The first time I met Talib Kweli was when I auditioned for his show. I was a scared little shaky-voiced bunny, and he was in the audition studio surrounded by a blur of famous faces. I sang “Jill Scott’s “Do You Remember” in the tiniest little voice I ever had. When I made it to the bridge, as I sang Jill’s ad libs, Dave Chappelle started singing the backgrounds. Kweli jumped in. Then my voice bottomed out. GONE. Because, fam… how are one of my favorite rappers and my favorite comedian singing background at my audition? They were being nice, but it took my feet right from under me.

I squeaked “Thank you,” and hauled off running.

Years later, I made myself a boss and would share many, many stages, many songs, many laughs, much libations, and many stories with this guy. He’s the best in lots of ways.

Mela and Talib Kweli
The 12th Annual Brooklyn Hip Hop Festival, Brooklyn NY 2016

What’s the worst job you’ve ever had?

Working at the cafeteria of the high school I went to.

Run that hair net photo, though. I know you got one! But, talk about a time when you were star struck.

When I met Bill Murray at the White House. I was so star struck, I forgot to ask him to please rescue that Wu-Tang album from Martin Shkreli.

What’s the first thing you do when you wake up?

Bake up.

If you could change one thing about your career, what would it be?

I would have gone the completely independent route way sooner than I did.

What are you the most proud of?

My two, beautiful, wonderful, talented children.

What’s the most expensive thing you’ve ever bought?

My house.

What’s the most expensive thing you’ve ever given someone?

A car. A nice car.

What kind of car and what did she do with it when y’all broke up? HA HA JUST KIDDING CRY LAUGH FACE EMOJI RUNNING AWAY BLACK GIRL EMOJI. Anyway, name a celebrity you think is lame and why.

Piers Morgan. Do I need to explain why? Who don’t think Piers Morgan is lame?

Yeah, I hope he falls of his bike and breaks his two front teeth. What human would you trade lives with, and why?

Bjork. I want to know what it feels like to have your own genre.

What thing do you love that you think would surprise people about you?

“The Family Feud” with Steve Harvey. No wait. Old “Judge Mathis” episodes.

Judge Mathis is a boss for his seasonal insult themes. The last time I saw it, he was calling everybody crackheads. The year before that, it was pimps. Another year he had a bunch of women from Detroit who stabbed people. He celebrated that, weirdly. But, I digress. Name a thing you haven’t done yet and still want to do.

A song with Bjork.

Who’s going to play you in the biopic?

Don Cheadle. He plays the best Black men.

That’s because he IS the best Black man. Okay, say something nice about your mom/dad so they can smile when they read this. You don’t call home enough, by the way.

My mom and dad are too smart for this, they see through your pandering, Mela.

I’m definitely pandering. Please tell mom I’m sorry again about all the cussing on the bus that time. Btw, would you go to Trump’s White House and shake his hand? If so, what the hell is your problem.

And this is why Steve Harvey has me upset, ‘cause I no longer want to watch “Family Feud.” Which I love doing.

Wouldn’t it be dope if we could pay Steve Harvey all the money he makes everywhere to shut up and just do Feud? I think we could crowd fund this. Do you love avocado, or are you a savage animal with broken taste buds?

TBH I didn’t learn to love avocado until living in Cali where you get it fresh. Old, slimy avocado is a turn off. And that shit turns. Quick.

Okay, this is fair. What do you deeply desire everyone to know about you?

That I love “Parks and Recreation” and can discuss it at length.

[Mela’s note: Also, don’t get this guy started on The Big Lebowski.]

Give Machinko some good advice.

Do more songs with me.

Why haven’t you introduced Machinko to The Rock, Idris Elba or 2 Chainz yet? Why don’t you want her to be happy?

I can make two of three of those happen with relative ease. You ‘bout it or nah? Also, I like that you like all different types of Black man lol.

Please don’t play with my emotions this way. Anyway, name a perfect song, and defend that song.

“Follow The Leader” by Eric B & Rakim. Don’t @ me.

Did you know that the Willie Lynch letter is not real, the Michael Jordan who played basketball and makes sneakers is not the same one who owns the prisons, Black women are actually supposed to menstruate too, and the horizon is proof of a round Earth? If not, please tell us how this information makes you feel.

I knew all of that. Do I get woke cookies?

Woke cookies sound gluten free. Here’s a bonus question though: how seriously amazing is Mela Machinko as a general human. Isn’t she completely killing this shit? Like seriously. C’mon.

She aiight.

TUH. Dancing lady emoji.

