Most know Kameelah “Meelah” Williams for being lead singer of Motown’s 90s rnb group 702. She gained fame for her bluesy, gospel tinged vocals which belted the group’s string of top forty pop hits such as “Steelo” ft. Missy Elliot, “Get It Together,” their feature on Missy Elliot’s “Beep Me 911” and their breakthrough top five hit, “Where My Girls At?”
After the disbandment of 702, Meelah moved to Atlanta where she has been preparing for her solo music project, starred in stage plays and the reality show “Rnb Divas: Atlanta” and founded her organization for autism awareness, P.R.O.U.D. (Parents Reaching Out to Understand Developmental Delays). Recently, I caught up with Meelah to reflect on her time with 702 and projects she is currently working on.
In the past year you received a lot of buzz for releasing music such as the sultry, mid tempo “Stupid In Love.” Should fans expect any more new music this year?
M: Absolutely! First of all, I just want to say thanks to you guys so much for having me. I’m so grateful that you took time out to talk to me today so thanks. And yea I’m definitely gonna release new music. I released “Stupid In Love” just kind of wanting to test the waters if you will. I wanted to put it out there to see how its gonna be received by my fans. It got a really warm reception and people seem to really enjoy the song so I’m so grateful to all my supporters for supporting the song. I just wanted to give somebody something to hold them over until I started working on an album. Now I’m finally working on an official Meelah album. It will be twelve songs. I’m super excited. It will be released through Soul Star/ E1 Music so I cant wait. I’m in the studio as we speak. I’m not done yet. I don’t have a release date yet but I’m working to get it out by the end of the year.
Who were vocal inspirations for you as an aspiring singer growing up?
M: Oh my goodness! So many, so many! Of course the legends such as Whitney Houston. I love Anita Baker. I love listening to Chaka Khan. My parents played a lot of different types of music. I listened to lot of gospel of course and a lot of jazz. I love Jazz. I listened to pretty much everything. I grew up in Las Vegas so we only had one African American radio station. And so I would often find myself listening to more than just rnb. I listened to a lot of soft rock as well. My music inspiration was always very colorful. I loved like Stevie Nicks. I loved listening to Duran Duran. It was just all over the place. I just took bits and pieces from everybody and just learned that I love music so much. And I think I learned that at a young age which is when I started singing in church around 7 years old. I realized I just really love music.
Not only have you conquered the music industry but now you are venturing into acting. Recently, you starred in the play, “Strength of Love” in which you were cast as a lead and you were also in “A Mother’s Love” which was produced by Kandi from Xscape and “Real Housewives of Atlanta.” How was the experience working on these plays?
M: It was a very very fulfilling experience because I had never done musical theater outside of high school. I hadn’t really done any musical theater so when I was invited to act alongside Kandi and the legendary Chandra Currelley I was honored and humbled first of all. They gave me a shot and I was so grateful for the opportunity. I had so much fun. I learned a lot. I have always been interested in acting. I went to a performing arts high school so singing and acting kind of goes hand in hand so I had always done stuff here and there. When I did the plays “ A Mothers Love” and “Strength of Love” I was so grateful for the opportunity to finally showcase my acting ability. I had a small role in “A Mother’s Love.” I took Porsha Williams’ role which she had prior to me but in “Strength of Love” I was actually the lead and it was a lot of dialogue. Kandi’s musical was more singing less dialogue. “Strength of Love” was more dialogue less singing so I was really challenged because it was such a very heavy role. It was so much crying involved and so much emotion that had to be used and expressed. It challenged me and I loved it because I really felt like I was getting to showcase my acting chops. I had a great time doing both. It made me step my game up. I am looking forward to doing more acting for sure.
Are there any upcoming acting projects that you would like to share?
M: No, nothing as of now. I mean I have a few projects in the works that I am hopefully gonna be a part of but I’m not certain yet so I can’t really speak on them. I’m constantly auditioning and reading for stuff so prayerfully I’ll get casted for something soon.
