Bay Area rapper Saweetie is a microcosm of the music business in the digital era. The 25-year old became a viral sensation behind a slew of Instagram freestyle videos that blew her up far beyond her initial following. With her newfound social media fame came attention from major labels, particularly Warner, whose subsidiary label Atlantic has made a habit of scooping up rising viral rappers like Cardi B and turning them into bigger stars with a formula that ensures success through streaming, live appearances, and strategic placements in movies, commercials, and television shows, riding and building a growing wave of labels finally putting some resources behind female rappers.
This is the arc for seemingly every new rapper these days: Viral fame, label deal, pop stardom. The thing that sets the real apart from the frauds is longevity, and the only thing that guarantees longevity is skill. Hit singles make you hot, but consistency and depth keeps you hot, long after the business stops stoking the flames of your career. Saweetie’s new EP, Icy, is an impressive collection of the former, but doesn’t have enough flashes of the latter to prove that she’ll stick in this industry. It sure is fun to listen to, though, and at this particular stage in her career, that’s probably more important than high-concept, autobiography or introspection. For now, self-mythology is fine.
It’s what she’s good at, anyhow, and why her “ICY GRL” freestyle blew up so readily in 2018. Icy, the EP, functions in much the same respect, with Saweetie using her cutting, precise flow to explain just how bossy she is and how much further she’s planning to go. Driven by an all-star production cast that includes Buddah Bless, Hit-Boy, and Murda Beatz, Icy is a fun re-introduction to the element that primarily made Saweetie a star in the first place: Her energetic, confident, and convincingly-delivered rhymes. While the production is a step up from the popular instrumentals she built her reputation on, as well as those of her 2018 debut EP, High Maintenance, the main attraction rhymes her santoku-sharp delivery.
In fact, if anything, it’s improved since 2018’s introductory High Maintenance EP — while her rhyme schemes remain simple but effective, she’s hitting those beats even harder than she ever has, sounding more confident than ever on tracks like “Hot Boy,” where she starts to experiment with the double-time flow that is all the rage right now. On the Petey Pablo-sampling “My Type,” she returns to the well that made her famous, rapping over a London On Da Track reproduction of “Freek-A-Leek,” but this time, her bars are markedly smoother than on “ICY GRL,” which featured a more choppy flow that made some skeptics — including this writer — a little dubious about her potential as an MC.
Those concerns are long gone here, with much more confident and charismatic performances on tracks like “Trick” and “Tip Toes,” the latter of which is one of two tracks featuring Saweetie’s beau, Quavo, who reasserts his position as one of the rap game’s premiere guest stars with a pair of endearing performances that find him in full “supportive boyfriend” mode. He pops up just enough to lend his star power, but hangs back on both “Tip Toes” and “Emotional”, allowing Saweetie to have the majority of the spotlight.
What she does with that spotlight is so important right now. On ICY, she again proves that she has the chops to make it in this game and demonstrates the improvement in technique that will serve to provide the consistency and versatility to hang on in the ever-shifting climate of the streaming era. While her subject matter remains close to the surface, never really digging into anything more heady than nice clothes, nice cars, and balling out with her rapper boyfriend, it’s possible she’s saving those moments for her inevitable full-length album. For now, there’s enough here to appreciate how far she’s come, what she’s capable of, and to stoke anticipation for what she might do with her considerable talent in the future.
Icy is out now via ICY/Artistry Records/Warner Bros. Records Inc. Get it here.
Saweetie is a Warner Music artist. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music.