Words and Photo by Nneka Nnagbo

When Melo isn’t rapping, he’s busy majoring in Music and Performance Studies at Carleton University. The self-dubbed “student of life,” whose moniker is a hypocorism of his actual name, Romelo Griffith, makes candid hip-hop that feels comfortably off-kilter and introspectively stripped down.

To Melo, baring his soul to his listener is his way of painting a picture of his life for his audience: “I put it out into the world to show where I came from, where I’ve been, and where I’m looking to go,” he said.

His debut EP titled ME.P: Undergrad Appreciation Day is heavily anchored in hip-hop with an experimental sheen. The MC brings an academic perspective and emotional intelligence to his rapping, achieving a perfect balance between aesthetics and ideology, as shown on the album’s lushly poetic standouts, “Cost Intermission” and “Leader.”

Other songs on the EP take compelling, unexpected turns as well—“Difference” and “UndeRestimated” jaunt through cool hip-hop and trail off into their respective spacey interludes. Yet the sultry rhyming of “Who Knows” melts into pits of jazz-infused warmth, adorned with crisp piano and saxophone instrumentation around the choruses.

Ultimately, it’s Melo’s ability to make straightforward and chill tracks that makes him such an exciting young talent. His neatly polished, progressive sound still scratches well below the surface in a genre where less refined sounds are the king of the mix tape.

For a debut, ME.P is one that is too smart to brush away. It’s meant to leave its listener with unresolved feelings and wanting to know more about the deep, insightful corners of Melo’s creative mind. Ottawa Beat had a quick chat with Melo to discuss his debut release.

Do you write music with anyone or anything in particular in mind? What is it that makes your work tick?

Melo: A lot of music is influenced prior to its creation in the same sense that once the music is out it will go forward and influence someone else. Sometimes I’ll be mid-conversation with someone and the topic we’re on can influence my sound for a new song. Other times, I’ll go out with the intention to just observe because I tend to get inspired by the things happening around me without it having any physical [or] emotional connection to me sometimes. However, I feel I make my best music when it’s relative.

Was there a definitive vision that you had in mind when you approached this project?

Melo: I knew I wanted it to flow from one song to the next. I wanted it to also encompass more than just any one part of my musical being. I wanted to show my versatility and that I can’t be caged into a box or category—I think I did a pretty good job at that.

Talk about your working process.

Melo: I take anything I work on step-by-step with patience leading the way. I bounce between all my performance and theory classes, constant vocal practice, my day job, writing lyrics, creating beats, practice and rehearsal. My life is a work in progress but at the end of the day, I trust the process.

For a debut release, the album sounds pretty refined. It is introspective and pedagogical with a spacey, chill-trap sound. What is your vision for your own music?

Melo: I wanted to show different sides, perspectives, and stories. So I’m glad it gave off that feel, not to say I’m a wise old man or anything along that extremity but I felt people may be able to benefit from the stories and feelings I wanted to portray. I wanted people to feel something again. I wanted to give people hope for hip-hop and rap music.

Talk about your song ‘Leader’. How did the song come about? Why is it important?

Melo: To be honest, it was originally for a class I was taking and I thought to name it after the class but changed my mind when I understood what I was actually feeling while writing this slam. The importance is relative to that of a parable from the bible. In essence, it’s saying before judging me on my flaws, deal with your own first the way a true leader should. Being president, prime minister, king or queen doesn’t make you a leader. It’s the actions you take proceeding the rank that proves who and what you are.

There’s a line in “UndeRestimated” where you say, “I used to really hate myself. It was terrible . . . I was lost. But, I realised that blood doesn’t mean family and family don’t mean blood. It’s all love.” How comfortable are you with putting personal lyrics into the world?

Melo: Well as you can tell from the lyric, [I’m] very comfortable indeed. My music is my music. It’s my memoir, it’s my journal entry, it’s my prayer and response. It’s my journey through life and I’m happy to share it with you.

Looking ahead, what do you think the future holds for Melo?

Melo: Who knows, really? I’m working towards releasing newer music with different producers and some of the same producers off of this project. I want to continue inspiring others, both in and out of school, who think there are too many people doing the same thing to do something different—find a new angle and make it work! I do however, see another project appearing mid-summer, maybe a couple singles and music videos, but then again, I am a student so . . . who knows?