For the half Black, half Filipino producer, rapper, singer, and songwriter Saweetie, incorporating her family heritage into her public image and lyrics was never a question. She waxed lyrical about her mother in the namesake track of her major-label debut High Maintenance: “That’s word to my mother, she the Filipino queen. And she hella high maintenance I’ma get her what she need.” She ate pancit with Kim Lee on MTV Asia, and in “Pretty Girl Moshpit”, the new track from her upcoming EP Pretty Bitch, she’s rapping verses in Tagalog. You wouldn’t know most biracial artists were so from their work, but Saweetie’s exudes and celebrates that part of herself naturally.
She made a name for herself posting raps on Instagram until they culminated in her hit single “Icy Grl”, the music video of which currently boasts 97 million views on YouTube. Running hot off of that success, she signed with Warner Bros. Records in partnership with Artistry Worldwide and released her second EP Icy, the first single of which peaked at #21 on the charts.
Breezing to the top so early in her career, Saweetie still had to come into a sound she felt was hers. Co-producing and singing for the first time on Pretty Bitch, she’s found it — her roots and themes remain a throughline. Saweetie embraces the contrasts between her Black and Filipino families. She reps the Bay area she grew up in, and promotes female independence, beauty, self-care, power, and success. She's found her lane, and it's paying off — Saweetie was nominated for her first BET Award for Best Female Hip-Hop Artist.
Saweetie’s songs relay a consistent message: she’s inspired by her upbringing, she’s uniquely exceptional, she's made it, and she supports the strong women in her life who in turn supported her. On Twitter, she’s asked her followers to “Tap In”, to share photos of themselves and talk about how they’re holding up in quarantine. Simultaneously, she’s priming them for her upcoming single of the same name. In her lyrics and discourse with her fans, Saweetie redefines words and turns of phrase, even coins her own, to build a unique language around her work. Her new EP title, Bitch, is an acronym standing for boss, independent, tough, creative, hyphy.
Prior to the release of her new single “Tap In” and Pretty Bitch EP, Saweetie told L’Officiel about the influences of her upbringing, and how the themes she’s always explored have developed with the evolution of her new sound.
L'Officiel: What are you binging on in quarantine?
Saweetie: Ozark! I love Ozark! I’m halfway through the second season. It’s a whole bunch of free game, it’s politics, it’s sexy. The character development you get from the length of a TV show is amazing.
LO: You wouldn’t know a lot of bi-racial artists were so from their music. Was there never a doubt that it would be part of yours?
S: It’s never been a question for me. I grew up equally on both sides, meaning I spent a lot of time at my gramma’s house, my mom’s etc. It was always something that just felt natural to share. It’s funny because a lot of people think that I’m just black. When I do share little tidbits, like with a verse in a song, or like when I posted a picture of my mom on her birthday, a lot of my Filipino fans went crazy because they didn’t know my mom was Filipino. Filipinos love hip hop, so it’s a big deal when they see someone who’s like them representing such a great space.
LO: I didn’t meet another half Filipino until I was 19 or 20. You’ve mentioned there’s a lot in the Bay area, how did growing up there inform your life and work?
S: Really? You need to come out to the Bay, there’s a whole bunch of ‘em out there! I think it more so influenced my outlook on life. Respect is a common value between my mom and dad’s families, but other than that it’s night and day. I have a traditional Filipino family. They’re immigrants. My mom came here when she was 13. They have accents. They were very strict growing up. I know what it feels like to be in both worlds, to respect both worlds and to know no two groups of people are the same. It gave me a very sensitive and mature outlook when it came to dealing with different groups of people. I feel it was very beneficial to me, growing up biracial.
LO: Can we expect to see that integrated in your upcoming single or EP?
S: [laughs] So, I have this song called "Pretty Girl Mosh Pit" coming. When I was recording it, I wanted to start the verse off in Tagalog. So I’m literally at the studio, and I walk outside and call my mom and I’m like, “ What [was that phrase in Tagalog] you taught me? Do you remember?” I was trying to talk shit to someone, and she told me to tell them their mom was a hoe. The beginning of the verse goes like this: Putang ina mo! You think I ain’t up. All this hater shit. You got it from that hoe. [laughs]
When my mom reminded me she was like, “Please don’t tell me you’re putting that in the song.” But I was like, “Mom, it’s a fun song. I’ve been poppin’ some shit. I’m not really talkin’ shit on somebody.” I needed something that rhymes with hoe, so I was like how do you say that again? [laughs] I didn’t want to just tell people I’m Filpino, I wanted to say something in Tagalog. I’m really excited for that moment because it’s a dope song.
LO: And Saweetie is a nickname you got from your grandmother.
S: Yeah, I really love my family. On my Filipino side, I have seven aunties and uncles, and on my Black side, I have nine. I grew up around my family a lot. My cousins are like my brothers and sisters, so including them is just natural. It’s where a lot of my values and influence comes from.
LO: Your grandmother was an activist. What do you feel is the role and responsibility of celebrities and people with platforms during times like this?
S: My grandmother, Roxane Harper, has been an activist since she was a young adult, and has always shared her passion for making a difference. She has her own foundation Y.A.D (Youth, Achieve, Destiny), which I was a part of when I was younger. Because I had a great role model like her, I am inspired to follow in her footsteps. I feel like it is my job to use my platform to educate, spread awareness, and make changes just like she did.
