Nothing will stop Saweetie’s legendary parties, not even a pandemic. For the rapper’s 27th birthday, hot off the news that outdoor activity was a lower COVID-19 risk, she went all out. The '90s-themed bash was the most fun Saweetie had all year. There were crab legs, Super Soakers, and a piñata in the shape of a Hennessy bottle. She chose to live in the moment, entrusting a friend with her phone while she dropped into a split to celebrate being gifted two Birkin bags.
“I think I violated a lot of quarantine rules,” she says now. I’m on a video call with the Bay Area sensation, whose infectious girl-empowerment raps are inescapable on Instagram and TikTok. Behind her, tropical fish are doing laps in a gigantic tank installed in the wall of her Los Angeles home. She’s wearing a messy bun and minimal makeup, though light occasionally glints off her highlightered nose.
In addition to her two EPs and her highly anticipated album, Pretty B*tch Music, Saweetie dabbles in fashion and beauty via collaborations with PrettyLittleThing and Morphe, and with Spotify is launching her own online learning platform, Icy University (courses include snagging a millionaire man, being a pretty b*tch, and starting your own business). The events of 2020 have made her consider yet another possible career.
“When I start to venture out to other businesses, I want to be a party planner,” she says. “I study people and I know what they like. I figure out what their favorite colors are.” Even more than planning her own birthday, which can be a source of anxiety, she explains, “I really love just making other people happy. It's just like ... It gets me off but not in that way. It's so much fun making someone else excited.”
Making other people excited is something Saweetie has excelled at since she launched her music career on Instagram while still a college student. A look at her old posts tells a larger story of her rise to success. Her first post, an interview with the San Diego State University newspaper The Daily Aztec, celebrates her possibly being the first woman in the school’s history to audition for the role of school mascot. There’s also a post commemorating her transfer acceptance into the University of Southern California with the caption “A year ago, someone really close to me told me I would never get into my dream school. Remember actions speak louder than words and I will always continue to prove my doubters wrong!” She worked as a research assistant while pursuing her communications degree and kept up a couple of other side hustles: a clothing brand called “Money Makin’ Mamis,” a job at a sports bar.
She regularly posted freestyle videos taken in studios, cars, and hotel rooms, including one, over Khia’s iconic dirty talk anthem “My Neck, My Back,” that went viral and became the hit 2018 single “ICY GRL.” In an interview with The Daily Trojan, USC’s student paper, Saweetie’s mentor and business professor Albert Napoli recalled pulling her aside after seeing her in line to network with the corporate recruiters who came to campus looking for entry-level employees. “Her being there, getting in those lines to talk to those companies, it was the wrong thing,” Napoli told The Trojan. In 2016, she celebrated her graduation. Two years later, she celebrated being signed to Warner Music.
“My mom always knew I wanted to do music, but she felt like I made it when she was at a Pilates class and they played ‘ICY GRL.’ She goes up to the instructors, ‘Are you my daughter's friend?’ And the instructor's like, ‘Lady, what are you talking about?’” Saweetie says, laughing and flashing her blindingly white teeth.
Saweetie is part of the new wave of female rap artists who, despite dominating the charts, still face the same double standards as their predecessors. Though Saweetie, Megan Thee Stallion, and City Girls are just some of the many women who hold their own against their male counterparts commercially (and blow them out of the water on social media), they’re still condescended in the press and in comment sections. Their interest in sex and money is deemed repetitive and narrow (so why are these themes OK for the men?), their looks are heavily scrutinized, and they are constantly compared to their fellow rap girls. After Saweetie performed a freestyle on Hot 97’s Ebro in the Morning in 2018, the host told her, "If you was a dude I'd probably be harder on you. I just thought the raps was basic."
Saweetie took the criticism in stride, smiling and nodding in silence and, a few months later, telling Fuse TV she’d freestyle for him again. She has yet to revisit Ebro, but the “Pretty B*tch Freestyle” she dropped in July has 8 million views.
“The women who came before me served as inspiration,” Saweetie tells me. “But I just don't like when people compare and contrast to pit women against each other or to put another woman down. I definitely feel like women have to fight, and not just in music, but also in the corporate world or in any other industry.”
Saweetie followed up “ICY GRL” with “My Type,” which sampled Southern rap club staple “Freek-a-Leek” by Petey Pablo. The song’s original, aggressively cunnilingus-averse message is flipped into a cocky declaration of female sexual preference and prowess. Her latest single, “Tap In,” is an ode to her Bay Area roots featuring a prominent sample of Too $hort’s hyphy staple “Blow the Whistle.”
Born Diamonté Harper in Santa Clara, California, to a Filipino-Chinese mother and African-American father, Saweetie has always been hyper-aware of her identity as a mixed Black woman in predominantly white cities. Despite only making up about 7% of the Bay Area population, the region’s Black culture has proven to be incredibly influential, spawning the likes of Mac Dre, NWA, E-40, Tupac, and the “hyphy” movement. Saweetie’s strong identification with the Bay’s iconic bass-heavy sound and flashy aesthetics followed her beyond the area’s borders and into a broader hyphy renaissance.
