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Few aspiring artists are able to capitalize viral moments and even fewer can turn millions of views into a music career, but Harlem-born Melii is an exception to the rule. The Dominican rapper enjoyed sharing music on Youtube, but it was her take on Cardi B’s ‘Bodak Yellow’ that piqued online attention. The bilingual cover begins as a ballad but quickly snaps into a brash barrage of original bars that see the 20-year-old shine. Amassing over 2 million views, the video ends with Melii’s socials and phone number; a peek into a time before her quick rise to fame.

Co-signed by Rihanna

Catapulted by a Rihanna co-sign, who featured the rapper’s bass-heavy single, ‘Icey’ during a Fenty Beauty product preview on Instagram, it quickly became clear that Melii was the real deal. In December, she signed to Interscope Records propelling the young MC on a journey towards joining rap’s elite. With the addition of Philadelphia icon, Meek Mill as her mentor, Melii now boasts a feature on his fourth studio album, Championships, in addition to a single with fellow New Yorker, A Boogie wit da Hoodie, ”HML‘. While the Dominican rapper’s undulating success is something to behold, things haven’t always been so easy.

Staying True To Her Roots

Hailing from the Lincoln Projects in East Harlem, Melii,  born Audrey Grinell Ducasse, credits her resilience to childhood. “Growing up in Harlem, it really makes you,” she reminisces. “It builds you to have tough skin. You grow up with this vulnerable setting. You know, being joked on sometimes and you gotta be ready to have a clap-back basically. Growing up in Harlem was very important to me. It made me who I am today.”

Born in America, her Dominican parents were pivotal to her musical influences. “I grew up on listening to a lot of Spanish music like this O.G. named Juan Luis Guerra,” she says. “I do like to tap into my Spanish side because I want other people to understand me. Also, my mom and my dad really support me so I make sure that they understand some of the songs that I have out. I want to tap in more into my Hispanic side but I want it to be equal. I want it to be a balance of who I am.” As she toes the line of what is equal to her, Melii joins the ranks of other Latin stars who have crossed over into the mainstream including Bad Bunny, J Balvin and Cardi B.

Releasing ‘Icey’ in both English and Spanish, Melii is cognizant of keeping this balance of staying true to her roots while impressing new fans as a burgeoning rapper. “A lot of people lose their Latin side because in school you only speak English,” she says. “My mom was like, “No, Y’all are gonna learn Spanish in here!” We were only allowed to speak Spanish at home.”

The OGs Inspired Melii

Inspired by the likes of Tory Lanez, Nicki Minaj and Lil’ Kim, Melii keenly crafts her hooks, verses, and attitude by paying homage to the greats. Unlike many young rappers, she’s impressed by the people who paved the way for music today. “If your mom wasn’t putting you on to Lil’ Kim and you didn’t hear “Lighters Up,” then you wouldn’t know her,”  she implores. “You needed to have that background in order to know the OGs, you feel me?”

Attending the same high school as A$AP Rocky, the Harlem MC never had a plan B. “I always kept journals and used to write all my poems down. And in school, I would always find myself in the music class,” she said when asked about realizing that rap was her calling. “I went to a transfer school called Edward A. Reynolds West Side High School — A$AP Rocky used to go there,” she remembers. “They assign you to different teachers, and mine was the music one; his name was Albert. FOX News came [to the school] one day for an interview, and he told them, “Melii’s gonna be the next star out of this high school.”

Photo: Chris Paul Thompson

Taking Her Career Into Her Own Hands

As smoothly as things have appeared to be for the young star, the Harlem MC recounts deceitful managers, bad deals, and almost-career ending moves that preceded her signing to Interscope. “I got in the wrong hands with my previous manager and went to D.C. to sign a contract that went horribly. Once I got myself out of it, it became a threatening situation, because people knew I had what it took and they wanted to grab it,” she told BillboardDeciding to take her career into her own hands, posting her own videos to Instagram and Youtube became her most lucrative move. It wasn’t long after posting her ‘Bodak Yellow’ remix that Melii was signed.

Melii is on her way to becoming one of rap’s freshest stars. Her quick wit and sharp tongue is a signifier of her Harlem roots paired with her penchant for poetry keep her hungry for what’s next. With her debut album imminent and the biggest stars backing her, it’s only a matter of time before she becomes a household name.

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Kish Lal

Kish Lal is a pop culture critic based in New York.

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