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Music

Women in Hip-Hop: The Voices of Our Generation

Interviews by Talia Tabatha Binx Smith / Photography by Patrick Chen

Hip-hop, a genre which bloomed out of a counter narrative in response to a system whose hands were wrapped tightly around the necks of its people, is one of counter culture's greatest byproducts. Long before the term hip-hop was coined, it was happening. And throughout the years, women in hip-hop have driven the culture forward, watering it into full bloom. Women who have helped develop the art form and shape cultural legacies that outwear the test of time and collectively make up what can be thought of as a Mount Rushmore of G.O.A.T's: MC Sha Rock, Roxanne Shanté, MC Lyte, Salt n Pepa, The Lady of Rage, Queen Latifah, Lil Kim, Foxy Brown, Missy Elliott, Bahamadia, Lauryn Hill, Lisa Lopes, Jean Grae, Rah Digga, Eve, Da Brat, Trina, Remy Ma, Vita, Diamond, up into more recently Nicki Minaj, Cardi B, and Azealia Banks — the list goes on and on.

From the early pioneers in the '70s who combined elements of Blaxploitation to speak on socially conscious themes to the sample-happy boom bap drum and snare of the '80s, all the way up to the hardcore rawness of the '90s and over-the-top bling era of the early 2000's, all of these women have been instrumental in building and contributing to the cultural and musical foundation brick by brick, even when they were being underestimated, undermined or erased. While icons like Lil' Kim have elevated the fashion, style and culture of women who look like myself and girls in my neighborhood to an enormous global audience — including the colored wigs, bamboo earrings, acrylic nails down and vernacular, speech and lingo you see copied by influencers and It girls of all races — all of these women have shifted today's modern world in monumental ways. As a result, they've also shifted the way many young black and brown girls experience the modern world.

While much of 2018's musical conversation consisted of dividing two of the biggest women in hip-hop into opposing, warring camps, we seek to celebrate them in all their differences and contributions to the genre. In the profiles that follow, we highlight the Next Generation of women in hip-hop and celebrate the Black and Afro-Latina artists who are unapologetically themselves. Sharing their stories, we discuss important issues in the community from depression, anxiety, tragedy, triumph, colorism, relationship issues, identity struggles and more. No matter the odds stacked against them, they've used their voices to send a clear message — not with permission, but by right. As June Jordan says, "We are the ones we've been waiting for."

Saweetie

Dress: SEL

Saweetie embodies luxury. Her debut album, High Maintenance, consists of anthems for self-made bosses everywhere. The California rapper sets high standards for herself, that are reflected in her bombastic lyrics. It's guaranteed Saweetie's music will have you planning out your vision board in a mink coat, because her lyrics personify hustling as a means of attaining the finer things in life.

Each song on High Maintenance tells a relatable, chronological story about love, breakups, and pursuing one's dreams. Saweetie always manages to makes these universal themes her own with the help of her one-of-a-kind, laid back flow and lyrical big-ups to hip-hop veterans like Nas and Too $hort.

From graduating from a prestigious University like USC to walking red carpets and snagging awards, Saweetie's journey has been one from the books. She's come a long way since her in-the-car freestyles, and her latest single "Pissed" is living proof. "Pissed" shows a separate side of Saweetie, and a departure from her lax early 2000's flow, giving the MC room to get in her bag and demand her respect.

Dress: SEL

When "Icy Girl" first hit the scene, the internet went crazy. Since then you've released an amazing body of work and great singles. How do you think you've evolved as an artist throughout each release?

From "Icy" to "Pissed," you can tell a big difference. I'm being more open as far as really expressing myself. I'm just showing more of my sassiness and my character, because I understand that sometimes I'm very cool and collected when I'm flowing. But this kind of shows a different side of me. At first I was kind of just being safe and bragging about shit that's not what I'm comfortable with. But I feel like I'm at a point where I don't give a fuck. Everybody says what they want to say about me, so I'm going to say what I want in my music.

You switch your sound up frequently. How do you stay versatile?

I feel like I'm singing more. I have a song that's coming out that's very fun, and I'm singing a lot on it. Just being unapologetically me. Expressing myself, like how I did in "Pissed," and singing because I want to sing.

Do you have any favorite features or collaborations thus far?

I had a really great time shooting "Up Now." Just renting out the Colosseum and working with G-Eazy and E40. I didn't collab with E40, but the fact that he came and showed me and G-Eazy love is really dope. I loved being home. Bay people, we're fun to be around, so I had a great time with them on set.

"Everybody says what they want to say about me, so I'm going to say what I want in my music."

Who have been your own musical and artistic influences?

It's funny that you say that, because I'm coming from a shoot and I'm learning that I like listening to the greats when I'm in a photo shoot because I feel like it keeps me on my toes. It keeps me on the path that I want to be on, that I'm on right now. Two people that I really love listening to are Michael Jackson and Madonna because they're so iconic. That's what I'm going to be one day.

You always have very great visuals to match your songs; how do you typically conceptualize them?

I like to listen to my music over and over again and just see what picture's painted in my mind. I'm a very hands-on artist, so I like for people to see what I see when I listen to my music.

Can we expect a new Saweetie project in 2019?

I'm always working, but the project isn't a definite project. But I think I will be releasing a body of work first quarter of the year, so watch out for that.

What are you most excited for people to see?

I'm just excited for people to hear my growth. Going from a "SoundCloud rapper" to a signed artist at a label. I don't have as much free time as I used to, so I'm not constantly posting videos of me rapping, or uploading music, which I should be and wish I was doing. But like I said, my schedule's really busy so I don't have time to. So I'm just ready to put out this new music so people can see my growth.

Follow Saweetie on Instagram (@saweetie).

Melii

Top: American Apparel, Bottom: SEL

It's very rare that you stumble across an artist with an outstanding level of versatility and range that belongs purely to them. Melii is that all-in-one artist. The 21-year-old rapper and singer brings an unmatched level of duality to the game; as a bilingual artist, she pours her heart and pure love of passion for music into every inch of her craft. Code switching between English and Spanish, juggling both worlds over one beat, Melii rest comfortably on between two worlds. Whether singing or rapping, whatever Melii puts out is bound to be a hit.

It's true Harlem produces nothing but musical giants. From Dipset, to A$AP Mob and Dave East, Uptown is known for producing greats that end up changing the sound direction of music for an entire era. Melii is the next rising star to come out of the borough. Writing and creating her own hits in two languages, she infuses her own Dominican culture into her lyrics, standing tall as a powerful voice for Afro-Latina women in hip-hop. Her talent as both a singer and a rapper landed her a feature on Meek Mill's Billboard charting Championships album, in addition to millions of online streams and multiple singles alongside other, younger New York greats like A Boogie.

I met with Melii for the first time late night in her downtown NYC recording studio. Her energy instantly lights up the room. Through bouts of laughing and dancing to her unreleased music in the studio, we talked about her most personal work to date, Phases, that touches on heavy topics like mental health, social justice and Latinx identity.

Top: American Apparel, Bottom: SEL

When did music initially peak your interest?