Check out more Fan of My Friends with the inimitable MeLa Machinko. 

arts & culture

Once I had a show—the kind where a panel of industry types scowl at you and tell you whether you fit in, and where. The host was a comedian. I stood up, full of something: chutzpah, tequila, something. I introduced myself as “your favorite rapper’s favorite singer,” started to sing, and I choked. Literally. I inhaled my spit or something and choked, and had to run to the bathroom and gag for two whole minutes while the host clowned my entire life. I came out and told him, “No, go on. I deserve it. Get those jokes off so I can finish my set.” He clowned for a few more moments and then had me back up, and I finished (and bodied) the show. Torae was there, perhaps a bit impressed, but thoroughly tickled by me. He went OUT OF HIS WAY to befriend me after that. Hehe.

If you haven’t heard this guy’s prolific bars—from 2008’s Daily Conversation to his newest release Still Waiting (produced by Amadeus and Trilogy Muzik)—then you’ve heard him daily on Sirius XM’s Hip-Hop Nation, hosting The Tor Guide Mon-Fri from 5p-10p. Or you’ve seen his influence up and through VH1’s The Breaks, as battle rapper Sig Sauer in the original movie, consulting on the series, or coaching Teyana Taylor on her bars. Or you’ve seen him diligently training for the Rap Strongman competition on his IG. Either way, Tor is one of the hardest working men in rap, but he still has time for my shenanigans.

What’s the worst job you’ve ever had?

Yo, I had a short stint where I was a…I don’t even know the job title honestly. I served food at this fancy catering hall. I absolutely hated every second of it, but it was decent off the books money. These wealthy people would come in for weddings, bat mitzvahs, all that and look at us like we were peasants. Needless to say, I didn’t do that too long. It was actually a blessing ‘cause it made me get my ass in gear and find various opportunities in the field and career I loved: Music and Entertainment.

Talk about a time that you were starstruck.

I meet tons of famous people on a daily basis, so I’m never too pressed either way. However, there was this one time TLC (greatest group ever) was up at SiriusXM for an interview, and I got to meet them. It was super dope, and I didn’t even try to keep my cool. We danced and sang. It was the best! My first concert was TLC (Christina Aguilera opened, and Prince was a surprise guest on guitar) at MSG. I always always listen to TLC before I perform. Yup, before I get on stage and spit the hardest rap shit ever, I’m in the green room pumpin’ “Ain’t 2 Proud 2 Beg.” So what, you can’t beat me!

What’s the first thing you do when you wake up?

Hop up out the beeeed, turn my swag onnnn… Really, I thank God, but I couldn’t resist.

What are you the proudest of?

My kids, Young Tay Tay and New York Nick. They’re really dope humans and not just ‘cause they’re my kids, but like as actual people. They really make me proud. Smart, humorous, witty, stylish. I’d be their friend in real life.

Taylor is you. She’s also hilarious and the star of your Snapchat. That kid’s going places. So what’s the most expensive thing you’ve ever bought?

My condo in Brooklyn. No mortgage either. Straight cash. How bout dat!

Oooooh you got MUNNEEEE! Lemme hold sumn. Anyway, name a celebrity you think is lame and why.

Bieber, Katy Perry, Iggy [Azalea], the list goes on and on. If I need to explain to you why, then add yourself to the list.

What human would you trade lives with and why?

I don’t know if I’d trade lives with him, but Lenny Kravitz is a cool motherfucker. I’d hang with son for sure.

But would you trade muscles with him though? Name a thing you haven’t done yet and still want to do.

Perform in Africa. I’ve rocked on four continents, and Africa is not one of them. Gotta change that in 2017!

Who’s going to play you in your biopic?

Me! duh! You ain’t see my award worthy performance on The Breaks? What kind of question is that? SMH. But young Reezy though; I like that kid who played Ralph Tresvant in the New Edition biopic. That kid was ill. Teenage Tor? Hmmmm I don’t know.

Say something nice about your mom/dad so they can smile when they read this. You don’t call home enough, by the way.

My mom is my hero; anyone who knows me knows that. She also my biggest fan, and I’m hers. We came from the bottom, so to see her killing it with like four masters degrees and doing all these amazing things is very inspirational to me. My dad is a good dude too. He didn’t raise me, but as an adult now I understand more than I did as a kid, so I get it. Sorta. We’re good though, we spend time together and we make the most of the time we have instead of dwelling on time we can’t get back. For better or worse. I learned how to be a good dad from my dad.

Would you go to Trump’s White House and shake his hand? If so, what the hell is your problem?

If I did, I’d use a gag buzzer and shock that damn toupee off his orange ass head. I’d do time for that, but as long as someone caught it on video, it’d be worth it. I’d also do a shit load of press when I got out and write a book.

Do you love avocado, or are you a savage animal with broken tastebuds?