In the past you have hosted numerous events such as benefit concerts to raise awareness for P.R.O.U.D.( Parents Reaching Out to Understand Developmental Delays), the organization which you founded to increase autism awareness. Will there be any more events to support this initiative?
M: Yes, there will definitely be more events. I usually do my annual events every April because that is the month of Autism Awareness. However, I didn’t do one this April because for me Autism Awareness is everyday. I have an autistic, special needs son so that’s my life. I realized I can raise awareness throughout the year so P.R.O.U.D. is definitely planning an event for 2017. I’m not sure what it’s gonna be yet. I have a son who is diagnosed with autism at the age of four. This is all for him. I may not do another concert but for sure something to raise awareness.
You are known for being the lead singer of the platinum and staple rnb group of the 90’s, 702. You guys had a string of hits that still seems to be relevant today. I actually heard “Where My Girls At?” the other day during a tv commercial.
M: The Lima Rita drink!The alcoholic beverage. That was so exciting. The Marketing Department got my information from my instagram, emailed me and asked for my permission for licensing. I was so honored and ecstatic about that. I reached out to the girls and we made it happen. Of course we were super excited. It makes you feel good. It makes you feel like you’re apart of history for a song that is that old to be recognized and played today is such a blessing.
Out of your music catalog with 702 which is your favorite to perform and what goes through your head when you hear the songs played on the radio?
M:Yea, I definitely hear my songs and get excited still. Sometimes they do like a lunch time mix up on one of the stations here in Atlanta. They would play a bunch of different songs from the 90’s early 2000s. A couple of weeks ago I heard them play “Steelo” and “Where My Girls At?” mixed together. I was driving so I heard it of course and I was like “Wow!” It’s a feeling that you can’t even describe. I was so young and I don’t think I realized those songs were gonna be considered classics. Sometimes I’m still in disbelief after all these years. Our album came out in 1996 which was 21 years ago. It’s crazy to even have that roll off my tongue. I can’t even believe it’s been that long. Yea, I don’t know whats my favorite to perform. I do have favorites though. There are some 702 songs that I was not crazy about. I clearly have those I love more than others. Of course “Steelo” is just one that can be played forever and still sound relevant. Missy (Missy Elliott) did a great job with that. Donell Jones did a phenomenal job with “Get It Together.” I always get in my feelings when I sing that song. It’s just so emotional. The melodies are so infectious and smooth. I love “Get It Together.” I love performing “I Still Love You” ft. Pharrell.
Speaking of “Steelo,” I’ve always wondered is “Steelo” the name of the guy or is it another word for “swagger” per say?
M: Trust me honey I wondered to. I think what “steelo” was back then was just a slang term for yea “swag.” It would be today’s swag. I think it was like an east coast thing. Missy (Missy Elliott )was from Virginia. We did that video in Brooklyn, New York on the Brooklyn bridge. I think it was an east coast term. I gotta say “Where My Girls At?” is probably one of my top three favorites to perform just because of the crowd participation. The ladies love that song. They love when I do the call and response. They love it.
You guys were everywhere from Soul Train to the Apollo Theater, the “Good Burger” soundtrack, “The Cousin Skeeter” theme song etc. What was the moment when you realized that you made it in the industry?
M: I don’t think I’ve realized that (laughs). No, seriously I’m so blessed and so fortunate and have accomplished so much. I feel like it all happened so fast at such an early age that sometimes I forget the magnitude of the contribution that I made simply because we’re living in a different day now. It’s all technology based and image driven and you know likes and popularity. It’s just different. I have to stop sometimes and realize you know what wow I am apart of pop culture history. When Vh1 has their top 100 songs of all time, “Where my girls at?” is always on the list. I think about like you said the “Cousin Skeeter” and “Good burger.” I was a part of the Nickelodeon craze. We did a song on the soundtrack for “Stuart Little.” Those things are pretty monumental. Sometimes I tend to forget myself. A lot of times people meet me and are quite surprised by how humble and nice and regular I am. I just don’t feel the need to be nasty to people. I was raised that way. I am just grateful. There is sometimes honey you do have to be a diva and remind folks child don’t get me wrong now! (laughs)
Your debut with 702 was at a time when rnb acts, especially girl groups were much more prevalent on the mainstream charts. What is your thoughts on the current state of rnb music and do you think that social media and the overall digital era led a to less focus from record executives to find raw, rnb talent and invest in artist development?
