When Saweetie landed a viral hit with her boss-up anthem “ICY GRL,” it was the product of unchecked confidence and limitless ambition. As a student at the University of Southern California, the Bay Area native already knew she could rap and used her Instagram account to prove it. Videos of Saweetie freestyling in the front seat of her car, along with a hyperactive SoundCloud page, eventually led to a record deal and her debut EP, High Maintenance. She flaunted her ability to weaponize words and spray them unsparingly at her exes and cynics on songs such as “B.A.N.” and “Good Good.” And even though her career is a product of the internet, the 26-year-old rapper, born Diamonté Harper, remains a student of hip hop’s pre-digital heyday. Her biggest hit, “My Type,” samples Petey Pablo’s “Freek-a-Leek,” and her most recent EP, this year’s ICY, is an old-school ode to getting the bag. Her respect for the history of the genre is why, when she spoke to her idol Lil’ Kim for the first time, she could barely contain herself.
LIL’ KIM: Hey, sexy girl! Where you at?
SAWEETIE: I just flew from L.A. to San Diego. I have a show here tonight. Where you at?
KIM: I’m in Jersey. So, first of all, how did you get so freaking dope?
SAWEETIE: Oh my gosh. I’m sorry. I’m having a moment. I can’t believe it’s you. You sound just like your songs!
KIM: I don’t think they saw you fucking coming. And I still don’t think they see you coming. You feel me?
SAWEETIE: Yeah, I feel you. How did I get so dope? Writing has always been my thing, and a lot of people don’t know that entertaining is a whole other thing. That was never my strong suit. So I was looking at a bunch of performers, wondering what I could take from them and make my own. One thing I really love about you is that when you walk onstage, you might not be rapping and you might not be dancing, but just your presence—I’m like, “Damn.” That’s what I want to have onstage.
KIM: If you take anything from me, you’re going to take this and you’re going to hold it in your hand and put it in your heart and lock it, because I don’t say shit I don’t mean. When I watched you perform at Summer Jam, you were my highlight. Even though you were out there for a short period of time, guess what? It was short and Saweetie. You captivated me.
SAWEETIE: You’re giving me butterflies. My heart is beating so fast! My choreographer told me a story about you. I forget which award show it was, but Puff was talking to an artist, and the artist didn’t want to do something, and then you came in and you were like, “Oh, you don’t want to do it? I’ll do it, because our job as performers is to entertain.” I’d never thought about it that way. It’s not just about reciting the lyrics and doing the one-two step. The goal is to entertain.
KIM: Girls go out there and they perform, but they may not captivate people. But when I watch you onstage, and look at your Instagram, I noticed that mama is a fashionista! Bitch, you be givin’ lewks.
SAWEETIE: Every year I write down goals for myself, and I was like, “I really hope I find my Misa Hylton [Lil’ Kim’s stylist] this year, because I would love to have looks like Kim had.” You guys were a lethal combination, and, girl, maybe three months after that, I found my stylist. No matter where I go, I’m trying to put on a look like Kim.
KIM: You remind me of me. One of the things that I love that you adopted into your routine is the whole girly cheerleader thing. It’s so sexy. And then you were doing this dance at one show, you were doing this little butt move, and it was the perfect butt move because it was something I would do. When you recorded “My Type,” did you like the beat right away? When Puffy brought me “No Time,” I hated that freakin’ record.
KIM: I hated it, girl. But he’s my big brother and I looked up to him so much that anything he told me to do, I did. And he was very protective of me. He always said, “Kim, you do better when I give you a record that you don’t like.” I guess I was trying to prove something to him. Were you super excited when you first heard the “My Type” beat?
SAWEETIE: I was actually in the studio when they made it, because I was missing one more song off of my EP—I was missing a slap. We were about to sample something else, but I was like, “What is something from my childhood that I couldn’t get enough of?” And I remembered being 10 or 11 dancing to that Petey Pablo song. The sample gets me every time.
KIM: You give the song a whole new life, the way you attacked it. You just went in on it because you loved it. Is it certified gold or platinum now?
SAWEETIE: My first song, “ICY GRL,” is platinum and “My Type” is gold.
KIM: How does that feel?
SAWEETIE: It feels amazing. I feel like everything is just coming together, and the fact that I’m getting to interview with you, it just makes everything so surreal and dope.