I hated avocado my whole Black life, but I became vegan a year ago, and so with that my palate changed. As did my outlook on avocado. First batch of guac I ever tried and liked, my daughter made me. See? I told you she was dope.

What do you deeply desire everyone to know about you?

I get fucking BUSY with this rap shit. I might not have a huge machine behind it, and I missed all the millions they spent on MCs in the ‘90s but bar-for-bar, line-for-line on some rap shit, I’m dead nice!

You get especially busy on the ones where you featured me. FACTS. Okay, give Machinko some good advice.

FuckwithmeyouknowIgotit!

Why haven’t you introduced me to The Rock, Idris Elba, or 2Chainz yet? Why don’t you want me to be happy?

Damn I suck, ‘cause I’ve literally met them all. Guess I’m a bad friend or whatever. *Kanye shrug*

Yep, you’re gonna pay for this one, friend. Okay name a perfect song and defend that song.

Nas’ “The World Is Yours.” Musically, melodically, lyrically, it’s just absolutely perfect. You can debate me, but you’ll be wrong…and stupid. You’ll be stupid too.

Did you know that the Willie Lynch letter is not real, the Michael Jordan who played basketball and makes sneakers is not the same one who owns the prisons, Black women are actually supposed to menstruate too, and the horizon is proof of a round earth? If not, please tell us how this information makes you feel.

Confused.

How seriously amazing is Mela Machinko as a general human? Isn’t she completely killing this shit? Like seriously. C’mon.

She’s aight, but she’s not real. Hov said it best. Nah she’s dope. And so is the project she dropped titled “Hov Said It Best.” Cop that if you don’t have it.

You only say that because you put it on Soulspazm. I forgot to mention the A&R director gig too. You’re like a damn Jamaican.

Check out more Fan of My Friends with the inimitable MeLa Machinko. 

Fan of My Friends (or FOMF from here on out) is a regular column from bomb-ass singer MeLa Machinko. She knows mad people cause she’s cool as fuck.

I am MeLa Machinko aka New Money Machinko aka Katie Kaboom aka The Honey Badger aka Yung Oh No Baby What! Is You Doin. I’m a singer from Brooklyn, New York, and I’ve worked with a gang of rap folks, and put out a couple of FLAME ASS ALBUMS. But if you’ve ever heard me, it was likely on a Talib Kweli or Pharoahe Monch record. I’ve been all over the world and met a bunch of people, and they like me because I’m cool as shit, and cute as a button, and I have a great singing voice and good bewbs. That’s how I make friends, and I keep them by not being a dickhead. My friends are cool, talented, interesting folks, and I’m still a fan of them all. So I came up with a scheme to hang out with them, pick their brains, and have some fun. Y’all will enjoy it too.

… But since this is my column and DAMMIT I’m important too, I decided to interview myself first. So you can get to know me better and clock the goddess’ wavy stature.

I prefer if while reading this, you picture me sitting across from also me—wearing different ‘fits and hairstyles. Interviewer me is wearing round rimmed glasses. They aren’t prescription.

What’s the worst job you’ve ever had?

In high school I worked in the Accounts Payable Dept. of the Intrepid Museum. I basically cut checks all afternoon. My boss was a youngish pretty, nasty Puerto Rican lady who already hated her life but loved freestyle music. I almost jumped overboard. Fuck KTU, yo.

What’s the first thing you do when you wake up?

Wipe the cold out my eye. And see who’s Facebooking me, and why.
Seriously, it’s a terrible habit. I’ve got to stop rolling over and hopping on the ‘Book. It’s unfuckinghealthy.

If you could change one thing about your career, what would it be?

*snorts* I would have, like, so much more money. SO. MUCH. MORE. I mean, I’m still working on that, though.

What are you the most proud of?

I’m proud I got a lotta quality, stand-up people around me. It says something about me.

Name a celebrity you think is lame and why.

Wild celebrities are lame. WIIIIIIIILD celebrities are lame. This week, Tyrese’s lame ass is lame outside. AGAIN. Ignoramus. I hope he falls off his bike and breaks his two front teeth. Now if you meant one that I know personally who is lame? No comment. I don’t have enough money to be calling those people “lame” in my new column. Ask me again in a year.

What human would you trade lives with, and why?

Nobody. It’s live as shit to be me. Plus I earned all of this existence, and I deserve it.

What thing do you love that you think would surprise people about you?

Dr. Pimple Popper videos. Love. I could lose a DAY watching white goo ooze from sliced-open people. IN A CONTROLLED ENVIRONMENT ONLY THOUGH. Stop squeezing shit out of yourselves on YouTube, people! You’re not even doing it right. That’s why it keeps coming back. YOU HAVE TO REMOVE THE ENTIRE SAC.

