We follow up a rave review of Beleaf Melanin’s new album, In Fatherhood, with an interview of the artist and popular YouTube dad.
Q: You are big on collaborating with friends and family. In the closing song “Baby Daddy,” you speak to the adage “it takes a village” in parenting, but what does that mean to you in terms of creating art?
Beleaf: It’s important to come in with a team. I definitely don’t think we were meant to do things alone. I think we can but it’s best to do them as a tribe. A part of a bigger village that’s basically open to changing the world.
I started out as a DJ and that means I was support for an MC. And then I became the hype man. And then I started rapping. So, I’ve never really been alone, or … been able to produce my own thoughts exclusively so the collective and being part of a team … makes most sense. I like to use people that have very little exposure or not as much as me. That way I’m elevating them and not just calling the biggest rappers I know to my support.
Q: How has early reception of In Fatherhood been?
Beleaf: Early reception of the album has been positive. And I say “positive” and not “good” because most of the people who’ve listened to the album have been other rappers and there’s always this, like, unmentioned competition. You know, kind of looking at you sideways-type, like, “Let me try to find something wrong with this.” So, instead of saying a song is bad or … that they love the song, they’ll say, “Hey, this seems like it wasn’t mastered as good as the other ones.” … It’s so much competition it’s hard to find real feedback. Now from all of my friends who’ve heard it … I think because some of the lyrics [and] some of the flows are so complex for the regular ear, they might have to go back and listen to it again.
Q: Let’s talk about the well-documented misconception of the absent black father. Your flow, heck your entire being, runs counter current to that faulty narrative. Do you think about that and actively try to disprove it in your family life, faith and music?
Beleaf: I think being a black father in the current time is something that I think about a lot. I often know that I have to disprove it but it’s not something I’m doing on purpose. You know, my very existence is counter … even me being alive at this age and doing something like what I’m doing on YouTube and hip hop and actually making money off of it is already like, “Oh, you’re successful.”
I think right now what I’m doing is giving proof to all the other people out there that didn’t know it was possible. I think a large group of black women watch my content because it shows them that we [present black fathers] really exist out here. You know what I’m sayin’? Or, what they already have at home in their husband.
I go to a predominately white church. It’s diverse but it’s predominately white and so just me being there, like, I have to be, kind of the guy who people aren’t afraid to talk to and ask very stupid questions of. I have to be, you know, for the culture, I am leading the way and so I’m making it easier for my kids and so I put up with a lot more. I let people get away with a lot more because I understand that I am a leader and I’m making it easier for my sons and my daughter and any other black father coming behind me or who is around me currently. So, I think about it but I don’t … do it on purpose which means since I’m a leader, I have a lot less freedom.
Q: How involved are you in your church community and does that ever prove challenging, as far as being a hip hop artist, by way of the stigma inherent in either?
Beleaf: My church community … it’s just, like, you know, my squad. I have a “life group,” a group of eight couples that we’re really close with. We do all our holidays together. We meet weekly and kind of have Bible Study … [sometimes] it’s just us hangin’ out, just reminding each other that it’s hard sometimes and that we love each other and just praying for each other. I host that life group and then I help with a podcast for the church and video for the church. Me and my pastor are like best friends. Really close. He’s actually my kids’ goddad and so I’m really involved in the community at church. But, it’s not like it’s any different than just friends.
There’s no challenge to me doing hip hop and me being in church. They are very receptive of my art and my talent and my skill. They don’t make me rap on Sundays. They don’t use me as the hip-hop prop or gimmick. It’s just kind of like one of those things where it’s like, “Hey, if we need a nice voiceover, can you do it for us?” And I’m like, “Sure.” You know, that type of thing. … I don’t know how well hip hop fits in a worship setting. It’s not like the two worlds really collide that much but if I do need support or I’m throwing a show or something like that I usually have as much ability as I need or resources as I need from the church.
Q: What is your definition of a “modern dad”?
Beleaf: To me, being a modern dad means to be very versatile in your settings. Because children … and we are a lot more exposed to things, I feel like to be modern just means to be of the time and so that means that I can exist and be open to a lot of conversations so as a Christian dad, I can still do community and have a conversation with a gay dad, you know?
To be a modern father means to be woke in a sense. It also means to be overall present in the day-to-day-of my children and in the day-to-day of my community. It means that I’m a pillar. It means that what I do reflects the community and I have the ability to change my entire community.
Q: On the album’s final track, “Baby Daddy,” you say you are “leaving hip hop to become a storyteller.” So if, what’s next?
I really want to start writing. I hope that this album proves how good of a writer I am and that maybe I could ghostwrite for some people. Maybe I could write some songs. I want to get residual income but I don’t wanna leave home. I want to be able to make money off of music and use my ability to song-write and give that to other people and let them use that as a part of their arsenal. So, essentially adding value to the community by putting good music out there.
In addition, I’m really excited about the YouTube venture that I’ve been doing and how open the community is right now. So I want to move forward with that in a major way and give a lot more diversity to the platform at whole. What that means is me becoming within the top 15 percent of YouTubers and being a really successful brand that can basically tell people where we’re moving as a culture. That type of success is … when you’re leading within the culture … whether it’s blogging or whatever, you have power to give people input and basically tell people how we’re moving. That’s pretty much incomparable to any song I’ve ever written. So what I’m seeing with the YouTube thing is a lot more freedom and not so many rules. We’re making up the rules as we go because it’s such a new platform and I say new meaning 10 years old.
I want to be the guy writing songs in my spare time. Making videos in my spare time. Putting those things up at my leisure. I want to travel with my family and I want us to go places where I get paid to speak and tell people stories about what fatherhood, what family, and what love could look like if we focus on forgiveness and so I’m learning this myself as I have issues with my own parents. Really, what fatherhood really taught me is more about patience with you parents and all that stuff. I’m learning more about being a man by being a father and so fatherhood has turned me more into a student than anything else.