Mel Lennon (pronounced melanin) is a rapper, producer, and singer-songwriter. The Germany born-New York resident has been writing songs since he was in middle school.
“When I was six years old, my mom put me in piano lessons because I told her I wanted them. I learned small chords and easy things; I have been creating music since I was about six or seven. As far as songwriting, where it had at least two verses and a hook, I didn’t get into that until I was in middle school,” he said.
Earlier this fall, the independent artist released OVERthinking out LOUD, his debut album. If he were not a songwriter, the gender-bending artist would be a producer or play another role in the entertainment industry.
PrideIndex (PI). How are you? It’s a pleasure to talk to you today.
Mel Lennon (ML) OMG, I’m just humbled, just trying to make it out here.
PI: Speaking of making it, this new album of yours is out there, and people are responding to it. Tell me, how do you feel? How do you get off cloud nine and come down to earth just for a few seconds with us?
ML: This might be to my detriment, but I don’t ever really get on cloud nine because I’m always like, more!! I think that that’s like a totally human response. Maybe I should let that go. There’s no cloud nine. I’m getting the support, but I still have a lot of work to do this is just the first project, so I’m over here in work mode. I do appreciate everything that’s come so far. It’s only been out for a week, so I understand there are eyes and ears on it. That’s great.
PI: When did you start writing songs or realize this was something you wanted to do?
ML: As far structured songs go, I was in middle school, I think I was eleven years old. When I was six years old, my mom put me in piano lessons because I told her I wanted them. I learned small chords and easy things; I have been creating music since I was about six or seven. As far as songwriting, where it had at least two verses and a hook, I didn’t get into that until I was in middle school. I had a lot of friends who were rappers. I thought I’d done this just in a different way, I can get with this, so I started rapping. Listening to rap music and performing it helped me with song structure. As I listened to rap, I would hear the 16 bars, then a cute, catchy hook. Then 16 more bars. Rap back then usually had three verses. They were the elements that it took to write a complete song. Ever since middle school, I have been writing songs. I recall classmates who were singing in middle school. I told them I could write an entire album for you if you wanted. And I’ve been doing that. Literally every day.
PI: Wow, that’s outstanding to hear. If you weren’t a performer or songwriter, what would you do? What would you be?
ML: I would be a producer.
PI: I guess you would still have some connection to the industry.
ML: Yeah, all of my passions are here in the entertainment industry. There’s nothing else that I’ve ever dreamed about doing or giving effort to. I mean, I do have my real estate license.
PI: There’s nothing wrong with having something to fall back on.
ML: In high school, when counselors would ask me about my career path, they wouldn’t know what classes to give me to help with college. I’ve always liked performers, actors, and singers. These counselors really just didn’t know what to do with me. I’ve always had that passion for creating music, film, and acting.
PI: Let’s talk about your album. How did it come to be? How long did it take you to put it together?
ML: I wrote a few songs when I first moved to New York a couple of years ago. I started dating this guy, and the songs began pouring out. I was insecure but did not know that about myself. I’d just graduated from Sound Audio Engineering Institute, a world-renowned school for audio engineering, and had been making music. Before school, none of my songs were mixed and mastered properly, and no one is going to listen to your work if you don’t at least that going on. Consumers can hear the potential, but they want to hear something ready. I didn’t have the means or knowledge to produce at the time.
I met this guy who told me to stop by his studio. As he listened, it was clear he was not feeling anything I had presented. He said, “Do you even know anything about music?” Keep in mind that the songs he listened to were from this album. This guy was very spiritual and made music to meditate to, so this wasn’t really his thing. He said, why are you explaining it. He was making me feel uncomfortable. I went home the next day, and I wrote these other songs. I thought, fuck him. I feel like it’s better that we talk about our humanity and those intricate, weird, and nuanced feelings that we’re so afraid of. We should not be concerned about what someone else might think. I knew I would make a whole EP where that was the theme. That’s where it came from. I have been working on these songs for two and a half years. I went back and forth with mix engineer Jonathan Ball; I hope we work together again because he was so great in this process.
PI: The music and the entertainment industries are very competitive. In my opinion, the record labels seem to be looking for the next already established artist to copycat for their brand. It seems like they don’t search for pioneers. What do you have to say about that? And how do you handle that?