LO: You recently did a fashion collaboration, and 100% of profits went to Black Lives Matter. Tell us how you raised $150,000 in just a few days.
S: I owe it to my fans and supporters, because they made the purchases. This was a group effort and because of all the purchases, we were able to make a difference in the Black community.
LO: Are you involved with any other arts or hobbies that people don’t know about?
S: I’ve always been artistic. My parents could draw really well. They did graffiti and stuff like that. Are you familiar with the Pantone colours? I’ve been getting more into their books. I’ve been in charge of my whole roll-out, I’ve been creative directing all of my quarantine shoots. I have these three mood boards for my Pretty Bitch roll out. I’m into tones, drawing, calligraphy, everything. I feel like this is a very special project for me, because I actually have time to sit down and have creative direction over everything.
LO: The fact that you’re a college graduate tends to come up a lot. What was your major?
S: Business and communication. Actually, thank you for reminding me, I lost my diploma and I can’t find it. My assistant is supposed to order me a new one. I wanted to share it because I never got a picture of it.
LO: You’ve said before that you were still trying to find your sound. Now that you’ve found it in Pretty Bitch, what is it like?
S: I co-produced a lot of the beats, which is helping me develop a sound when I’m creating with these beatmakers. It helps me when I’m part of the creative process because I get inspired. I feel like this body of work is so well rounded. There are records where I’m singing on the chorus and it sounds like a different person. The singing is so good people didn’t realise it was me on the song.
When I show people they’re like “Who is this? A new artist?” And I’m like “No this is me!” [laughs] That’s always a great reaction. I think the body of work is so well put together and timeless in its own right. I feel like this is just creating a genre for women. The reaction that I’ve gotten, and I don’t wanna say it ‘cuz I’ll jinx myself, but other women have compared this body of work to other classic bodies of work that other legends have put out. The fact that people are even comparing me to people I admire makes me confident that I’m doin’ something here. I’m just really excited to share it. Not only is my music fun, but it’s therapy in a way. It’s such a well-rounded body of work that it can be listened to throughout the day depending on the mood you’re in.
LO: Tell us more about Pretty Bitch.
S: Pretty Bitch is something I’m going to give a different connotative meaning to, like Tupac did with “Thug Life". I’m going to change the meaning of what pretty is, because I want everyone to feel pretty. Bitch: B stands for boss, I for independent, T for tough, C for creative, H, because I’m from the Bay, is for hyphy. Those are the underlying themes. It’s inspirational, it’s bossy, it promotes women's independence. It’s the Pretty Bitch Bible.
LO: You sign off with your “Icy” tag in a lot of your songs but not all of them.
S: I do it when it makes sense, but I have a new tag for this project. It reminds me of Maybach music. It's really cute. It’s “Pretty Bitch Music”, sometimes you’ll hear it in the middle or the ending of the song.
LO: You’ve asked your social media followers to “Tap In”, simultaneously priming them for the title of your new single. How are you utilising social media as a career tool?
S: Look at you doing your research! Well, I feel like this is no secret nowadays, but social media has the ability to catapult your career or keep you relevant if you have any kind of popularity. I’ve really been trying to tap into my fan base to get to know them more. I started “Pretty Girl Tap In”, which is an ongoing thread of different types of women encouraging each other, hyping each other up, and just praising other women. I also did something called “Pretty Girl Tap In. Mental Health Edition”, where I asked everybody how they’re doing in quarantine. What’s good about my fanbase is that even if I'm not able to respond to everyone, my fans will respond and help each other — give each other advice. Pretty Girl Tap In is about being fly, but it’s also about supporting and lifting each other up.
LO: You didn’t want to stick to just one theme in your last album. It sounds like that’s still true here?
S: The media has tried to box me into this perfect college-educated, cookie-cutter girl and I think that’s a misconception of what I am and what I stand for. I feel like you really get to know me more in this project. The fact that people still don’t know I’m half Asian is mind-blowing to me. My mom looks like a full-blown Asian woman. [laughs] I think the more I share, the more people will get to know me through my music.
LO: Pretty Bitch was written and recorded long before the current movement for civil rights justice and reform, but do you see anything in it that coincidentally speaks to that?
S: I have a song called “Prayed Up”, and it is definitely a song that I listen to when I need to lift my spirits up. Music is meant to be fun most of the time, but it is also meant to inspire and to carry listeners through tough times.
LO: Can we expect more singing going forward?
S: I always wanted to be a Disney princess singer growing up. It makes my mom so happy when I sing, because I sang as a little girl and she thought I had such a pretty voice. Then I stopped singing. I don’t know why. Life hit me, I don’t know. So I stopped for a while, and then I tried to sing again and it wasn’t the same. I wanted to be a singer but I couldn’t sing like that. The singers that were out there then were the Beyonces and the Mariah Careys, and those girls can sing. A couple of years later, I realised that if I couldn’t be a singer, I could be a rapper. But now that I got the confidence back and I’ve been practicing, I’d like to start singing more on my tracks.
LO: Was that something you acquired on your own? Did your parents sing?
S: My mom used to sing. She has a soft angelic voice. You know Filipinos love karaoke! [laughs]