The year was 1996. That's when R&B group 702 was introduced on the scene, courtesy of New Edition's Michael Bivins. After several notable hits, including "Steelo", "Get It Together and their biggest "Where My Girls At?", former lead singer Meelah decided to step out and is now finally ready to begin her solo career.
AllHipHop.com caught up with Meelah to talk new music, working with her partner, Musiq Soulchild, and why 702 just couldn't seem to "get it together":
AllHipHop.com: What's been going on?
Meelah: Life has been going on since 702's last album, which was in 2003, which I cannot believe was almost 10 years ago. We all just kind of went our own ways and did our own things, and I chose to keep hustling at this music thing. I ended up working with other artists, doing featured backgrounds, writing. I took a break to have a child, who just turned three. I have a son, so I'm a mommy now, but all the while I was definitely still in and out of the music industry. Just more-so behind the scenes. I've been blessed and fortunate enough to still be able to have that as my livelihood. Now, I'm ready to get back out there; I'm so ready to get back in front where I feel I belong, and do my thing. I've been in the studio currently recording solo material, and it's really coming along great, I'm super excited.
AllHipHop.com: Why did you decide now. It's been about 16 years since 702's debut, almost 10 years since the last album. Why now?
Meelah: I feel like the industry has definitely changed immensely since 702 was first introduced on the scene. I think there's just such a great opportunity these days, with social media and technology and iTunes. All this new stuff that allows you as an artist to just really get out there, promote yourself and do your thing. Why not take advantage? Also, because I really strongly feel in my heart, it's just wide open. There's a lane for R&B music, or R&B soul artists who are true vocalists. Those of us that came up in the game when it wasn't about imagery. It wasn't about selling sex. It wasn't about getting raunchy and just having to be naked as a female artist. It was really about the music and the vocals. I'm a vocalist, I'm a singer, I'm a true singer. I've always been heavily into great music, great singing, as a child. I've always loved that, even before 702. The love of music has always been my passion. I just don't feel right just sitting down on it. I feel like it's a God-given gift and blessing, and I feel like it's my purpose to keep it going.
AllHipHop.com: Right, so you think we haven't heard the best of Meelah?
Meelah: Absolutely not! I think what you heard was a very young, gifted, but very green Meelah that was blessed with the opportunity to be a part of something that was great. I do feel that there's even greater to come. I know that there's even greater to come. I definitely feel like the world has yet to see Meelah at her full potential.
AllHipHop.com: Now, when "Where My Girls At?" came out, Destiny's Child was out, Total was out, K-Ci & JoJo - it was a good time. And then all of a sudden, things stopped. Even though "Where My Girls At?" was the hottest track.
Meelah: Yeah. "Where My Girls At?" was huge. It was on the Top 100 for like 40-plus weeks; it did a special job. Unfortunately, after "Where My Girls At?", I feel like MoTown dropped the ball. [laughs]. Straight up. I don't know what happened. It was just like a lack of promotion after that. Because "Where My Girls At?" was doing so well and great on its own, the label just got excited, and I guess they were expecting the momentum to just continue, but we still needed that support. It didn't happen for us that way. They released "You Don't Know" as the second single. That song had auto-tune on it, so, we did the whole auto-tune thing before it even became..
AllHipHop.com: Right! Before T-Pain was out...
Meelah: Yeah! Before it became this infamous it-thing of the millenium. Actually, that song was huge overseas. Every time I travel overseas, people always mention that record. They love that record over in London. They dropped "You Don't Know" second, we did a video for it, but there was no proper support. Things just kind of unraveled, slowly but surely. We even had a third single, but by that time it was completely dead.
AllHipHop.com: Had y'all broken up at that point?
Meelah: No, this was still the second album, we were still together, but the label had kind've fallen off in terms of in terms of living up to their end of the bargain. I'll be honest, internally, we started going through some things as a group. That never helps anything. By this time, we were on a high, but we just didn't know what happened with all those other singles. We just took a little break, a two-year break, and then we went back in and then we came back with another record. It took some time, but we came back out with a third album.
Meelah: Yeah. Star, which pretty much bombed before it even came out.
