Interview: Georgette Cline
Image: Akira Ruiz
Editor’s Note: This story appears in the Winter 2023 issue of XXL Magazine, on stands in December.

Schooling people on how to say a name can be tiresome, but Monaleo has turned it into a money maker. The title of the 22-year-old Houston native’s recent performance trek, The Monaleo Like Monalisa Tour, is a teachable moment whenever anyone reads or says her rap moniker. Big Leo's 2021 track, “Beating Down Yo Block,” and a look in Beyoncé’s Ivy park campaign that same year put her on the map. She kept her name buzzing over the last three years with consistent singles as an indie artist signed to the label Stomp Records. This past May, she dropped her debut project, Where the Flowers Don’t Die, a hybrid of storytelling odes and delicate singing. She did it all while pregnant with her first child. Another first for Leo is being a part of an all-female cypher. Here, she discusses camaraderie among women in hip-hop, finding herself and her hope to see Nicki Minaj and Cardi B squash their beef.

XXL: Why did you want to be a part of Latto’s cypher?

Monaleo: I love Latto. I think she’s really talented. I appreciate the way she supports all of the rap girls. I was down to be a part of it. And then they also told me who else [was] going to be here, and they’re all of my peers, who I converse with, and we have a good relationship. So, I thought it’d be a fun, camaraderie moment for us.

You and Flo Milli have recorded multiple songs together. You are often at the same events and actually went on tour together. You seem like real friends. What’s that like for the two of you?

I love Flo. She’s super talented. I think she has a really distinctive voice that just cuts through. And I was already a fan of her music. When I met her in person, she was awesome. She was always sweet, and we just clicked immediately. We just gravitated towards each other, and it was natural. It wasn’t forced. And then we continued to hang out and build a sisterhood outside of the industry.

You released your first project, Where the Flowers Don’t Die, this year, and created it while you were pregnant. What was challenging about that time?

I really wanted it to be sentimental and I’m glad that it was. Everything just fell into place. I was really stressed out at that time and I just really didn’t know how I was going to pull it together. But now that some time has passed, it’s like, Oh girl, that was easy.

I had a pregnancy brain, so I was forgetting everything. It was really affecting my creativity. I just really felt super unproductive. [Spending] all day long in the studio, I just genuinely did not have the energy to show up every day, but I still did it. And that’s the biggest accomplishment.

What do you look forward to seeing in the future for women in hip-hop?

In a perfect world, I would like to see Nicki Minaj and Cardi B collab. I really want that, but I understand. Once you get into it with certain people, and it gets to a certain point, at least for me, anyway, like, Oh, hell no, I’m never speaking to them again. But I think that would just be pivotal.

That’s something that other female artists deal with as well. When you establish yourself as an artist, people are gonna be in your comments like, “Do you support Nicki or do you support Cardi?” They try to make you pick a side between them, and it’s f**king strange, because, first of all, I don’t even know either one of them personally, and I’m like, Who would I be to pick a side? I just think that would be really good, and that would squash a lot of the tension and the energy for female rappers in general.

What goals are you trying to achieve for the next few months?

I’m gonna just continue to put out more singles, continue working, continue going with the flow and doing what feels right for me. That’s my main goal right now because I feel like I’m constantly chasing something, and never really just allow myself to have the time and space to create the same way that I did like right before I became a professional artist. I’m just looking forward to finding myself again as an individual, as a human being and seeing how that comes out in my music.

See Monaleo rap with Latto, Flo Milli, Maiya The Don and Mello Buckzz in XXL's Cypher Lab, presented by the Starz Original Series Power Book III: Raising Kanan, below.

Watch XXL Cypher Lab Featuring Latto, Flo Milli, Monaleo, Maiya The Don and Mello Buckzz

Watch Latto, Flo Milli, Monaleo, Maiya The Don and Mello Buckzz Unite for a Real Conversation About Women in Hip-Hop

Watch Behind the Scenes of the Cypher With Latto, Flo Milli, Monaleo, Maiya The Don and Mello Buckzz

monaleo photo
Akira Ruiz/XXL

Read Monaleo's interview in the Winter 2023 issue of XXL Magazine, on newsstands now. The new issue also includes the cover story with Latto and conversations with Killer Mike, Flo MilliDD OsamaMaiya The DonMello BuckzzSexyy RedBigXThaPlug, plus more. Additionally, there's an exclusive interview with Fetty WapQuality Control Music's Coach K and P discuss 10 years into the label's growth, in-depth stories on the popularity of sampling in hip-hop in 2023 and the state of hip-hop touring, and the best moments of hip-hop's year-long 50th anniversary celebration.

See Photos From Latto's XXL Magazine Winter 2023 Cover Story