I was never one to verbally express myself, so I kept journals. I always had a thing for doing poetry, since the fourth grade. In my journals it was just mad poetry, and I always just kept writing. Even before that, I would go to nursing homes with my elementary school and sing for the people in the home. But when I really, really started writing was when I started having little heartbreaks and stuff like that. Definitely my first "Marvin's Room" cover was about some little boy [laughs].

Can you tell me about the creation of Phases?

I titled the album Phases because I'm a person who is constantly trying to see how I can expand, develop, or change. Every day I wake up with a new mentality or just try to add a somewhat more positive mentality. Phases describes me in so many ways, because every song is a different me. Sometimes people will try to say us as women are bipolar, but it's just that I'm a very emotional person. It's all different phases of me.

It sounds like Phases is an incredibly personal body of work.

On the album I open up a page of my life that lets people know who I am. I open up about taking medication to sleep, because I cannot sleep. In the past I've suffered from PTSD, depression, and anxiety. I tried to take my life once and I ended up in the hospital because I went through a very traumatic moment. On the album I speak about all of that. If you go look at my past freestyles, I did a freestyle on "1-800-273-8255." You'll see the difference, I was really skinny, I had dropped like 28 pounds when I did it. But in that song I talk about all of that.

Your candidness on your own personal battles with mental health is the conversation many young Black and Brown kids like myself, who also grew up with depression, PTSD, and anxiety, have been hoping to hear for so long. I think it's great that you are using your music to normalize these struggles as something we all battle with.

Yes, mental health is something a lot of people don't take seriously. Some people don't realize that depression doesn't just stem off of an emotion. It can actually be something medically wrong. I feel like me putting that out there is going to help my supporters. I'm usually like, "Girl, how you doing?" Or I go to their pictures like, "Oh you look cute!" I feel like they're my family, because I really talk to them.

"At the time my high school was really split between the Black people and the Spanish people. But I was always friends with both, so I was always the in-between."

Outside of Phases, you are a powerful voice in hip-hop in terms of representation for Latinx women. I'm sure that has been a journey in itself to navigate.

I'm Dominican, but sometimes people will be like, "You're not Black." Things like that really get me out of character. My high school was really split between the Black people and the Spanish people, but I was always friends with both, so I was the in-between. It just makes me sad that some Spanish people don't realize that they're Black. It's annoying. I experienced a lot of that in-between thing and it was always a weird stage for me.

I think it's so important that we have artists like yourself who are not afraid to use their platform to speak up on behalf of social justice issues, whether it be in your music or online.

I'm very aware of certain things because I grew up in the hood, I'm from the projects and I've seen a lot of my boys, who were super bright, straight-A, guys locked up. On my song "Shit Talk," I shout out Aubrey, who is one of the brightest people, but he's on Rikers right now. I say, "Shout out to ace on the island, show no love to my niggas? You wilin.'" Every time I hear that little part, I'm like, "Damn," and I start to think about how people portray Black men.

Also, I have a gay brother, so I understand the struggles that they go through. As soon as I see that I have a gay or a lesbian fan that's showing me love, I'm very sensitive to that, because I feel like when it comes to them, I want them to really gravitate towards me. I got that boss bitch music, but I also understand certain struggles. I have a brother who is darker than me, and aside from just being a Black boy, he's gay so there's a fear I have for him sometimes as his sister. Why can't we be free and dress up how they want to, without having to wonder if there's going to be some homophobic guy on the train trying to beat them up?

Your music gives both women and men a boost of confidence whenever they hear it. How did that attitude come to you over time?

When I was in elementary school, I went through a lot of bullying. I couldn't do my eyebrows, I couldn't do my nails, I couldn't do none of that. [laughs] My mom was very strict. She would straighten my hair on the weekends, and if I was going to school, my ass would be with two Wendy braids, so people would put me through a lot of shit. But that's why I am strong and confident today, and I can deal with any hate I may get in the comments. I also have a strong team and having that in this industry goes a long way.

Musically, how do you remain so versatile?

I do Spanish soul music, I do hardcore rap, and I go into pop too — on Phases, every song is different. You have the Spanish melodic trap, you have Caribbean vibes. I grew up in Harlem where you're sharing different cultures. I would hear Spanish all the time at home, and then at school speak English, so when it comes to being versatile in music, it doesn't come hard.

What new music can we expect from 2019 Melii?

My new projects I'm working on right now have a Caribbean vibe, and then I have an R&B song. It's a sample from the '90s that I took and it's mad hot. It just makes you want to bop. I definitely made that for the girls. I have a lot of new music coming soon, so stay tuned.

Follow Melii on Instagram (@melii).

Rico Nasty

Jacket: C'est D by Yoni Yu, Accessories: Haus of Khendar

Rico Nasty is a born trailblazer. Chances are the Brooklyn native, known for her unique 'sugar trap' aesthetic and authentic, punk rock sound is already on your favorite rapper's mood board. Rico works with celebrity makeup artist Scott Osbourne, Jr, to create kaleidoscopic beauty looks that lean towards science fiction, incorporating things like prosthetic elf ears, bandages, gauges, and full face paint to create a style Rico describes as simple, "Don't give a fuck."

In a world where any Black woman with emotions and a voice is labeled 'angry, loud and bitter,' Rico's music holds an important space in pop culture and in the lives of many Black women like myself. Emotional policing has always been used as a tool to silence and shame Black women into docility. In Rico's music, however, Black emotion is not penalized, but rather celebrated. At her concerts, Black women can mosh, they can scream along to her music, they can kick, dance and shout their emotions out.

While the Uzis, Trippie Redds and Travis Scotts of the world have crossed over into the mainstream, it's still rare to you hear a woman in hip-hop incorporating elements of rock, punk and grunge into her sound. Rico has helped in establishing that voice. Paradoxically, by not following the rules, she's been able to create her own playbook that masses of people follow.

Jacket & Shoes: C'est D by Yoni Yu, Accessories: Haus of Khendar

In the short time that you've been out, you've already changed the musical climate. So many people have their opinions on your contributions but, what is something you want to be remembered for?

I want to be remembered for mixing genres. Of course I'm not the first girl to do rock music. I'm not even the first girl to do rap music. But to blend them together multiple times successfully? I think that's my shit, right there. I always loved listening to remixes and listening to R&B songs on trap beats. Like I'm weird as fuck. I'm the goofy person who will sing "Faneto" in a country accent. I just be doing weird shit like that. That circles into my remixing. I want to be remembered as the girl who wasn't afraid to mix that shit together.

Your voice is one of a kind. It reminds me of artists like DMX, who have created their own distinct sound just through their tone alone.

I feel like my most unique aspect is my voice. When my song comes on, you know exactly what's going on. I love that about myself. I love that I have my raspy voice and that grit. It's something that for a long time I didn't like, so I tried to cover it. Now I'm in my bag and that's my shit. I'm reaching a lot of people because it's just me. I can do that shit. When another person tries to do this, it sounds weird as fuck.

I always say how important your music is to emotional expression for young girls.

Yes, I feel like my music is fucking motivational. There's a least one song on there that can be your alarm when you wake up in the morning to start your day. It's very unapologetic. Like we've got "Trust Issues," we've got "Smack A Bitch," we got "Rage." Then we have other songs like "Won't Change" and "Hockey." You know, it's always inspired by a mood.