ML: Although I’ve seen that so many times, I cannot say that’s entirely true. I recall reading an article in The Source back in the day; if an artist sounded a little bit like another one, that artist would be called out for biting. You couldn’t have somebody else’s style. There were instances where the artist had rappers on their album like everyone else. However, you had to bring something different beyond that to the table. I’m gung-ho about originality. I remember a poignant clip from Aaliyah. She said it’s great to listen to what’s going on and be current with the industry. Still, she never let that entirely influence what she did in the studio because she would be herself either way. Missy Elliott is one of my influences. She’s always talking about originality. I put a big premium on being different; even if that’s to my detriment, that’s what I’ll be.
As far as the industry goes, it’s changing. There are many avenues for independent artists to find their fan base without a traditional label. It’s a good thing.
PI: I’ve just heard you mentioned Missy Elliott’s name. Who are some of the other artists you look up to or get inspiration from?
ML: I hope to have a career being a super producer and a hit maker like Timbaland. He’s made albums for several artists, not just a song or two. His music tells a story with each album. Albums are works of art, like a painting in 12 pieces; each gives its own snapshot. Timbaland and Missy Elliott hit home for me because they blended hip hop with pop. Timbaland, Missy, and Andre 3000 are undeniable from where I sit. We know that they’re black, unapologetic, and themselves at all times. As artists, they have broken the mold. Childish Gambino inspires me on a whole different level. I relate to him because I am an actor and a screenplay writer. Childish came out with something innovative and then turned around and did the same thing in another medium, with the same vigor and passion. It’s inspiration looking at these people who don’t fit in any box.
PI: It seems that LGBTQ artists are becoming more accepted in the mainstream. Is this something that you aspire to, being accepted by the mainstream? Or is it secondary, and you prefer to focus on the music?
ML: When I was a child, my mission was to break into the mainstream and forge a path for acceptance for black and LGBTQ people. I wanted to be a pioneer. I wanted my music to open people’s eyes and hearts. And now that’s happening, my work is done. I can simply focus on bringing joy to my work. I want a successful career in music and entertainment. Still, it does not have to come with the label “mainstream success.”
Pi: Did you choreograph your videos?
ML: Not the latest one. My friend Emily Moreno, and her friend Morgan Brown, directed that video. Emily brought over a few classmates who were also dancers to be part of the video. She came in and said, hey, we’re going to do this video and showed us the moves the same day, and we shot it.
The shoot ended up being ruined because of a scheduling conflict, and we had to reshoot two weeks later. However, we had forgotten the moves by then and had to relearn everything.
The woman who choreographed the video asked me had I danced before. I said no. She played my song and said, now go, and I got up and danced my little butt off. I told her I was an actor. She said that she’d taught dance movements for actors, and there was no way I was just an actor and insisted I was indeed a dancer. (Laughs.) I guess I’m a dancer too.
PI: What do you do to keep in shape?
ML: I don’t eat (Laughs). I just started going to the gym. My mom was a bodybuilder. Growing up, my sister and I always rode our bikes while mom ran. Mom worked out at least three times or more a week. Health and fitness were incorporated into my life growing up. So I guess those habits have stuck by, and I haven’t had to do much maintenance. But now, I’ve started working out more over the past year. I want more body definition, so I am working on it.
PI: You’re an independent artist. You don’t have that support of the studio system and that PR push. Where are you promoting this album and your music?
ML: On Instagram and Twitter. I’ve started performing around New York City too. I have a new collaborator, Jack Tracy; he has opened some doors because he believes what I’m doing. I feel like that’s more of my thing, grassroots promotion. My thing is just organic. I meet people even when I’m bartending. I’ll say, don’t forget to go get my album, girl. And they say, oh my gosh, you have an album. That’s just how I do it. (Laughs.)
PI: What is the one thing you would like listeners to take away from your music?
ML: I want them to know that they’re not alone. I’ve had so many feelings, some of which cannot be easily articulated in music. Some might seem weird. I want to bring joy, if just for a moment in time, a tiny little snapshot of a moment. That’s what I want my music to be.
PI: What else would you like to share?
ML: I’m trying to get my series Ruse off the ground. After this EP, I’ll drop videos and work on a soundtrack for this series. I’m working on funding for it. People can find me on Twitter and Instagram at Datgayrapper for both. Just scroll through the posts to find info on Ruse. I don’t want to stay in one place or be in one box. I want to move to my acting and producing, then I’ll go back to music and then back to acting. People will see much more of me in every facet of entertainment.