his style:
“I like that I can infiltrate that level of music and entertainment with some left-sounding shit. It’s just dope that someone like Beyonce can hear that and figure out how to make it work.”
MeLo also did sound design for Beyonce’s “On The Run Tour” as well as Jay-Z’s “4:44 Tour” and PARTYNEXTDOOR’s “Summer’s Over Tour”. But somehow he still has time to work on his own shit. Beyond the CURATE app, the JUVÉ NITE film, and producing for others, MeLo-X is working on a new album BIG CHUNEZ that he’s extra hype on.
When I ask for a little preview of what listeners can expect, he told me it’s some “planet earth type shit” bringing elements of world music together mixed with good ol’ pop music.
“Yo, [the album] really doesn’t sound like anything else. I mean, everybody says that [laughs] but it’s kind of like my take on a modern day pop banger ass album. Because I feel like nowadays pop is, pop is just whatever hip-hop, rap, Black, whatever n***as is doin’ that’s just pop. So kinda taking that idea and meshing it with different styles, different genres, all these different inspirations.”
What’s the source of these broad geographic inspirations? His work with Jasmine Solano of the Electric Punany collective,
“I go on tour a lot, I’m part of a collective called Electric Punany, with me and Jasmine Solano, and we tour around the world and just play a lot of hybrid music from Brazil, Africa, UK, everywhere. So the album is kind of inspired by that, but taking that energy and bringing it to like a Brooklyn basement party. Lots of energy.”
BIG CHUNEZ will arrive with JUVÉ NITE and have accompanying components on the CURATE app, consolidating MeLo’s broad artistic vision into one body of work. It’s an ambitious idea, but judging off MeLo-X’s creative pursuits thus far, 2018 is going to see one wild, medium-bending success after another for the Brooklyn-born artist.