If pop music has Bruno Mars and Olivia Rodrigo, hip-hop has its own Fil-Am wunderkind—and her name is Saweetie.
The sexy, sultry and lovely rapper has been making her scorching presence felt in chart-topping hits like “Icy Girl,” “Fast (Motion),” “My Type,” “Tap In,” “Confetti” (with Little Mix), “Back to the Streets” (with Jhené Aiko), “Hit It” (with Black Eyed Peas and Lele Pons) and her razzle-dazzling, club-ready collaboration with Doja Cat, “Best Friend.”
Capping off Saweetie’s string of successes in her three-year career is her appearance at the László Papp Budapest Sports Arena in Hungary on Nov. 14 at the 2021 MTV EMA (Europe Music Video Awards), where she isn’t just nominated for Best New Artist (along with Olivia), she’s set to perform “Best Friend” and “Back to the Streets” and host the show as well. Whew.
And Saweetie, whose real name is Diamonté Quiava Valentin Harper, accomplished these impressive feats even before the actual release of her hugely anticipated debut album, “Pretty Bitch Music.”
The rapper told Inquirer Entertainment at a roundtable interview last Friday that she attributes much of her drive and determination to her parents, Tondo-raised Filipino Chinese mom Trinidad Valentin and African American dad Johnny Harper.
“My mother was a tiger mom,” recalled the 28-year-old singer, who grew up with a stutter and ended up majoring in communication in college. “She would make me rewrite my whole homework if it was ineligible. So I would spend two hours doing my homework the wrong way, then spend two extra hours correcting it.
“So I had to have perfect handwriting—and it ended up paying off. I was really disciplined because of that. My mom’s mantra was, ‘If you’re going to do something, do it right.’ “Then, there’s my dad. I grew up an athlete because he’s an athlete. He taught me to be competitive and to work really hard. I was Female Athlete of the Year. I like to compete, which is why this industry is a good fit for my mentality. I’m built for this.”
Her diverse roots also taught her to be grounded, she said: “Being multicultural—like, being Black, being Filipino, being Chinese—taught me at a really young age that no two groups of people are the same. We have to respect them … their cultures, values and morals. So, I’m really grateful for that [early realization in life]. It was difficult as a little kid because both sides of my family were like night and day. But I love my Filipino side. My mom’s an immigrant. All of my aunties, uncles, my Lolo, my Lola—they’re all immigrants. So, I’m very honored and blessed to be raised in a family that has traditional Filipino morals and values … like, they don’t play around (laughs)!
But there is another hurdle on Saweetie’s climb to the top: Being a woman. “It isn’t just difficult for a woman to be in hip-hop—[to be more precise,] it’s difficult to be a woman in the world! Like, I don’t think we’re as respected as men. I feel like we have to always explain and express ourselves, rather than just saying something and people respecting it.”
Excerpts from our Q&A with Saweetie:
With your empowering songs and hip videos, everybody wants to be your, well, “best friend,” and probably more so your Filipino fans than others. Have you ever been to the Philippines? What can we expect from the upcoming release of “Pretty Bitch Music” and your concerts?
Yes, I’ve been to Boracay, Cebu, Palawan and of course Manila. My mom’s from Tondo. And from that album, you can expect me to say a couple of lines in Tagalog. I’m learning how to play the piano right now, so hopefully in one of the shows coming up, you’ll be seeing me play the piano.
You’ve worked with everybody from Little Mix to Doja Cat and Black Eyed Peas. Who are you most excited to work with next?
We were just talking about her last night, and I really love Mariah Carey and her eight octaves. Since I’m the Icy Girl and she always sings over the wintertime, I’d definitely love to do a Christmas song with her.
You’ve gone from being the “Icy Girl” to hip-hop’s Ice Queen. Could you explain what being “ice” is all about?
When I say “pretty bitch music,” I’m not talking about your face or your makeup. Icy is a mentality. It’s all about your aura and confidence, so my rap is full of affirmation. Being icy is hustling and doing what you got to do to make a name for yourself and just being independent.
Speaking of your hit song “Best Friend,” how do we deal with a best friend who plays you? Would you forgive and give her or him a second chance?
No, that’s like the ultimate act of violation! If you’re going to violate me now, you’re going to violate me later. Be aware of red flags. And there will be no second chances. Like, if he eats your food, I’m gonna be mad, but I can forgive him for that. For anything else, well … (laughs).
You grew up in California. Why do you think people worldwide, whether from Asia or Europe, identify so much with your songs?
That’s a good question. When I make music, I like to have a good time. I’m all about the vibe, so my music is intended to empower and inspire people and make them have a good time.
Can you tell us about the show at the MTV EMAs this weekend?
I will have a minimum of 10 different looks. I’ll be utilizing every single corner of the venue, so make sure you watch it because we’re going to have a good time. I’m excited to see all the other artists performing in it. I’ll be presenting, performing and I’m also nominated—so I’m just really grateful for the recognition!
Are you going to try to wear more than the 13 outfits that Rita Ora wore when she hosted the EMAs in 2017?
Wow, I didn’t know that. I’m not sure if I’m going to beat her on that because I didn’t intend to wear more than 13 outfits. But I do want to see what she wore because her fashion sense is amazing.
What did you talk about when you met Adele at a basketball game a few weeks ago?
When I saw Adele two weeks ago at the Lakers game, I was amazed about how lovely she was. She’s probably one of the prettiest human beings around. And I loved her outfit—she was wearing a brown Louis Vuitton from head to toe. I just told her how good she looked.
Which singers did you look up to as you were growing up?
I loved Aaliyah, she was my idol growing up. After she died, I didn’t really have one after that. I remember just crying for a week straight, because I felt so connected to her and her music. She was someone I loved and admired growing up.
What is something you thought you knew about the music industry but realized you were completely wrong about after you became famous?
I thought that it was just fun. I thought it was just photoshoots, getting ready and recording songs. I didn’t realize there’s a lot more that goes into it. Like I don’t even like getting glammed up too much anymore—I’m so over it. [The business] just looks glamorous, because this is the entertainment industry. But, it’s a lot of long hours (sighs) … and not a lot of sleep! And I didn’t know that.
Is it true that you started recording music in your car? How did it shape your views on fame and fortune?
Yes, I started recording music in my car. I did that because I couldn’t afford studio time. There have been several moments in my life where I just had to make it work. It’s either it was not going to happen or I just had to make it work! I’ve always been that make-it-work type of person. I’m happy that I did that because they’re my car raps. That’s how I got discovered.
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