"I’m Gonna Be Here for a Long Time": An Interview with Saweetie

"There’s a lot of room for improvement, so I don’t feel like I made it at all. But I do feel like I’m on the right track."
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Saweetie doesn’t believe in the Bay Area curse. Why should she? In the past year, Saweetie has gone from Instagram freestyles to national fame. The viral success of her “My Neck My Back” remix “ICY GRL”—currently boasting over 60 million views on YouTube alone—propelled her into a deal with Warner Bros. Records, a “Bae Mix” with Kehlani, and a solid debut EP, High Maintenance. Though Saweetie has been writing raps in her bedroom since 14, she didn’t expect any of this—but don’t get her wrong, she loves it all the same.

“With social media, the gatekeepers are no longer the gatekeepers,” she tells me, thinking on the dissolution of the Bay Area curse. “The gatekeepers are the people, and people realize how dope our music is.” 

With that, Saweetie has stepped away from needing external validation for her music. If you’re not on her journey, your take cannot hold water. Her confidence, along with her work ethic, is what staves away the pressure of a churn-and-burn release schedule.

“I’m excited for the people to hear what I’ve been working on,” Saweetie says. “I wouldn’t call it [pressure]. It’s more, I have anxiety to just put my music out, but I’m very strategic. I don’t want to just put it out; you have to make sure that you have the proper rollout.” Getting in the studio with “a lot of dope producers” and securing co-signs from essential Bay acts like Kehlani, G-Eazy, and E-40, Saweetie is well on her way to stardom. Bay Area curse be damned.

DJBooth’s full interview with Saweetie, lightly edited for content and clarity, follows below.

DJBooth: Congratulations on the year you’ve had. When you first put out “ICY GRL,” did you expect any of this?

Saweetie: I didn’t, but I’m really grateful for all of the opportunity and the notoriety I gained because it’s changed my life. I would definitely say that I didn’t expect it, but I love all of it.

I know your father was a big part of your musical upbringing, how has your family reacted to your career taking off?

They’re super supportive! I’ve been doing this since I was 14 years old, so the fact that they see me and everything coming true, I feel like they’re happy because they’ve seen me through my whole journey. They’ve seen me writing raps in my room when I was a kid. They seen me rapping into my laptop, recording myself.

Has your degree come in handy this year?

Definitely! It’s communication and business. I feel like… I like to think things out. I like to review everything. I make sure everything I’m signing is legit. I’m very close to the people who help manage the business side. I feel like my degree has allowed me to be more conscious about what I’m doing.

Do you feel more in control of your career then?

Yeah, because when you get an education it requires a different level of thinking. I went to school for five years. So that’s five years of going to school full-time and getting the necessary skill set that I’ve acquired to navigate this industry. It definitely helped a lot, and I’m glad I went [laughs] even though I didn’t wanna go.

How did it feel to have big Bay Area stars like Kehlani and G-Eazy jump to work with you?

It makes me feel like I’m doing something right. They’ve been in the game for a while, and the fact that they like my music and they want to put their own spin on it, it makes me feel like I’m doing something right. Especially when it’s coming from back home. I’m very grateful to her and G-Eazy.

You always hear about the “Bay Area curse.” Do you think the curse is still true?

I don’t think that it’s true because, with social media, the gatekeepers are no longer the gatekeepers. The gatekeepers are the people, and people realize how dope our music is. That’s why people like G-Eazy and Kehlani are so big right now. They both had great tours this year. If that curse was so true, they wouldn’t be touring worldwide. So the fact that they’re able lets the people know that the curse is broken.

A big part of stardom now is constantly putting out content. Are you feeling any pressure to follow up High Maintenance?

The reason why I’d say no is because I work a lot. I’ve improved so much, and I’m excited for the people to hear what I’ve been working on. I wouldn’t call it [pressure]. It’s more, I have anxiety to just put my music out, but I’m very strategic. I don’t want to just put it out; you have to make sure that you have the proper rollout. I’m super excited to follow up High Maintenance because I’ve been working with a lot of dope producers and I’ve been in the studio a lot.

Do you feel like you have to prove yourself more often than your peers?

In the beginning, I did feel like that, but the more I realized that art is art and you can’t really [find] the value of your art from other people. Then it’s not art. You basically are just doing stuff for other people. 

Once I realized that it helped me become more comfortable with who I am as an artist. Especially for newcomers, we do get that pressure to prove people wrong. Especially in rap, to make people realize that we belong—especially as a woman. I’m still struggling with that, but I feel like I’m getting better at dealing with it.

Did you have a moment when you realized you could validate yourself?

I feel like when I’m working consistently hard, I realize that. Y’all don’t know the hours I put in. Y’all don’t know what I go through to make my music be what it is. So if you’re not a part of my process, then that external validation doesn’t ring true. You’re not with me putting in the work, so why would your opinion matter in the first place.

Earlier this year, you told Interview: “At the end of the day I’m a lesson.” Do you still feel that way, or do you want to be more of a role model now?

I feel like being a role model kind of comes with the territory. What I want the people who look up to me… Sometimes, everything I do isn’t for them. I haven’t made any crazy mistakes in public, but I’m just saying, we get all this pressure to be perfect and we’re not perfect. We’re human. But if I can serve as a role model to young girls, in an inspiring way, I have no problem with that. As public figures, we do have the responsibility to take care of the people who look up to us. With my music, I’m hoping people can get inspired [from it]. I feel like the role model thing kind of comes hand-in-hand with that. However, I feel like someone shouldn’t put so much weight into copying everything I do, if you know what I mean.

After this year, would you say that you’ve made it?

There’s a lot of room for improvement, so I don’t feel like I made it at all. But I do feel like I’m on the right track.

What would making it look like?

I feel like I’d need a couple of successful albums. Consistency is extremely important, especially when you look at the greats. That’s one thing I’d like to do, and once I’m able to come up with my own formula, I feel like I would have a sense of what it feels like to make it.

What do you want people to think one year from now when they hear your name?

I’d want them to see the improvement in my music. If you put out the music on the same level, if you’re not growing, I feel like that prohibits you from getting to the next level and I’m all about getting to the next level. I want them to see growth and I want them to see that I’m gonna be here for a long time.

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