M: It’s unfortunate that it seems as if groups are irrelevant now. It’s sad if you look around there really aren’t a lot of groups anymore. I’m not certain why that is. It’s unfortunate that there is not that camaraderie and sisterhood anymore to be celebrated for these younger generations. I don’t even understand it. I think maybe yea it may have something to do with social media. Social media has become the new record label if you will and reality tv has become the new record deal. I feel like everybody is all about this “self, self, self, me, me, me.” It’s a very selfish way of living these days. We are just all caught up in ourselves. We want to see how many followers we have and how many likes we get on our “selfies.” I don’t think people want to share the spotlight and be in groups anymore. I feel like it’s very “me, me, me,” driven. Unfortunately, record companies lost a lot of money due to social media because they are not needed as much. You can promote yourself by yourself on Youtube, Vimeo and all the different outlets we have. With streaming record companies are losing out on money. Once they realized that they stopped spending the money to do the artist development and search for the raw talent. They don’t have to do much these days. You can find the talent easy on ig. Everybody is singing all over the place on social media. Record labels’ job is pretty much done so I do think they feel like hey we don’t have to spend the money anymore.
Which groups were the favorites among you guys during your debut?
M: Of course, SWV. We were all inspired by SWV. I loved Coko. I thought I was Coko. I wanted to be Coko. I loved SWV. Coko’s voice is everything to me. I loved Jade when I was in high school. I loved Kut Klose right after high school. I loved En Vogue of course. Oh my God they were like the super girl group I admired. We were inspired by all those ladies. They paved the way for us. You know TLC of course. Everybody that came before us we pretty much were inspired by. We would sing their songs at talent shows.
You were a cast member of the series hit, “Rnb Divas: Atlanta.” Being that you were a major topic people seemed to really enjoy seeing you on tv. Is reality television something you see yourself doing again?
M: Absolutely but under different circumstances. I would have to be a part of the creative process itself like actually pitch it and sell it myself. Something I develop and or be apart of the production team. Like executive produce the show or something like that so that it won’t be me just having to deal with all the editing and not have a say. I am definitely interested again though but like I said it would have to be something I am super passionate about and presenting. I am very concerned about my brand and image.” Rnb Divas” was great. I was appreciative for the platform but I would definitely feel more comfortable with doing something where I have more control and make sure my story is being represented the way I want it to be represented and really speak my truth. I’m not sure why it went away. I’m sure it had to do with politics. But hey I got one season out of it and it generated exposure for me and I’m grateful. I will definitely be back on reality tv.
Recently, you released the children’s album,”We Are Different.” How exciting was working on this and will there be a follow up?
M:It was super exciting. I was approached by Kennard Garrett, a producer I work with. He came to me and was like, “You’re a new mommy, I’m a new daddy, What do you think about a kid’s album?” I was like absolutely! I was so excited about that idea. I thought it was a genius idea first of all. It is so funny because we had no idea what to do and how we were gonna put it together. We didn’t go in with an actual game plan we just knew we wanted to do songs for kids. It came out phenomenal . My approach was definitely a little different. It was like rnb slash jazz slash adult sounding beats you know regular sounding rnb beats but lyrical content for children. It came out really phenomenal. I don’t know if you had a chance to listen to it but it’s really great. I’m so proud of it and I definitely want to do another one for sure and even possibly turn it into an animated series or go alongside a book series because I’m working on children books as well.
Interview by WUOG Staffer Stanley Miller