Who’s going to play you in the biopic?

Young me, Azealia Banks (if she can summon a spirit of ackright from somewhere. Forever got love tho. We all we got.) Older me, Charnele Brown (Kimberly Reese from A Different World) Not a week goes by without one person stopping me in the street thinking I’m her. Don’t get me wrong, Kimberly Reese is a baddie. Pero Charnele Brown is a smooth 2+ decades older than me. Y’all gotta cut the shit.

Say something nice about your mom/dad so they can smile when they read this. You don’t call home enough, by the way.

Most of y’all hate your mom’s Facebook activity. I LIVE for when Syb shows up. Syb cuts UP on these hoes ok?! Love you, Mom. You my best thing.

Do you love avocado, or are you a savage animal with broken taste buds?

Bitch don’t try me. You know what it is. Avocado is a lifestyle.

What do you deeply desire everyone to know about you?

If you’re talking to me and my song comes on, I need you to not take it personally that I can no longer hear anything you’re saying. I didn’t snub you on purpose. I’ll tune back into your convo in like two and a half minutes. Unless the next song is my jam. Then I’ma just dance on you.

Why haven’t you introduced Machinko to The Rock, Idris Elba or 2Chainz yet? Why don’t you want her to be happy?

SIS WE WORKING ON IT, OK?

Name a perfect song, and defend that song.

“International Player’s Anthem.” It strikes every note correctly. It makes you feel every feeling it wants you to have, for as long as it wants you to feel it.

Did you know that the Willie Lynch letter is not real, the Michael Jordan who played basketball and makes sneakers is not the same one who owns the prisons, black women are actually supposed to menstruate too and the horizon is proof of a round Earth? If not, please tell us how this information makes you feel.

You better come through with the Notep buzzer beater, though! HA! yeah man all that shit’s dumb.

Yes, I know where I am. I also know where you’re reading this. But…

I never liked the term “underground.” As much as I have always been in love with “underground music,” it has always felt to me like the very thing I love about the music that tends to fall under the umbrella—the freedom and risk-taking sonically, the noncompliance to the popular rules of the day—it’s always seemed that the title “underground” sought to undermine those qualities, by boxing it in. And everyone who used it, used it that way…not just popular music lovers.

Beyond the catchall use of underground as “music that’s not generally commercial sounding and/or widely commercially released,” the term is at once used as a pejorative (see: Ebro) to mean “unappealing to the masses/unable to crossover because it’s not good enough” (which we know is horse shit)—as a badge of honor; a secret club for the smarter, cooler kids; a weapon used to shame anyone who dares like popular music. Most of that shit is wack and needs to stop.

It’s wild corny to fix your face to say that all the music that doesn’t make it past the corporate gatekeepers and onto the radio 100 times a day just isn’t as good as music that does. Plus a lot of that shit is trash.

But the so-called purist fans can hobble their favorite artist’s career by rejecting anything that to them remotely smells like they want to gain a fan beyond the hot, funky, obscure basement rap club they’re standing in. Think of any “backpack” or “conscious” (subsets of the underground) artist who collaborates with a mainstream artist and puts it out. Now recall their Twitter mentions that day. (Did you even listen to that 2 Chainz verse on De La’s album? He blacked. Haters hated anyway.)

Underground can mean how the music sounds, or how famous a rapper isn’t. It’s further complicated by the facts that A) the major deal is all but dead, so almost everyone is independent now (what that means these days is a convo for another time), and B) there are artists who do have major backing who pretend to be underground, for the authenticating narrative (and so they don’t get taxed in full by collaborators).

Soundcloud is a huge player in the underground conversation (and probably not so incidentally, “Soundcloud rapper” has also been used as an insult). Lil Yachty got his start on Soundcloud. Now he has a Target commercial. Some call him an industry plant. If XXXTentacion never changes his moody emo violent sound, but still gets chosen by Walmart ‘cause one day Drake apologizes and puts him on his Summer single, is HE still underground?

It’s exhausting.

I want the stigma gone, and I want the elitist heads to stand down.

Every rapper’s story began underground, one way or another. If the underground can mean all those things, then why can’t it mean the genesis stories of mainstream faves? Why can’t it mean the Polo Club, before they became the Migos? Kendrick is, as I type, coasting up the Billboard charts. He’s widely accepted as the most “woke” rapper of the times, still making the Blackest music. Section.80 is underground, ain’t it?

What if underground could be all the dope music that’s waiting to be brought to light, and all of the stories that come from the ones who went on to greatness?

I might could love that underground.

If you want more MeLa, and we know you do, follow her on Twitter @MeLaMachinko and stay tuned for more #StopMeLa at UGHHMag.