Interview: Saweetie Turned Her “Icy Girl” Video Into A Career Springboard
Bay Area rapper Saweetie quickly grabbed the eyes of the hip-hop industry after the release of her debut video “Icy Girl.” The viral Instagram freestyle turned into her first official song after fans online pleaded with her to re-record it. Without a label deal, the motivational ladies anthem has granted her placements on major music sites and cosigns from established artists across the board, but she hasn’t let her quick ascent go to her ahead — the rookie wants to focus on building her own brand.
“It’s crazy because “Icy Girl” came when I was in a dark place, but I made it to motivate myself. It was kind of like my anthem for lifting up my spirits,” says Saweetie about her first video. “My goal is to be as real as I can in my music. If you’re really listening there are alot of hidden messages in my songs.”
Already fighting off critics because of her stunning looks and lack of musical catalog, Saweetie still doesn’t see any of the chatter as road blocks and is currently preparing her debut EP. This proud college graduate sees the present day as the perfect time for her to get settled in hip-hop. She praises today’s reigning female rap stars like Nicki Minaj and Cardi B, all while hoping to have her name synonymous with the aforementioned after she rightfully pays her dues.
“I hope that all the new female rappers succeed, it’s about all of us coming together,” Saweetie tells VIBE. “It’s time to make history. I make music for people to relate to and to connect with me. I want to tap into different emotions.”
Shortly before “Icy Girl” exploded, VIBE spoke to the rising rapper about how she got started in music, what life was like for her before the social fame, her plans for the future and more.
VIBE: I know music has always been your first love, but when did you really get started.
Saweetie: Yeah, I’ve been writing since I was 14, and I was originally just doing poetry and open mics at my school. But then Nicki MInaj came out, and I was like ‘Oh sh*t,’ and I loved her. I thought I could writer poetry I could write raps, and that’s really how I transitioned into making music.
Where are you from exactly?
I was raised in the Bay Area but I finished high school in Sacramento. But I’ve been living in L.A. for the past 4 years now. I grew up all around the Bay, but I spent most of my time in Hayward and I loved it. It was a really big apartment community, there was a whole bunch of kids. I was fortunate to come up in that last generation where kids actually played outside until the street lights came on. I had a little crew that walked to and from school with me and all that. It wasn’t a really nice neighborhood but it was filled with young parents who all helped each other out when they needed it.
Did you perform in talent shows or anything like that at school?
Me and my friends used to step in middle school, so we did talents shows. I would be nervous as hell but I always loved performing.
Your very first music video has over 2 millions views already. How did “Icy Girl” first take off?
You know what’s crazy, I was actually known for my “car raps” on Instagram. I didn’t have the resources to book studio time, so I was like ‘I’m gonna start doing these raps in my car and if something takes off from here then it does…’ It wasn’t even called “Icy Girl,” at first, it was just the “My Neck, My Back” freestyle. I think it was my 8th car rap, and it just took off. I would always be parked when I recorded, but I would always be writing as I was driving around L.A.
Did you always want to rap?
I always wanted to rap. I recently posted a throwback video on Instagram from when I was 14 years old. It was my best friend recording me and she asked me ‘what do you want to be when you grow up,’ and I’m like ‘I’m be a rapper’[laughs].
From early on this has always been your dream it sounds like.
Definitely, and being in a small town, it was very stressful because I was always thinking about how I was going to get to L.A or to New York to pursue my career. I was about to graduate high school at the time, and I did end going to college after.
What college did you attend?
I went to San Diego State and USC for a communications degree with an emphasis on business, and I graduated with a 3.6 GPA. I want to go back to a top tier school like Columbia to get my masters degree one day.
That’s amazing, so you really you have a head start when it comes to the music business.
Of course. I really wanted to transfer to a full business major but it would of set me back another year. At the time I had a full ride, but tuition was rising, so I decided to just get my degree. I plan to get my business degree somewhere down the line, though. It really did mentally prepare me for everything I am doing now.
You had a full scholarship?
Yeah, I had a full ride with scholarships. I think I had a 3.7 coming from San Deigo State, so they took notice, and I earned a lot of grants.
