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With as many rap reality competitions as there have been, you might think the hip-hop world is littered with their products. Even a cursory glimpse at the Billboard charts, streaming playlists, and most popular Instagram pages would disabuse you of that notion. For all its love of spectacle and drama, the rap game has traditionally been unkind to even the winners of most reality shows that purport to boast the next big things in rap. Going all the way back to the first, Dr. Dre and Eminem’s Showtime series The Next Episode, competition winners like Spitfiya, Da Band, Astro, Shamrock, Rece Steele, and the handful of 106 & Park seven-week champions have come and gone, some eking out modest careers behind-the-scenes or under the radar, but most getting lost in the shuffle.
So it may come as a surprise that the show with perhaps the cheesiest gimmick yet would produce the first bonafide rap superstar, Mulatto. With all due respect to D Smoke, the inaugural winner of Netflix’s Rhythm + Flow, it’s the former teen queen of Lifetime and Jermaine Dupri’s The Rap Game who glowed up to become honest-to-goodness rap royalty. In the past two weeks, the 21-year-old from Atlanta, Georgia completed an immaculate rollout of her major label debut, Queen Of Da Souf, with a perfectly promoted lead single featuring one of the godfather’s of the city’s sound, Gucci Mane. Then, in the weeks since “Muwop” was released, she was featured in both the most-watched music video of the last decade and on XXL‘s hotly-contested highly coveted Freshman Class cover.
In 2016, as the first season finale of The Rap Game revealed her as its inaugural champion, it might not have seemed possible to anyone watching. But in Mulatto’s mind, it was only a matter of time. Not only did she eventually turn down the deal offered at the end of the show’s first run — to which she alludes on Queen Of Da Souf standout “No Hook” — she committed herself to a four-year independent grind that eventually paid dividends with the arrival of her noteworthy major debut. Filled with swaggering, smart lines and speaker knocking beats, Queen Of Da Souf isn’t just the culmination of all that hard work, it’s also a validation of every move she’s made since first featuring on Lifetime under the moniker Miss Mulatto.
“From the jump, I was like, ‘I know I’m here to say,'” she evangelizes over the phone. “‘Nobody can convince me otherwise. I know what God put me on this earth to do, and I know my purpose.’ I don’t believe in that blackballing or burning bridges. You keep it real and you work hard and you pray hard, it’s going to happen to you, and I’m living proof of that.” However, she also knew why she had to turn down the proffered deal in order to achieve her vision of her own success. “It wasn’t something that I was comfortable doing yet,” she recalls. “I was 16 when we filmed the show, I was 17 by the time it aired. I’m a baby at 17. I don’t want to get myself into no record deal to where I don’t even fully understand the terms, or be locked down for years to come.”
That wherewithal and prescient industry savvy is why, on “Muwop,” Gucci Mane laments, “I tried to sign Mulatto, but she was signed already.” Mulatto, already forthcoming, bubbly, and warm during our interview, turns up even more when discussing the song’s origin. “The producer came to Atlanta and we had locked in,” she reminisces. “He was cooking from scratch. And he had started doing the dun, dun, dun, dudadundun [the key lead from Gucci’s 2006 anthem ‘Freaky Gurl‘]. When he started doing that on the keys, I looked over. I said, ‘No, you not. You not going to go there. Because if we going to go there, we going to go there. Don’t play with me.'” She says the decision was made to put a gender twist on the hook and the session ended with a promise to deliver the song to Gucci personally.
“Maybe like a couple weeks later, maybe two weeks later, they had just sent me an audio file,” she says, “And I’m thinking it’s the mixed version of ‘Muwop’ or something. Man, I’m listening to the song, it’s a whole Gucci verse on the end. And I just stood up screaming. Literally, I called my whole team on FaceTime. I’m like, ‘Y’all’s got to be playing with me right now.’ And then the fact he had said my name in the song… Imagine hearing your favorite rapper say that about you. Cloud nine, cloud nine.” The rapper floats back down to earth, though, on songs like “My Body,” which demonstrates her surprising ability to switch up her flow and seamlessly add melody, despite being known for her crisp rhythmic delivery.
“The thing is, I actually got a lot of melodic songs,” she teases. “But the people just gravitate towards the rapping, the ratchetness. I have melodic songs in the vault, or whatever, but I don’t want to cross over too early. I love to rap. I always want people to know me as a rapper first, before I get into that versatility. But I just feel like right now, it’s time for that. On this project, I definitely wanted to throw in just a little bit of singing stuff. It’s still majority rapping, but just to show my versatility coming out the gate as a new artist. Even though I’ve been rapping since 10 years old. On the industry scene, I’m a new artist. Just showcasing, hey, now I’m here to stay. The range is crazy.”
