Monaleo doesn’t subscribe to the age-old myth of motherhood being a career killer. When the 22-year-old Houston rapper found out she was pregnant with her first child late last year, she didn’t slow down her momentum. Instead, she tapped into “project mode” to record her highly anticipated debut LP, “Where the Flowers Don’t Die” (which dropped May 26), putting it together within eight months. Not just because she was anxious to deliver her formal music introduction to the world, but because she had someone new to look out for — “a reason to get sh*t done.”
“I was lazier before I was pregnant,” Monaleo tells POPSUGAR. “I felt like I wasn’t applying myself and I was comfortable in that space. But from the moment I got pregnant, immediately I was like, ‘It’s not about me anymore.’ I have a little life to cultivate and a little human to take care of. And I want to make sure that I create the best quality of life for them because I know I didn’t get that experience growing up. I want to make sure that they don’t have the same story that I had.”
“Not to be funny, but my life, it sounds like a story.”
So far, Monaleo has carved out a lane all on her own that’s taking her straight to the top. The Texas native, born Leondra Roshawn Gay, originally grew up singing in her church before she discovered her rap dreams, thanks to her younger brother, fellow rapper Yung Rampage. Since dropping her viral breakout hit “Beating Down Yo Block” in 2021, Monaleo’s been all-gas-no-brake, busying herself becoming Houston’s next big rap sensation.
Fiery singles like “We Not Humping,” “Body Bag,” and more led up to the release of Monaleo’s first full-length project, which coincidentally arrived just days after her firstborn, a baby boy, who wasn’t due until the very end of May. The “Ridgemont Baby” rapper calls the back-to-back milestones “very poetic,” though she wasn’t too surprised about the close timing.
“That’s just kind of how my life is,” she explains. “Not to be funny, but my life, it sounds like a story; like a fairy tale almost. So I really was not surprised that it happened like that because I have a very dramatic life. Sh*t just always happens [that] way.”
Another hint at Monaleo’s son’s early arrival might’ve been the fact that the new mom started dilating a month prior, at the same time she shot the music video for “Ass Kickin,” one of her project’s standout tracks. That didn’t make her pause, though: “I just wanted to keep going. I was super motivated.”
Motivation came easily to Monaleo during her project’s rollout. The recording process, however, was an uphill battle. “I felt like I was having writer’s block, so it was very difficult for me to figure out what I wanted to talk about,” Monaleo admits. She knew for sure, though, that she “didn’t want to be cliché” and make her pregnancy the focus of her LP: “I wanted it to be authentic to me at that time and what I was going through. What I was experiencing and all of those different emotions and crazy things that I was going through.”
“I could have easily been at home with my feet up. Would that have been beneficial for me? Probably not.”
In early May, Monaleo unveiled the title and vibrant floral cover art for “Where the Flowers Don’t Die” on social media, describing the LP as the “embodiment of resilience, tenacity, and strength.” The budding rap star tells POPSUGAR that it, in short, represents “what it means to be a strong, resilient woman.” For her, that looks like someone who’s battled depression, anxiety, and other mental health struggles while balancing a busy career. But Monaleo’s true resilience stems from completing “Where the Flowers Don’t Die” when she herself thought it wouldn’t happen.
“I have a habit of starting things and not finishing them,” she says. “So I knew that I wanted to put my mind to it and see it through. Because I could have easily been at home with my feet up. Would that have been beneficial for me? Probably not . . . but that’s where the resilience came in, because I really just toughed through those difficult days where I didn’t feel well, dealing with physical sickness, and pushing my body to the limit.”
Sometimes that meant “going against the doctor’s orders” when Monaleo should’ve been at home resting. But the rap artist says she stayed on her grind so she could “have that comfortable postpartum experience and not feel pressured to get back to work.” Monaleo adds, “I feel that I was able to really enjoy the fruits of my labor afterward because I completed the work that needed to be done.”
Since becoming a mom, Monaleo says she’s been busy adjusting to her new lifestyle: “It’s a learning curve, but I’m making it.” According to her, she’s “way more appreciative of life” now, unconcerned with judgment from others. And though she knows most up-and-coming artists don’t opt to juggle motherhood and a budding career, she’s never feared tackling those responsibilities at the same time: “It wasn’t a concern for me because I know me and I know I get sh*t done.” However, she expected others to feel differently about her pregnancy. Hence why she “waited until the last possible second” to announce it to the world.
“I think it’s very f*cking stupid,” Monaleo says frankly, adding that she “didn’t want to be a part of that weird culture” or “give people the opportunity to speak on something so personal” by sharing her baby news too early. So she got vulnerable about other topics on her new project.
“I can get real ‘rah-rah’ when I need to . . . But I wanted to show the world that there’s more to me than just being angry or aggressive or assertive.”
Those include her upbringing, living in poverty, her relationships, and why she once felt “grossly misunderstood” as an artist (hence track six, “Miss Understood”). She even showcased her singing chops to shed the “aggression” some of her songs give off. “When I would go into studio sessions and they would have song ideas queued up, [they] were the epitome of aggression,” Monaleo shares. “I would think, ‘I can’t blame anybody for perceiving me like that because that’s what I put out to the world — aggressive music.’ That’s because that’s the space that I was in at the time, and that was true and authentic. So I don’t want to denounce that part of myself, because that is very true. I can get very aggressive. I can get real ‘rah-rah’ when I need to . . . but I wanted to show the world that there’s more to me than just being angry or aggressive or assertive.”
Now, Monaleo’s discovered that “there’s strength in vulnerability.”
Despite being only a couple of months into mom life, Monaleo says she’s “excited to get back to the studio,” as well as finish filming the rest of her project’s music videos. The “work doesn’t stop” mindset is something she’s come to embrace, especially in raising her newborn. “I want to associate being a mom with cultivating a beautiful experience for my child,” she notes. “I have to put in the work to be able to enjoy the fruits of my labor and provide that lifestyle that I want to for my child . . . I want them to be able to travel and see the world, experience all the wonderful things that life has to offer.”
Monaleo knows that vision comes at a price: “So I’ve got to make sure that I keep showing up for myself and my child career-wise because, like I said, that’s what’s going to fund the comfortable lifestyle that I want for us to live.”
Looking ahead, she’s most excited about merging motherhood and her musical pursuits, taking her son along for the ride. “I want him to be able to see music videos, see me working. I want him to be able to see that and be motivated by that.” All in all, Monaleo is ready to “get back in the field.” So don’t count her out, because nothing — not even a job as big as motherhood — is slowing her down.