Gotta Go Hard
With a hit song, sold-out tour dates and a strong sophomore album, Latto has stamped herself as a real name in hip-hop and wants to be respected as such.
Interview: Kemet High
Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in the Spring 2022 issue of XXL Magazine, on stands now.
Latto's price is going up. Three months into 2022, the 23-year-old rapper cracked the Billboard Hot 100 top 5, peaking at No. 3 with “Big Energy,” a summer-ready flip reminiscent of Mariah Carey’s 1995 hit “Fantasy.” Latto even got Mariah on the remix. The gold-selling song appears on Latto’s sophomore album, 777, featuring appearances from Lil Wayne, Childish Gambino, Lil Durk and more. She also embarked on her first country-wide headlining tour with rising acts like Kali and Saucy Santana as support. Winning is becoming a thing for Latto despite her banging on the door of stardom since she was 8 years old.
Growing up, Clayton County, a Southside district in Atlanta, was Latto’s cradle. A-Town artists like Gucci Mane, OutKast, T.I. and Jeezy seasoned her taste for music and soon after, esteemed forces like Nicki Minaj exemplified how Latto could one day have the genre of rap on lock with her bars. In 2016, she won The Rap Game, a reality TV music competition headed by Jermaine Dupri and Queen Latifah. Latto turned down the winning deal to sign with J.D.’s famed label, So So Def Recordings. Projects Miss Mulatto, Latto Let ’Em Know and Mulatto followed. By 2020, she had inked a deal with RCA Records.
Since then, the elevation has yet to reverse and has been on full display, as the world has watched Latto grow as a woman and an artist, including putting her former moniker Mulatto to rest. Platinum-selling tracks “Muwop” and “B*tch From Da Souf” were both formulated with her seamless blend of hood and high-class flavors. Latto now has more life experiences and relationships to talk about that fans can identify with as heard on 777, released in March. The LP has been incubating since her 2020 major-label debut, Queen of Da Souf. After cracking the mainstream seal as of late, Latto has already reached commercial milestones that Southern female rappers typically haven’t on a solo tip. The former drag racer has no plans of letting up off the gas until her name is synonymous with the phrase G.O.A.T.
Catching up with XXL in mid-March via Zoom, here, Latto speaks about her new album, changing her rap name, being a woman in hip-hop right now and leaving it all on the stage.
XXL: How does it feel to have the highest-charting song of your career with “Big Energy?”
Latto: Crazy. I still can’t believe it. When I wrote down my 2022 goals, one of them was to be top 40 on the Billboard charts. And I’m thinking that’s shooting for the stars. I set that goal in January and I did it in January. So, it’s crazy to see it keep going up like every week. Every week I be like, Girl, prepare yourself because it’s going down this week. It can’t go up again. And then boom, it be going up again.
What approach did you take to crafting your 777 album?
I definitely prioritized rapping. So, it’s a lot of bars, punchlines and cool wordplay and different flows. I wanted this to be an album that, say if someone heard “Big Energy” and they don’t know me because that song introduced me to a whole different fan base, I don’t want them to think I make music like “Big Energy” around the clock. Because I don’t. That’s not where my heart is. I started off [my career] giving these muthafuckas bars.
I wanted to make that clear and reintroduce that to my new fans and supporters. And just let them know, “Hold on, baby, I rap. I get the money, too. But I rap first.”
Which features were you most excited about from this effort?
I’m gonna put emphasis on my Lil Wayne feature [on “Sunshine”] because, when I got that Weezy verse, I heard that blunt spark. Baby! I said, “I know that ain’t who I think that is.” ‘Cause I wanted him on the song and it just came to life so perfect. And you know, baby, I grew up on Wayne. Wayne is in my top five easily. So, that’s really big for me. I was a YMCMB fanatic in middle school. And then he ended that muthafucka with “Tunechi.” I said, “Oh my God.” But the song is so fucking hard. It’s like he knew he couldn’t play.
One of my favorites on this shit is called “Stepper” and it’s featuring Nardo Wick. I really fuck with him. He going crazy. I fuck with his whole little movement. And he’s young, too, so I fuck with that. And our song is hard.
Can you share a little about working with some of the best producers in hip-hop for your sophomore album?
I wanted a fire female on there, so me and Wondagurl was working in L.A. That was crazy. Just like boss bitch energy in the studio. She pulled up on me with a crazy pack, too. Sonny Digital pulled up on me in Atlanta and that ended up being the part one intro to the album. He played the beat and I ain’t even write. I just went in the booth and freestyled that shit. It was just flowing.
And I cannot leave out the muthafuckin’ G.O.A.T., Pharrell. Me and Pharrell locked in for a week in Miami. We did like five songs. And then my favorite one out of it, [“Real One”], we put that on the album.
“I want you to think of me when you think of persistence.”
Describe the Latto and Skateboard P studio session.
I locked in with him in the beginning of the recording process. I’m so grateful that I did at that time because it just set a whole different tone for my project. At first, you know the label is in your ear like, “Make a hit. Make a trendy, TikTok song.” He changed my whole mindset. I don’t give a fuck to make some club banger, the typical shit that the label be looking for. He made me go in that muthafucka and rap. He made me look at myself in a way or in a light that I didn’t prior to conversations with him.