"I'm feminine in my own way, but my music isn't."

I think the core of your music has always been about going against the grain and bucking whatever trend is laid out at the moment.

I'm feminine in my own way, but my music isn't. I'm not talking about anything that men can't listen to. I try to make it gender neutral because my boyfriend is the one who listens to a lot of my music. I want him to be able to sing along and I'm not trying to hear him talk about eating pussy or all this wild shit. And it doesn't matter how much money I make, I don't want my son looking at me like 'Damn sis… that's how you got on?'

You've inspired so many people; who have been your own musical inspirations?

Musically, I really have to say Rihanna really puts me in a beautiful mood. Joan Jett inspires me because I watched The Runaways. Before that, my parents bought me the Shrek CD because her song is on there. I just was obsessed with her growing up. I just always loved her and I love that when I listened to her music, I thought she was a man. Then I found out she was a girl, and now I can relate to her more than ever. When I started rapping that's really how it was — niggas thought I was a dude because my voice is so raspy. So when they hear my songs and then see me in person they be like, "Oh my god, it's a girl!" That shit feels good. Like it's only us out here and I could stand with the guys. And I loved that about Joan Jett. She could stand with the males. Her voice could carry around them. I love that.

To date, you've released several bodies of work. Tales of Tacobella, Sugar Trap and Sugar Trap 2 all chronicle your growth as an artist. But the 2018 release of Nasty really put you into a whole other category.

I really spoke a lot of things into existence with my early tapes which is scary. You know, this shit is crazy, listening to old music. And the goals I've set for myself, how I fucking surpassed what I ever imagined. That shit is lit. With Nasty, it was a collective body of work and I was definitely inspired by artists who put their tapes in order and are able to make them flow. I focused on that a lot for this project.

Follow Rico Nasty on Instagram (@tacobella).

Maliibu Miitch

Suit: Gucci (Vintage), Accessories: Chanel

Maliibu Miitch is the archetypal Pisces. Her deep understanding of her own psyche results in music that's equal parts fiery and reflective. The Bronx native is known for being a master of vocal inflections, seamlessly floating between low and high flows. Recent releases like "Give Her Some Money" and "Bum Bitch" show an impressive stylistic range. Her spitfire style of rapping brings back nostalgic memories of rap's golden era — something Maliibu, like most of us, would love to see come back.

While Maliibu, a gifted MC, quickly gained the attention of industry heavyweights like Swizz Beatz and the Ruff Ryders, her success is not the result of any co-sign but rather a product of her extraordinary level of hard work and persistence.

Suit & Shoes: Gucci (Vintage), Accessories: Chanel

I relate to your growth over the years, the hustle of a young creative. Can you walk us through those early days of your career?

Being in the industry and being a female, I've been through so many deals. I was with Ruff Ryders and Swizz Beats. I was with Island Def Jam. I was in a girl group and dealt with all the cattiness with that. I love to talk about that because I don't want anybody to give up their dream, because imagine if I would've gave up? There were times when I felt like I should've given up a long time ago. When I first started rapping, I was doing so many things that I should not have been doing. I was still fighting. So I always like to put that in my music, because I understand that there's other people going through that same thing. Like trying to get out the hood when there is so much holding you back and holding you down. But that doesn't mean you stop. That doesn't mean you give up, because it's more ways out the hood than just a fucking body bag, or in jail, or any negative way that they try to put on the kids in the hood.

"You got some OG artists trying to mumble rap now and I absolutely hate it."

It's so important to have that voice for the youth because it can get dark and scary when you feel like there's no hope out of your situation.

It's beautiful, still. And I love to put that in my music. I love to talk about the stuff I went through, like my family issues. Shit, if my man pissing me off, I'm going to throw that in a verse one day. That's how I'd describe it. I just want to always paint a message, because at the end of the day, this gift was given to me and I just want people to be able to hear it, and embrace it, and fuck with it. Especially with what's going on in 'guy music' right now. I don't really like it. It's not meaningful no more. You got some OG artists trying to mumble rap now and I absolutely hate it. I want to bring back that old '90s feel when it was a good time in music.

Outside of the '90s musical era, have you had any individuals who have kept you inspired?

l always love 50 Cent. He's my favorite rapper. He was this hood guy that got shot a bunch of times, came up and beat all the odds. I feel like I was like that. I was in a gang. I got jumped so many times. It was like a challenge, to get myself together. Imagine being from the Bronx, having beef, and these are the people that got to listen to your music, and they're now able to make the comments on YouTube talking mad shit about how they jumped you. I always saw 50 as being like that. He came out making a whole diss track aimed at everybody, and they loved it. People saw that he beat all the odds. That was the only way he was going to be able to fit in there, since they already hated him behind the scenes. He went in there and said, "Fuck it. I'm going to throw all y'all name in this damn song. And y'all going to hate me even more, but everybody's going to feel me, respect me, and love me for it." I respect him as a hood ass type with street credibility and everything, and then as a business dude as well. Even though he be doing crazy rants on Instagram. [laughs]

You mentioned that it was tough having to overcome negativity in order to prosper. What advice would you give to your fans on how to come out on top despite their personal struggles?

Whatever you do, it's going to be a headache. It's going to be some tears. It's going to be painful and you are going to want to doubt yourself. I want people to always know, don't give up no matter what, especially if you're a female. Always stand your ground no matter what. You're going to be labeled a bitch. You're going to be labeled hard to work with. You're going to be labeled crazy. As long as you have class, and do what you got to do, and be the best at what you do, they will just call you a successful bitch. So you might as well do it with some flavor on it.

Follow Maliibu Miitch on Instagram (@maliibumiitch).

Asian Doll

Top: Kota Okuda

Asian Doll probably goes harder than your favorite rapper, and she isn't slowing down anytime soon. From a long list of viral remixes, millions of views online, international sold out tours, stadiums of screaming fans, to inking a major record deal under trap music's biggest OG, Gucci Mane, the Dallas rapper has taken the world by storm, cementing her current place as the current reigning Queen of the Teens.

Top: Kota Okuda

As someone who has been listening to you since your underground days, seeing your star rise has been incredibly gratifying. Take me back to those early days before the million dollar offers and deals.

I've always been obsessed with my future. I knew music was what I wanted to do, so I took action early on. I stopped going to school to focus on my music, and it really made me isolate myself and just create Asian Doll. It got so deep to where I used to dream it, every single night. I wrote so much it was crazy. I had whole spirals full of raps, and would just be like, okay — just write some more, write some more. It was like that. And I was so shy to record for so long, but then I just did it. And it was just so authentic and so real.

You've reached a high level of fame and of course with fame comes impact. Is there a message you would want your career thus far to embody?

I make music for the young. You'll never see me making music like "go suck a dick and get some money from it." You would never ever in life, ever, never hear me put that message out there. Because at the end of the day, I take the youth so serious. I'm a young, Black girl in the industry who never fucked nobody for nothing. When people speak on my name, it's always going to be respect on it, every time. I want that for all girls. I want these girls to be tough, like mentally, especially with boys because when you're young in the game it's easy to be mindfucked.

