Mulatto
Hip-Hop

Chartbreaker: Mulatto Bet On Herself -- Now Artists Like Cardi B Think She's Ready To Dominate

How her Hot 100 debut hit “Bitch From Da Souf” is helping shake up a ‘male-dominated genre’

When Alyssa Stephens was in her early teens and just entering the local Atlanta rap scene, her dad, a car enthusiast, turned his ride into a moving advertisement for her career. “My daddy had a brand-new white Yukon truck,” she recalls, “and he wrapped my face on it, with my social media handles.”

Stephens had recently started taking her local performances as Miss Mulatto across state lines, showing off the skills she’d been honing since she was 10. Initially drawn to writing poetry as an elementary schooler, she switched to writing rhymes after her dad started bringing her along on rap video shoots for which he supplied the candy-painted cars.

By 2015, when Stephens was 16, her touring and social promotion paid off when her Instagram caught the eyes of the creators of The Rap Game, a hip-hop competition show featuring Jermaine Dupri. Miss Mulatto signed on for the Lifetime show’s first season, and in February 2016 was crowned the winner. “It was immediate growth,” she says. “Social media, shows, opportunities, partnerships — everything went through the roof.”

Miss Mulatto declined a contract with Dupri’s So So Def Recordings in favor of remaining independent and released her first self-titled mixtape that October through her dad’s management company, Pittstop Ent. Over the next two years, she put out two more mixtapes and an EP — and dropped the “Miss” from her name as a nod to her maturity. She kept Mulatto to reflect her biracial background as the daughter of a Black father and white mother, hoping to reclaim the oft-derogatory word. “I knew what the definition of the term was, and I knew its history as a kid,” she says. “I [wanted] to flip that negative and make it a positive.”

In December 2018, she signed a distribution deal with the Atlanta-based StreamCut where she reconnected with Brandon Farmer, an A&R and project manager who met Mulatto when she was a kid on the local rap scene. Farmer, 29, has officially been her manager since last December. “Mulatto is one of the hardest-working women,” he says. “Hardest in general. Makes my life easy, some days.”

Yuri Hasegawa
From left: Mulatto and manager Brandon Farmer photographed Aug 26, 2020 in Los Angeles

At the top of 2019, Mulatto released “Bitch From Da Souf” — a celebration of her Southern upbringing and her sex appeal set to drum-heavy beats from Bankroll Got It, a trio of brothers from the Bay Area — which appeared on her second EP, Big Latto (StreamCut/Pittstop Ent.). It caught fire, thanks in part to social media posts from Demi Lovato and Rihanna, and a dance challenge involving sky-high heels and a treadmill. By year’s end, Trina and Saweetie jumped on a remix and Mulatto dropped her third EP, Hit the Latto (StreamCut/Pittstop Ent.), all while quietly signing a recording contract with RCA Records.

When RCA’s Derrick Aroh, VP A&R, first heard Mulatto’s “Bitch From Da Souf,” he was drawn to “her rawness and instant star power that oozed through her visuals, and then in person when we met her,” he recalls. He and J. Grand, SVP, A&R & Marketing, emailed her in early 2019, which gave RCA the edge at the end of the year when the independent rapper started taking meetings with major labels.

“[Aroh] reached out way before I signed,” Mulatto says. “That made me feel better because it was a lot of new attention. And then the energy, I’m big on vibes… When I walked into the RCA office, it felt like home.” She also liked that the label had an open space on their roster for an artist like her. “They didn’t have any female rapper that I would be going toe-to-toe with or competing for attention with. I liked that.”

“We felt like they understood her,” Farmer says. “She was a priority.”

Aroh and Grand rounded out Mulatto’s A&R team with Marguerite Jones, a young A&R who was a fan, and Shareen Taylor; Kayla Jackson handles Mulatto’s marketing, saying she and the artist spent the past six months entirely focused on an “out of the box” rollout for her recently released major-label debut, Queen of Da Souf (the album fulfilled her contract with StreamCut and future releases will be through RCA only).

Mulatto didn’t announce her signing until March 2020, right as the coronavirus pandemic was spiking in the United States. “It worked out for the best,” says Farmer, “[because it] gave us time to slow down and plan.” But that didn’t stop her from having a busy summer: Prior to releasing her debut project, she guested on NLE Choppa’s “Make Em Say”; was named an XXL Freshman, alongside Fivio Foreign and Rod Wave; made her Hot 100 debut with “Bitch From Da Souf,” which entered at No. 95 in August (it's now in the top 2o on both the Mainstream R&B/Hip-Hop and Rap Airplay charts; and, of course, made a cameo in Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion’s “WAP” video.

Cardi B’s brand manager, Patientce Foster, reached out to Farmer in July to secure Mulatto’s appearance in the clip, which also included Kylie Jenner, Normani, Rosalía, Sukihana and Rubi Rose. “I made him show me [the text],” Mulatto says. “I thought it was a prank.” She and Farmer arrived in L.A. two days later, got Covid tests, and were on set for hours, though the actual shoot only lasted about two minutes. “We just danced to the song on the green screen and that was that,” she says. “It was real quick. Cardi was right there hyping us up and telling us we looked cute and stuff so we would have our energy up.”

Cardi B & Megan Thee Stallion Debut at No. 1 on Billboard Hot 100 With 'WAP' | Billboard News

Not only was Mulatto excited to team up with the all-star cast, she was also proud to appear alongside women celebrating their sexuality. “If you listen to my music, that’s everything I stand for: women being free about their sexuality and flipping the industry’s gender roles and society’s gender roles and just being as confident as you can be with yourself, your sexuality,” she says. “Being the biggest, independent boss and proving everybody wrong. People want women to be so submissive when we got a voice of our own, and we can do everything these dudes can do.”

Her team is counting on her doing just that. “At such a young age, it’s hard to find an artist as poised and seasoned as Mulatto,” says RCA’s Taylor. “I’d love for her to open up the gates for other female bosses in this male-dominated game.”

Yuri Hasegawa
Mulatto photographed on Aug 26, 2020 in Los Angeles

A version of this article will appear in the Sept. 19 issue of Billboard.