Welcome to Starter's Guide, the series where DJBooth gives you the need-to-know details behind the genre's most promising new acts. We tell you why he or she is buzzing, why they might blow up or fizzle out, and what records you need to hear. It’s quick, it’s easy, it's (mostly) painless, and regardless of your familiarity level, it’s everything you need to know to determine whether you are a fan or you need to steer clear.
Who Is Saweetie?
Saweetie is a 24-year-old Bay Area rapper who accrued a following on Instagram in response to videos of her spitting over classic rap beats. This past October, her remix of “My Neck, My Back,” entitled “ICY GRL,” exploded, launching her into the national spotlight. Eight months later, the video has racked up 46 million plays and counting. Saweetie has since signed a record deal with Warner Bros., who released her debut EP, High Maintenance, on March 16. For fans of her car freestyles, the EP took Saweetie’s well-known wit and charisma and covered it in a veneer of polish and opulence. For intrigued converts from “ICY GRL,” the EP proved Saweetie to be a true spitter with surprising range.
Why Should You Care?
West Coast, East Coast—Saweetie is the real deal. We're talking the back of the classroom, kicking freestyles during Algebra real deal. It would be easy to write off Saweetie as another viral flash in the pan, but her core is pure hip-hop. Interview after interview, she has assured fans of her desire to really rap, and her influences speak for themselves: 2Pac, Nicki Minaj, Foxy Brown. And while these influences pepper her work, the callous-meets-quirky tones that mark Saweetie’s sound are all her own.
A true student of the game, hip-hop runs deep in Saweetie’s blood. As she told VIBE: “[My father] saw that I had a passion for music. His homeboys would come over to play dominoes and he would call me down to rap… He would put me on the spot, and that kind of helped me come out of my shell.” This was Rapper Training 101, and it has surely paid off. With a background in poetry, Saweetie understands how to properly craft bars that stick and her delivery has an underlying rasp that makes her voice easy to single out.
Saweetie’s message is also one to root for: she went to college and took her studies very seriously, and wants young women to know they can do the same and pursue their wildest dreams. “Who we are gets us to where we are,” she told Interview Mag’s Tameka Abraham. “We don’t have to do everything right in the public eye, but what I always say is—I might be a role model, but at the end of the day I’m a lesson.”
5 Essential Songs
“ICY GRL” (High Maintenance, 2017)
The career-breaking single. “ICY GRL” introduced Saweetie as a fiery spitter ready to take over the world in a fur coat. Her delivery keeps listeners on edge, never peaking too soon, but by the end of the two-minute bar-fest, you're hooked.
“ICY GRL” ft. Kehlani [Bae Mix] (2018)
What’s more validating than getting a fellow Bay Area star to jump on your track? Beats me, but Kehlani brings her best rapping to date to this “Bae Mix” of “ICY GIRL.” Together, the duo cement Saweetie’s status as one of the most charismatic newcomers.
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“B.A.N.” (High Maintenance, 2018)
With a playfully muddy hook vocal, “B.A.N.” is the standout Saweetie success anthem. She’s a queen, she’s balling, she's independent, she doesn’t need anybody unnecessary in her corner, and most importantly, all of these declarations sound sharp and husky.
“23” (High Maintenance, 2018)
There’s a blown-out menace to “23” that masquerades its true intention as the most emotionally available cut on High Maintenance. The lilt of her flow is classic Bay Area, but the stuttering and syrupy soundscapes have a Houston touch, alluding to Saweetie’s potential to break far beyond the Bay.
“Focus” was Saweetie’s chance to blow it. The video for the record dropped two months after her breakthrough with “ICY GRL,” and could have easily exposed Saweetie as a flavor of the month. Instead, she delivered an incendiary remix of DRAM’s “Gilligan.” The single also kept fans hungry for the original material that would soon follow.
Why She’ll Blow Up
Saweetie is keeping the art of the punchline alive and well on the West Coast. Growing up a young poet and sharpening her mic skills in the freestyle space, Saweetie is quick on her toes and it shows in her limber lyricism. She understands the crackle of her tone well and builds her cadence around the low points in her register, showcasing an implicit versatility between the range, writing, and pops of her personality. Saweetie came up on Instagram and studied business: she knows how to strike at her core demographic.
Better yet, while hip-hop wants so desperately to pit women against each other and have them cannibalize one another’s careers, Saweetie is proudly far removed from that toxic circus. Her recent Kehlani-assisted remix for “ICY GRL,” and her constant propping up of fellow women in the game proves her to be a young woman treading above sensationalist waters.
Why She Might Fizzle Out
The Bay Area curse is realer than real. While the Bay is an undeniable hub of talent, the acts who break onto the national stage—and who are able to hold their position—are sadly few and far between. Not to mention, and sadly we must mention, being a woman in hip-hop puts Saweetie under an often-unfair microscope. Her bars may be airtight for years to come, but naysayers will still knock her down and scrutinize in the name of keeping hip-hop “fair,” which is code for keeping women out of the game.
Despite her love of poetry, Saweetie’s writing can air on the trite side. As Briana Younger wrote for Pitchfork, “High Maintenance is a low-stakes but gratifying listen, revealing plenty about Saweetie’s ambitions, but little about the person behind them.” While her raps are cold, her charisma gripping, and her punchlines piercing, without a dose of vulnerability in the cut, Saweetie will struggle to establish career-long fans. She has the message and the energy in her interviews to carry her over the finish line. Those sentiments and perspectives simply need to work their way into the raps.
Saweetie is a young Bay Area rapper who went from writing poetry and freestyling for her dad’s friends to college to Instagram videos, viral success, and an impressive debut EP. She knows how to write for her audience and expresses a passion for storytelling that she used to cash in on a major label record deal. She has a commendable message that needs to work its way into her music. Thankfully, if everything moves along according to plan, Saweetie stands to break the Bay Area curse and bring the art of punchlines back to the main stage.