Saweetie Has Learned How to Stand Out From the Crowd
Show & Prove
Words: Steven J. Horowitz
Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in the Fall 2019 issue of XXL Magazine, on stands now.
What inspired me to get money?” Saweetie asks. “I wanted to get my nails and my hair done all the time.” She isn’t being facetious. The Bay Area native, who is currently laid up on a tan leather chair at a salon down the street from her apartment in Los Angeles’ Studio City area, is soaking off the already-perfect eggshell gel on each toe during an August afternoon pedicure. When she casually raps about having “10 white toes in those Tory flip-flops” on her viral breakthrough hit, “Icy Grl,” it’s no fantasy. “The storyline for my music is a fly girl who’s a boss.”
It quickly becomes clear that Saweetie talks it how she lives it. In just three years, the 26-year-old went from being a recent University of Southern California graduate collecting coins as a brand ambassador for sports events to cracking top 40 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart with “My Type,” the Petey Pablo-sampling droptop anthem on which she spits out eight-figure lyrics like they’re fire on her tongue. Her two EPs, 2018’s High Maintenance and this year’s Icy, have positioned her as one of the most promising new rappers in the game, courting collaborations with everyone from Kehlani and pop singer Dua Lipa to Lil Wayne and Quavo, to whom she’s been romantically linked since last summer. On Instagram, she’s amassed 3.4 million followers and her songs on Spotify have racked up millions of streams.
Despite her “aspirational” raps, as she describes them, Saweetie has a hustler’s mentality. She has an insatiable will to win, which is essential in today’s overcrowded music landscape. “The door is easier to get in, but it’s harder to stay in the room,” she says, the light catching the diamond-stuffed “Icy” pendant on her neck. “You see a lot of things getting recycled. For me, it’s important that I try to sustain myself in all that’s going on because there’s an abundance of artists out right now, men and women.”
Branding has become a critical component of Saweetie’s career. Where Megan Thee Stallion coined “Hot Girl Summer,” Saweetie has staked her claim as the “Icy Grl”—or the “Icy Wifey” on Twitter, where she has 246,000 followers and recently suggested that “Icy Girl Winter” is approaching. Every item on her Icy by Saweetie merch site, including the same Icy chain she’s rocking, has sold out. Today she’s wearing splashy athleisure shorts from her upcoming partnership with women’s apparel company PrettyLittleThing. She’s also eyeing a liquor sponsorship—after all, she sings “Hennessy on my lips” on “My Type”—and once her pedicure wraps, she’s headed for a session with her acting coach in preparation for her first role on an unspecified TV show.
These days, when she’s in Los Angeles, Saweetie doesn’t really have time to herself. Her schedule through Christmas is completely booked with only one break for Thanksgiving. “I feel like it’s work in the beginning, but if you put out enough good music and you work your ass off, eventually you could get to a place that’s more comfortable,” she says. That insatiable hunger for success is coded in her lineage. Born Diamonté Harper, Saweetie was brought up in a family based on ambition: Her cousin is Zaytoven, the Atlanta producer who’s worked with Future and Gucci Mane; her cousin’s father is rapper MC Hammer and another cousin is actress Gabrielle Union.
Saweetie gravitated towards music on her own. She listened to “Disney princess songs,” and her mother introduced her to artists like Lauryn Hill, but she quickly learned she didn’t have the vocal prowess to pursue singing. Instead, at 14, she began writing raps and performed for the first time in her Algebra II class, looking to Lil’ Kim as inspiration (she still studies some of her live performances on YouTube). Her family moved around California quite a bit—she went from Santa Clara to Hayward, then Palo Alto to Sacramento—and she inevitably ended up enrolling at San Diego University before transferring to USC to study business and communications.
At USC, Saweetie juggled more than four jobs, including being a receptionist, an office
assistant and coding for a professor. In between writing essays and doing homework, she kept the fire fueled to one day pursue her music dream. In September of 2016, after she graduated, she began recording 15-second raps over instrumentals from Jay-Z’s “Dead Presidents II” and Migos’ “Bad and Boujee” in the driver’s seat of her car. Amid working Nike jobs and renting rooms off Craigslist, she posted a freestyle over the beat from Khia’s “My Neck, My Back (Lick It),” planting the seed for what would blossom into “Icy Grl.” She released a video for the track in October of 2017 and it almost instantly became a hit, racking up more than 82 million YouTube views and landing a feature placement on HBO’s hit dramedy, Insecure.
The labels came calling, and Saweetie signed with Warner Records a few months later. She put out High Maintenance last March and Icy within a year’s time, describing them as piecemeal projects that stand as “two dope playlists.” “She’s very attuned to her fan base and what’s relatable to them—she’s not just trying to do stuff because it’s of the moment” says Eesean Bolden, Senior Vice President of A&R at Warner Bros. Records. “Everything is thought-out and well strategized.” Adds her manager, Max Gousse: “She’s a creative director, a smart marketer and a lyricist.” Saweetie knows that the pressure is high to deliver a full-length debut, but she has her reservations. “I’m scared,” she admits. “I’d be lying if I was like, Hell yeah, I’m ready for an album. I’m scared as fuck!”
For now, she’s contemplating putting out a longer EP to keep fans satiated. She also mentions that she’s hoping to record something more substantial with Quavo and a producer they both admire. “Before I ever met him, I was a fan of his work and always wanted to do a collaboration project with him,” she says of the Migos member. “It’s interesting how our lives have crossed paths.”
After an hour, the pedicure ticks to a close and Saweetie’s feet look perfect. She slips them into furry pink slides and settles the check. Her Mercedes G-Class SUV is parked just outside. The salon is tucked into a strip mall, wedged next to a sweaty pizza joint, but Saweetie knows what she’s doing. After all, she’s a self-described “Yelper” and the place has 4.5 stars: “I wouldn’t bring you nowhere janky.”
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