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Mekaeel Byrd is a rap artist who performs by the stage name ELLO. He recently released a banger single, The Search (ELLO vs Mr. Hyde) which intimately discusses his victories and defeats with alcohol.
Based out of High Point, North Carolina, The Black Wall Street Times spoke with ELLO about his climbs, the falls, life, and the music industry.
Ezekiel Walker: When I started writing umpteen years ago, I wasn’t nearly as candid and vulnerable with the art form as I am now; what about your journey in music has allowed you to be vulnerable enough to create a song and video like The Search (ELLO vs Mr. Hyde)?
ELLO: Humility. You have to understand that a lot of the times we make the mistake of living life for others. We live life to please others with vanity. We buy certain things to please others but when you start doing things for yourself, that’s when you’re able to speak your truth without the fear of embarrassment.
A lot of people are afraid of what others may think or how others may judge them but you have to understand even though we live parallel to one another, as far as the universe goes, we all experience the same things. You can Google a question, and I guarantee someone in this world has asked that exact same question. We all seek the same information and go through similar experiences at some point. So we shouldn’t be embarrassed to tell our truths because that means others are going to be scared to tell their truth.
When you have experiences in life, it’s best to talk about those things because you never know if someone else can relate to it. I’m tapping into my life experiences and seeing who can take this ride with me.
Ezekiel Walker: With you being so brutally honest in your art, what is it like to hear others lying or embellishing the truth in a music genre where those artists are often rewarded?
ELLO: It’s not that they want to lie, it’s more so what can get them to the next level. It’s easier to fabricate a story to get you where you’re trying to go.
The only downside is fabricating stories along the way can catch up with you and now you’re trying to tell another lie to replace that lie. It just consistently continues but if you start out with the truth, nobody can question you later.
And it’s hard for an individual to talk about something with substance because they either are too young, which means they haven’t lived enough to experience any of those things or the youth are judging those who are older saying, ‘Oh, you too old.’ No, we’re not too old. We have something to talk about because we’ve lived and we are now seeing the things that are wrong and can teach the youth based on what we have seen.
Ezekiel Walker: Southern folks like us have a humble ass spirit about us, but people in North Carolina are extremely creative and talented. But because we’re so used to the hard work and the grind we don’t really celebrate ourselves with the same reverence of someone that doesn’t know us will.
ELLO: We’re overshadowed for sure. It’s because everybody has an individual mindset. And the individual mindset is ‘I got to get to this particular level of success before you do and before I can help you.’
The thinking is we have to get to a certain level where I’m getting praised enough to say ‘hey, I helped bring that man up’ instead of saying ‘we came up together.’
There’s no togetherness in this mindset, it’s been divide and conquer since the beginning of time. Personally, I don’t have a problem with working with anyone — there is no competition.
Sure, you have competition with yourself because you want yourself to grow but I don’t have competition with others. We have too much individuality and there’s too much competition. We should see everybody’s talent, North Carolina should come together as a whole to support each other no matter who it is.
Ezekiel Walker: A lot of us understand the unity part and that you need people to help you reach your endeavors. You can’t just rely on self because as much as you know, you don’t know everything. Like Issa said, “networking across”, you need to rely on that sideways network and not always look up.
ELLO: Right but that’s when you’re best. ‘It’s not what you know, it’s who you know which determines how far you go.’ We’ve always heard that, but if you’re doing it solo you’re in need of their help until you no longer need their help. For an example, Jay-Z needed Dame, I don’t care what you say.
At the beginning, Hov needed him to be able to move things in place. But once Jay-Z got to a point of understanding that he wasn’t the boss, and he needed to be the ultimate boss, he took what he learned, cut off the ties and kept going.
Ezekiel Walker: After a decade of making music, how have you maintained your sense of self and a sense of morality given the changes in your life personally and professionally?
ELLO: All you have is your character. It takes a lifetime to build a character and 10-15 minutes to destroy it. I’ve been scammed multiple times. I’ve had money stolen from me. I had dreams and goals that I thought would get me to a certain level and it didn’t go that way. I’ve had people backstab me. I’ve had things taken from me but all it does is humble you if you have faith.
You gotta stay firm if you believe that God has a place for you and it’s not your time. You just continue doing what you’re doing until it is your time. He or She is not ready for you to have what you desire because maybe you still need to learn or maybe you still need to be molded as an individual before it’s handed to you.
Whatever gifts gives He or She gives you, it’ll be destroyed instantly as soon as you get it because you weren’t prepared to have it.
Ezekiel Walker: You’ve always taken chances creatively, where did the inspiration behind your latest single The Search (ELLO vs Mr. Hyde) come from?
ELLO: I was an excessive drinker. I didn’t start drinking until I got to college. I learned that when I started drinking I was no longer the person that I was prior to drinking. So Mekael would be a sober and quiet person without confidence but once I started drinking, I’m confident, cocky, and full of courage — false courage.
I noticed that once I get to that point, things either went well and I got a bunch of girls numbers or it can cause me to be belligerent. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde faced the same thing. Quiet doctor, stay to himself, but once he drunk the elixir he became somewhat aggressive but literally dangerous. ELLO is the alter ego of Mekaeel. Hyde is the alter ego Dr. Jekyll, two individuals existing in the same entity.
I’ve gained a different side of me by being broke, being a family man, fighting to stay humble, things that I’m going through now is going to make my next album.
Ezekiel Walker: Is there a memory or experience that you’ve had performing or doing anything that stands out to you as particularly validating?
ELLO: One of the last performances I had in St. Augustine’s College was very pivotal in my life. It was one of those experiences where I was like, ‘Oh snap. This is rockin’ the crowd! This is what it feels like!’ They wanted an encore, they were like, ‘Yo, run that bad run that back!’
Another great experience was the performance I had at World of Beer. I did a whole show in front of mainly random individuals, a few people from my job showed up but to be able to rock a crowd that has no idea who you are is everything.
This interview was edited for brevity.