In Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels Of A Tribe Called Quest, the 2011 documentary detailing the career of iconic Hip Hop group A Tribe Called Quest, rapper/producer Q-Tip recalls his reaction to the ever present question of the “sophomore jinx”. “Sophomore jinx? What the fuck is that? I’m going to make Low End Theory.”
It seems as if no one told Guyanese Canadian songstress Melanie Fiona about the dreaded “sophomore jinx” either. Her oft delayed second album The MF Life hit number 7 on the Billboard 200 after its first week and she has been everywhere from the late night talk show circuit to the NBA All Star Game to increase the awareness of the new project. (Her higher profile does come with a bit of a cost. Fans may try to play super sleuth to crack The MF Life for codes into Melanie’s personal life. Especially since news broke that the singer recently separated from CSI: Miami actor and costar of her “It Kills Me” video Adam Rodriguez.)
The singer (real name Melanie Fiona Halim) has been on a steady rise since her first album The Bridge. Fiona’s 2009 soulful debut, a favorite of critics and fans alike, was anchored by the big ballad “It Kills Me”. Spending nine weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard’s R&B singles chart, “It Kills Me” snagged Fiona a Grammy nomination for female R&B performance. Opening slots on tours with Kanye West and Alicia Keys and an appearance on The Roots & John Legend collaborative album, Wake Up helped cement her as one of the artists to watch. After winning two Grammys for R&B song and traditional R&B performance for her work on Cee-Lo Green’s “Fool for You”, she seems positioned to win big. Guests like hip hop legend Nas, John Legend, B.O.B. and T-Pain all contribute to the new work. Producers Salaam Remi, NO ID, Andrea Martin and Rico Love were at the boards to give Fiona a sound that she explains as the most current version of her musical voice.
“It’s definitely more Melanie Fiona with where I’m at right now and the things that I have been through. The first album was more an homage to the influences and artists that inspired me to get into music. This album was a little bit more personal and true to who I am.”
She spoke with us by phone about living in the spotlight in the age of social media, the importance of her cultural roots and the importance of having the right team to beat the sophomore jinx.
KillerBoomBox.com: With the second album and the Grammys, you have a higher profile now. How are you adjusting to people getting more interested in your personal life?
Melanie Fiona: I’m not fully adjusted. I’m a pretty private person. And I keep my personal life personal. Everyone loves a story. They want to know where everything comes from. I’m now getting a taste of what that is and how to handle that side of being an artist. I admire artists like Sade who are able to be a recluse and have their music speak for itself. They are still able to maintain their sense of privacy.
KillerBoomBox.com: Isn’t that hard in this age of social media? It’s out of your control isn’t it?
Melanie Fiona: That’s it exactly. You have to let go. You cannot change. You can’t control everything. And I learned that. I’m a control freak. At the end of the day people are going to talk. I have a good head on my shoulders. I have a good foundation around me. So people can say whatever they want. You can’t get caught up in it.
It Kills Me with Jamie Foxx
KillerBoomBox.com: Your fans go hard for you. They are serious devotees. How does that feel?
Melanie Fiona: It’s the best. There are much more famous artists that have millions and millions of fans but I don’t know if they feel the love that I feel with my smaller demographic of fans. I feel like my fans are so personal with me. I feel like they are really rooting for me. They are down! Ride or die. I feel like it’s a testament to the music. They are emotionally connected to the music and if that connects them to me then that makes me feel good.
KillerBoomBox.com: You grew up in the West Indian community up in Toronto. We can hear those influences in your work. How important is it that people see that in what you do today?
Melanie Fiona: My Caribbean culture is what I identify with the most. When I think about my food and my language and my slang, my morals and my traditional upbringing; that all comes from my parents being immigrants to Canada. So that’s very much a part of who I am. So it always has to be there. Present on the albums and present in the shows. That’s where I started making it underground on the reggae circuit and the DJ’s mixing R&B and reggae together. I need to have that so people can identify who I am and where I come from. And I’m so very proud of my culture.
Somebody Come Get Me
KillerBoomBox.com: Have you ever thought of doing a whole project under your old name? [Ed note. Fiona recorded under the name Syren Hall. Her big hit “Somebody Come Get Me” was included on Reggae Gold 2008.]
Melanie Fiona: I would love to. The whole name situation was before I had a record deal. They used to call me Syren on the underground or whatever. “Somebody Come Get Me” became a really big record. “Syren’ had put out music underground. So my last name is Halim. They shortened it to Hall. And that’s how it came out on the compilation. But yes I would absolutely do reggae album. I would do a reggae remix version of all the songs on my current album. I love it. And I’m proud to have the versatility to go back and forth.
KillerBoomBox.com: We have a large West Indian population here in Boston and one of the things that got you hot here was you freestyling on the radio with Chubby Chub.
Melanie Fiona: That’s dope. I didn’t know that till “Like I Love You” started getting played and I came down. They were there. They came out for that reggae show. It was a great time.
4AM (Live On Jimmy Kimmel)
KillerBoomBox.com: What was your thought process in choosing producers for this album? What were you thinking going in about the theme of the album?
Melanie Fiona: I’ve known some of the people I wanted to work with because I had been fans of theirs and what they had done with artists that I love. People like Jack Splash who worked with Cee-Lo and Alicia Keys, I wanted to work with these producers specifically. I wanted to get in with these guys and see what we could create. I absolutely reached out to them and just said “I want to get in with you guys and see what we can create.” And of course there is Andrea Martin who I always work with, we collaborated on this album. It was a nice feeling to know that I had a feeling about these producers and we were able to make some really great records together.
KillerBoomBox.com: You and Andrea Martin creative relationship with. What makes working with her special?
Melanie Fiona: She is one of the realest in the game. Everything with her is a learning experience. When I work with her I grow. She is just so talented and free. She just loves what she does. She is also Guyanese. We have the same heritage. We just clicked. We connected on the music that we write and the concepts that we sing about. We just have very similar viewpoints and creative stances. That just makes it really easy. When we get in the studio we just have fun. She is amazing.
KillerBoomBox.com: Who is the one artist that you most want to work with?
Melanie Fiona: I would love to work with Kanye West. He’s an artist. He is brilliant. He is so about his craft. He produces. He raps and performs. I feel his passion for his music. I feel his passion for his performance. He can’t do any wrong in my eyes.