Hope You Know
Anointing herself a leader of the newest generation of female MCs and on the cusp of megastardom, Latto is taking her roles very seriously.
Interview: Vanessa Satten
Images: Ahmed Klink
Editor’s Note: This story appears in the Winter 2023 issue of XXL Magazine, on stands in December .
“I’m always hopping in somebody DM [with] fire emojis or liking their posts and commenting, just letting them know that you see them and support them,” Latto says of propping up her fellow female MCs during a Zoom call in October. “I look for that type of stuff, and I want to show love back. It’s like, we already in this shit together. We all getting grilled together. We all under the microscope together.”
It’s that attitude and eagerness to support others that prompted Latto, 24, to want to curate an all-women cypher with XXL. And there’s no rap artist currently out there that would have served more perfectly as the ringleader.
Latto is a vocal character who’s warm and personable. She says what’s on her mind and usually puts everything on the line. That mentality has often worked in her favor and makes her endearing to a growing fanbase, who want to root for her as she climbs the ladder to success.
Alyssa Stephens’ career aspirations were first made clear at the age of 8 after she started rapping. Things got serious in 2016, when the Columbus, Ohio-born, Atlanta-raised go-getter joined the cast of Lifetime’s The Rap Game, which she eventually won. Over the next four years, the aspiring hip-hop star released an assortment of EPs and projects, and the hit song “B***h From Da Souf” before landing a deal with RCA Records in 2020. Later that year, Latto dropped her debut album, Queen of Da Souf, to positive reviews. As her momentum was building, the rapstress released her biggest record so far, 2021’s “Big Energy,” the lead single off her second album, 777. The record’s remix features Mariah Carey and DJ Khaled.
This year has been important for Latto. She was nominated for the 2023 Grammy Awards Best New Artist and won BET Awards’ Best Female Hip-Hop Artist. She also dropped a huge song, “Put It On Da Floor,” which she performed for the first time during a significant Coachella show in which Teyana Taylor was her creative director. “Put It On Da Floor Again,” the song’s remix, was even more of a smash with a special feature from Cardi B. Latto also got a brand deal with Wing Stop and made her acting debut on the TV show Grown-ish. She then became the first hip-hop artist of the year (and one of the few) to land at the top of the Billboard Hot 100 chart with her appearance on BTS star Jung Kook’s solo monster hit “Seven.” The record has since racked up over a billion streams on Spotify—faster than any song in history.
On a fall evening, just after returning from a long overdue vacation on a tropical island, Latto talks about her journey, the struggles of being a female in hip-hop, her desire to support other ladies and being bigger than music.
XXL: What did you think of the women’s cypher?
Latto: I liked that I got to curate it, so that I knew all the personalities would blend well and were friends before the cypher. I think that created a good environment. I’m a fan of all the girls. I just chose people that I like in real life and listen to they music. Monaleo, she [has] standout punchlines that just say the wildest s**t. Flo Milli is just so versatile. I like her sassy, mean-girl aesthetic. Maiya The Don, I love her raw, true-to-hip-hop New York swag. Mello Buckzz, she’s just raw as f**k, just a diamond in the rough.
Why did you think curating and participating in an all-women’s cypher was important?
The state of where female rap is right now, it’s so front and center. It’s crazy that it hasn’t been done before. It’s super-necessary. Super-urgent. Women are running rap right now. Everything about hip-hop is centered around women, in my opinion. We what the people wanna see. So, it’s damn near necessary, urgent.
What are the biggest challenges you have faced as a woman in hip-hop?
I think we be under this microscope. We’re heavily analyzed by blogs, fans and commentators. We gotta go like, 10 times as hard as men do for just equal recognition. For instance, everybody know about my situation [of me] trying to clear the verse on my album. We just go through a lot more on the back end that people don’t know about.
What did happen with that? It was reported that a male rapper tried to get you to exchange sex for the clearance of a verse.
Let me tiptoe. I think being like, the female rapper entertainer might consist of sexual lyrics, risqué clothes and whatever. But that, to me, is like the entertainment of female rap. And I think sometimes people—my peers, our peers in the industry, our male peers—take that as an invitation. Like, “Oh, yeah, she like that. I’m open to talking to you outside of music or like, whatever.” I think they don’t really know how to keep it business, so that’s how we’ll explain that situation.
You just used the term “tiptoe.” Do you find it necessary to tiptoe? Clearly, you don’t want to name any names. Is that to be political in keeping your relationships from getting damaged in the future?
You saying like, why don’t I just say, “F**k you,” and say who it is?
There’s a very not tiptoe side of you at other times, so how do you decide when to tiptoe?
That’s a good question. I’d be wanting to just jump out there. But I see the bigger picture, and I’m in this for the long run. I know at the end of the day, this is the entertainment industry. And you can’t expose too much. I’m trying to figure out how to word this.
You don’t want to burn bridges you might need later?
