PIVOT's Tragedy & the Remolding of MFnMelo


Words by Benjamin Levine  •  Photos by Michael Salisbury


It’s October and MFnMelo has dropped his long awaited album, Melodramatics. While most in the city’s music scene are already wise to the talents of the 28-year-old, he is long overdue to have a breakout onto the national scene. He is a part of the renowned PIVOT Gang, a collective of Westside Chicago musicians that’s spawned stars like Saba and Joseph Chilliams. With that kind of association comes pressure, but the past year for Melo has been full of lessons that have prepared him for the moment. Much of it, unfortunately, sparked by tragedy.  

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Melo’s best friend, and fellow PIVOT Gang member, John Walt was murdered in February. Melo and John had a close relationship, one of support and creativity as well as a meeting of personalities. It was the kind of friendship that was both energizing and comforting, one where they would work together as well as provide emotional support for each other. “That was like my brother man. He always motivated me. He always told me I would be great. The project was done for a while, a rough of it. He would tell me how he would listen to it every morning. ” John Walt was an inspiration for Melo, someone that would keep him going when he may have been out of sorts. 

John Walt’s death sent shockwaves through the Chicago music community and rattled the members of PIVOT. The loss of their unique friendship put Melo in a vulnerable place, not knowing if he could’ve been there for him: “I was one of the last people to talk to him that day. I was literally on the phone with him when he was on the train headed back this way. He had texted me about 5 minutes before letting me know that he had seen [the guy] and if anything happens... you know what I’m saying? So for a while I felt guilty. I felt like I could’ve stopped that. I was just in my head a lot during that time.”

This kind of self-isolation is understandable during times of grief, especially with the loss of a close friend. Melo is, admittedly, a laid back and introverted person. He enjoys socializing and having a good time, but he likes to remain low key and in his head. This made the loss of John particularly hard, because he was someone Melo relied on to talk to when he otherwise may have been isolating himself. “I go through little moments where [I keep to myself], but I would always talk to him through those moments.”

This kind of supportive relationship is very important while going through periods of growth, and John Walt’s death occurred right as Melo and the rest of PIVOT Gang were about to embark on a national tour. “I still thought about it on tour. Tour was even harder because that’s who I’m hanging with. Like before my shows, I’m with Walt. Even if we all together, I’m probably chilling with Walt. That’s just how our relationship was. If anything, tour made it even weirder sometimes because it was like, ‘Damn. Who am I?’” Melo felt he had to get out of his head in order to carry on. “I had to get out of my way though. That would’ve stopped me.”

The tour seemed to have been what the group needed to get through the loss. When I ask Melo about what it was like touring together after such a difficult event, Melo said, “That was dope. It was sad that it had to come at a time like that, but that helped us so much. We were all kind of just lost. We knew we had to continue music but it was hard to really go about that with such a big piece missing. It was great for us. We needed it.”

While PIVOT’s artistic output as a group is astounding, their real strength is their ability to push and support each other when needed. I ask Melo about how being in PIVOT helped him grow and he says, “Being around the whole PIVOT in general helped my development in ways that people probably would never know. When I first got around them and making music with them, I felt seasoned, though I had just started. I came in with the confidence of somebody that’s been doing it. But they actually had been doing it. So they showed me ways [to do things]. They helped mold me, so to speak.”

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Melo’s penchant for observation and his position in a group of highly talented people served him well. He was able to take notes from each member and incorporate their skills into his own work. He gives himself time to pick up on things before he makes a move. “I am very observant. By me being mellow, I don’t talk much. I tend to watch a lot and process information that way. So just seeing Saba do all his shows I got a sense of what a crowd is looking for in general. Then for me doing my earlier shows I realized what works best for me.” 

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With that observation came the hard work ethic that he and the rest of PIVOT employ. On Melo’s SoundCloud page there is a quote: ‘Wake up. PIVOT Harder!’ When I ask him what this means, he says, “Just always being on the move. Always being in a position where you can move instead of being stationary.” There is an ethos of evolution that Melo adopted, and his growing catalogue and impressive live shows show signs of growth that could be monumental.

That is not to say his success is a sure thing. Melo still considers himself relatively inexperienced and feels that he made mistakes with his approach to business early in his career. The experience of touring nationally was incredible, but he admits how humbling it can also be when you have to step back and handle your business. “The shows really helped me. When I get out and do live shows. When I just get out and interact with people that’s enjoying the music, as well as making new supporters, that assures me that what I’m doing isn’t bad. But when you’re not doing shows and shit you can definitely feel like, ‘Damn. Is this going to work?”

Melo is relying more on patience now. He is willing to take his time to get things right, even if it means having to slow down for a minute. The forthcoming Melodramatics was supposed to be released last year, but was pushed back because Melo realized he wasn’t ready. “After a while I got tired of holding it, so I just wanted to put it out. But I did have Gang and other people around me saying, “This is your first one. You can take your time.” 

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There was a lot Melo felt he needed to get in order, both personally and professionally, before he would feel prepared enough to unleash the project. “I just had to get a lot of stuff situated. It’s nothing for me to make music. All the other stuff that goes into doing your music correctly, I wasn’t aware, nor did I take the time to really care about. So I just had to get my business in order so to speak. I had to get my mind in order as well. It’s a task to release music and get it heard by who you think should hear it.” Despite chomping at the bit, he ultimately listened to his gut: “I just didn’t feel it was right. I didn’t feel like it would be heard properly.”

Melo is now completely up the the task of having his debut album make a splash. His performances are fantastic and the music is rock solid. More importantly though, Melo has his head in the right place and seems ready to accept the discipline required to make it in the music business, “You’ve got to be mindful. Like I’ll have a good show, and I’ll expect life to change.” He laughs. “It don’t work like that."

It is hard during times like that, but the reward is often worth it. Melodramatics is a fantastic debut that will place Melo among the city’s must-see acts. As the rest of PIVOT ascends to stardom, I ask Melo if he has any sense of this. I ask where he sees his position in the Chicago scene and he replies, “I don’t really know yet. And I’m actually ok with that answer. I used to want to know everything all the time. But even if you know it, it doesn’t mean it’s going to go like that. So I kind of got in the habit of letting things take me where they go. I know I have big aspirations. I know I don’t want to just be local. But I also don’t think I’ll do music forever. I don’t know. I’m going to see where it takes me.” After listening to the album, It’s a safe bet that it’s going to take him very far.