The rapper Saweetie doesn’t say much. She’ll walk into a room — her long, inky hair swaying down her back; clawlike nails clicking — and look around, taking in the environment. Then she puts her head down and keeps to herself. When she does talk, it’s only if spoken to, and she tends to keep her answers brief. She won’t offer up information on her own volition, opting instead to listen to the conversation swirling around her.
Saweetie, née Diamonte Harper, displayed this personality trait last February, when she appeared on the New York radio station Hot 97 for an interview with hosts Ebro Darden, Laura Stylez and Peter Rosenberg. In a video of their interview online, they ask her to freestyle, so she does.
“I just thought the raps was basic,” Darden says to Saweetie once she’s finished, capping her bars by slamming her microphone against her chair. “I was like, ‘I don’t know if we should let her rap, because I wasn’t sure.’”
“She doesn’t really seem fazed by that,” Rosenberg says.
“She doesn’t give a f–k. She’s already got a deal and she’s hot out here.”
“I don’t even think that’s her attitude, she seemed more like she wanted to see our feedback, come spit.”
Saweetie, meanwhile, does not utter a word outside of “mmhmm.” She sits there, alternating between smiling and rolling her eyes while the two men volley their opinions.
When they eventually ask for her take, she replies, “I just felt like doing my thing real quick.”
One year later, she’s back in New York after spending time at home in Los Angeles working on her EP, “Icy,” which drops today. When asked what went through her head in the moment she was being on-the-spot critiqued, she simply states, “I was taking mental notes.
“I welcome criticism. I come from a — I wouldn’t say mean, but you’ve got to have tough skin to be in my family. We’re very honest people. I’d rather they be honest with me on camera than not,” she says. “This is rap. People aren’t here to pat you on your back. Either you got it or you don’t, and in that moment, they felt that I didn’t have it. But it’s cool, because I’ve been working, and now I do have it.”
Funnily enough, Darden and Rosenberg’s back-and-forth mirrors the sentiments of the music industry. Some critics and skeptics have pegged Saweetie as a cute girl who came up on Instagram rapping from the driver’s seat of her car. Her relation to cousin Gabrielle Union and uncle MC Hammer and her ties to Zaytoven (she calls him her cousin, but they are not technically related) doesn’t help her case, as it’s become fodder for media attention and further explains her unwarranted popularity, some say. They note she claims the Bay Area as her hometown, then says she grew up in Sacramento in the same breath. (For the record, she spent most of her childhood in Hayward, then moved around the South Bay, living in Union City, San Jose and Sunnyvale, then moved to Elk Grove in South Sac for high school.)
While these squabbles pile up around her, Saweetie watches from afar, barely responding. She’s chipping away at another mission entirely: She wants to find her signature sound. That’s her main goal. Not to please anyone, not to make the haters respect and understand her — solely to discover a sound all her own, then feed it right into everyone’s gobs so that they, too, can shut up and just listen. And when they listen to her music, they can say, “Oh, that’s a Saweetie song.”
The 25-year-old has, in past interviews, discussed at great length her intense work ethic; while working on “Icy,” this ethos did not shift. She spent most days talking on the phone in the morning to press, taking meetings in the afternoon, then recording in the studio at night. That’s where she learned how to freestyle — a skill that she believes, along with relentlessly recording and writing, will help her carve out a signature sound.
“Freestyling helps me portray the emotion that I’m feeling right there instead of writing it at home and having to add to it,” she explains. “I find I record better that way, because the emotion is raw and it’s fresh.
“I used to only like writing with pen and paper, but because I travel so much, I started to lose the paper. What I do now is make a Voice Note [on my phone]. Something will come to me in the middle of the day, and I’ll Voice Note it so I don’t forget how I felt when the idea came about. I can hear the feeling I had when I first recorded it.”
It’s strange that Saweetie waxes upon the importance of feeling and emotion, then presents herself as unflinching, blank Teflon. But there’s one moment during the interview when she cracks. She’s asked why she raps so much about getting ready; her lyrics often tell the story of her showering, putting makeup on, smoking weed and drinking Hennessy while doing her hair. She laughs with such emphatic “ha ha’s” and “hee hee’s” that it almost sounds like she’s in pain.
“Oh, you’re right!” she wheezes as she continues cracking up with hearty, belly laughter. “That might be, like, one of those ‘I got a lot of bad b—hes’ lines. You know how male rappers are always talking about how many b—hes they got? Maybe that’s my line: late night, oh yeah, getting ready. That might be my go-to without me even knowing it.”
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