It’s not even about needing them later. It’s just like burning bridges with other people because it is also like cliquey. Like, “Oh, she said this, so now I don’t want to work with her.” It could just leave a bad taste in other people’s mouth when you don’t know the whole story and you’re not in my shoes. A lot of people were saying I was clout-chasing. I think the truth coming from female rappers is going to be picked apart, so I’d rather just stay away from it.
You brought up cliquey. Hip-hop is very cliquey. Have you stumbled on that along the way more than you expected?
You have to tiptoe around like, who’s cool with who. If I’m posting with this person, then I can’t be around this person in the beef world. That’s what I mean by cliquey. You have to watch if you work with this person, then you can’t work with this person. And if you do a song with this person, then you can’t do a song with that person.
Are you like that if someone works with someone you don’t like? And do you hold a grudge?
I don’t. And that sounds so cliché or fake, but I really don’t. I [was] backstage with Lola Brooke at Summer Jam, and I told her, “Stay out the bulls**t. Don’t let the fans and the blogs try to make you beef with this person.” It’s hard. It’s easier said than done. But I was just telling her, like, from someone who fell victim to comments, and Stans, and blogs and commentators in general, I was like, “Don’t fall for that s**t. Just stay neutral.” I would encourage people… Like bitch, I don’t give a f**k. It’s business. Go get your money. I’m cool with you until you do something to me.
You said that with being a female rapper, there might be a lot of sexual lyrics and risqué clothes. There’s also a lot of twerking and over-the-top shots on Instagram. Is that something that you feel is a necessity to show off to get attention? Or is it to share who you are and have a good time in the prime of your life?
When I’m taking my pictures or like, certain poses, sexual poses or onstage where I might turn around and start twerking or whatever, it’s no thought into it. I think it’s just I’m young, and I’m fine. I know I’m not gonna be able to do this once I have my five kids and I’m a married woman. It’s just me embracing my youth and my sexy body at this age. I’m just living in the moment right now.
You’re very quiet about your personal life. Do you feel like that’s another struggle that women in hip-hop have to deal with or just being a celebrity in general, having to keep your personal life on the low?
Keeping your personal life as a female personality is definitely hard. They want to know who you f**Kin’, who you go with? That goes back to the under-the-microscope thing I keep saying. Everything top to bottom, start to finish, about a woman is just overanalyzed. They definitely be in our personal life too much. How do I keep them out the personal life? I just protect things that are true to me, like really mean something to me. My relationship. My family. I’m not super vocal in public with those type of things ’cause that part to me is not a part of the entertainment industry. That’s not up for promotion. That’s not up for exploitation. It’s near and dear to me. Like, Alyssa aside from Latto.
Do you feel like people are eager to give credit in general or would rather tear you down? Do you see more positive than negative comments?
I’ve been trying to do better in just staying out the comments as a whole. But I’m young and I’m still growing up. Like I said, I don’t have kids or a husband yet. I’m not 100 percent mature. So, yeah, every now and then, something is gonna bother me and I’m gonna say what I want to say. But for the most part, I try to just stay out of it. Because if you look for negativity, it will consume you. You gon’ feel like everything is always negative because that’s what you’re looking to clap back at those people.
I’m trying to be more receptive to the love and just ignore the hate because I do have way more positive than negative comments. But when you caught up in that black hole, you gon’ feel like it’s way more negative, and you gon’ feel like you have to prove yourself to a whole bunch of people who don’t f**kin’ matter at the end of the day.
It’s so funny because I only give a f**k when I’m on the app. If I close my phone, lock my phone or get out of them f**kin’ apps, I no longer give a f**k. Red f**k, blue f**k, one f**k, two f**ks. I don’t even care anymore ’cause it’s like, my life is so lit outside of Twitter that I don’t even be giving a f**k what they have to say. That’s why I just need a lock my phone sometimes and keep it pushing.
You’ve had your beefs in hip-hop. Do you feel like that is just a part of being a rapper? Are women as supportive of each other as they preach, or that there’s a lot more competition and picking sides behind the scenes?
I think it really don’t be a problem until we let fans, Stans, whatever you want to call them, like the outsiders once they get in the mix. I think that’s what stirs the pot. Because it’s like, we will all be fans of each other and commenting and following each other, whatever, but then once they get to comparing, they will turn us against each other, which is very weak-minded of us as female rappers. I will take that accountability. I don’t think truly, at heart, it’s us. Once people are infiltrating your mind and got you thinking this, and now you feel this type of way without even addressing the person, now you addressing fans. I think we be falling for these traps that they put on female rappers.
When you first came in the game, you said you wanted to be the First Lady of Atlanta. Are you that now? Have you accomplished that goal yet? Do you want to be bigger than the First Lady of Atlanta? What does that mean to you?
Am I the First Lady of Atlanta? I do feel like I’m the frontrunner for female rap in Atlanta. I will say that. I agree with it. Yeah, I think I am. I think there’s a lot more work to be done for it to be cemented. There’s definitely a lot more work. Generations after this will know who Latto is and will respect Latto as First Lady of Atlanta. Right now, I think I got in the bag. But I’m never content with the moment. I’m always a what’s-gon’-to-happen-in-the- long-run type of person.
