Saweetie keeps reminding you that she graduated, but she will never stop learning. She walks into the Polo Lounge at the Beverly Hills Hotel in late January in Elle Woods’ ceremonial attire: a fuschia silk pantsuit, a red Birkin Hermès in her hand – the kind she’s rapped about countless times. times and shown on social networks – stuffed with notebooks and folders, like an ultra-luxury school bag. Before diving into her plan for world domination, Saweetie neatly arranges the small plates and silverware on the table (“Sorry, I just don’t like clutter,” she explains), showing off a surprisingly French manicure. simple devoid of crystals or other distractions. Right now, that’s the only low-key thing about him.
Since graduating from the University of Southern California in 2016 with a bachelor’s degree in communications and majoring in business, Saweetie has balanced her life as both a hitmaker and aspiring. She has the string of hits (three No. 1 Rhythmic Airplays, including the multi-platinum “My Type”) and 2022 Grammy Award nominations (Best New Artist and Best Rap Song for her Doja Cat collaboration, “Best Friend”), but she’s also become a next-gen brand queen, stepping through commercials that don’t even look like commercials and joining an elite team of global superstars like BTS and J Balvin who’ve had their own McDonald’s meals at theme.
“I showed that I could still be a respected artist, but I changed the way companies present brand partnerships to artists,” she says. “Now it’s not just a photoshoot. Now it’s “We want additional high-level content that can exist on TikTok, on Twitter.” Not only do they want the product placement, but they want us to interact in a way that will make people laugh, make them think.
All the while, the world continues to count the days until she finally delivers her long-awaited and oft-delayed debut studio album, Music Pretty B-ch (which, at least, should happen before Rihanna drops R9). “I put my foot down. I’m finally going to lock myself up to record this album”, Saweetie firmly declares, promising that it will arrive “definitely before the summer”. Yes, she’s said it before, but Saweetie intended to play the long game all along, back when she was uploading viral freestyles from her car that landed her a deal with Warner Records in 2018. On her breakthrough hit, “Icy Grl,” artist born Diamonté Quiava Valentin Harper — then living in a tiny Los Angeles apartment she found on Craigslist — laid out her grand vision: “You’re trying to get a bag of weed? I’m trying to get a bag a week / Put it in my savings and invest in the right companies.”
Four years later, it’s still a mission statement specific enough to BillboardThe recipient of Women in Music Game Changer 2022, who redefines what it means to build a brand in the age of influencers – and shows her fans the process behind it, even as her music career develops at its own pace.
“Saweetie is the poster child of complementarity in the market. Right now, everyone wants to work with Saweetie because she has such a commitment,” says Sabrina Brazil, her longtime content manager. The two have been linked since before they were born: their fathers were in prison together and had babies around the same time once they were released. The two met as kids, but it wasn’t until Saweetie transferred to USC, where Brazil was studying business, that they joined forces and “started building a brand. and doing content before we knew we were doing branding and content,” says Brazil. She would take pictures and videos of Saweetie, and the couple would come up with whole stories for them. “One day, we say to ourselves: ‘We are selling scarface!,’” she recalls. Music, Brazil says, has always been a vehicle for so much more: “We’re in gaming, we’re in cosmetics, we’re in fashion.”
“No one works harder than Saweetie,” adds Warner Records co-president/COO Tom Corson. “Nothing replaces true talent, charisma and perseverance.”
At times, that ambition has threatened to eclipse Saweetie’s identity as an artist: her biggest hits, “My Type” and “Tap In,” are both based on outtakes from early 2000s hits by Petey Pablo and Too $hort, respectively, which has led some detractors to question its originality. It was a conversation with none other than Cher, however — they crossed paths as co-stars in a recent MAC Cosmetics campaign — that motivated Saweetie to push herself further on the album. “I don’t want to be safe anymore. Now is the time to experiment,” she says. Her new single, “Closer” (featuring HER), is a rink-ready love song that sounds right at home in the top 40, and she teased both an upcoming Latin collaboration and a song about the meditation. She pushes back against the idea that she has to define the “Saweetie sound” – who says a 28-year-old has to make herself understood? Music Pretty B-chshe promises, “will address the different layers of who I am as a woman.”
“Being relevant and charting is amazing,” she continues. “But I know my goal is to deliver a message. My message is to share my truth and let women know that no matter what you are going through, hard work pays off. I represent women of color, I represent ambitious women. I represent the students. I represent women who don’t care and don’t apologize.
Much like social media-savvy artists get big starts teasing and spreading material on TikTok, Saweetie takes the same approach with brand partnerships, often using them as launching pads for new music. In October 2020, she previewed her collaboration with Jhené Aiko “Back to the Streets” during a Jack Daniel’s livestream ahead of its release. Last fall, she appeared in a Beats by Dre commercial, listening to her own song “Get It Girl” weeks before it was officially released on HBO’s final season soundtrack. Unsafe. (It will also be included on Music Pretty B-ch.)
“The potential for Saweetie is limitless,” said Aaron Bay-Schuck, Co-Chairman and CEO of Warner. “She’s gone from a viral video rapping in her car to a global artist and brand with some of the biggest hits in the world, as well as an incredible cultural currency – all in just a few short years. Her development was simply incredible.
And development is something Saweetie takes seriously. “Sometimes our hit song is bigger than us and we just threw ourselves into the game,” she says. She thinks she “rushed” her first two EPs – those of 2018 High maintenance and 2019 Ice cream — to meet demand and does not want to do the same with his album. She dropped plans for an EP called Ice seasonintended to help fans out until Music Pretty B-ch, so she can focus on the main event. “When you’re signed, the label wants a hit. They want a return on investment, which I understand,” she says. “But it’s important that artists understand each other before they start looking for hits. Because if you don’t know yourself, you don’t know your music.
Saweetie has been open about her desire to improve her performance skills, giving hours of singing and dancing lessons after many Twitter comments and online reviews of some of her 2021 gigs. She is also candid about what’s going on behind the scenes. In April 2020, she parted ways with manager Max Gousse and brought in her uncle (and MC Hammer’s brother) Louis Burrell to manage her instead. And last September, Saweetie signed with Full Stop Management, which is home to pop stars like Lizzo, Harry Styles and Gwen Stefani, but actually says she’s “no longer with them.” It was friendly, she explains, but it was not the right time to develop her team.
As Saweetie sees it, sometimes it’s better to brake if it means avoiding a crash landing. What if the process takes a little longer? Well, it’s just an opportunity for more content: she filmed the set of Music Pretty B-ch and plans to release a documentary about it.
“My goal is to be ubiquitous,” she says. “When I work with these brands, it’s strategic. It is to be omnipresent. It’s to make sure that my name, my music and my message are known around the world. Brazil recalls a tweet from a fan that succinctly summed up his goals. “It said [something] like, ‘This is 2040. We pull up in our Saweetie cars, drink our Saweetie drink, eat our Saweetie meal, get Saweetie gas,’” she says. “It was a funny joke because his name East everywhere. The objective is to take control of all the spheres in which we find ourselves.
If that means the Icy brand ever becomes bigger than the music, Saweetie is more than okay with it. “I want Icy to be so successful that when I’m long gone, my great-great-grandchildren will run it. It will be a generational treasure,” she says. “I want Icy to replace Saweetie.” When our interview ends, she quickly calls the waiter back and asks for their best Cabernet Sauvignon, and he returns with the glass just as Saweetie pulls a college notebook out of her Birkin, eager to start building her empire again.
This story originally appeared in Billboard‘s Issue 2022 Women in Music, dated February 26, 2022.