Music

'Tap In' to Saweetie

Story by Malik Peay / Photography by Arturo Evaristo / Styling by Bryon Javar / Makeup by David Velasquez / Hair by JStayReady

Funky bass and percussion create immediate adrenaline as Saweetie strikes her first pose on set. She's blaring her single, "Tap In," off a forthcoming album, Pretty Bitch Music, which samples Too $hort's Bay Area anthem, "Blow The Whistle." (If you were raised in Northern California, you're familiar with Too $hort's iconic phrase and how it coincides with the title of Saweetie's next project.) Behind the camera, it's clear the 26-year-old rapper is in her element, with an "ICY GRL" attitude that shows why she's up next in hip hop.

Weeks pass before we're able to reconnect over Zoom. Even during a remote 30-minute call, Saweetie's fully decorated with massive hoops and curly half-up/ half-down hair. Since the release of "My Type," now with 157 million Spotify streams, her career has taken off and she admits to not having had time to fully "absorb" her new lifestyle until recently slowing down in quarantine. "I have to be honest with you," Saweetie begins, pressing her shimmering lips together. "I didn't feel like I reached stardom until just yesterday."

Bikini: Mint Swim, Shoes: Ruthie Davis

While the pandemic has created global challenges, Saweetie says she used this time to turn "shit into sugar" by reconnecting with herself "as a woman, as an artist and even as a producer." The past few years have been fast and dizzying, fresh off her two EP's: 2018's High Maintenance and 2019's ICY. " I began working like crazy — working like a mad man," Saweetie says. "I didn't have time to really sit down and absorb what was really happening in my life and translate how I was feeling." Through Pretty Bitch Music, which she promises will "change her life," Saweetie finally had that opportunity.

Before lockdown restrictions, Saweetie says she "never really campaigned for my first two projects. I always had to meet these deadlines, and I was recording in so many different cities like NYC, Atlanta, Miami, LA and the Bay. I never really got the time to advance myself. It always felt like I was rushing. This is the first time where I can honestly say I have the hottest shit out there."

Dress: Monsoori, Belt: Sergio Hudson

Saweetie (real name: Diamonte Harper) was raised in Northern California by young parents, whom she credits for teaching her the value of self-discipline ("I was hella obedient"). This upbringing prepared her for being an artist, and especially one creating music with more agency under COVID-19. "I was an only child for 11 years," she says. "I have been independent in solitude since I was a kid, so this is nothing new to me. I actually enjoy [self-isolating] because this is what I am used to right now. My growth feels so comfortable to me."

Pretty Bitch Music, according to the Cali rapper, will be her "official footprint" in the rap game later this year, and it starts with the release of "Tap In." The word "Bitch" in her album title is actually an acronym: "'B' means bossed up or bossy. 'I' means independent. 'T' means tough because you have to be a tough individual to survive in the music game. 'C' is for creative. Then, 'H' is for hyphy because I am from the Bay." This confidence translates through our Zoom call, but also on Saweetie's new single. "Lil' waist, fat ass, bitch, tap in," she raps, before the hook. "Tap, tap, tap in."

Bikini: Mint Swim

Beyond music, Saweetie has been using her platform to give back, because "without the fans, where would we be? If you can't do it through your music, do it through your voice." The rapper partnered this month with PrettyLittleThing to donate all proceeds of their collection together to Black Lives Matter. "Making a difference is my top priority," Saweetie wrote on Instagram, following a series of posts recognizing the countless Black lives lost due to police brutality. The rapper also contributed to a virtual performance for the 2020 graduating class of her alma mater, University of Southern California, and continuously hosts Twitter gatherings for her fans to "pretty girl tap in" and spread love.

Below, Saweetie further discusses Pretty Bitch Music, life in quarantine and how she plans "to go private this year" — as in "private" jets. Because "going from commercial to private is definitely a better way," she says.

How has everything been since the successful release of your second EP, ICY?