What’s your next goal?
I want to have my own record label. I think I have a good eye and ear for new talent because I built my career from the ground up, like printing out mixtapes, posting physical fliers around the city. I caught the tail end of the pre-social media come up. I think because I caught that, I have a good eye and ear. I would be a good CEO with my own label. I see myself being more business savvy. Music is how I got my foot in the door, but I think I am way bigger than music.
Being the First Lady of Atlanta, for me, is deeper than just, Oh, I’m like the biggest female artist of Atlanta. That plays the biggest role, but even more true than that, Atlanta supports me because of what I do for the city. They’ve seen me grow up and performing at these high school pep rallies and opening up for 2 Chainz, or Gucci Mane, or T.I., or Jeezy, Young Thug, 21 Savage, all these artists that have made it big-time in Atlanta. They seen me grow up and pay my dues. And I throw a lot of charity events. I’m pulling up at my old high school, donating money. The city genuinely supports me.
You’re one of the few rappers to get a Billboard Hot 100 chart No. 1 spot this year. What did that mean for you?
I lost my best friend this year [Monta]. I think that was God and Monta with me because that was just so unexpected. And it was just unexplainable. I got a phone call like, “Hey, Jung Kook wants you on this song. It’s called ‘Seven,’ like your brand is 777.” I’m like, “BTS Jung Kook?” I’m like, “Alright, I already know what this is gonna do for me.” So, it was obviously a no-brainer, but I felt like I had a higher power watching me, covering me. I be feeling like that a lot, but that one for sure. It was like, that’s Monta. That’s God.
What are some of the regrets you’ve had so far from actions you’ve taken in your career along the way?
I like that question. I’ve had a lot of regrets, and I think it’s because I’ve been rapping since a kid. I had to grow up, figure myself out and learn myself along the way. Obviously, at 8 years old, you’re not gonna have it all together. I have a lot of regrets. Mixing family and business, that’s like, one of my biggest regrets. I was introduced to everyone with my dad as my manager, and now we don’t even speak, so it’s like, I hate that.
What happened? Why don’t you and your father speak anymore?
Money. Industry s**t. Ego shit infiltrated by industry bulls**t. They be saying [your parent as your manager] never works out anyway, so I wish I would have just never even did it. So, that would be one regret. Falling for them traps that I was talking about earlier, like with the beef and stuff. I wish I would just not let commentators bother me to even infiltrate my mind or make me feel some type of way to anybody… I regret any beef I’ve ever been in because I don’t want to be known for anything but my music. I’m too talented for that shit. It’s a distraction and a waste of my time and energy…
I do be the main one saying everything happens for a reason. But I do feel at the same time, we can be responsible for our actions. I do think everything happened for a reason, but I still could have did this better. I could’ve avoided that. I be stuck on the fence of like, was this a lesson?
What’s going on in 2024 for you?
I am dropping a project next year. I’m taking the rest of this year to focus on me and reboot and be prepared for 2024. I want to put my best foot forward and hit the gas non-stop. I want to go the hardest I’ve ever gone in my career. So, I’m kind of in preparation mode right now for that. Definitely projects. Bigger visuals. Better branding. Making sure it’s my vision. I’ve had like a lot of cooks in the kitchen, but this right now, this temperature on my career is very centered around my vision, and what I want, the type of music I want to make, how I want my music videos to look. I’m like excited for the personalization of 2024 with my career.
Who would be a dream to collaborate with?
Who do I really want to collaborate with right now? You want to know who I’ve been saying lately? I want to bring André 3000 out of retirement. I got a song for André right now that will go so f**kin’ crazy. And I’m really just trying to pull all strings, so hopefully, this can reach André somehow. I want André on my album.
Anything is possible for me. I think people will be having a whole different respect when my name is brought up like, other artists, like the OGs. I got a song with Mariah Carey. I got a song with Lil Wayne. I got a song with Childish Gambino. J. Cole f**k with me. I be getting DMs from all types of people where I be like, Oh, damn. But I think they know that, like how I was saying earlier, l’m really passionate about this s**t. They know I’m not like play, play about music. They know I’m really here to stay.
Read Latto’s cover story in the Winter 2023 issue of XXL Magazine, on newsstands Dec. 5. The new issue also offers conversations with Killer Mike, Sexyy Red, Flo Milli, DD Osama, Monaleo, Maiya The Don, Mello Buckzz, BigXthaPlug, Scar Lip and more. Additionally, there’s an exclusive interview with Fetty Wap, Quality Control Music’s Coach K and P discuss 10 years into the label’s growth, and in-depth stories on the popularity of sampling in hip-hop in 2023, the state of hip-hop touring and the best moments of hip-hop’s year-long 50th anniversary celebration.
Written by: jarvis