YNW Melly Talks Working With Kanye West, Moving to Atlanta in Pre-Arrest Interview
Billboard chatted with the rapper before his arrest Wednesday (Feb. 13) on two first-degree murder counts.
"My year's finna be crazy," YNW Melly predicted during his interview with Billboard last week (Feb. 5). The comment, tied to what was slated to be a very busy 2019 for the up-and-coming rapper, proved darkly prophetic a week later. On Wednesday (Feb. 13), the Miramar Police Department confirmed that they had arrested the 19-year-old (born Jamell Demons) and charged him with two counts of first-degree murder. Broward County jail records show he was checked into the system around 7 p.m. that night.
Police believe Melly was the triggerman in the Oct. 26 murders of Anthony "Sak" Williams and Christopher "Juvy" Thomas Jr, both of whom were "best friends" of Melly's and part of his YNW (Young N---a World) crew. Law enforcement alleges that the "Mixed Personalities" rapper and Cortlen Henry -- previously arrested in connection with the double murder -- attempted to stage the killings as a drive-by shooting.
The Florida native has since been denied bond, releasing a statement on his Instagram prior to surrendering to authorities. "I am turning myself in today I want you guys to know I love you and appreciate every single one of y’all, a couple months ago I lost my two brothers by violence and now the system want to find justice," he wrote. "Unfortunately, a lot of rumors and lies are being said but no worries god is with me."
Billboard caught up with the "Murder on My Mind" artist following the release of his We All Shine album for an interview before his arrest. Melly had grand plans for 2019, which included multiple tours, finishing a joint project with Juice WRLD, and working with Kanye West during what would be his first visit to Hawaii.
When asked about suffering through the losses of Sak and Juvy, Melly stated, "That was crazy. They were my brothers -- my day one brothers," but refused to speak on details of the incident any further. Later into the chat, the rapper did say that he gave all of his cars to Sak's mom when he moved from Florida to Atlanta.
Check out the rest of our interview with YNW Melly, where he touches on his childhood influences, being in-and-out of jail as recently as January, linking up with Yeezy, leaving Florida for Atlanta, music plans and more.
Who are some of the artists that inspired you as a child?
Michael Jackson, Chris Brown, and Lil Wayne. That was when I was growing up as a kid. I was the smallest in the family, but always in trouble. I was so bad to the point it was funny. I basically had a cheat code, at five years-old I made a picture just like the I Am You cover as a baby. The whole background was painted and shit. I just knew I was going to be a star, so I'm just gonna be bad. I didn't even want to be a rapper, I wanted to sing. I couldn't sing at first, it took me a year to learn. I taught myself by listening to Chris Brown and Michael Jackson.
In school, I'd never play with anybody. I'd walk around the edges of the gate singing. I had my first girlfriend then. I was weird, I used to like the ghetto girls with the greasy edges. It was something about those things. I liked when their hair smelled like grease. She left me for my sister. Not like that, I was a kid just being jealous [and] she wanted to hang out with her more than me. Growing up, I was poor. I was living with my grandma and aunt, we were all living in the same house. They always took care of me though.
When did you start taking music more seriously?
After I got out of jail the first time. I went in at 15 and got out at 17.
That was for allegedly shooting a gun off by your school?
Yeah, I always had guns back then.
So you knew you were about to blow up when you were in jail?
All the tough people kept telling me that. Even the big n----s were messing with me and I'm the smallest person on the compound. It's a rough environment in there. How did I get respect from everybody? I'm like, "Damn, I'm special." When I went to jail, I lost faith for a little bit. I didn't know what I wanted to be. I made "Murder on My Mind." I didn't even like that song at first. I said, "That song is ass."
The government used that song against you to put you back in jail?
Yeah, they were being petty. Basically, I was on probation. I'm off that now. I put out "Murder on My Mind." It was out for about seven months, but I was in and out of jail at that point. I probably went to jail at least six or seven times then. It was just for little shit too.
What do you think about how going to jail actually helps spread an artist's music?
For some people it does, then motherfuckers will forget about you. You got to have that drive when you get out. Some people have that in them. Like me, they gave me 30 days and I was like, "I know what I'm going to do. I got a plan."
I like the fact your sound differentiated from the new wave of artists from Florida.
Yeah, I had to. I do like their wave. I like Kodak Black's wave, but I don't want to be categorized with them. I got a piece of all of them, but I'm not a biter. I know how to be myself, even if we're all from Florida.
How did the YNW family form?
We were all just young together. This was me and my guys. I was just the muscle in the beginning. I'm making everything happen, from the girls to the money. I got it all popping. Somebody in the clique was just high as hell and said something talking about a "Young N---a World." I was like, "I can do something with that." Then we pushed it. I want to sign a couple more artists.
I know you lost Sak and Juvy back in October during a shooting. Can you speak to what they meant to you?
