I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s tried to suppress the memory of school maths lessons. Just thinking about that feeling when the teacher would ask a seemingly impossible question to the class, looking across a sea of bent heads avoiding eye contact until picking a suitable target, still haunts me to this day. However, there are some people who find their calling in maths class, whether it’s falling love with numbers, or, in the rare case of Diamonté Harper, falling in love with rap.
Originally penning poetry, Harper — who’s better known as Saweetie — performed her first ever rap in her Algebra II class and was inspired by her classmates’ praise to keep writing. After that, it was her best friend coming over every weekend and hopping on her bed, adamant to hear her next song, that kept the fire burning. “It was dope to have people that were interested in what I was writing and that gave me the motivation to write,” she reminisces over the phone from Washington DC.
As many of us millennials do, Saweetie then discovered the world of social media and quickly began releasing clips of her rapping on Instagram in the hopes of getting spotted. A short scroll back through her feed shows her sitting on her bed or in her car, hash-tagging #15SecondFlows and rapping over fuzzy background beats, with the tell-tale old school sepia or black and white filters showing a long time before VSCO Cam saved us. Her grind paid off though, and as you scroll up through her page, the views and likes on her videos get higher and higher. But it was the video of her sat in her car rapping over Khia’s 2002 hit “My Neck, My Back (Lick It)” that would change everything and push her into worldwide stardom.
Forming the basis behind her full length track “ICY GRL”, the song became a viral sensation, and has now racked up over 41 million views on YouTube. “At the time I was writing songs and making videos for Instagram, so I was just hoping that someone would see it one day!” She tells me. “To watch it grow from social media to being played on the radio a lot is mind-blowing because I didn’t see it going that far, so I’m so thankful that it has!”
Although more recognition was a welcome thing, her popularity on Insta resulted in the pre-conception of her just being “a pretty girl rapping on Instagram”, a title she’s worked hard to overcome ever since. “It hurt being stereotyped as such, only because I have been writing for 10 years, so to be put in that category was difficult to deal with,” she admits, “I respect everyone’s hustle but there are girls who only rap because they have a big following and I didn’t like being placed in that category because it wasn’t true.”
Releasing her debut EP “High Maintenance” earlier this year, it became clear that Saweetie is so much more than just a pretty face. Full of witty one-liners and relatable lyrics, the EP glistens with captivating hooks and sees Saweetie’s potential as a trailblazing female rapper. Penning lines inspired by her everyday life, it saw her make the move from rapping over instrumentals on social media, to becoming a fully-fledged creative force to be reckoned with. “It was difficult for me,” she explains as she unpacks her journey. “I was used to writing freestyles and songs with no hooks, no chorus, so at first it was difficult and it took me a couple of months to write my own songs but once I got the hang of it, it got easier. Inspiration comes from my everyday life, so there’s ‘ICY GRL' which was just motivational but you can still see girls twerking it, or there’s ‘B.A.N.’ where I’m talking about a relationship that went sour and how to get over it. I also have some melodic hooks and choruses which you can hear on ‘Aqua’ and ‘Too Many’. It was a lot of experimenting for me with the EP as far as making songs, singing and just trying new things.”
Tapping into the flow of the female rappers that influenced her growing up — Foxy Brown, Lil Kim and Missy Elliott — Saweetie sees that 90s/00s era of women being at the forefront of the rap reemerging. “I’m so excited to be part of this new wave,” she enthuses. “I feel like it’s important for there to be an ample amount of female rappers because there is an imbalance having a lot of males in the industry, so I definitely feel like with the new girls who are coming up in the game — like Cardi who makes great music and me coming in as well — it’s helping bring that era back, of a whole bunch of dope female rappers in the industry.”
Already seeing the impact that her music has had on other women, Saweetie is often reached out to by young fans praising her music for getting them through tough times. Heading to college herself, she attributes the connection with her fans to the fact that she’s had the same life experience as them, just with the newfound advantage of a different perspective from the other side. “I feel like becoming a role model is natural,” she says with a hint of pride. “It’s something that’s naturally given to you when you’re becoming a public figure and I’m glad that my music is able to help guide girls or help them get through tough situations or celebrate their victories. I’m glad I’m able to be a voice and help a lot of young people out with my music.” She laughs: “Sometimes I have to be careful when I go to the mall because a lot of little kids notice me and they have no shame and I become surrounded by little kids! But it’s fun, it’s nice to get recognition for your art.”
Now working on her first full-length record, Saweetie’s spending the next year ensuring her debut album is “epic”. “I always wanna evoke emotion out of my listener so if I’m able to do that in my music, if you can identify with the emotion I’m showing in the song then my goal is complete. I’d rather them like it and if they dislike it at least it made them feel something, I don’t want them just to feel indifferent towards my music. I want you to feel something.” She pauses. “It is a bit overwhelming at times because I feel like the record has developed quick so I feel like I’m playing catch up at times. There’s a lot of things that the fans and the public don’t know that goes on behind the scenes. It’s not all glamour and photoshoots, it’s staying up late, losing sleep, not being able to see your friends and your family as much. But I’m definitely happy for everything and I’m super grateful for the things that are happening and for the things that are coming!”
Photography - Charlotte Rutherford
Fashion - Toni-Blaze
Hair - Jazmyn Hobdy
Makeup - Josie Melano
Nails - Carla Kay
Photography Assistant - Frances Shamrock
Fashion Assistants - Rosie Sykes, Simona Williams, Helena Escalante and Damien Lloyd
Wonderland Magazine Summer 2018 Issue