After the AW20 fashion month concluded with coronavirus panic, Raf Simons’ instatement as co-creative director of Prada, and North West’s memorable debut rap performance at the Yeezy show, an image was quietly shared on Instagram. Miuccia Prada is seen looking fondly at her own designs (an androgynous suit with a long jacket and a fat, forest green tie – like if The Mask had been dressed in grey check) worn by Diamonté Harper, better known as Saweetie.
Previously the reserve of Hedi Slimane’s skinny indie boys and Jean Paul Gaultier’s costumed pop titans, Paris and Milan have now opened up their couture-clad arms to rap stars in recent seasons. Unable to ignore the mass pull of what feels like the globe’s favourite genre, high fashion houses are reserving seats on the front row for artists like Young Thug, members of Migos and Saweetie. At Paris Fashion Week, Saweetie arrived in rooms that were formerly characterised by tight-lipped editors wearing Tabis. The 26-year-old from California unflinchingly held her own, sacrificing nothing but her eyelash extensions.
“It was like playing dress up, but with fashion houses,” the Californian rapper tells me the next week. “It’s exciting and you learn that there’s like, a lot of unspoken rules,” she explains. Someone told her it was key to have a “fresh face” – which not entirely in-keeping with her usual extra-on-purpose, flawless look. “I had to remove like half of my lash set the morning of my shows.”
It was Saweetie’s grandmother who sparked the appreciation for fashion. (She also christened her with a stage name – “Saweetie” is an affectionate, lifelong nickname). During her childhood, she saw her grandmother set off weekly to visit a salon an hour’s drive away from home. “She’s someone who I definitely grew up admiring,” Saweetie says, “because here’s a woman who worked for her shit. It never bothered her to get her hair and her nails done and to drive that far, because she was looking good for herself.”
“Growing up, I was like, ‘I wanna look good for myself too,’” Saweetie continues, explaining that she even gets dressed up to clean her own house these days, though it’s hard to imagine those acrylics fitting inside a pair of Marigolds. “She taught me the importance of self-love and self-maintenance,” she says. Now, that’s translated into her songs, schooling a generation to demand more for themselves.
Saweetie’s filled a thousand Instagram captions with lyrics like: “you tryna get a bag of weed? I’m tryna get a bag a week,” and “my wishlist is too big for your paper it don’t fit /That’s why I get my own gifts.” But it was the track My Type that made Saweetie truly massive last year. “The girls still be going off in the club for My Type,” she says, assuredly, knowing that with hundreds of millions of streams, the hype isn’t dying down any time soon. Despite its NSFW lyrics sharing Saweetie’s criteria for an “eight inch”, “eight figure” man (she’s dating Quavo from Migos, FYI), the track went viral on TikTok after the birth of the #MyTypeChallenge. With $3,000 and tickets to see Saweetie to be won, fans originally uploaded snippets of themselves dancing to the song, but the challenge spawned weirder offshoots, with some acting out scenes, some Super Mario edits, and a few group parkour attempts thrown in because, well, who truly knows why anything happens on TikTok?
Saweetie first tried her hand in music while she was at school, spitting bars in an algebra class. “I had to run home and write a rap, because they were all rapping in class,” she says, “and came back to school and did my rap and they loved it, so it kind of gave me confidence to keep going. It’s crazy that little moment inspired me to continue to keep writing.” But as she got older she hit pause on her passion, putting herself through college, studying for a communications and business degree at the University of Southern California and working multiple jobs on the side.
A familiarity with the “hustle” is what has pushed her further than most in her short time as a signed artist (she signed with Warner Bros records in February 2018). Even at school, she was selling sweets to other kids and earning pocket money organising her nan’s office. These days she’s stayed in that same mindset, mastering music, selling her own merch and lip gloss and now expanding into acting, with a recurring role in a yet to be named TV show airing this month where she plays a “very rude, very stuck up, very snobby, tough love” character.
Saweetie started to generate a buzz as a rapper in 2016 while she was “renting rooms off of Craigslist” as a graduate. She uploaded videos of herself rapping in her car to Instagram (you can still find compilation videos of them on YouTube), and after a year or so, she swapped the drivers’ seat for the studio. In May 2017, Saweetie scored a viral hit with ICY GRL; an unrelenting, aspirational track set to Khia’s My Neck, My Back beat. “Charging by the minute ’cause my time is very pricey,” she rapped, sitting in a polished mansion and sipping champagne in the video, with swishing hip-length peroxide blonde hair. “I was literally like Hannah Montana with my icy blonde hair compared to my natural hair,” she says. “For real, nobody recognised me… Now girl, when I go places people notice me, even with the hat on, without makeup on.”
Saweetie’s next project isn’t exactly an EP, but more of a “pre-album taste-tester,” she says coyly. “There are tracks where, if you’re feeling your boo, you’ll have a proper taste for that. There’s tracks where it’s time to twerk that ass and have fun with your homegirls and there’s tracks just about bossin’ up…” she says. “There’s several songs that touch on certain different emotions in different ways, and I feel like I wasn’t able to do that with my other projects.”
“Women are so often heavily scrutinised for either going outside the box or not doing things that are acceptable for what people think their brand is,” Saweetie argues. The appetite for rap feels bigger than ever, yet still only a handful of women achieve the same level of mainstream success to the men in the genre. Still, fans have celebrated a new wave of female rappers – the likes of Megan Thee Stallion, Cardi B, Saweetie, City Girls, Rico Nasty, Rapsody and many more – making an impact in recent years. “I think it’s great a lot of women today are breaking past these boundaries and are doing whatever they want to do. Creativity and your expression – that’s what we make our money off and that’s what our fans love. It’s great that we all have fan bases that support what we’re doing in order to move that conversation forward, of women being able to be who we are, without being criticised.”
“If you’re looking at it like a business, we basically all are startup companies,” Saweetie says, the knowledge from that degree coming into force, “sometimes that workload can get tough. It can be very easy to put your decisions into someone else’s hands… You need to be able to make your own decisions and you need to be able to control your own destiny. If you don’t think for yourself, the world will,” she says, resolutely.
Saweetie vs the world? After what she’s shown us so far, the odds are stacked in her favour.
Saweetie performs at Heaven, London, on 26th May