I think your trajectory shows that hard work plus craft and passion is a great formula for your dreams to come true.

I just want to show these girls that it's a way out. Don't ever look at how you grew up and your environment and say, "Oh I'm in the projects, that's where I'm supposed to be." You use that shit to make you stronger. Don't let it manipulate you and make you feel like you're supposed to be in a situation you're not. I couldn't control having nowhere to stay. I was so young like, "Where the fuck am I gonna get an apartment from?" But at the end of the day, sleeping in the car…doing that type of shit is a sacrifice. God sees everything. When you're in those situations, he's mentally building you up for this, for bigger and better.

I know I would never be a bitter rich bitch, because I know what it's like to be alone. I know what it's like to be depressed. I know what it's like to have nothing, eating chocolate after I stole it, just to eat. I know there's so many girls who are going through the same thing. And I wouldn't be me if I wasn't trying to help. People can't control how they grew up. I couldn't control the environment I was raised around, and the people who were around me. I just had to grow up and make the best out of it. And I was around the worst.

You've always stayed true to your core values, do you think that's allowed you to stay one step ahead of the curve, both musically and aesthetically?

I would say I was one of the first female rappers to combine the colorful girly stuff with guns and trap music. I started the wave of pretty girls with guns and stuff like that because that was really my environment. Everything I was saying back then was real. I think I grew as an artist because I didn't want to be that person who was just so aggressive and mean. I wanted to be fun but still a reflection of where I come from. I really feel Asian Doll is the leader of the whole trap girl wave because I was doing that shit when I was 17-years-old.

With so many new beginnings, it can be easy to get lost. How do you remain true to your artistic principles?

There were so many record labels offering me huge deals and so much money. But there was a catch. They wanted me to not use profanity and wanted me to change my name. So I had to turn the offers down, even though they were offering ridiculous numbers. When everybody was signing their deals, I stayed independent and I still did a world tour. I cannot be in a position and feel unhappy because I freestyle a lot of my stuff and go off my own energy. I just couldn't imagine being unhappy in a deal. It would affect my music.

"When I win my first award, I think I'm just going to let everything out and cry."

Out of all the deals on the table, you ended up singing with trap legend and pioneer Gucci Mane. What has it been like learning from one of the greats and being the first lady of 1017 Records?

With Gucci, I can be myself. This man literally takes time out of his day to talk to me. He's very hands on. He's a mentor. He's my manager. He's all that in one. And he's not making me, because Asian Doll was already made. That's why I'm so happy to be signed to him, because I'm not being judged or criticized. He loves everything about the shit that I do. I can be myself.

Throughout most of 2018, there was controversy surrounding the "Doll" name, with fans and media pitting the girls with that moniker against each other and igniting internet beefs. What's your stance?

I'm the only one out of the Dolls who supports the Dolls. I want there to be more people with the name. Come with it! The whole Doll movement… I want it to be more people. Let's make a wave. Who am I to knock these girls? God has a plan for everybody and you never know how hard it was for somebody to grow up. They're probably finally just eating, getting comfortable and buying designer. I don't wanna take that from nobody. But at the end of the day, you will never box me into a category with them because I'll always stand out.

You've spoken a bit about colorism in the industry. There are so many microaggressions and colorist aspects that come into play in the narrative of dark skin women. I'd love to know more about your own experience.

When I had my little beefs, they would provoke me and they try to break me. But when I reacted it became a problem, and that's when I saw a lot of colorism at people play. People would try to paint this picture like I was the 'bad guy' any time someone would come for me. It was very colorist. People tried to paint that picture of me as hard and bad because of where I came from and because I'm brown-skinned like, "Oh, she just a mad ass bitch. That Asian Doll girl is a bully!" It was like that for so long. It will never happen again because I will never let them paint that picture of me.

Mentally, have you taken time out to process your journey and success?

No, I haven't cried yet. When I win my first award, I think I'm just going to let everything out and cry. When I got my watch, when I got my chains, when I signed, I didn't cry because I felt like I deserved it. In my head I'm like, "Finally." I've dealt with a lot of hate. But it's so beautiful just to see me in stilts on top. It's crazy, how strong I am, how strong a female can be.

Follow Asian Doll on Instagram (@asiandadoll).

Bali Baby

Top: Toure Designs, Bottom: Pulp NYC

Bali Baby has created a planet of her own, and we're just visitors. Her music is an auditory stroll down the halls of her own imagination. In a high-glossed world made entirely of witty punchlines and catchy double entendres, it's very clear to see why Bali's hits have become so addictive. The 21-year-old rapper does verbal gymnastics on every beat she touches — flowing over tracks with a sing-song melodic ease as she turns playful and perky bars into what can best be described as a mixture of valley-girl-uptalk meets Atlanta trap.

Bali's latest album, Baylor Swift, takes a much different route than her previous sound. Her most recent aesthetic borders on grunge-rap, with heavily distorted reverbs and hard base-lined songs. Baylor Swift certifies that Bali is the full package — sonically, visually and lyrically.

Top: Toure Designs, Bottom: Pulp NYC, Shoes: Gucci

You're from Atlanta. There's a very distinct ATL sound that has pretty much taken over the past few years — even artist from other cities try to emulate that sound. But what's interesting is that you sort of do the opposite of your hometown sound.

I grew up between privileged and hood. My mom lives in a mansion and my grandma on my dad's side lived on the Eastside of Atlanta. So, I was back and forth all my life. Even with the schools, I went to two different elementary, middle and high schools. My music comes off like a pretty, ratchet bitch [laughs]. Because that's who I am. Classy, with a side of shoot up the block.

What have been some of the ups and downs of fame along the way with each project drop?

All the people that came in and out of my life because of fame. Who would be here if I wasn't who I was? I've met and lost way more people than I ever have in my entire life with fame. Which makes it hard to see the line between friends and enemies. Then all the spotlight on you like a damn science experiment. You can never do wrong either, or else thousands will feel like they've got the right to judge you. You really have to keep it all together for the public; you can't even dream wrong or else you're going to have 500 trolls under your comments like, "DIE YOU SATAN."

"I've met and lost way more people than I ever have in my entire life with fame."

That has to be an intense mental journey.

I am the creative director behind every single thing I do. From videos, to covers, to outfits, to marketing ideas and more. My mind is like a coloring book, and I just want to color the pages right for everyone. It's been ups and downs of course, but nothing I couldn't handle. Women have very strong mental capabilities. We go through the most, and still keep it cute and on ten. We go through people picking and prying at our images, because we gotta be pretty lil' princesses 25/8. So, it's been a lot, but I'm a soldier!

What was the creative concept behind making your last project, Baylor Swift?

Baylor Swift came about because of a bad breakup I was going through, hence the huge difference in genres from my usual music. I think that was my worst breakup. I didn't want to not do music because I was sad, but I didn't want to really be around people at the same time. So my producer and his people put me in the studio for two weeks and we ended up making an entire project that was filled with my extreme emotions. It wasn't about just rapping about shit, it was about having a concept, telling a story, and keeping a clear vision of what I wanted to portray.

We have to talk about visuals. I'd say right now you probably have the hottest visuals as far as creativity and concept.

