Saweetie: “Music is more than the fame, it’s more than the money – it’s helping people”

Multi-platinum rapper extraordinaire, Saweetie isn’t about to become a superstar - she already is one.

Any preconceptions you have of Saweetie, throw them away. She’s spent the last few years proving she’s more than a pretty face, more than a viral hit, and more than just another Instagram girl. With debut album ‘Pretty Bitch Music’ on the way, Saweetie – born Diamonté Harper in California’s Bay Area – is more determined than ever to prove she’s here to stay.

We ‘meet’ Saweetie in Los Angeles, where she’s used her quarantine to time fine-tune the record, reconstructing an album that was finished a while ago.

“The songs just keep getting better and better’, she tells us from her LA home, where, like a true pop star, she’s just finished shooting a music video and now sits in front of the camera in giant, pink, Gucci sunglasses. “There was just so many great songs that I haven’t released, so that was gonna be my body of work. But when it came to finally picking what this project was going to be, I was like, I need to take it serious.”

Every decision Saweetie’s made in her career so far has been a learning curve – and she’s the first to admit that. Being part of a generation of artists who rose to fame after a viral hit, she’s made career moves in the spotlight and had to figure out who she was as an artist along the way.

Back in 2017, she posted a video rapping over Khia’s ‘My Neck, My Back’ to her Instagram, which became her first breakout hit ‘ICY GRL’. Her debut EP ‘High Maintenance’ followed shortly after, but she felt the pressure to be on the same level as other rappers at the top of their game.

“I had a lot of weaknesses when it came to rapping. For one, I had to learn how to record, I had to learn how to execute. I’m a very chill personality, but as a rapper, you need that extra energy, and a lot of people don’t know this, but I have a speech problem, so sometimes it’s really hard for me to say certain words. I’ve had to work through these things to perfect myself.

“When you come out as a rapper, people are automatically expecting you to execute, to deliver, to perform like the rappers who are out right now who are the people’s favourites, so I was being compared a lot. I thought I was a premature artist that got all of this attention too quickly. But, you know, I learned from my mistakes, and that’s why I say I do inspire myself and I inspire myself in the sentiment of I’ve just made so many wrong choices, and I can only do better from learning from my mistakes.”

Facing criticism for her rapping abilities, her looks, her use of samples, the fact she went to university – trial by Twitter isn’t easy for anyone, but it’s something Saweetie is learning to take in her stride. She’s extremely business-minded (she does have a degree in business and communications after all), and seems to take any bit of flack thrown at her and uses it as an opportunity to grow.

“I’ve had very embarrassing moments on the internet when it was tough to read my Twitter account, tough to read my comments. I remember I didn’t touch Twitter for like a month because it was just a lot of people saying negative things about me and I couldn’t process it mentally.

“You really have to be mentally tough to be able to sift through the comments if that’s what you choose to do. I feel like a lot of artists who are a part of my generation, like that’s what we do, because we’re very involved and interactive with our fans. It’s great when you have people support you, and the more I win, and the more great content I put out, I noticed that my fan base gets stronger and stronger.”

Despite the pressure, she’s thankful for the internet and her social media roots. Tracks like last year’s ‘My Type’ and recent single ‘Tap In’ both blew up on Tiktok, and she’s right when she says that’s just how artists break through these days. She notes that the recent surge in female rappers hitting it big is down to social media and how it’s allowed artists to take control of their own careers – something she’s relishing in as a self-confessed control freak.

“From my perspective, I felt like social media allowed, not only just women, but a plethora of artists to kind of break through on their own, and to kind of prove that we were able to create our own strong fanbases. So I think from the internet, we’re slowly shifting into a music industry where the gatekeepers are no longer the labels and management, it’s the people, and the people gon’ listen to what the people want to listen to.”

Anything Saweetie’s come under fire for over the past few years has been flipped on its head and reclaimed on debut full-length ‘Pretty Bitch Music’. The title itself is an ownership of the ‘pretty privilege’ label she’d been slapped with at the start of her career. On earlier tracks, she’d shied away from discussing it, but lately, it’s something she owns.

“Growing up, I felt like the perspective of what people have of a pretty girl often hindered the judgments that were placed upon me. I would try my best to kind of stay away from that stereotype, but at the end of the day, what’s great about being a woman is we’re very unique or multi-layered. I feel like pretty comes in many different ways, shapes, fashions, and I feel like the way people have kind of taken pretty and made it negative connotatively, I wanted to kind of take it, reclaim it, be proud of, you know, my look, cuz I mean, I’m very confident in my own skin, and I am a pretty girl, so if people are intimidated by that, then that’s their problem.”

Saweetie: "Music is more than the fame, it's more than the money - it's helping people"
“The gatekeepers are no longer the labels and management”

Outside of music, multiple fashion and beauty ventures, including a quarantine collection with Pretty Little Thing and a collaboration with Morphe, have helped keep the Saweetie brand alive in the year between last Summer’s ‘ICY’ EP and ‘Tap In’. It would’ve been easy to push out any old tracks in the interim, but that’s not what Saweetie is about. She took some time out to switch managements (“I had to take care of business first and then get back to creating because I always have to make sure the business is straight”) and improve as an artist, then quarantine came and gave her more time than she probably expected to polish up her album.

Throughout our chat, she keeps mentioning how critical she is of herself and her own work, so much so, she’s not really listening to other artists right now. Finding the Saweetie sound has taken some time because she has something specific in mind, and striking a balance between “talking of substance and getting ratchet” is what she’s aiming for.

After the release of ‘Tap In’, which features a sample of fellow Bay Area rapper Too Short’s ‘Blow The Whistle’, and following the success of ‘My Type’ which sampled Petey Pablo’s ‘Freek-A-Leek’, it was up for speculation if she’d be able to make a hit with an original beat. Slowly she’s coming into her own though, working with iconic producers like Timbaland and Danja for ‘Pretty Bitch Music’.

“I’m kind of like replaying my album to see what I can perfect and also seeing what’s missing, because for the first two EPs I felt like there was always something missing from it and I don’t want to feel like that this time around. How it sounds is how it sounds, but I’ve inspired myself. From my mistakes, I became a perfectionist. I’ve made a lot of mistakes business-wise, publicly, that in that moment, hurt my brand and hurt my image. So when I say I inspire myself, I just know what I don’t want to do.”

So while she might still be learning on the job, she remains grateful for the victories and support she’s gotten so far, and says she hasn’t had her big ‘I’ve made it!’ moment yet. With plenty of achievements under her belt already, it’s still only just the beginning for Saweetie, and with so many viral artists – and female rappers – constantly coming up, she’s definitely determined to show she isn’t replaceable, and she isn’t going anywhere any time soon.

“What motivates me is when girls tell me that I help them get out of unhealthy seven, nine year relationships, when I motivate girls to go to class, when I motivate girls to want to start their own company, when I just motivate people to do better in life, I feel like my music has purpose. For me music is more than the fame, it’s more than the money, it’s more than the fashion, it’s actually helping people out in their daily lives.

“I think I represent a woman who’s confident, a woman who’s unapologetic and a woman who’s about her business and who’s going to do whatever she wants to do. So when I mean pretty, it goes beyond face value. It’s how you carry yourself, your energy, your aura. I think because I make music that makes women and men feel confident, I’m calling this project ‘Pretty Bitch Music’ because I aim to make my listener confident, beautiful, I make them want to get to the bag, I make them want to hustle. So I’m taking pretty and making it my own meaning.”

Taken from the October issue of Dork. Saweetie’s new project ‘Pretty Bitch Music’ is coming soon.

Words: Abigail Firth

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