The Bay Area native and L.A.-based rapper Saweetie has busted her ass for this. We’re in the midst of a golden period for female hip-hop artists – the glorious likes of Cardi B, Nicki Minaj, Coi Leray, Day Sulan, Doja Cat and Megan Thee Stallion are all riding the crest of a wave that has been a long time coming. Brilliant, strong, talented artists – we can only hope that in the future such a wave won’t be necessary as equality finds its way. For now, we can enjoy the attention that these women are getting, and Saweetie is right at the top of the pile.
Viewers of Saturday Night Live will have seen her recently, and they’ll know what she’s all about. Sharp, fun and empowering lyrics, a “fuck around and find out” vibe, and beats for days. She’s a force of nature, and it all started in high school.
“I used to write poetry, and once I realized that rap was just poetry over a beat I really fell in love with it,” she says. “In high school, I would do talent shows. Any time somebody would ask me to rap, I would rap. My first public performance was at a high school. I remember there was somebody ‘managing me,’ but I didn’t have time because I played sports. I remember going to a high school and performing. Oh my gosh, it makes me cringe. The person who was supposed to be managing me, her daughter was an artist so I was a feature on a song.”
Often times when we ask artists about their influences, they’ll come back with a long list. Saweetie just has one name.
“I remember the only celebrity I idolized was Aaliyah,” she says. “I was a huge Aaliyah fan – I had all her CDs and I’d watch all her music videos. I remember the day she died – I remember what I was doing and I cried for a really long time.”
Saweetie was born Diamonté Quiava Valentin Harper in Santa Clara, and was raised in Hayward in the Bay Area. Her parents were young when they had her (“kids raising kids”), but she says her upbringing was great and it made her a strong woman. Her stage name comes from her grandmother, and MySpace.
“My grandmother named me Saweetie,” she says. “It took off because my MySpace was really popping. I was a local celebrity because of my MySpace. It was really cool. I’d be up all night finding the best codes, the best layouts, how to hide my music so nobody stole my songs – I was a nerd. I’d have the words coming across the screen. Even thinking about it makes me so happy because I really love creating. My MySpace was so aesthetically pleasing that it was popping, and then my name on MySpace was Saweetie. People would see me out at gas stations, at parties, on the street and they’d be like ‘Are you Saweetie?’ Then it just stuck.”
That creative spirit has served her well throughout her career so far; she really got going after college.
“I realized that I couldn’t pursue it in college because every time I would pursue it, my grades would drop,” she says. “So I waited until I graduated to fully pursue music. Music goes beyond the studio – it’s networking, it’s making relationships, it’s being with the right people to help you do creative things.”
The artist describes her sound and style as “polarized.”
“Sometimes I’m a glamor girl, sometimes I’m very masculine and I’m a tomboy so you just never know what you’re gonna get from me,” she says. “I’m so excited to share new music with the world because being a musician is stressful. If you don’t have the right producers, the right team around you, it feels like you’re aimlessly working. I’m so grateful to have a team who wants to create a song and every song is as good as the other one, of course with different elements. But having a team that really cares about the product and quality of the message – that’s what music is. It’s messages. It’s important to have a team who cares about the story you’re trying to tell. And they care.”
With a new album due out in 2022, Saweetie is building up to it with a precursor of sorts that she’s calling “ICY Season.” The full album, Pretty Bitch Music, will arrive in late spring/early summer.
“‘Pretty’ and ‘Bitch’ are both very controversial words, so I would love to change the meaning of them,” she says. “‘Pretty’ is more than your face, what you possess, materialistically. It’s your self-esteem, your confidence, the respect you have for yourself and others. It’s your aura. It’s just you – whatever comes from within is what makes you pretty. And then ‘Bitch’ – I love Tupac and I love what he did with Thug Life. So when I say ‘Bitch’ in my songs, I want people to know that it’s an acronym. The B is for Boss, the I is for Independent, the T is for Tough, the C is for CEO and the H is for Hyphy (because I’m from the Bay and that means turning up and having a good time). I feel like all of these words are the recipe for Saweetie.”
Mainstream audiences witnessed that ‘tude on SNL recently, and Saweetie had a great time.
“I love SNL,” she says. “I would love to work a season with them. I’m into all the creative stuff and working under pressure. They’re such a great team. I think my career with them goes beyond the stage. I’d love to just work on other projects with them as well.”
SNL was just a step up for Saweetie, further proof that her star is on the rise. She views her career like a video game, leveling up like Mario.
“Every time I unlock a different level I get stronger and better,” she says. “But at every level, there are new obstacles. Like Super Mario – a new game, a new land, a new level. It’s fun and exciting. But you have to make sure you’re jumping over your hurdles. You’re squishing the turtles. The turtles in the game of course, not turtles in real life. So playing Super Mario, I feel like that’s how it is in my life. I’m so grateful for the people who have stuck around because I work a lot and not everybody can handle that.”
The latest unlocked level for Saweetie has seen her nominated for two Grammys – Best New Artist and Best Rap Song.
“I’m just happy to be acknowledged,” she says. “I can’t wait for my red carpet look. I just like having a good time, so whatever happens, happens. Just know I’m gonna come, hair, makeup, nails, glam, and energy on point.”
Whether she takes home a prize or not, the nomination is just reward and further evidence that the current golden period is real. Long may it continue.
“What’s really important about this golden era of music is, not only is it great that we’re all succeeding but representation is really important,” she says. “The little girls consuming music in their homes, they need to identify whether it’s me, Doja, Cardi, Nicki, Meg, Coi – I’m a gamer and it’s like Playstation. They get to choose the girl they want to listen to. I think it’s a whole lot of fun.”
Looking ahead, Saweetie hopes to keep inspiring people in 2022.
“That’s what music is for,” she says. “It’s supposed to be therapeutic. The world is so crazy, so my music will inspire, it’ll motivate, and it’ll make you want to become smarter.”
She concludes with, “And we’re just getting started.”
Saweetie’s “Icy Chain” single is out now. The Pretty Bitch Music album is out in 2022.