Some have treated Saweetie’s influences as an invitation to debate her racial identity online. She has a hard time letting that roll off her. “I’ve always experienced people feeling that I wasn’t Asian enough, or I’m not Black enough. And it’s just like, what is Asian enough and what is Black enough? Please break it down for me,” she explains.
“What’s your ethnicity?” rings through my laptop speakers. It’s a dreaded question in most situations, and there are only seconds to think about how the answer will be received: fetishization, dismissal, or hostility. This time is different.
“Filipino and Puerto Rican,” I say.
Almost instantly, Saweetie relaxes as she explains the ways growing up with two cultures shaped her. “The similarities [between my Black and Filipino families] are respect, good food, big families. The clashes were personalities. My Black side is more extroverted and my Filipino side is a little bit more reserved. Both threw big parties. Both had a really good time, but I think it helped me understand that no two groups of people are the same but should still be respected. I'm very grateful for having that insight at such an early age.”
Saweetie was mostly raised by her grandmothers on both sides of the family, and the matriarchal households modeled the independence she represents in her music. “That's a survival instinct that I carried with me when I moved to L.A. So I think just by having strong women around me, that's what inspires me to want to uplift and empower other women.”
She then asks to meet my “lola,” the Filipino word for grandmother, who she heard clanging pots and pans behind me earlier in the call. After I manage to coax my grandma out of her bedroom with no makeup on (a feat in itself), the two gush over each others’ jewelry and fashion sense as I look on. “I’m going to call my grandma after this,” Saweetie says.
Saweetie is fiercely proud of her degree, and it’s always been a part of her persona. In an interview with Page Six, her boyfriend, rapper Quavo (of Migos fame), said she “speaks for the pretty college girls that are taking the regular route,” and in the remix for “ICY GRL” featuring fellow Bay Area R&B queen Kehlani, she boasts, “My education and my fashion gonna cost a couple racks/ Nah, I don't need a sugar daddy, they call me when they need stacks/ See, I went to USC and got my college degree/ That means I'm smarter than these n*gg*s, can't get over on me.” Even Icy University, which offers a degree in Flexonomics, is a tongue-in-cheek nod to her college girl brand.
But Saweetie’s college degree also puts her in another category that people love to police online. In July, a viral tweet made the rounds calling her long nails “hood b*tch cosplay” because she went to a private university and graduated on time. From Saweetie’s perspective, it’s not that she’s not a college girl. It’s that our conception of college girls is too narrow.
“I think one of the boxes that people, critics, whoever, were trying to put me into was the 'good college girl,'” Saweetie tells me. “And the good college girl doesn't turn up, she doesn't rap nasty, she's perfect and she has no problems. That was bullsh*t.”
But she does hold on to one classic dorm room habit, even now that she lives in a decked-out mansion: customized ramen. On TikTok, she revealed her special ramen recipe includes copious amounts of seasoning, Tabasco, and Hot Cheetos. Quavo responded to the sodium overload with “I got food otw you ain gotta do it like that nomo.”
With our time running out, we decompress by talking about love. I circle back to her relationship with Quavo, asking her what she thinks the secret to healthy love is. “I think the way I was raised, there was a lot of pride, not a lot of explaining why some actions happen. I carried that into my love life and that's not how love operates. You have to put pride aside and you have to be willing to work through problems through communication,” Saweetie says. It takes humility to allow yourself to be understood, she explains, and that’s essential for growth. “I feel like we have to really understand someone to love them because after the honeymoon phase, it's just kind of not the honeymoon phase. And if you really love someone, you want to understand them.”
Saweetie’s desire to get in the heads of the people she cares about is apparent far beyond her romantic relationship. It explains why she’s the designated party planner among her friends, why she samples the music her fans grew up with, why she literally majored in communications.
As the timer on our free Zoom call reaches one minute remaining, Saweetie and I say our goodbyes, and I turn my attention to my mountain of emails and notes from our conversation. Then I hear Saweetie’s voice again, calling from behind one of my computer tabs, asking me to come back.
“What kind of hairstyle is that?” she asks, leaning into the camera.
“It’s a mullet!” I reply, as I run my hands through my neon green tresses.
“Oh, OK. I’m going to get my next wig like that. Thank you, girl.”
Top image credit: Romeo Hunte jacket and pants; Misho earrings; Lizzie Fortunato necklace; Saint Laurent belt.
Photographer: Paley Fairman
Stylist: Chris Horan
Art Director: Erin Hover
Hair: Adrianne Knight
Makeup: Deanna Paley
VP Of Fashion: Tiffany Reid
VP Of Creative: Karen Hibbert
Bookings: Special Projects
Production: North Six