Bay area native rapper Saweetie burst onto the scene late last year with her viral hit, “Icy Grl,” a freestyle over the beat of Khia’s “My Neck, My Back.” Recognizing the potential for the song, Saweetie released a visual for the record in October, which has now garnered over 10 million views on YouTube. All of the attention triggered a bidding war from several different labels courting the budding star. After much consideration, the MC decided to go with Warner Bros. Records in a partnership with her own label, Icy.
“You know you have something special when an artist immediately connects in the way Saweetie has,” Tom Corson, COO & Co-Chairman, Warner Bros. Records tells Billboard. “Saweetie’s empowering lyrics, street-smart sensibilities and flawless delivery have perfectly collided to make ‘ICY GRL’ a viral sensation and Saweetie an artist to champion. Huge thanks to our partner Max Gousse and Warner’s own Eesean Bolden for bringing Saweetie to us. We’re thrilled to help bring her unique talent to the masses.”
Themes of aspiration and luxury is sprinkled throughout Saweetie’s freestyles on Soundcloud. It’s clear from cuts like “400 Degrees Freestyle” and “Focused,” she has a laser clear vision for her career while “High Maintenance” has the rapper boasting on her expensive taste and stringent requirements of a suitor to get her attention.
Asked by her manager Max Gousse what made Saweetie stand out as an artist, he says,”her lyrical skills is what stood out to me about her. I feel like that something needed in the industry. I also checked out her car raps which inspired me to work with her.” He also makes clear her potential for longevity saying, “Her work ethic is also second to none. She’s a student of the game and I think she’s going to have a long career.”
Billboard spoke to the West Coast star about her buzzing single “Icy Grl,” her upcoming EP High Maintenance, and her long-term goals.
Who were some of your musical influences growing up?
My mom listened to a lot of Lil’ Kim and Foxy Brown, so of course them. But who really influenced me was Nicki Minaj. Before her it was Trina and I loved Trina, but I was a little too young to relate to her. When Nicki came out, she had great punchlines and was rapping about a bunch of different stuff. She reminded me of myself and I remember being a kid saying, “I’m a barbie, too” [Laughs.]
Did anyone in your family do music as well or you were the first?
Yeah, our family grew up with the Burrell’s [MC Hammer’s family]. My cousin’s dad is MC Hammer, and another one of my cousins is Zaytoven. We all grew up together and it’s interesting to see how we turned out.
How did growing up in The Bay help shape your love of music?
My music tastes are so eclectic, and I feel like that’s the beauty of growing up in The Bay. I knew alternative, rock, hip-hop, and R&B music. I could sit in my room and listen to music for hours. I love watching music videos, as well.
You have been writing music since you were 14. When did you first start performing?
I performed in high school for Black History Month at a talent show, but besides that I didn’t have the resources to perform so I spent my time as a teenager writing music.
What made you decide to go to college?
I didn’t have a plan and I wanted to go and see what else is out there. I knew Sacramento was what it was and I wanted to go somewhere else. I originally wasn’t going to go to college, though. I missed the deadline for my dream school, USC. It was still opened for state schools, though, so I applied to one of those. I chose San Diego State because they had the highest transfer rate to USC. So I started there and after 2 years transferred to USC [where I studied] communications and business.
How did “Icy Grl” come about?
I was doing a bunch of car raps and went through a bunch of old school beats and beats female rappers have rapped on. I heard that beat on Pandora and decided I wanted to use that beat. In terms of the concept, it was a hard time in my life, and I wasn’t where I wanted to be. So I wrote about things that could inspire me. It ended up being inspirational to other people and becoming popular. And I’m just thankful I was able to touch some people with that.
When did you first know this song was going to take off or did it take you by surprise?
I think it kind of popped off after the video. Because my car videos would get a lot of engagement and interaction but I saw the spark once we came out with the official video. Content is what’s super important and people want to see you performing your records. That has a stronger impact.
In spite of being courted from several different labels, what made you go to Warner Bros. Records?
Their energy. I like working with people who are passionate about what I’m doing. I’m super passionate about music, so I want to make sure my colleagues and people on my team are the same, as well. I’m a very hands-on artist, so I don’t give my work to my team. I’m very clear about the direction I want to go in and I want to make sure they’re on deck to have me in meetings and be apart of.
Talk about some producers you worked with on your upcoming EP High Maintenance?
No I.D. is like Yoda. He’s full of parables and anecdotes, metaphors — I’m always soaking up the information. I worked with Zaytoven, my family of course. I also worked with Cash Money AP. I haven’t met him in person, but I love his tracks. He gives you access to his library online, so at anytime you can log in and listen to his beats.
What advice would you give to other people looking to pursue their dream?
I would let them know it’s ok to go to college and still pursue your dreams. I feel like it’s really important if you don’t have a plan. Even if you are still figuring it out, it’s better to learn and get an education in the meantime.
Looking towards the rest of this year, what are your goals?
I’m dropping my EP March 16. It’s going to be called High Maintenance. I feel like when people see me, they can tell that I’m materialistic and I like keeping myself up. That’s where that comes from. But the deeper meaning is I’m a traditional person when it comes to my relationships.
The relationships I have with people are very high maintenance,meaning I nurture them. Essentially, I care for them. I also pray a lot, work out, and eat well so all aspects of my life are high maintenance. Since it’s an introductory to the game, I feel like it’s appropriate way to brand myself.
Overall, what message do you want listeners to take away from your work?
I want people to feel inspired, independent, and empowered. The songs I have on my EP are about my own experiences whether it’s with men or my financial struggles, as well as fun stuff. So they can be inspired to get through a bad situation. They might even be inspired to be independent and go get their own money.
I was very prideful when I was going through hard times and didn’t want to ask my family for money. I had a few dollars in my bank account, not going out, sitting in my room, and eating a peanut butter jelly sandwich. So what I had to do was stay positive, keep writing raps and know someone was going to see it — and they did.