Saweetie, the 'Walking Business Model' -- Future 25 - Rolling Stone
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Saweetie, the ‘Walking Business Model’ — Future 25

“Saweetie the mogul will be noticed worldwide,” promises the singer, actor, CEO, activist, gamer, fashionista, and branding expert

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Samuel Trotter for Rolling Stone

This story appears in Rolling Stone‘s 2021 Future of Music issue, a special project delving into the next era of the multibillion-dollar hitmaking business. Read the other stories here.

“Throughout my life, I’ve been judged because I’ve been labeled a pretty girl,” says Saweetie. But like a diamond, Saweetie is equal parts strength and beauty. She’s also multifaceted, with the chameleonic ability to toggle between her roles as a musician, glamorous fashionista, athletic MVP and tomboy, actress on TV show Grown-ish, branding whiz, CEO, and activist in an instant.

“I’ve never just walked around saying, ‘Hey, I’m pretty.’ To me, energy is pretty. Confidence is pretty. It’s how you carry yourself and how you help people out,” Saweetie says. The 27-year-old star, born Diamonté Harper, is doing her best to “change what ‘pretty’ means” in her multifaceted career. Her upcoming debut album, Pretty Bitch Music, follows more than 2 billion cumulative streams for singles like “Tap In.” “When I say ‘bitch’ in my music, I want my fans to know that it stands for something,” the singer says, explaining that she uses the word as an acronym for “Boss, Independent, Tough, CEO, Hyphy.”

Saweetie studied communications at the University of Southern California before a freestyle video of hers went viral on Instagram in 2017, propelling her into the limelight. Since then, her music has raked in more than two billion cumulative streams without even a full album coming out yet.

I don’t want to just put my name on something and then put it out. For greatness, I have to take my time — and I’m literally starting from scratch”

She knows timing is everything, though, and Saweetie was waiting to be appropriately recognized for her talents before kicking down the door to her next act, knowing intuitively that people are often scared by what they can’t understand. “As a woman — especially in hip-hop, and as a woman who had some type of notoriety before I blew up — I was often boxed in as a model or Instagram girl,” she says. “People like to label you when they aren’t familiar.” She says the downtime of quarantine was able to draw new fans into the world of Saweetie: “I think they finally understood and recognized me as an artist.”

Originally, Pretty B.I.T.C.H. Music was supposed to house songs all created pre-pandemic. While some remain on the track listing, Harper says she ended up replacing a lot of them because she’s “grown significantly through quarantine.” She adds that she’s been “strategic” about capturing a wide range of emotions derived from “struggling with success, achieving success, having a good time, being stressed, being sad, having a heartbreak, getting through it, and persevering.”

The success she’s referring to goes beyond music. After collaborating with cosmetics firm Morphe on a 2020 collection timed to festival season — which sold out, even despite a worldwide cancelation of live music events — Saweetie is now working on starting her own makeup company. “I appreciate the stepping stone, but I love owning my own thing,” she says. She’s been “kind of speed dating” in search of the right business partner: “I’m looking at manufacturing, the quality of products, and aesthetics. Where will it be made, and how will it be packaged? When I create a product, I want to make sure that, when my consumers buy it, they’re getting every bang for their buck.”

Saweetie’s aunt Whitney, who is on her management team, has worked in the makeup industry and is advising her closely. “I don’t want to just put my name on something and then put it out,” Saweetie says. “Those things are available. But, for greatness, I have to take my time — and I’m literally starting from scratch.”

Someday, she’d like to create a full fashion line. In the meantime, she’s hands-on with the creation of the clothing and accessories she sells. “I have to have merch that I would wear,” she says. “It doesn’t look like the typical ‘slap the artist’s brand on a random T-shirt.’” Her goal is for her brand, Icy, to “supersede the Saweetie brand,” so that “whatever else falls under that umbrella can stand on its own two feet.”

“I want to create a brand that my grandkids and their great grandkids will run, because I’m not going to be here forever,” she says.

Sports and gaming are other key areas for her: Saweetie grew up a self-described tomboy, earning MVP titles in track and volleyball, and her grandfather played for the 49ers. She put that background to work this year by hosting the Saweetie Bowl, a taped competition between Snoop Dogg and the Patriots’ Julian Edelman that raised $10,000 in donations for the Snoop Youth Football League, as part of an ongoing partnership with Xbox. Because she’s so careful with her branding, Saweetie is particular about the companies with which she aligns. Her work with Xbox may have caught many by surprise, but she’s loved to game since she was a kid.

She and Xbox “currently have a couple [other] things in the cannon,” she teases.

Of all her projects, what Saweetie is most proud of, though, are her initiatives geared towards giving back. In 2021, she created Icy Baby Foundation to “help low-income families, single mothers and kids from neighborhoods that don’t have access to education, as well as autistic kids.” Two of her family members work with autistic children. “We have ties into that community, and that community is underrepresented,” she says.

Her grandmother, who has a background in philanthropy, is its president; together, they’ve spent the last few months securing a partner and raising enough funds to meet eligibility requirements to be an official non-profit.

Saweetie started making Icy University videos last year, posting highly stylized clips on YouTube of her teaching lessons like “How to Start Your Own Business,” “How to Bag an 8 Figure Man,” “How to Be a Pretty Bitch,” and “How to Get Over an F Boy.” She thinks of these online courses as “super relatable” ways for her fans to connect with her.

She’s also partnered with Facebook to launch the next series of classes, which should arrive this summer. Her goal is to one day teach at her alma mater. “I’m in talks with a professor who was very influential to me,” Saweetie says. “We’re working on me eventually teaching a real course at a real college at USC. I’m really excited about that.”

Saweetie runs her own LLC, and is currently working on creating multiple others. “Oftentimes, I’m funding my own products, business ventures, and ideas,” she says. “I invested my own money in the first four online courses of Icy University, which required glam, production, and editing. I’m still growing and establishing myself, but, because I like being in control of my narrative, I do invest a lot of my money into myself to bring my visions to life.”

In her eyes, it’s more important than ever for artists to be educated about branding, marketing, and economics. “The world’s fans are expecting a new artist,” she says. “They’re no longer interested in the mysterious celebrity. They want to know what you’re eating, how you’re feeling, what you’re going through… When it comes to a true, authentic brand, you have to do a lot of self-reflection to really figure out what you stand for. What are you trying to project? What is your message? What is your mission? What are all these things that make this brand sensational?”

She encourages budding entrepreneurs to start small, and at step one. “My step one was music,” she says. “The music eventually opened up doors to acting and beauty deals.” It also got her front-row seats to red-hot, fashion-week runways, “because all these brands were playing my songs during their fashion shows. It’s a slow process of stepping tones. There needs to be a foundation.”

Saweetie doesn’t yet consider herself an “established” artist, but says she will be one at some point in the next five years. She expects the Icy brand to evolve by then too, and predicts a future as a leading lady. She secured a recurring role on TV show Grown-ish in 2021 and says that, because of skits she’s posted during quarantine, producers and directors have reached out.

“The philanthropy will be up and running with the help of my grandmother. And that Saweetie the mogul — and the business model — will be noticed worldwide,” she says. “I’m not just an artist. I’m literally a walking business model.”

In This Article: Future 25, Future of Music 2021


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