I have to be honest with you. I didn't feel like I reached stardom until yesterday. For the first two projects, I wasn't happy because I had to record in such a strenuous time only because "ICY GRL" blew up and then "My Type" blew up. I began working like crazy — working like a mad man. I didn't have time to really sit down and absorb what was really happening in my life and translate how I was feeling as a woman, as an artist, as a rapper, as a fashionista. So I've been really living with my new project, Pretty Bitch Music. Now, I am not a pretentious person, so I never really campaigned for my first two projects. I always had to meet these deadlines, and I was recording in so many different cities like NYC, Atlanta, Miami, LA and the Bay. I never really got the time to advance myself. It always felt like I was rushing. This is the first time where I can honestly say I have the hottest shit out there.

"I know this project is going to change my life."

What aspects of your career are you still learning to juggle?

Since we are all in quarantine, I am juggling at a comfortable pace because I am at home. I don't have to wake up every morning and hop on no damn commercial flight. You know, I'm going to go private this year. Hopefully, I know this project is going to change my life. Going from commercial to private is definitely a better way and feeling of travel.

Dress: Nicolas Jebran, Shoes: Giuseppe Zanotti

How do you think you've grown since the beginning of your career?

I wish this was the project that introduced me as an artist into the game. When you get to listen to Pretty Bitch Music, you will realize why. People don't understand that I rap great over other people's beats with no chords, no bridge, no hooks, because I love to just write straight bars. I wasn't used to writing in song format — like, song format was foreign to my brain. Now that I finally got the gist of it, I can portray what I was giving in my car raps split into songs. So I am very excited about that.

"Now that your girl has her own personal home studio for my writing, I have been able to analyze, edit and perfect my music, which I never had the opportunity to do before."

With Pretty Bitch Music on the way, how has the current global climate impacted your perspective on making music?

The global climate gave me a state of thankfulness because traditionally artists have time for self-development and artist development, and my music kind of superseded me as an artist. I never had the chance to develop and because of quarantine I am able to sit with my body of work. Now that your girl has her own personal home studio for my writing, I have been able to analyze, edit and perfect my music, which I never had the opportunity to do before. Still, my heart goes out to the people who are deeply affected by the coronavirus. However, this has been a great time for me to sit in my house and plan to take over the motherfucking world.

Dress: BlackLickorish, Pastey: Honey Birdette, Shoes: Jessica Rich, Earrings: Melody Ehsani

Do you live by yourself?

Myself, my boo and my pool. It will always be me at the end of the day. I stare at the same four walls every day. I've literally been living, sleeping, breathing, eating and regurgitating my music. If you come to my house, I am only playing my music. I am analyzing my body of work so heavily because I really believe this is my time to shine. It's my official footprint into not only the rap game, but the music industry. When you hear this body of work, you are able to understand me as a person. As a new artist, it can be very difficult to do that when you are searching for a sound and you are young and you are still finding yourself as a person. In a way, you can compare it to running two different types of races, you feel me? I'm finally understanding myself as a woman, as an artist and even as a producer because I have co-produced some tracks.

"I'm finally understanding myself as a woman, as an artist and even as a producer."

What advantages or disadvantages has quarantine introduced you to?

I made sure to have the advantage of coming up with a game plan. The disadvantage is not being able to interact with my fans through future festivals and concerts that are trying to create a safe place for people to enjoy music. I can't do meet and greets. I love meeting my fans and being able to do concerts. I love looking at the front row to see my diehard fans go off. What I love about my fan base is that they understand that I was kind of thrown into the game. They understand that I am still developing and I know they are going to be proud of [Pretty Bitch Music]. I am going to give a bomb ass show with this new body of work.

Bikini: LOCA Designs, Earrings: Melody Ehsani, Shoes: Giuseppe Zanotti

Has being stuck inside given you more "Pretty Bitch" inspiration than ever before?

I was an only child for 11 years, alone in a room for a long period of time and I grew up really fast. I had young parents. I have had a key to my house since I was in fourth grade. I would walk home with a group of friends and have the key to go home and do my homework. I was hella obedient because my parents were scary people. I have been independent in solitude since I was a kid, so this is nothing new to me. I actually enjoy it because this is what I am used to right now. My growth feels so comfortable to me.

"I actually live this lifestyle of a pretty bitch."

How would you describe the sound of your new music?