That was crazy. They were my brothers -- my day one brothers.
To all my fans and supporters no I did not get locked up in Washington , but I am turning myself in today I want you guys to know I love you and appreciate every single one of y’all, a couple months ago I lost my two brothers by violence and now the system want to find justice.. unfortunately a lot of rumors and lies are being said but no worries god is with me and my brother @ynw.bortlen and we want y’all to remember it’s a ynw Family I love you @ynwsakchaser1 and @ynwjuvy #freeus
Were you targeted in that as well?
Nah, I can't really speak on that.
What does We All Shine mean to you?
That's my little set. That's just how I felt at the time. I want everyone in my circle to shine. It's not gonna be just one person icy. Everybody's gotta be dripping.
How long did it take to record the album?
The album was already recorded last year. It was done by October, but I was just vibing. I was anxious to drop it because I had everything done, then Kanye just flew me out to Los Angeles.
Walk me through how you linked up with Kanye West.
Kanye was in Paris with his A&R and he was asking about me. He heard "Blue Balenciagas." He said he liked it and flew me out. I thought he was lying because [his A&R] kept calling me. I'm like, "Who the fuck is this." He's like, "Ye wants to fuck with you, bro." I was like, "Hell no. He doesn't wanna do that." I dodged him for a week straight. Kanye was on my ass, he called my manager. Shit is crazy.
We pulled up to his studio and played songs for him. When I played "Mixed Personalities," he was like, "I gotta hop on this." He put his verse on there and killed it. He helped with the beat and everything. I was trying to get him on another song, but he was like I gotta be on ["Mixed Personalities."] I told him I was trying to drop my project soon. He goes, "Man, we could do this right now!" He was like, "This is my life! I got mixed personalities. This is me!" We finna go to Hawaii for a whole week just to record whenever I get some free time. I've never been there, I want to shoot a video on top of a volcano.
I love hearing about the creative retreats Kanye would organize in Hawaii. Travis Scott had a rap camp of his own for the Astroworld sessions over the summer out there.
I was just with Travis in Atlanta around the Super Bowl. We were just vibing in the studio talking about shoes. I was drunk. No music, I was too lit. Gunna was recording and I just left to go to the club or something.
How did you get Kanye for the "Mixed Personalities" video too? Was that all Cole Bennett's idea?
Yeah, but I added my little sauce to it. Cole's like my brother. We got that same mentality. We just click. Cole's little weird ass killed it. He had the robot eating the spaghetti and all of that. I just told him it's gotta be blue and green because that's my colors. It's like the earth. It's a Young N---a World. Everything I touch is blue and green. Kanye's the GOAT bro. My part was shot in Los Angeles and Kanye shot his in Calabasas. I had to turn myself in. He was with his family.
What did your girlfriend think about the video?
I got four. I just let them know what time it is. You got to keep it real. They know about each other. I'm not having any kids right now.
How does someone with four girlfriends make a record like "No Heart?"
It's because I ain't got no heart. A girl broke my heart, so now I don't have a heart. It is about a girl, but it's for the fans and anyone who plays with your love like that.
How about "Mixed Personalities" sitting at No. 86 the Hot 100?
I'm just happy, that's a blessing. I got a lot more girlfriends because of that. I woke up to that. I didn't even know I'm on Billboard.
Why won't PNC Bank let you take out as much money as you want? You addressed them on "F*ck PNC Bank."
The video's going to be crazy. I'm going to walk into PNC Bank and curse everybody out. I want to be throwing money everywhere with a PNC Bank money gun. Every day they make me mad. I ask them for $20,000 in all $20s and she said, "No, who do you think you are?" I said, "What do you mean? I'm Melly, give me my money." We were just arguing in there and I said, "Fuck PNC." Sometimes it be a $6,000 max. I want an extra-long Lamborghini. I don't have cars anymore, bro. I just been chilling. I'm finna get a blue and green G-Wagon with the earth camouflage. I want one tire blue and one tire to be green.
Can you even drive?
My license is suspended. I gave my cars to Sak's momma and moved out to Atlanta. Florida's not really a music state. They try to lock you up for everything, bro. I'm in it now. Everybody felt that I should be in Atlanta at this point. There's nothing but trouble left for me in Florida.
Didn't you meet Young Thug and Future when you moved to Atlanta?
I was just with Thug and Future. I met them for the first time at Rolling Loud. I got like six songs with Thug now. I just made a song with Future too. When I leave for Los Angeles, we'll do some more. I got shit with Juice WRLD. We're working on a project too. I got like six or seven songs with Yung Bans and he wants to drop them ASAP. It might be an EP. Me and Tee Grizzley's is done, we just have to find a date. My year's finna be crazy. I'm not going to drop a project with everyone in one year. You can't do everything in the same year. Then your ass is flopped the next year. I'm chilling, but once they see the concept of these videos, this [album's] going to go.