Were you also an honor student all through high school?
Well, I don’t know if you know but my momma is Asian, so she didn’t play around when it came to grades [laughs].
I was actually going to ask you that because I hear you rapping about your mom being the “Filipino Queen” [laughs].
Yeah, my mom is Filipino and Chinese, and she did not play about my grades at all. I think that kind of instilled in me that I need to be consistent when it comes to be my academics. She was really serious…
don’t let her looks fool you.
What was your childhood like?
I grew up going back and forth between my parents households but I stayed with my grandmother for a couple years and lived in different places a lot. My parents were very proactive in my life when they could be. They were young when they had me… my mom was 17 so they did what they could. It was definitely like a ‘team vibe,’ I didn’t feel like a kid, I felt like a team player.
Who were you influenced by musically early on?
I listened to Nicki all day, every day. I had every mixtape and I would leave her lyrics on my away messages and everything. I also love Teedra Moses and would love to work with her in the future. Her album Complex Simplicity means so much to me. I did my research and found out she wrote it all by herself and I couldn’t believe it. She was such a big part of my high school and college years.
Do you remember when you really started to invest in your own craft?
I would be in the back of like Algebra 2 with the boys. Curren$y and Wiz were big at that time, and they would be rapping on all their beats. One day I was like ‘I can do that, too. Just watch.’ The next day I came back with a rap and they all thought it was hard. From then I knew I could do this. I was addicted to wrting ever since. I still have notebooks full of raps from when I was like 14 years old.
When did you record your first song?
I was like 15-years old when I made my first song, but recently is when I really had access to a home studio. I hear beats in my head and sometimes I wish I know how to create the sounds. I never want to limit myself. When the time comes, and I’m able to really learn from someone, I’m going to learn to produce, too.
What did your parents first think about your career plans… especially your Asian mom?
It’s crazy because just a year ago I was struggling, and I had so many interviews at Cedar Sinai and offers from other hospitals to take medical jobs. But my mom was definitely indifferent for a bit, just like any other Asian mom would be [laughs]. She was supportive but she would worry. But after she saw “Icy Girl, she was sold. I think she just wanted to see that I was serious, but I was kind of nervous at the same time. We know Asian parents can be a bit ‘Tigery.’ Her concerned-parent vibe just came from her loving me and wanting me to have a better life than her. But once she saw that I was following my passion she was all in. Now she calls me like everyday rapping my lyrics.
What about your father?
Honestly, my dad has always been so cool. He always taught me the game and let me do my thing from a young age. I feel like that’s why I wasn’t a wild kid, he didn’t raise me like no little girl. He raised me like a little boy and he trusts. He put me on, and was one of the first people to hear my raps. And he used to be like ‘You’re boring.’ You got lyrics but you ain’t got no character. He has always been my teacher, and one of my best friends. I love him and he’s supportive. He saw that I had a passion for music. His homeboys would come over to play dominoes and he would call me down to rap for my friends. He would put me on the spot, and that kind of helped me come out of my shell.
You still have a long way to go in music, but things are really taking off for you at a fast rate.
Slowly but surely but like you said I still have a long way to go, but what a time to be alive. Thanks to social media I’m able to have a voice. I don’t know what I would be doing without it right now. Thanks to platforms like Instagram I’m able to grow my fanbase organically.
Have you been in touch with any of the other big Bay Area rappers?
I’m a big fan of Kamaiyah but not yet. Hopefully in the near future. I feel like I have to put in my own work first. They are all doing they’re thing, so I don’t want anyone to ever think I’m trying to ride them. Once I get my first project out, then I’ll start to reach out
Can we expect your full project this year?
I’m actually dropping my new EP on my new label in January 2018. My company is called Icy, and I’m partners with my manager Max Gousse. At the moment, I’m really focused on building on my own label. I really want what it means to have a label, especially as a female rapper. I just want to help artists that were in the position I was during a certain point in my life. It’s all about finding that potential before they reach their potential. I really want to be a hand in these young musicians lives to get to where they need to be. I want to be hands on and give them a home.