I'm 99.8% of the input in all my videos! I'm so picky when it comes to how things look. I love to shoot videos with storylines and I'm starting to refuse to shoot ones without. Since day one, my visuals are one of the things that totally stick out about me. I try to make them all eye-catching.

Are you working on any new projects right now?

Me and my playgirls are currently working on our debut project, Play House Music. No date yet, but the concept is basically just showing how hard bitches are.

Dope, what are you most excited for people to hear off the new project?

How well all of us collab together. We all complement each other in different ways. We each have a unique sound and we all go crazy on the track. Like it's insane. We really finna' set the bar!

This piece is all about celebrating women in hip-hop. What's your opinion on the current state of unity within the rap world?

Unity is trash right now [laughs]. All the female rappers are beefing. But what would you expect? It's like if you put hella different girls in one school and they say, "Hey only one of y'all can be famous at the end of this." And because music is fucked up like that, they're going to fight to the death for it, but still be friends because it's the right thing to do. Also, everyone's going to try to pit you all against each other, get in y'all ears and compare the fuck out everyone. People only care to pay attention when y'all beefing. People want a show at the end of the day. It's sad that we give it to them. We're all still young as hell and still learning ourselves. You know it's hard to balance it all. I can bet money, if we weren't rapping, most of us could have been friends because lots of these girls seem chill and fun. But the world may never know.

Follow Bali Baby on Instagram (@balionabeat).

Coi Leray

Coi Leray is comfortable and confident in her own skin. And rightfully so. The 20 year old has been able to create her own wave of base heavy, take-it-or-leave-it style anthems that are unlike any of her peers' to date. Unfiltered confidence oozes on biting tracks like "G.A.N" and "Pac Girl." Her cutting rasp and "I don't give a fuck attitude" is what has put her on course to become one of the hottest new artist out of the Garden State.

Although Coi's remixes have brought her notoriety, it's her breakout single "Huddy" that set the internet ablaze. Coi's slick-tongue, gruff rapping style over a bouncy and bass-filled beat perfectly accompanies the track's nostalgic visuals. The ice cream truck and lowrider laden video has scored over a million YouTube views to date.

As a fresh face in the game, Coi brings a rare drip and flare. She is a wonderful dichotomy of both chill and glam — a duality that may have found its roots in her multiplexed upbringing. "I call myself Hannah Montana because it's the best of both worlds," she says. "With my mom, it was food stamps. With my dad, it was the good."

How would you describe your sound?

Raw and organic. It's a hundred percent me. I always had my own sound. I was born with it — this is in my blood.

Can you speak to what your phrase (and title of your first album) EverythingcoZ means to you?

EverythingcoZ means self-acceptance. At the end of the day, I like to be cozy no matter what. Mentally, emotionally, physically, financially, I like to be cozy.

You've described your childhood as a mix of two worlds.

Growing up, I was raised by my brothers and my mom. I have five brothers, and I'm the only girl. I was basically born in the industry, so I called myself Hannah Montana because I got the best of both worlds. My dad ran Source Magazine. Once Source was over, my mom and dad split. Growing up with my mom was food stamps and then my dad, you know, he had more of the luxury lifestyle, but it was great because that's where the humbleness comes out. I've done all this myself — me and my team, without my dad or my mom.

When did you discover rap was what you wanted to do?

I always did things myself. I was working a sales job for awhile to be able to have my own apartment and car at a young age. While working in sales, I had to really humble myself and taste reality because I was working minimum wage with long hours, like 9 to 7, and I hated it. I was using that little bit of money just to pay off my car insurance and rent. I always knew I wanted to do music so finally I was just like, "Fuck this," and quit my last job. I went home and I got my heart broken and wrote this song called "Goofy Ass Niggas." And from there it was lit. After I quit that job I moved back with my mom and made it happen.

Who are some of your inspirations?

Lady Gaga. I love how she's just so dope. Also Uglyworldwide and Slick Woods. I just love their confidence.

The way they carry themselves is out of this world. It's like the same type of vibe you put out there with EverythingcoZ.

Everythingcoz is basically saying, you shouldn't care to impress anybody but yourself. Half of the time, there's nothing wrong with looking nice, dressing up and looking good, but you've got to ask yourself, who are you doing it for? Are you happy with doing that time-consuming shit every day? Even in my videos, it's hard for me to get them to give me a full face in makeup. I'd rather just put my mascara, my eyebrows, my highlight, and keep it moving. That's where EverythingcoZ comes. It's self-acceptance. Even in the clubs, I don't want to be cool. I don't want to wear heels. A lot of times people want the same all-out sexual bullshit from females. But I've always been on some careless shit, like I don't got time for that. I just want to make music that I actually want to listen to.

From listening and seeing the artwork of EC1, I know that butterflies have been a symbol that impacted you a lot.

I always liked butterflies, because they really create themselves. They have a second life. It's a rebirth. And I feel like I've been reborn, I swear. October 2017 is when I reactivated my Instagram. Ever since then it's been different.

As a new artist, do you have any observations on unity between artists?

Some people are emotional and want to be in competition with each other, or say someone stole something from them, but the best part about me and a lot of strong, Black empowered artists is that we know all you have to do is have confidence and put yourself in charge. We can't be haters. You've got to be a team player at the end of the day and always stay close to your enemy. Me personally, I know I sound good. I know I'm dope. I know the music I'm going to make is crazy. I'm so blessed. God is going to not give me more or less than what I'm not supposed to have.

Follow Coi Leray on Instagram (@coileray).

Dreezy

Dress: Gauntlett Cheng, Earrings: Appregio

Among the Chicago greats, Dreezy has risen up to find her own acclaim. Classically trained in jazz and singing from an early age, Dreezy brings originality to every genre she touches. As an avid and long-time writer of poetry, she works hard both in front of the camera and behind the scenes. Her serene singing voice, paired with a base-filled rapping style, gives her the rare ability to produce tracks that are both scalding and emotional, like soul music on a Sunday morning. There isn't an emotion her lyrics can't make you feel.

Dress: Gauntlett Cheng, Earrings: Appregio

You've always been a writer but was a moment when you know rap was something you wanted to seriously pursue?

I was the new girl at every school I went to, because my mama always moved around Chicago. So I didn't want to come to my new school like, "Hey, I sing jazz." I was like, let me switch it up and see how I could get everybody's attention. I started rapping and I was one of the coldest rappers in my high school. I was doing a lot of remixes when I first started off. Remixes help you get a lot of traction because people might not want to hear your song, but they want to hear how you flip their favorite rapper's song.

That's how Wayne got hot. A lot of his remixes, he went and flipped other people's songs and it would end up being better than the original.

That's exactly what I was listening to in the "No Ceilings" era. He was just flipping stuff. So I'm like, man, I gotta get my take on it. Like a female version. A lot of the girls started really relating to it. Next thing you know, the rappers in my city like Lil Durk, G Herbo and King Louie all them were like, "Hey, you're hot shorty." I got in the studio and I was rapping right on the spot in front of them and writing my own verses. That got me a little respect around the city. I was the only girl in Chicago rapping for real that people were taking serious. But what really got me hot was my "Chiraq" remix. I flipped it as soon as it dropped, going hard bar for bar.

