After 6 – A Lyric Review: A Boassy RNB Babe, Mnelia Is All Things Theatrical, Thuggish and Tender
By Corey Anthony Tucker
RNB Divas have a knack for the theatrical. For imbuing their music with emotions so grandiose and combustible, that one listen can launch a fan, feelings in tow, sky high into a state of elation/ ennui. A state they may never come down from. Their vocal capability is awe inspiring, something we’ve all tried to simulate, but can never truly emulate, for theirs is a talent that is signed, sealed and delivered by God. Their lyricism speaks to every woman, empowering one of the most disenfranchised groups the world over, Black women, with a suite of voices to identify with.
As the margins of music genre grow more nebulous, the era of the RNB Diva gives rise to the era of the RNB Babe. RNB Divas are indomitable, transcendent, infallible. Marketed as Goddesses, gracious enough to gift us with the illusion of familiarity; elusive enough that several degrees of grandeur separate us from them. Alternatively, RNB Babes are appealing in their unapologetic idiosyncrasy. Relatable in their grounded imperfection. Their sound is often hybridised, in a state of flux that mirrors the gruelling, ongoing journey of unearthing their best selves.
‘Shake it off/ Let all your fears go.’ — Mnelia, ON & ON (2020). The RNB Babes of today don’t try to be everywoman, nor do they want to be. They channel the fear of being themselves into music that honours the different sides that sum them up. Mnelia’s latest EP After 6 displays four foundational components of her identity in detail: Mnelia the impassioned playa (On & On), the lamenting lover (Back To You), the body bagging beauty (Shoot) and the adoring mummy (Ro’s Lullaby). These songs strut alongside each other, so in sync that each step, each song, gives way to the shine of the next.
Mnelia dares her listeners not to drown in her sauce on the vibey, club ready drip of ON & ON. Laid up and lavish in her lower register, Mnelia the impassioned playa, shows out and shows off with such swagger that all of her fans, men and women alike, will yearn to be claimed as her boo, ‘braggy bout mine with a reason’. Mnelia’s playa status feels more complex than her male counterparts, in part because she can offset the toxicity atypical of the title by exuding self discipline. Because of this, Mnelia is conscientious enough to diffuse the attention she receives from ex links so as not to entertain any conduct that would invite her main to feel disrespected, ‘old niggas hitting me up/ They get no love’.
Valuing action and heart above all, Mnelia only enters spaces where the love is palpable and genuine, and anyone allowed access to her can expect the same, ‘you already know when I show up it’s all love/ You already know the vibe’. ON & ON’s titular lyric refers to differing temporal impressions of connections made in the club. The first speaks to discovering a synergy so strong that it can render time inert, creating a pocket dimension where a connection on the dance floor can last forever. The second extracts beauty from the transience of a connection made on the dance floor, and that, whilst no moment can last forever, there are always more moments to be made and to look forward to, ‘take ’em real high/ Then real slow/ And move on and on and on’.
On the contemplative pulse of Back To You Mnelia posits herself on the fault line of a displaced relationship, seeking to repair the aftershock of her missteps. The tracks even, weighted throbs feel symbolic of the damage this break has dealt on Mnelia’s heart, slowing its function as a result. If she had absolute power over time and space, Mnelia would slip into the past and prevent the opinions of others from agitating her, and thus, encroaching on the security of her relationship, ‘If I could take it back […] Wouldn’t react/ To what these other people had to say’.
Back To You’s thumping production adopts an electronic sheen in the chorus, undulating as if Mnelia’s very own bloodstream telegraphs the longing she has for her beau’s touch, ‘I miss the way you kiss me’. Mnelia the lamenting lover puts her heart on the line, and in doing so, frames the rekindling of their romance as the most appealing path to take. A path built on mutual yearning, ‘been so long I know you miss me/ (I wanna) bring it all back to you/ I want you just how you want me/ (I wanna) bring it all back to you’. No-one can pine after someone like a playa can.
The decadent, gangsta bump of Shoot is coloured by a recurring violin sample, ferocious enough to border on violent, blended with a bass-line that vibrates so resoundingly it’ll strike fear and admiration into rap/ non-rap heads alike. StevieBBeatz slick soundscape is effective in stoking the drama of Mnelia’s blazing scorn. Shoot comfortably straddles the body bagging beauty between extravagance and grit, sounding like the aural brainchild of Baz Luhrman’s Romeo and Juliet (1996) and Noel Clarke’s Adulthood (2008). There’s layers to the disrespect felt when discovering you’ve been cheated on, and one of the first Mnelia peels back is that her beau had the niggacity to allow his side ting to trespass on their space and stake a claim to him, ‘2 of us, were meant to be on top/ But you went and added 1’.
Love without respect is baseless, and to enable a side ting to gain access to your main is as disrespectful as it can get, ‘if you love me/ You’ll keep me out the middle’. It’s not on Mnelia to hold her beau’s hand and guide him along the path of reintroducing respect into their relationship. Nor is it her duty to curtail her anger, born from betrayal, without good reason, ‘no option but to shoot, shoot, shoot/ I’m about to shoot, shoot, shoot’. He wronged her, and as such, it’s his responsibility to do the work to stabilise their love, ‘now you got a problem/ Solve it like a riddle’. As for her beau’s side ting? Mnelia cooly infers that continuing to mess with her man would be tantamount to asking for the death penalty, cooing all the while, ‘tell that bitch you hit I got a needle on her’.
The body bagging beauty is a sympathetic character with some bite. An alpha that can’t be subjugated, and not for lack of trying. Operating on her terms alone, the only way her relationship could end is if she were to allow it, and she’s not there yet, ‘don’t you ever walk out on me in your life […] I ain’t gon let you get away’. Capable of bitching out roadmen on a whim, Mnelia’s sexual virility is highly addictive, and so her beau couldn’t leave even if he wanted to, ‘need somebody that’ll screw you up […] I got a thing for bringing gangsta’s to their knees’. Delusional women will always flock to her beau’s allure like vultures to a beefy carcass, but they know to scatter like good little workers once they sense the presence of the queen, ‘you see them birds/ I made ’em fly like bees.’
The EP closes out with Ro’s Lullaby a love jam for Mnelia’s new born son. A song so tender it could bring the broodiness out of just about anyone, even the child-averse. A steady bassline punctuates the tropical flutter of StevieBBeatz production, mirroring that the birth of her son has introduced an unparalleled assuredness into Mnelia’s heart and sense of self. Being that Mnelia is a Black woman, there are persons and institutions built to deny her right to be multifaceted. Knowing this, Mnelia makes it her mission to be a safe haven for her son. To be the kind of mother that cherishes and celebrates his growing dimensions, ‘my precious diamond/ I’ll be your island/ Whether you’re smiling or frightened/ I’m forever here’.
Equally significant is Mnelia’s willingness to facilitate her son growing into a personhood that is distinctly his own, not an extension of his mothers, ‘never in this life control you’. A thriving music career can’t infringe on the tender, love and care Mnelia’s showers her son with, ‘hug you every night and show you/ You are my world’. So when her work separates them, Mnelia can trust in the groundwork she’s laid as an adoring mummy to illuminate her and her sons day and keep them emotionally connected, ‘and even if I’m miles away/ Mummy’s always here to bring a brighter day’. It bodes well for Mnelia’s son and her music that she is so adaptable. That she is able to pivot — sometimes gracefully, always fiercely — in the face of the unprecedented. If there’s anything listeners can learn from her music, its that embracing all of your facets can enable you to unearth a better version of yourself in the process.