Arts·Q with Tom Power

Saweetie says this is a 'golden age' for female rappers

In an interview with Q’s Tom Power, Saweetie discusses her path to success, poetry and her family connection to MC Hammer.

The Bay Area MC says female rappers ‘voices need to be heard’

Head shot of Saweetie wearing two large silver necklaces with a red and grey fur coat.
In an interview with Q’s Tom Power, Saweetie discusses her path to success, poetry and her family connection to MC Hammer. (Brian “Spazz” Contreras)

For San Francisco Bay Area rapper Saweetie, hip-hop was always something that was just kind of ever-present. She says she grew up in a "hip-hop household," with a mother that was a big fan of the female MCs of the '80s and '90s, and a dad that listened to Tupac, Biggie Smalls and a host of local Bay Area legends.

Oh, and, her dad was close friends with MC Hammer, and spent some time working as his bodyguard. That said, she doesn't think the Hammer connection is what led her to rap for a living.

"When it's something so close to home, it just feels normal," she says in an interview with Q's Tom Power. "I don't think [I rap] because I experienced that as a little girl. I think hip-hop came knocking back at my door when I was an adolescent."

In fact, as a kid, Saweetie — whose real name is Diamonté Valentin Harper — didn't really have rap on her radar as a career choice. She wanted to be a hairstylist.

"Now, hairstylists make a lot of money," she says. "When I looked up the salary for a hairstylist back in the day, it wasn't that big, so I was like, 'This isn't enough money for me.'"

As a teenager, Saweetie started writing poetry after taking a poetry class as an elective in school. Initially, it was just a vehicle for her to express her "emotions as an adolescent child," including how she felt about school life, her parents, friends and family. But the positive feedback she got from classmates led her to pursue poetry further, which eventually led her to rapping.

Still, there was a long road from classroom poetry to music chart success. Saweetie completed a BA at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. After graduating, she turned down multiple corporate job offers while trying to launch a rap career.

"I knew if I was to take these jobs, it would just suppress my dream," she says. "I gave myself a year.... I was like, 'OK, I'm going to give myself one more year. If I get discovered within this next year, I'm going to stick to music. If not, I'm going to go home and I'll figure it out.' On the ninth month I got discovered, and in the 10th month, I got my deal."

In 2017, Saweetie's debut single Icy Grl — which had originally been put out via SoundCloud — blew up across YouTube and on TikTok's predecessor Musica.ly. It was an immediate smash hit, an experience that she describes as "like wildfire" and "overwhelming, in a good way."

"I had no name in the game and [Icy Grl] just, like, broke down that door and introduced me to the world of hip-hop," she says.

That said, while Icy Grl seemed like an overnight success in that first whirlwind week, she says it's important to remember that it was actually the result of "years of writing in notebooks, years of praying and wishing and aspiring."

Icy Grl talks about Saweetie's dreams of a lavish lifestyle, but the moment when she really felt like she'd "made it" as a rapper actually came from something much more mundane.

"The realization came to me when I was finally able to pay rent," she says. "You know, it's the little things that matter. The necessities that [you] are finally able to fulfill that makes you feel like [your] dream is coming true. All I really wanted to do was pay my bills. Because I was able to fulfill my dream as well as create a stable place of home and income, that's what mattered to me."

Saweetie is part of a larger wave of female rappers that have found success over the last several years, including Megan Thee Stallion, Doja Cat, GloRilla, Flo Milli, and countless others. It's what she calls a "golden age of women" in rap music.

"There are just so many successful dope women out there right now," she says. "I mean, at what point in hip-hop were there this many successful women winning the game? Our voices need to be heard. People are loving the messages that we're rapping about and [the music] that we're performing and that we're sharing with the world. So hopefully more women join the game, because it's needed."

The full interview with Saweetie is available on our podcast, Q with Tom Power. Listen and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.


Interview with Saweetie produced by Vanessa Nigro.

For more stories about the 50th anniversary of hip-hop — including Tom Power's conversations with some of the artists who witnessed and shaped the genre — check out Hip-Hop at 50 here.

A banner featuring Saweetie, Wyclef Jean, Michie Mee, Charmaine, Yung Gravy, bbno$ and Maestro Fresh Wes, with the words "Hip-Hop at 50" included on top.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Chris Dart

Web Writer

Chris Dart is a writer, editor, jiu-jitsu enthusiast, transit nerd, comic book lover, and some other stuff from Scarborough, Ont. In addition to CBC, he's had bylines in The Globe and Mail, Vice, The AV Club, the National Post, Atlas Obscura, Toronto Life, Canadian Grocer, and more.

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