"I didn't want to come to my new school like, 'Hey, I sing jazz.'"

How do you feel your poetry and writing background translated into rap?

My Schizo project, I like to call it street poetry because it's hard. I felt like I was at a time in my life where I thought I was crazy because I had so many emotions. You know when you're just growing up and you're going through love and your career and your life, like what am I doing with myself? I called it Schizo because I feel like as women, people try to put us in this one category. They try hard to portray you as this mad Black bitch or whatever the case may be. Schizo was me saying, "No ... there are so many different emotions to a woman!" I don't have to just be just trap. I don't have to be just poetic. I don't have to be a singer. As women we have so many different emotions, and I feel like I got to get all of my different personalities off with that.

As one of the really important voices for the younger next generation of girls, what is your opinion on the current dynamics?

Female rap is flourishing right now and it's good because for so long, people felt like there could only be one female. So it's dope that we have got so many different varieties. I wouldn't even hate on the next female becausewe're so different. There's so many guys and they got so many different people that they can go listen and that are their role models. One thing that made me stand out is that I'm this poetic street girl. Now, you've got Rico Nasty, where it's like rock and punk. Then you've got Queen Key where it's just real vulgar, like, "eat my pussy" and Saweetie, where it's just bougie. I love turning on the City Girls when I want to get raunchy. I think there's enough room for everybody.

Who inspires you?

Definitely Wayne. Definitely Rihanna. And I definitely grew a lot more respect for Nicki Minaj. Because when Nicki first came out, I ain't gonna lie, I wasn't a big female rap fan. I was one of those people that be like, "Uh, that's a girl rapping, I'll listen to it later." But after taking it serious and getting more into music, I respect her so much, because it's like bitch you hold your weight for ten motherfuckin' years. And you did a damn good job at it, because it's so much more work when you're a female artist. I's not just rap. You gotta have the image, you gotta have the personality, you gotta control your attitude, Lord knows that's hard. [laughs]

They don't judge these men on bars like they judge us. When you hear a female track, most men would be like, "Okay…cool but what she look like?" And it's like, you can't help what the fuck you look like, so to get people to look past all of that shit and respect you for your talent and your work is just very commendable. So, I definitely salute the top three girls in the game, Beyoncé, Rihanna, Nicki Minaj and then of course Cardi B for getting it out the mud.

A lot of young girls are going to read this article. What advice would you give them?

My advice to all the female rappers, especially coming into a label, or getting signed, is to learn yourself completely. You have to learn your fan base, learn your image, learn your personality. What do people like about you? And you gotta feed off that. I'm still learning myself, but at the end of the day, Dreezy is never going to go away from who Dreezy really is.

Follow Dreezy on Instagram (@dreezy).

Queen Key

Queen Key knows exactly how to take over the boys club. Her 2018 EP, Eat My Pussy, features bars praising taking back ownership of femininity and sexuality. The Chicago native brings a level of light-hearted fun to hip-hop, as told through her bubbly flow and lyrical sense of humor. Queen Key undeniably flips the rap game's gender roles on tracks like "Tell" and "Spenda Night," and though her hooks are fun and catchy, make no mistake, Queen Key can rap circles around the best of them. With co-signs from Chicago heavy-weights like King Louie and G Herbo, a long roster of girl power songs, and a one of a kind energy — there's absolutely no denying Queen's in it for the long haul. Her new EP Eat My Pussy Again is now available for pre-order.

You always sound like you're having fun on your tracks. Did rap start off as a hobby for you?

I've always been into music, ever since I was a little kid. It was a little easier to pick it back up once I got older, since I already had the passion for it. But what really pushed me to go into it was that I noticed a regular job wasn't working for me, so I figured I should use my talents to do what I wanted to do.

You recently dropped Eat My Pussy. How did you go about putting together the seven track project?

When I first started making it, the creative process was super random. Like when I made "Tell," I was in a studio in Atlanta and the engineer was just playing the beat. It was the first beat he played and I just fell in love with it and started writing to it. That's usually how I create my songs. Lately I haven't been writing as much though, I'll just go in the booth with what I have memorized in my head.

"There isn't anybody like me."

People listen to your music to put them in a better mood or get them hype before a night out. What did you want people to take away from the project?

I just want them to realize that, I'm the first me. There isn't anybody like me. I have a lot of things that only I do, like the fact that I always say "Queen Shit Bitch" in every song. Also my whole delivery is different, what I'm about as a person too, everything. I think my dimples are kind of unique too. [Laughs] So I just want people to listen to the shit, learn it and love it.

What keeps you inspired?

My three biggest inspirations would be God first, and then these two are going to sound odd but everyday situations in life that I go through inspire me to create, and then finally just creative people. Anybody that's creative and anybody that's doing what they want to do. They keep me inspired.

Follow Queen Key on Instagram (@keyisqueen).

Bri Steves

Top: Haus of Khendar

The soulful songstress and rapper Bri Steves hails from Philadelphia — a city that has produced musical giants like Meek Mill and Lil Uzi — and there's no doubt she's next up. Her conspicuous talent quickly sparked a bidding war with top labels and executives, ranging from G.O.O.D Music to Top Dawg Entertainment, before she found her current musical home with Atlantic Records. Bri's ability to flip between riffs and bars using dulcet tones and hard beats makes her stand out in a field of talent. The vulnerability in her music creates something that sonically feels like a late-night conversation with your homegirls. With an upcoming tour alongside H.E.R. and the release of recent singles like "Miami," it's clear that Bri isn't slowing down anytime soon.

Top & Bottom: Haus of Khendar

Long before scoring an Atlantic Records deal, your love of music was cultivated at an early age.

My love of hip-hop and music has been on-going for as long as I can remember. I started rapping back in high school, but didn't get serious about it until my junior year of college. That's when everything started to click for me. I was releasing songs through SoundCloud and doing shows here and there. I was also studying PR and planned on a career in fashion in New York. But then I went to the studio in South Philly and got to meet some people who did music full-time. Once I saw that and got exposed to it, I made the decision to pursue a rap career, full-time.

Musically and in engineering, you're self-taught. How were you able to learn so many aspects of song production on your own?

I started interning at this studio in South Philly. I had money saved up from selling my first car and all my equipment, and I just spent days and days in the house teaching myself how to record. Teaching myself to be a better engineer, a better producer, a good songwriter. I did that for months just to grow my skill set level. Doing that while I was at school and going to class every day, it was a lot. But it was something I knew I really wanted to do.

"Me putting it into the music helped me heal a little bit."


What's your creative process like?

I always pick a beat first, so I play a bunch of tracks and I see whatever one hits me — and then I take it from there. Inspiration wise, I just pull from a lot of different artists I know. Starting out I wanted to be like Missy. I knew she can sing, rap, produce and that was really a big inspiration for me. I look up to people like Pharrell, Kanye West, Biggie, you got Eve from Philly. I just pull from certain artists to keep my fire going.

Your track "Jealousy," which received well over one million views, takes us down the streets and stoops of Philadelphia. When it comes to visuals, who would you say you draw inspiration from most?

I know when I started shooting videos I was really into people like Dave Myers. I was also looking at old Busta Rhyme videos, even Ludacris videos.