He will inspire [you] just by sitting down and talking to him. He taught me this thing, he was like, “We make house music.” So, I’m like, “What that mean? You talking about the genre house music?” He’s like, “Nah, we’re making music that you’re gonna buy houses from.”
Your hair in the “Wheelie” video was so long that you jumped rope with it. Your Instagram stays flooded with different looks. How much money does it cost monthly to maintain it all?
Chile, I just know when I did these taxes, I was like, “Oh, for real? That’s what I’m spending?” Hair can easily be like, $20,000 every month. Clothes, it’s like, $20,000 for a promo run. If I’m busy that month—like now I’m in album mode, so I’m doing all of these press runs and stuff—that could easily be six figures, between clothes, hair and makeup.
This is your first project under the moniker Latto. You were headstrong on not changing your rap name before, but you did last year. What made you finally decide to?
It was really just growth as a woman. I did that on my own. I didn’t have any influence. It was just me standing on what I believed in. And I didn’t feel like my name aligned with my values and my morals as a biracial woman. So, I was like, you know what, this might not be something I’m ready to go war about. I don’t even really believe in this shit how they think I do. And then I feel like it was being misinterpreted and I was just sick of people thinking it was like a personality trait when it wasn’t. I didn’t even name myself that in the beginning, from the jump. So, it was a lot of confusion and misconceptions.
Do you feel like you’re the First Lady of Atlanta’s rap scene right now and if so, why?
I know I’m not the First Lady. There’s multiple women that have come from Atlanta, but I do feel like I’m taking it solo and I’m taking it to a mainstream level that hasn’t been done before. So, that’s where that Queen of the Souf self-title comes from. And then not only just Atlanta, it’s more specifically ClayCo. That’s why I go so hard about Clayton County. It’s just because there hasn’t been no female out of Clayton County.
Why do you think there aren’t more female rappers coming out of the scene in Atlanta, considering how many artists pop from that area?
It’s super hard to be a female rapper. We’re just heavily critiqued. For instance, I was doing the BET Hip Hop Awards [in 2021]. So much thought and effort went into this performance. And it airs, and these folks are on Twitter dragging me. No shade. No tea. But let a nigga come up there, and they just outta breath like a muthafucka, high as well, swinging they nuts and they chain on stage. And it’s cool, they slide because they’re niggas. Girls, we gotta come with the choreography, the look, everything down to a tee and you better have your fucking breath control down pat.
But that’s not just women in the industry, that’s women in general. And we’re gonna forever have to fight that stigma and it is what it is. So, it feels better when you do make it ’cause it’s like, shit, y’all know how much I put in to get here. This shit for a female rapper does not happen overnight.
How do you feel about the female rapper to male rapper comparison? Should it be separated by gender?
It is separated. I don’t feel like it should be. For instance, everybody was looking at me crazy when I put Nicki Minaj in my top five. She ain’t top five female rappers. She ain’t the best female rapper. No, cut the female shit, she’s on these niggas’ ass, too. And that’s how I feel about myself. I don’t ever be like, “Oh, I’m the best female rapper.” Nah, nigga. I’m really going bar for bar with a lot of these niggas, too.
So, I think they’re gonna forever do that because the industry has painted this whole picture or set this whole tone that females have to be competitive and it’s only so many slots for a female rapper to be winning at the same time. But do I agree with that? Hell nah.
You started off on The Rap Game and boldly turned down the deal you won. What obstacles did you have to face coming from TV first?
I think coming from a TV show, people are first introduced to you as a reality star. So, it’s hard to get that image out of their brain. And then on top of that, not only was I on a reality show, I was on a reality show at a young age. So, I had to overcome being a reality figure and I had to overcome being looked at as a kid versus being taken seriously as an adult, grown-ass fucking woman. So, [it was] definitely challenging.
When it’s all said and done, what type of legacy do you want to leave behind?
First of all, I want to be that face for Atlanta female rap. I want you to think of me when you think of persistence. People seen me grow up on television and in the limelight. I been rapping forever and I never gave up. So many people were like, “Oh, you don’t have a song on the radio.” Boom, got a song on the radio. “Oh, well you don’t have a song on the Billboard charts.” Boom, got a song on the Billboard charts. “Well, it’s not top 40.” Now it’s top 40. So, I’m just the person that showed you like, if you stay at it and don’t give up on yourself, it’ll happen.
What else is in the pipeline for the rest of this year?
This is gonna be my first headlining tour, so I’m excited to set a tone for females. Like, baby, you see these men go on a tour and sell out. We can get active, too, and put on real shows. I leave it all on the stage. I don’t do that pretty shit. My makeup be dripping, wig be sliding back. I put in work, for real. That’s actually my favorite thing about what I do. The whole music shit in general is to perform. So, I’m super excited about the tour and super excited to have Kali and [Saucy] Santana with me. They gonna stop playing with my muthafuckin’ name. Put some respect on my name.
Check out more from XXL’s Spring 2022 issue when the magazine hits newsstands later this month.