It’s the day after Alyssa Michelle Stephens’ – aka Mulatto, the self-proclaimed Queen of Da Souf – album listening party and, understandably, she’s feeling emotional.
“I made a bet with my manager while I was in glam last night that I wouldn’t cry,” says the 21-year-old rapper over the phone from her home in Atlanta, “but it’s safe to say I lost that. I didn’t know they were going to surprise me with my gold plaque and girl, when I say I was crying, I was crying.”
Credit where credit’s due: it’s been an overwhelming month for the young artist. Her anthem Bitch from Da Souf charted on the nationwide Billboard 100, making her the first solo female rapper from Atlanta to go gold. She cameoed in the internet-breaking music video for Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion’s WAP (“I swore it was a prank. I got them to show me the emails and shit ‘cos I’m like, ‘Ain’t no way.’ Cardi B doesn’t even know who I am, let alone wants me to be in her music video!”). And on top of that, I’m chatting with her on the eve of the hyped release of Queen of Da Souf, a mixtape infused with unapologetic sex appeal and her alluring Southern drawl.
However, despite her head-spinning career ascent during the past four weeks, it would be a gross understatement to coin Mulatto as an overnight success story. The Southern spitter has been rapping since the tender age of 10, turning to the craft after spending many summers on set rubbing shoulders with musicians filming their music videos.
“My dad would build old school cars and rappers would rent them for their videos, so I grew up around the music industry,” explains Mulatto, whose teenage years were also spent embedded within the city’s burgeoning drag race scene – another hotspot for rappers and hustlers. “But at 10 years old, I told my dad I don’t wanna do drag races no more, I want to be a rapper.”
Becoming a musician might remain a pipedream for most 10-year-olds, but Mulatto wasted no time in getting closer to her goal.
“When I told my dad I wanted to rap, he paid to put me in all the talent shows. He got a brand new white truck and wrapped my face on it. It said: ‘Miss Mulatto, follow her on Facebook and Myspace. She is about to take over.’ [He] put my face all over it and drove it around Atlanta,” Mulatto says, before adding, “my parents are very supportive. Whatever me and my sister wanted to do, they always went full force through it.”
The head start paid off. At 16 Mulatto became the inaugural winner of Lifetime’s reality-TV-series-cum-talent-incubator The Rap Game, yet turned down a recording contract from rapper and record executive Jermaine Dupri’s So So Def Records, claiming that he wasn’t offering enough money. Mulatto opted to go independent, instead.
“I work hard, nobody can out work me,” Mulatto reasons when asked about her decision to take the comparatively more difficult route, “Somebody with a crazy work ethic – you’ve got to keep an eye on them! I’m definitely the living, walking embodiment of ‘they put you down till you come up’.”
But even though Mulatto’s come up has catapulted her onto the worldwide stage, the rapper isn’t forgetting her real Queendom.
“I credit my city whenever and however I can, because it’s played a major role for me,” says the Queen from da Souf, “my personality, my creativity, my overall aesthetic, everything is so Southern. Atlanta is home to so much Black entrepreneurship – there’s no better place to grow up as a Black creative with a dream.”