KIM: Interview published one of the biggest magazine photos for me, so they became like my extended family. We have this history. The girls you dance with onstage, are those your friends?
SAWEETIE: One of them is my best friend, and the rest are her friends. It’s all homegirl vibes.
KIM: That’s so dope. You can tell there’s a friendship there. Sometimes girls go onstage with dancers and you can tell they don’t know them.
SAWEETIE: When you work on my team, I want everybody to feel at home. Music is my career, but dancing is their career, and I want their career to be as fun as mine.
KIM: My best friend danced for me for years. I have a television show on VH1 called Girls Cruise, and she’s on it with me. Now she has her own clothing line at Neiman Marcus. She’s a boss bitch. What’s your sign, Saweetie?
SAWEETIE: I’m a Cancer. Just like you.
KIM: Oh my god, I can’t take it!
SAWEETIE: Girl, let me tell you something. Every sign got hella celebrities aligned with them. So I was like, “Who’s a dope Cancer out there?” Girl, when I saw your name on the list, I was like, “Kim’s a Cancer and she’s a rapper, so I know I can be a rapper, too.”
KIM: Who are your top-three dream collaborators?
SAWEETIE: I’m a huge J. Cole fan. When I was trying to come up, I had no way of getting my music out there, so after one of his concerts, I waited by his tour bus and rapped for him. The second one would be Rihanna, because I grew up on her. For my third, well, this is what happened. When I was coming up, I noticed a lot of female rappers had lighter voices than mine. I have a deep voice when I rap. So I was listening to my music catalog, and I noticed that you also have a deep voice when you rap. I don’t know if I’d ever be able to collaborate with you, but I always wanted to sit in a studio with you just to see how you record.
KIM: We could do something so dope, and it would be unexpected. So that’s done. I think you and Rihanna would be the sexiest combination. I just love that. But, girl, you already got me. You and I are gonna be hanging out. I can see it. I know these things. What’s your favorite makeup?
SAWEETIE: Lip gloss. I’m actually coming out with my own lip gloss line, and I’m gonna send you all the colors. I basically took all of my favorite characteristics of lip glosses that I love, and combined them into one.
KIM: You gotta give me one. No, wait, I’m going to buy one. If I had to pick two, it would be my lipstick and my eyebrows. My lashes would be my third thing.
SAWEETIE: I’d be out here looking like a bald eagle without my lashes. I have two questions for you: What’s your favorite Lil’ Kim song, and what’s the best bar you’ve ever rapped?
KIM: My favorite Lil’ Kim song by myself is “Qu—
SAWEETIE: Wait! Wait! Wait! Are you about to say “Queen Bitch”?
KIM: Yes! That’s my song! “Kill a nigga for my nigga by any means bitch! Murder scene bitch!”
SAWEETIE: My favorite bar by any female ever is yours: “Tryin’ to impress me with your five G stones, I give you ten Gs, nigga, if ya leave me alone.”
LIL KIM: I’m not gonna lie, Saweetie, I be forgetting shit. I have so many songs that I can’t even think of my favorite bars on the spot, but I love that one.
SAWEETIE: How did “Queen Bitch” come about?
LIL KIM: I have to give props to the King himself: Biggie was there with me every step of the way in the studio. He always loved Wu-Tang, and there was this beat that they had. I was his honey, so he was like, “My honey got to have a beat like this.” That was one of my favorite moments.
SAWEETIE: Girl, you got too many, for real. I hope I have that one day.
LIL KIM: My Saweetie, this was amazing for me.
SAWEETIE: I’m sorry if I got a little too hype.
LIL KIM: I’m gonna send you my info and you could send me yours and we’ll keep in touch. Enjoy your show tonight. Have fun and kill ’em, because I know you’re gonna kill ’em. I don’t know you, but I love you.
SAWEETIE: I’ve loved you since I was 13.
Makeup: Ozzy Salvatierra at Lowe and Co.
Production: Lisa Weatherby at Map and Sophie Meister and Djosefin Maurer-Soto at Production LA.
Digital Technician: James Goethais at Milk Digital.
Photography Assistants: Kevin Coffey and Adam Togerson.
Fashion Assistants: Dustin Ellis and Sharon Chitrit.
Manicure: Tameka Jackson.
Retouching: Chroma NY.
Special thanks: Edge Grip, Ave B PR.