Meanwhile, that versatility extends beyond the playful flirtation of songs like “Muwop,” “My Body,” and party-ready anthems like the City Girls-featuring “In N Out” or the 21 Savage duet “Pull Up.” On “No Hook,” she lowers her stance like a tiger ready to pounce, going for broke on the moody keys and reflecting on the more controversial aspects of her come-up. When asked if the line “I love my OG, but he ain’t show me how to treat shit” was a reference to The Rap Game‘s Jermaine Dupri (who shared a few problematic comments about female rappers last year), she doesn’t shy away from addressing the potential drama. “I was being real vulnerable,” she admits. It’s a real shock to hear, as the song’s fierce disposition seems to belie that position.
“I did touch on the outcome of The Rap Game, and I said something like, ‘I would take it back if I could,'” she confesses before stunning again. “That was hyperbole. I’m definitely grateful for the platform, but it was just kind of just being dramatic about the fact that people won’t let me grow up. You get judged for basically believing in yourself. People think that it was me being cocky or ungrateful and unappreciative of the opportunity when it was just me wanting more for myself. That’s it.”
She also addresses some of the murmurs regarding her controversial moniker. Acknowledging that she has heard the valid complaints, she emphasizes that she’s not using her name “promoting the fact that I’m mixed. It’s not about me comparing my ‘struggles of being mixed’ to any other skin tone, any other race, anything like that. It’s just simply me explaining my story. I did experience a different type of upbringing having two completely different cultures. One side of my family cooked this way, talked this way, celebrate this way, traditions is this way, and then one of the sides is different, and as a kid, I was just confused and kind of had to find my way in my identity. It’s just about an experience, and flipping that negative into something positive.”
It’s important to her that people know that she is just as intentional in all of her artistic choices. “In my most recent music video, which has been the biggest video of my career, I personally cast all brown skin and dark skin females for the lead roles,” she declares. Something that these casting directors and some other artists would never do… I do so much for the Black community. Half of the trolls on Instagram, Twitter, wherever they at, don’t do half of the stuff that I do. So I feel like it’s not even their place to even speak to me about that topic.” She nods to the accusations that she uses “pretty privilege” or “light skinned privilege,” saying, “It definitely is a thing, but as far as maneuvering, I’m going to use it to my advantage — hate it or love it.”
But rather than simply using it to her own advantage, she often shares alike with other rising artists, collaborating with fellow emerging star Saweetie and “pretty bitch rap” legend Trina on the remix to her breakout single “Bitch From Da Souf,” with R&B group Good Girl on “Thirsty,” with Omeretta The Great and LightSkinKeisha on “Baddest,” and with a plethora of rising female rappers including Chinese Kitty, Dreamdoll, Dreezy, and Young MA on Hitmaka’s “Thot Box” remix. She also lent her voice to the unconventional Saucy Santana on “Up & Down” from his Pretty Little Gangsta mixtape — a show of support for an artist who was recently the victim of a homophobic attack.
“Santana is a whole mood,” she says of the flamboyant Floridian entertainer. “I love everything about him. That’s my dog. We friends outside the music, that’s my dog outside of music.” The video for the track, she says, was, “so fun because we both so ratchet. You know, strip clubs, that’s the Atlanta culture. It was so fun. We both had a ball.” But the video that may have truly benefitted her most and reflected her own willingness to share her platform was Cardi B’s “WAP.” Appearing in a cameo appearance at the end of the video alongside Megan Thee Stallion, Normani, Rosalía, Rubi Rose, and Sukihana, Mulatto instantly landed on thousands of potential fans’ radars — just after the release of her debut major label single and ahead of being profiled in XXL.
Her phone didn’t just blow up, she gushes. “It beyond blew up. Everybody was DM-ing me, commenting, texting me, calling me everything. Congratulated me and just telling me how proud they is. And it was hard to keep that a secret!” Then, just after that, she received the next huge co-sign, teeing up Queen Of Da Souf for even more exposure. “That’s something that I’ve been waiting my whole career,” she divulges. “Every year I be tuned into the Freshmen List trying to just wait my turn patiently. And if you would have told me last year that I had it this year, I wouldn’t have believed you. That was a big goal of mine. Even on set and stuff, I’m talking to the staff, I’m like, ‘I don’t think y’all know how happy I am just being here.’ I was so ecstatic.”
With the rollout for Queen Of Da Souf sticking the landing and the album already generating positive buzz online, Mulatto has plenty of reasons to be ecstatic. Thanks to the support of a “24-7 team” courtesy of RCA, Mulatto already “knew that the reaction off of this project was going to be crazy because it’s everywhere.” While declaring herself royalty and claiming her crown on her first mainstream project is a tall order to pull off, she’s not sweating it, because she was groomed for this, and has already made it so much further than so many who came before her. “It’s a lot riding on the project, but I know I’m going to deliver, especially with a title like Queen Of Da South. It’s up.”
Queen Of Da Souf is out now via RCA Records. Get it here.