How Saweetie Is Keeping Up Momentum In Hip-Hop's 'Sink Or Swim' World

Brandon Almengo for Aristry Creative Services
Saweetie

Even as Saweetie turned in her ICY EP to Warner Records last year, she felt like something was missing. “I needed a slap” of a song, recalls the 26-year-old Bay Area rapper, who first rose to prominence in 2018 with her fiery freestyle “ICY GRL.”

So she got back in the studio with London On Da Track, where the duo flipped Petey Pablo’s 2004 hit “Freek-A-Leek” -- a favorite from Saweetie’s teenage-hood -- into the rowdy “My Type,” a not-so-subtle take on her dating preferences. 

“My Type” was the slap ICY needed. The song, which was added to the EP just in time for its March release, became Saweetie’s first-ever entry on the Billboard Hot 100, where it debuted at No. 81. After a week, it jumped to No. 63, helped along by a splashy music video filmed in Saweetie’s hometown and a TikTok dance challenge. 

The song’s success builds on a whirlwind few years for Saweetie, who got her start posting freestyle raps on Instagram and now joins a pack of female hip-hop artists rapping about exactly what they want (cc: Lizzo, Megan Thee Stallion and others). Next, the business-minded artist is focusing her efforts on expanding her jewelry line, which began with a now sold-out “ICY” chain, launching a lip-gloss brand and even looking into acting roles that she can’t speak about just yet.

Says Saweetie: “I feel like I'm finally tapping into who I am.”

Below, the rising rapper picks up the phone from a New York airport -- where she’s just come off a tour run in Europe -- to talk about the making of “My Type,” the pressures on artists today and how she stays sane.

Coming into the making of ICY, did you feel any pressure to top "ICY GRL"?

No. I'm a very competitive person -- I grew up playing sports -- so the challenge of always bettering myself is something that I like. 

The song makes you the seventh female rapper to hit the Hot 100 in 2019, which is the most this decade. What’s going on here?

It’s a great time for female hip-hop. I'm super happy to be a part of this wave, and that we're all making history together. We're all making a name for ourselves, and representing our regions, and we all have our strong fanbases. It's dope to see the female empowerment, just us supporting each other as this new wave. 

As you’ve watched “My Type” blow up, what moment has felt the most gratifying?

When my song is going viral and nobody is tagging me -- it's just people living their lives. Whether they're dancing or it's being played at a party. Somebody sent me a video of this man unloading his car in the middle of the night, and he's blasting "My Type." When I see stuff that's organic -- and people aren't even trying to show it to me, it's just living on its own -- I like seeing that. 

The music video pays homage to the Bay Area, where you grew up. Tell me about that.

I had to show the world what my culture is like; what my childhood was like. A whole bunch of my family and my friends [were] in the video. I did a lot of hairstyles that I did growing up as a child. My favorite detail is my little [15-year-old] sister in the video. She was so excited to be on set that day. She's got a red shirt and some Jordans on, trying to live her best life. I wish I could spend more time with her.

I know they’re from the Bay Area, too, but how did Kamaiyah and Kehlani end up in the video? 

Me and Kamaiyah talk every now and then, and she has invited me to a couple of her videos. I was asking her to pull up if she was in the Bay, and she brought a surprise for me: Kehlani. I was stoked. They've always been supportive, and they looked super cute. I feel like that was the icing on the cake for the video. 

What made you include a reference to TikTok in the video?

I love the TikTok app. I got a couple videos on there, and I wanted to incorporate something that's relatable. It just kind of shows like, yes, I'm bringing it back with my childhood favorites, but I'm also showing what's in today. Kids bring their phones everywhere.

When we talked about "ICY GRL" in an interview last December, you mentioned that you wrote those lyrics -- describing a life of luxury -- while living in a room with only a mattress in it. What is it like to be living in the world that you once dreamed up?

My schedule is very busy, but when I get time to sit and think about all the great things that have happened to me, it's just mind-blowing. Sometimes I feel like I am in a dream. It took me a while to get here. Sleeping on a mattress with nothing compared to living in an apartment with everything I want is a very big difference.

What's the best thing about it?

I can eat and drink whatever I want out of my hotel refrigerator. [Laughs.] It's so small, but it's usually forbidden to do that because that shit's so expensive!

You own the ICY label, a jewelry brand and an upcoming lip-gloss line. What has running businesses taught you?

To be responsible with my financials and hands-on with every aspect of my career. My grandma told me that to be wealthy you need at least seven streams of income, so that’s my goal. I have a big family. I want to take care of everybody.

You have transcended the success of your first hit -- not every artist who gets their start by going viral is able to do that. What do you think is the key to longevity?

Working nonstop. Today, records sometimes blow up quicker than [the artist], so we're all developing in real time. Time and meetings and all that shit don't stop for nobody, so you need to get with it or get lost. It's a sink or swim situation. Not everybody's given the opportunity that I've been given, so I go hard. I'd rather be doing this than in my bedroom with no furniture and just a mattress, I'll tell you that for sure. I feel like I'm finally tapping into who I am as an artist.

What do you think your message is?

A lot of my fans have told me that I inspire them to hustle, to get out of bad relationships, to chase their dreams. So I feel like my job is to empower my listeners. With my next project, that's what I'm going to aim to do. 

Lastly, what is your type?

[Rapping] A rich n---a with eight figures, girl, duh! I feel like your partner should be supportive. The relationship should be healthy; it should be fun. For all my girls looking for their type, make sure it's healthy and make sure that whoever it is, is making you a better you.

A version of this article originally appeared in the July 20 issue of Billboard.

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