Actually, "B.I.T.C.H." stands for something and that meaning embodies the whole body of my work. I am not saying, "Bitch," just to say, "Bitch," you feel me? I am doing what Tupac did with Thug Life. I actually live this lifestyle of a pretty bitch. So "B" means bossed up or bossy. "I" means independent. "T" means tough because you have to be a tough individual to survive in the music game. "C" is for creative. Then, "H" is for hyphy because I am from the Bay. I like that this body of work embodies every type of woman. When you listen to it, not only do you want to turn up and be bossed up, but you feel inspired. My favorite track is called, "Prayed Up." It might not be the track playing at the festivals or the club, but it reminds me of the girl who was once renting Craigslist rooms. I would always tell myself, "You are going to be there one day. Just keep grinding and praying. Keep believing in yourself and you will eventually get there." I know every woman will be able to connect to at least one track on this project.

Dress: Monsoori, Belt: Sergio Hudson, Shoes: Lori Blue

Will there be collaborations with other artists on the project?

I got my wish lists and we are working on it right now. I know that certain artists can't record because they are in quarantine, but I definitely have my wish list for collaborations. On my previous projects, I didn't really do collaborations and this time I really wanted to share the love. Normally, I am very stingy with my tracks, but I will definitely not ever collaborate just for the hype.

"I would always tell myself, 'You are going to be there one day. Just keep grinding and praying. Keep believing in yourself and you will eventually get there.'"

What have you been doing in lockdown outside of music?

I have been cooking. I like cooking seafood meals, boiling crab. I make seafood macaroni cheese. You know, I got a man who is from the South, so he loves home cooked meals. It is important to me that I keep his belly fed. So this week has been a complete hurricane, which is good because I love to work. But before this, I was cooking like every three days. It kind of slowed down because I am about to release this new body of work and I got to make sure everything is in line. I really do miss going out to restaurants and eating out. I am a home body, but I love going out to a great restaurant.

Dress: BlackLickorish, Earrings: Melody Ehsani

What new creative methods have you adopted for producing Pretty Bitch Music?

Taking complete control of the creative process. I am a creative individual, but because I was traveling, flying and working so much, other people were having to do that for me and that is why my work hasn't translated at its highest potential. Being able to sit at home has given me the time and freedom to do my own outlines, mood boards and talk to the people who make shit poppin'. I am excited because I have complete creative control over my project because I have all this downtime.

"I am excited because I have complete creative control over my project because I have all this downtime."

What Bay Area sounds are you integrating in this next project?

How I am annunciating certain words. I am confident that I not only have one, but two, three, maybe even four or five Bay Area summer anthems. I have a great team of producers and creatives behind me. Due to quarantine, I am so determined and I made sure that everything I do is with purpose. We, and I say we because it takes a village to create something special, have done a great job with portraying me as a woman, an artist and even as a human being in this next project. I say that because I put the work in.

Dress: Nicolas Jebran

Why do you think it's important to be a artist, and especially a rapper, right now?

Yes, it's cool to get fame. Yes, it's cool to get the money and to get the fanbase. But if you are not doing your due diligence and giving back to your fans by inspiring them or getting them through tough times, then you are not doing your job as an artist. The reason why I love music so much is because when I was going through growing pains in high school, I would get sad, depressed and even mad sometimes. I had my go-to artist or my go-to song that would get me through a difficult time. As an artist during quarantine, it is our job to get our fans through these tough times. Without the fans, where would we be? If you can't do it through your music, do it through your voice.

"The real bosses, the real hustlers, the real determined people take advantage of times like these."

What advice do you have for "ICY GRLS" struggling, right now?

In every situation, I know of many people who are taking quarantine in a negative way. But I feel like the real bosses, the real hustlers, the real determined people take advantage of times like these and they make it work for themselves. When you get shit, turn it into sugar. This is a true time for people to really just level up. Test their creativity and their self-discipline because if you don't come out of quarantine a better person then girl what was you doin'?

Bikini: LOCA Designs, Earrings: Melody Ehsani

Stream Saweetie's new single, "Tap In," below.

Photography, production and retouching: Arturo Evaristo
Styling: Bryon Javar
Makeup: David Velasquez
Hair: JStayReady
"Icy" Projector Text: Theresa Nguyen

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