The "My Type" rapper on growing up in California, finding inspiration in the hyphy movement, and being hindered by nostalgia.

By Marcus Jones
April 19, 2021 at 04:00 PM EDT
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Saweetie
Credit: Dennis Leupold

My Hometown (fka Root Down) is a recurring column that explores how artists' hometowns influenced their music.

Diamonté Quiava Valentin Harper, better known as the rapper Saweetie, moved around a lot when she was young. "I'm primarily from Hayward, but I've lived in Union City, I've lived in San Jose, I've lived in Palo Alto, I've lived in Sunnyvale — I grew up all around the Bay Area," the 27-year-old California native tells EW. Yet she attended high school about an hour north of the region, in Sacramento, a city with its own separate scene. Growing up in both communities not only helped form Saweetie's worldview, it influenced her approach to writing music, including her just-released EP Pretty Summer Playlist: Season 1. "I definitely feel like those two regions shaped me into the woman I am today."

Saweetie was raised in a big family ("On my Black side, I have nine aunties and uncles, and on my Filipino side, I have seven"), and developed her tastes early by tagging along with the teenagers and listening to local artists. "I feel like we always had music for every season, especially the hyphy movement," she says, referring to the regional genre pioneered by Bay Area icons like Mac Dre and popularized in the early aughts. "I was able to really witness the height of it through E-40, through Too Short, through all the artists that were putting out music around that time."

She describes hyphy as "high energy [and] infectious," and that people in the Bay "love to party and dance." "So when I'm making a club record," she adds, "I try to make sure that all those components are in there to get the room moving." 

Saweetie first gained national attention by putting a modern spin on indelible hip-hop beats — her 2020 hit "Tap In," which topped Billboard's Rhythm Airplay chart, samples "Blow the Whistle" by aforementioned hometown hero Too Short. However, she now admits her initial approach was shortsighted. "I hindered myself in the beginning because I was so trapped into only listening to older music," she says. "I wasn't really a fan of new music." Though she's still happy to be inspired by older songs, "I don't want to be stuck in the past. There's a lot of artists who are kind of stuck in that time period, but music is evolving almost every day."

Saweetie also wanted to change her perspective without sacrificing her California roots. "I'm a student of the game and I realized that in order to be successful, I have to adapt," she says. Part of that is taking time to ask herself what the "Saweetie sound" is. "I want to come up with a sound so distinctive that when a producer plays a beat, it sounds like my brand, something I'd rap on."

While already delivering on her viral promise to provide "something fun, something for the summertime, something for the girls to get ready and party to," Pretty Summer Playlist also gets Saweetie closer to her goal of carving out her own space — and giving a spotlight to other up-and-coming California artists like Kendra Jae and Lourdiz. "I'm really inspired to not only represent the Bay Area, but the West Coast. We've never really had a girl in the hip-hop and urban community get worldwide recognition," she says. "My purpose is bigger than money and fame and recognition. It's about letting the girls who come after me know that they can do it too."

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