On your "Patience Freestyle," you get really intimate. As a young girl from Philly who grew up without a father myself, listening to that song was like hearing my own story and the story of many other young girls like me, over wax.

Thank you, yes that song was even difficult for me to make. I grew up with just my mom. I didn't have my dad around. I wrote that maybe like, two years ago, and when I actually recorded the song I cried. I never really talk about my dad not being there and how that has affected the relationships that I have had with other guys. It was a difficult topic for me to touch on. But it was dope. Me putting it into the music helped me heal a little bit.

Much of your music deals in themes of women empowerment, which I love. What are your thoughts on unity and women's empowerment within the rap sphere?

I think that we all can win. We don't have to choose liking one artist over the other. I think the age that we live in, now everyone is down with it, and there is more than enough room for everybody to win.

As an artist you contain so much duality, what aspect of Bri Steves are you most excited to share with the world in 2019?

I am really excited for people to see something beyond "Jealousy." I'm excited for people to all sides of me. I can now bring them together because I have a melodic record along with a super aggressive record.

Follow Bri Steves on Instagram (@bristeves).

Molly Brazy?

Molly Brazy is the youngest Detroit rapper impacting the game in a big way. At only 19 years old, the charismatic rapper holds her own amongst the best of them, including her fellow Detroit rapper and long time friend, Kash Doll. As one of Detroit's strongest forces, musically Molly holds nothing back. Her gritty bars and snare bring out a raw energy that have garnered her a huge fan base. Stepping onto the scene with Molly World and Big Brazy, Molly has forged her own path. With the release of her most recent album Queen Pin, she once again proves that she is a force to be reckoned with.

How did you get into music business?

It all started when I was going to school and I got kicked out. Once I got kicked out, I was bored and had all my raps in my phone, so I just started freestyling. I uploaded a video and it started blowing up on social media, and people started noticing me when I was out. It happened real fast, the fan base just started growing in crazy numbers. Then when I started making more music, people just started turning up to listen and I'm just like, why am I not doing music full time, then?

What were those early days in your career like for you?

The early days were the most lit days, because I was just having fun and going hard. When I first started, I didn't even know how much money I could be making. I just wanted to rap. And in the early days, I never used to really leave Detroit. So when I started leaving to do shows and seeing how many fans and supporters I had from all over, it was just a great feeling. It was hard in the early days, though, because my brothers — they all had gotten locked up like two years before. Those are the people I want to take on the road with me and experience this life with me. I'm happy to see how far I've come though because rap has changed my life a lot. It was meant to be.

You're definitely one of the most talked about artist out of the city right now. How would you say Detroit influenced your sound?

I feel like Detroit has this hard, violent rap style. We got our own swag. I listen to all the older Detroit artists, so that's what I really came from rapping about. And all of my brothers, they used to be around each other freestyling and roasting each other and I would join in, so I really came from that type of energy.

Also Kash Doll influenced me a lot, just seeing her come from where she did. I know how hard it is to get noticed in Detroit and how hard it is to make it out because there is so much hate. So I respect how much she came up.

"Detroit has this hard, violent rap style."

Coming into the game at such a young age, is there anything you've learned so far?

I never cared what people said about me. I feel like high school prepared me for the rap industry, because it's the same with the haters. People will try and make you feel like you have to prove yourself to somebody, and I learned in my first year of rapping that I don't have to prove myself to nobody. You just have to remain real with yourself because people will try and change you. But I will never be changed. In terms of growth, I would say I'm not as violent as before. I slowed down on the guns in the videos and all of that. Violence isn't really too mature.

Is there a message that Molly Brazy has for the world?

I never like to sugarcoat anything. I want people to see what I'm doing and know that they can do the same thing.

Follow Molly Brazy on Instagram (@mollybrazy).

Kamaiyah

Top: American Apparel, Vest: Yeezy

Kamaiyah has had nothing but upward success since her 2016 debut, A Good Night in The Ghetto. The Oakland native's authenticity has allowed her to grace the XXL Freshman cover, score radio hits, and even open up on YG's (aptly named) "Fuck Donald Trump" tour. Having grown up on California musical greats like Tupac, Kamaiyah's rapping style is her own personal cocktail of early '90s Bay Area G-funk infused with a 2019 edge. The outspoken MC uses her music as a vehicle to tackle important subject matters like classism and handling grief within our community.

Top: American Apparel, Vest: Yeezy, Shoes: Doc Martens

What's so interesting and unique about Oakland is that even though there has always been a core Oakland sound, most Oakland artists end up being the ones to create new sounds for the culture. Do you feel like growing up in the Bay influenced your music style?

As a kid, I always thought, if he could do it, I could do it. So, I just started writing, and once I started I thought I should never stop. I feel like the culture of where I'm from shaped me naturally and you hear it in my music. It's just a different type of area that makes me have a boss mentality. You know, like, pimp mentality. People from Oakland, we don't take no shit. And I keep that same energy.

There are so many people who try and define an artist's sound for them. How would you define your own?

Just that G-funk, that Oakland funk. That player pimp shit.

You've had so much success since your first debut. Looking back now, how does it feel when you reflect on those early days?

I feel like I've been blessed. Since my first project I've been able to do Coachella, The BET experience, a commercial with Lebron James, a platinum record with Drake. The list goes on and it's only going to get better. So I have nothing to complain about.

On the music side of things, how do you feel your sound has evolved?

I think each project should be a story of where I'm at in life. That's always what I'm trying to get at. A Good Night In The Ghetto was a story. I needed a good night in the ghetto because my fucking brother was dying. Shit was really hitting me so with that I was kind of like, "Nigga let's go have fun." The time around Before I Wake was a little bit depressing because I was going through an episode after really dealing with the effects of my brother dying.

It's good you speak to that because a lot of times people don't really talk about grief in our community.

Hell, we got to talk about it.

"Each project should be a story of where I'm at in life."

Who are your inspirations?

Aaliyah and TLC for sure.

'90s era is the best music-wise.

I don't even know half these new motherfuckers because they pop up everyday. It's like no point of me even getting invested because there's going to be another one right after them.

We hear so much of your own personal story and your world through your music. But is there something nobody knows about you?

I don't think people know I'm funny as shit. I talk shit all day. I grew up in a house full of brothers so you know it was nothing but comedy. Growing up with all boys was different. I got beat the fuck up, and that's why I know how to fight [laughs]. I couldn't do shit. They used to try and punk my boyfriends.

In that same vein being a woman in a male dominated space, what's your opinion on the state of unity for women rappers?

The younger girls, at the end of the day, they're going to go through certain things and maybe might have more beef because it's a mix of people in their ear or insecurity. I don't entertain that shit. If they're younger than me, I just give them advice. I talk to Kodie Shane, Asian Doll, and the type of people who don't be worried about that shit. When you're young, people will try and make you feed into the bullshit and it isn't about that. We all got families to feed. Just do your thing.

What advice do you give to young girls who want to become bosses?

Just be yourself and don't change for anybody, because people will notice if you're not being yourself. Don't let the pressure get to you. A lot of times people feel pressure after they start getting a certain amount of attention so they keep doing shit to get a reaction. But what's meant to last will stand the test of time.