Meelah: There was definitely no support for that one. That one had zero support whatsoever, no promotion, no marketing, nothing, hardly. Very minimal.
AllHipHop.com: And that became the last record.
Meelah: We had some issues after the second album. We had some business issues, managerial issues, that we couldn't agree on that ultimately led to our demise. There had already been some underlying issues amongst us, within the group. There was a lot of animosity and a lot of tension, and I think eventually those things got the best of us and we kind've just took its toll. We didn't really talk about them much, but when we did, it just went in a direction that was never positive. It became toxic.
We were so young, we've been doing this together for years. We were growing up together, becoming young ladies together, we experienced our adolescence together. We missed senior prom. We were really still kids. Unfortunately, I don't think the maturity level was there in terms of knowing how to deal with certain situations and it just went left. I ended up leaving the group because I just didn't want to deal with any more of the drama. I felt like it wasn't healthy for me to stay there, I felt like it didn't make sense for me to be some place where I didn't feel wanted, and I wasn't happy. My sanity and my happiness made more sense than to stick around somewhere that was just dangerously negative.
AllHipHop.com: And when y'all left, we got 3LW.
Meelah: I know! Trust me, I saw it honey! [laughs]
AllHipHop.com: It's pretty interesting, reflecting on it. That's how it happened, really.
Meelah: I take that as a compliment. 3LW, they were cute. It definitely seemed as though there was a little group that tried to emulate 702. I look at it like they were paying respects. Naturi Naughton is doing her thing now, and it's so awesome. It's funny how things happen. After we had all our beef and all our drama, we were women enough to try again. I was approached by MoTown and the girls, and I said okay.
AllHipHop.com: Is it possible to get a 702 reunion one day? SWV just came back out, so we're not giving up on girl groups.
Meelah: I feel like right now that's not the space that I'm in, because my going back to do that third album, for me, was such a sacrifice. For me, that was the reunion. We went through a lot. I went through a lot. Times have changed. I'm sure we're all in a way more positive space; we have no beef anymore. I love the girls, we're cool and all, but I'm definitely in a different place and space in my life. Never say never, so who knows. I know the fans would love it. I think it'll be a great album, I don't know if it will be an enjoyable experience. [laughs] Sometimes, you're better off as friends, than business partners.
AllHipHop.com: Now that you're working on a new project, are you working with the same producers? Can we expect a Missy Elliot to come back and work with you in the studio?
Meelah: I have gotten back in the studio with Missy, but it wasn't for my project. It was for some other things we were working on, so I hope, because we're still in contact with each other, so I'm hoping she'll bless me with something. We have great chemistry in the studio. I'm definitely reaching back out to all of those producers that I worked with in 702.
For me, it would an honor to go back in with like Pharell, Missy and Timbaland, and different people that we worked with, but I'm kind of just like starting over, to be real with you. Everything is new. I'm looking ahead of me. It would be great to go back with those that gave us hits, but I'm working with new people. I'm working with Musiq Soulchild of course, I'm working with Stevie J. I'm working with some up and coming producers out here in Atlanta, that are young, hungry and ambitious. It's not even about the name. I'm working with people that are super excited about working with me and we have a great working relationship and we're coming up with some awesome material.
AllHipHop.com: You've gotta let me in on you and Musiq Soulchild.
Meelah: Well, we've been together for three years.
AllHipHop.com: How did you guys end up deciding to work together? He just came out with an album last year. Do you see your music having that type of sound?
Meelah: It's a new sound for sure. He has his lane; I know a lot of people are reaching for a Musiq Soulchild sound, but this guy is so versatile. As a producer, he's not afraid to try different things and push the envelope, and do the unexpected. Great thing is, we started some stuff that is really cool. He's such a musical dude - no pun with his name [laughs]. The song "Your Love" is just something we experimented with, just to do something together and see what we would come up with. That's definitely a departure from what would be expected from my background and his. We do have those classic R&B songs, soulful songs. So, to say it would be a Neo-Soul sound, not really. We're just trying to do quality, good songs. Songs that make you feel good.
Follow Meelah on Twitter (@ItsMeelah).