Latto has been preparing for this moment for the last 15 years — that’s more than half of her life — and yet, the 23-year-old is still struggling to grasp the success of the past year. She knows she’s not an overnight success. Yet, she says, her recent achievements still feel as if they’ve happened relatively quickly.
In the last year alone, the Atlanta rapper has scored her first Top 10 hit with “Big Energy,” performed alongside Mariah Carey at the BET Awards and opened for Lizzo on a fall arena tour. When Grammy nominations are announced in November, she may hear her name in multiple categories, chief among them best new artist.
Not only will the two A-list divas likely be vying for top honors, they could be competing against Harry Styles, Bad Bunny, Taylor Swift and Kendrick Lamar.
“I’ve been rapping since I was 8 years old and I still wouldn’t have chosen any other time to pop off,” Latto says. “I feel like later on, years from now, we’re gonna look at this time for female rap and be like, ‘Wow, this was like a special moment. We all got different styles, we all look different, we’re all from different cities and we’re all thriving at the same time.’”
For her contribution to the moment, Latto offers rhymes that are punchy, witty and distinctively Southern. Over the summer, she released “Pussy” following the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision, rapping, “My ovaries ain’t for you to bully” before partnering with Planned Parenthood for a social awareness campaign.
When we meet at a rehearsal studio in northwest Atlanta, she’s fresh off her first New York Fashion Week, where she vlogged “day in the life” content on TikTok and nervously asked fellow rapper Doja Cat for a photo. As we talk, a live version of Saucy Santana’s “Booty,” on which Latto is featured, repeatedly blares through the halls. (Santana’s band, unbeknownst to her, is in a nearby room preparing for Lizzo’s tour too.) Latto pulls out her phone to order a green juice. She’s preparing for the demands of tour with six-hour rehearsals, plenty of exercising and mindfulness about what she eats. “Lizzo puts on a show. Girl, you better be in shape trying to keep up with [her],” she says. Her healthy dinner plans are derailed when a member of her team surprises her with a meal she’s been craving: a Kickin Chicken sandwich from the fast food chain Zaxby’s. “I’m not going to turn it down,” she finally admits after a minute or two of protesting.
If you ask Latto, born Alyssa Stephens, about how she got into rapping when she was 8, she’ll tell you it was because her dad, a “street dude,” often commingled with local Atlanta rappers, and she loved language arts and writing poetry. “From jump, I knew I was going to be a rapper. In school, I never did sports or clubs. I was in the studio or doing a show after school,” she says. “In Atlanta, we have so many [music] festivals and artists who have made it out of the city. For an 8-year-old to say, ‘I want to be a rapper,’ and take it seriously [here], that’s very realistic.”
Under the name Miss Mulatto (a nod to her biracial parentage), she made a jingle for a video program that played every morning in schools throughout Clayton County, the metro Atlanta suburb where she was raised. She performed at high school pep rallies. She drove around Atlanta in a van with a picture of her face wrapped around it, handing out physical copies of her mixtapes and plastering posters of herself on buildings. “I didn’t sit in the studio, make a song and post it on social media [to have it] go viral. No shade to whoever has, but I came up at the tail end of a different musical generation,” she says. “We really got this s— out [of] the mud. I didn’t have a Plan B.”
By the time she was in high school, Latto had won the Lifetime competition series “The Rap Game,” for which she was awarded a label deal with Jermaine Dupri’s So So Def Records. It’s an achievement many aspiring Atlanta rappers might jump at, but the teenage rapper turned it down. “I wanted to wait and see my growth,” she says. The reality show aired in 2016 and Latto spent the next four years working the local music scene before eventually signing with RCA thanks to the success of the single “Bitch From da Souf” (“It comes to a point in your career where you need a machine behind you. It was just time for that next step,” she says) and shortening her stage name to Latto following public backlash surrounding her attempt to reclaim the racial slur “mulatto.”
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It wasn’t until 2021’s “Big Energy,” the lead single from her sophomore album, “777,” that she achieved her first crossover hit. The song, which reached No. 3 on the Hot 100 chart, samples Tom Tom Club’s 1981 single “Genius of Love,” which was also famously sampled by Mariah Carey on her 1995 hit “Fantasy.” Latto says she knew the song would allow her to gain access to new listeners: “I was ready for that commercial success,” she says. But she never anticipated collaborating with Mariah Carey on a remix of the song. Latto says her mom, a huge Mariah fan who currently has two rooms full of mementos from her daughter’s career, cried when she learned about the remix.
From future collaborations to awards, even a big dreamer like Latto has a hard time predicting what’s to come in her career, although she says she’s working on new music and preparing to release a deluxe edition of “777” later this year.
“I feel like I’m in such a pivotal stage, not only as an artist but as a woman. Every day I’m on a new page,” she says.
It's a date
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