From the Studio

From freestyle battles in the park to a poet on stage, Milan Chaney integrates honesty in her raps

Nalae White | Staff Photographer

After developing an interest in poetry that complemented her forestalling talents Milan Chaney decided to pursue music more seriously, she is currently a graduate student in Syracuse Univeristy's Audio Arts program.

As a child, Milan Chaney used to have “Freestyle Fridays” every week with her brother Curtis at a park in the Bronx, New York. With another brother as a judge, Chaney and Curtis would battle and get more competitive each week — Chaney was determined to beat her brother, whom she claimed would win every time, using the same bars.

These freestyle battles were the building blocks to Chaney becoming Mélan, the hip-hop artist she is today.

She was always surrounded by music — her mother blasted R&B whenever she was cleaning, and her oldest brother introduced her to rappers such as Jay Z, Biggie Smalls and Nas. But Chaney did not start pursuing music seriously until she came to Syracuse University for her undergraduate studies as a communications and rhetorical studies major.

As an undergraduate student she continued these freestyle battles with new friends. Chaney also became a poet and joined the spoken word program Verbal Blend.

Once she recognized she was talented at poetry and freestyling, she decided to pursue music more seriously and is now in the SU graduate audio arts program.

Before becoming Mélan — a name derived from a family inside joke where her aunt would write her name this way in every Christmas gift she gave her — Chaney wanted to go by the name Milly, an acronym for Music is Literally Living in You.

Diane Wiener, Chaney’s friend and director of the Disability Cultural Center, agrees with Chaney’s acronym. Not only is Chaney extremely talented, but her music comes from the heart, Wiener said.

“I think her music is very oriented towards deep honesty,” she said. “She’s incredibly musical and a great lyricist.”

Chaney said her biggest goal is to touch audiences with the messages that her music relays. When she creates content, she subconsciously writes about her experiences, not expecting anyone to relate, and for her, the biggest reward is when someone approaches her after a show and tells her they related to her songs. She wants the music that she makes to be oriented to any gender.

“I write about woman situations as how a guy would say it in their tracks,” Chaney said. “Like how a guy talks about an issue, I do a reverse to it, but guys can still listen to it. So they won’t be like ‘Wow, this is really girly track,’ instead of being like, ‘This is music, I feel it, I feel her story.’”

Being a master freestyler, coming up with content is one of Chaney’s biggest challenges. In a mostly male-dominated genre, she said she does not want to fall into any stereotypes.

On Christmas Eve, Chaney released her first EP titled “thrifty (so)ul,” available in its entirety on audiomack. With R&B and soul influences like Common, J. Cole and Lauryn Hill, “Thrifty Soul” has different sounds and Chaney does not like to categorize herself into just one genre. Her freestyle competition and brother Curtis, agrees that Chaney’s music is genre-busting.

“The way I like to describe Milan when it comes to her music is a thrift shop. What I mean by that is if you have ever been to a thrift shop, you’re going to find all types of things. Something’s you wouldn’t even expect to find but it’s here,” said Curtis, who is known to be Chaney’s biggest source of feedback. “Milan is that type of artist. You never know what you’re going to get.”

Chaney has collaborated with a couple different rappers at SU and wants to collaborate with more. She believes that Syracuse is such a large base for music that everyone from all different styles should come together.

“There’s room for everybody,” Chaney said. “I want it to be like a community thing where everybody comes together because there is so much hidden talent that no one knows about.”

Chaney performed at Cuseapalooza in November, and has also performed at the Greek Unity Festival at SU, along with various performances in her New York City hometown.

Chaney sees a bright future for Mélan, and she hopes to one day make a name for herself in the industry. Although she predominately raps, she does not consider herself a “rapper” and instead likes to consider herself an artist, because she also enjoys painting, drawing and, of course, poetry. She hopes to somehow find a way to combine all of these things together and show other inspiring artists to follow their passions and aspirations.

“I came from the Bronx where there’s not a lot of possibilities, because I know a lot of people in the neighborhood who won’t even push a pen or open a book, and I made it this far. Like, I’m at Syracuse and actually trying to better myself,” Chaney said. “I think for Mélan, this is just her start.”

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