Follow Kamaiyah on Instagram (@kamiayah).

City Girls

Top: Fendi, Bottom: WeAnnaBe, Earrings: Dior

The City Girls have created a cultural phenomenon. The Miami duo consisting of Yung Miami and JT have quickly become one of the greatest musical success stories of 2018. Their hit "Period" spawned a globally viral catchphrase, while their splashy lyrics and hooks are recited in every club, Snapchat video, and Instagram caption worldwide.

A major factor in the duo's musical success has been their unique ability to turn the table on men. In their own way, City Girls have become symbols of sexual liberation. Their "don't give a fuck" demeanor and lyrics push women to take full ownership of their sexuality, and more importantly, their time.

In real life they have built a career steeped in resilience. Despite JT receiving a federal prison sentence just as things started to take off, the duo have still managed to out-chart, outsell and outwork their competition. The Cardi B-featuring "Twerk" entered the Billboard Hot 100's ninety-second slot, placing City Girls among the likes of Nicki Minaj and Cardi B as the only women in rap to have a 2018 track in the Billboard Hot 100.

Their impressive natural talent attracted the mentorship and backing that comes along with being signed to the industry's hottest label, Quality Control Records. Genius marketing and business skills, straight from the label's CEOs, Kevin "Coach K" Lee and Pierre "Pee" Thomas, have kept the girls grounded and surrounded by a great home team that allowed them to quickly take their place among their top selling labelmates, Lil Baby, Migos and Lil Yatchy.

Top: Fendi, Bottom: WeAnnaBe, Earrings: Dior

If City Girls could leave any message to the world, what would it be?

Pussy is powerful. [Laughs] We run the world. These men need us.

I know that's right. You and JT have really turned the tables in your music. You got a lot of upset men clenching their fist at City Girl captions on Twitter right now.

I ain't going to lie. A lot of guys get mad at us because they're like, "Damn, with y'all songs. We ain't going to be able to get any pussy." They're like, "Ya'll got these girls saying some crazy shit," and, "Y'all got this girl telling me she needs this and that," and I'm just always like, "As they should!" As a man, you shouldn't want to downplay a woman. Especially if you're trying to talk to her and be in her life. You should want to boss her up. Men are selfish. They want to penny pinch you.

People try to say we're teaching girls to rely on men, but it's not even like that. You can be independent and successful women on your own, and still have a guy spoil you and treat you right. Even though you don't need the help of a man, it's always good and better to have the support, regardless. Look at Beyoncé, she's rich independent and successful. But she still has support from her husband. Don't think because she's rich, that he's not spoiling her. Some men are just selfish though. The message would be: "It's not prostitution but do not talk to these men if you're not getting nothing from them, please."

Yeah and that "something" can be as simple as learning something new, or bringing any kind of personal or mental enrichment to the table. Outside of what you rap about in your music, what advice do you give to women?

I think a lot of women settle because they don't want to be lonely. Like I know this one girl, she always got a man and I be so confused because she will break up with somebody and the next day be in a whole relationship. I think some women are afraid of being lonely. I think people need to know it's cool to be alone.

We all miss and love JT, what's it been like since she's been away?

I miss her so much because when we get together, it's just fun, I swear to god! Even when we go in the booth, or when it's time to go do a show, I have her to hype me up, and I'm her hype man. I love doing that with her. I love that we do everything together as a group. It's like working with your sister, because I've known her since I was 14. She knows my family and I know her family. It's fun and it makes it unique. We're friends, but we're definitely family.

We prepared ourselves because we knew she was going away. It wasn't just like boom she went to jail. She did a lot of verses over different beats and left it open so I can add mine in. We recorded so many new songs and videos so we have a lot of new music to drop. And then on top of that, I'm still going to pre-record music so that when she gets out, she can just hop on those songs. So there's no time missed.

"If I don't believe in myself, who will believe in me?"

"In My Feelings" was the number one record of the summer. What was that collab like with Drake?

Well, he has a relationship with QC. He did "Versace" with the Migos and "Yes Indeed" with Lil Baby. He followed the City Girl's account on Instagram, and said he listened to every song on the mixtape, and was like, "I love that y'all have a new Miami sound." You ever meet a celebrity and it's more like they're a regular person? When I met him, he was really like a homie type vibe. You ever met someone and feel like you've know them awhile? That's how it felt.

Was it hard adjusting to all that fame at once?

It was hard because I never planned on being an artist. It was a lot to go from nothing to being in the studio with these big producers and being apart of QC. I remember early on we went to QC studio in Atlanta, and P [Pierre Thomas] was there and I was so nervous I could not rap. I was shy and I was afraid they were going to be like, "Hell naw, that shit don't sound good." So I told P, "I'm not doing it until you leave." [laughs] But, now, it's not like that. If I don't believe in myself, who will believe in me? I had to break out of that. But it took me a while to open up.

QC is one of the top labels in the world right now with Baby, Yachty, and Migos on its roster. What's it like being apart of such a dope line up?

It's unbelievable but it's fun. Being on a label with them is great because we're the only girls. So we're like their little sisters and they're like our brothers. We can literally call Yachty and be like, "Yachty, we need help. Can you help us? We need help with a hook." He's always just like, "Yeah, I got y'all." Last time we saw Offset and Quavo they were like, "Make sure y'all stick together. Don't let nothing come between you guys, stay loyal, stay solid. It's y'all time." Every time they see us, they give us advice and mentorship.

Non-musically who's someone who kept you going throughout your career?

My son and my mom. My mama's been through a lot to provide for us. She's been in prison two times. I always think about my mom. When she gets out, I want her to come home to a house and a car. And I just want to be like, "You never have to hustle or work again." Same with my baby, I don't want my baby to grow up in the streets or have a hard life. I don't want him to have a too easy life either, but I just want to make sure he's comfortable and stable.

Is there anything you'd like to tell the world?

Free JT!

Follow City Girls on Instagram (@citygirls).

Cuban Doll

Top & Bottom: Carlton Jones, Accessories: Haus of Khendar

Hailing from north Dallas, Cuban Doll brings a down south flavor to girls' night out music. Her slick-winded rapping style spawns infectious hooks and landed her with over 8 million views off one video alone. She's known for playful punchlines, but shows her sensitive side on songs like "Trust" and "Flaw Shit."

I first met Cuban Doll at a smoothie shack in Los Angeles. As an artist, Cuban has been involved in her fair share of controversy. While there is much the world knows about Cuban Doll, the rapper, there is very little we actually know about Taylor, the woman.

Top & Bottom: Carlton Jones, Accessories: Haus of Khendar, Shoes: Gucci

People have their own opinion of who Cuban Doll is and the type of music you make. How would you describe your own sound?

I would describe my music as hype, female-motivated, and empowering. I try to always empower women and nine times out of ten my music is going to uplift women or are songs that females can go hard to.

Your songs are perfect for getting together with your homegirls. We hear so much about Cuban Doll the artist and rapper yet know so little about Cuban as a person. Can you tell me a little about your childhood growing up in Dallas and how that time period shaped you?

My mom and dad were always in and out of jail. I was born in jail and I came home to my grandma. My whole childhood, I always stayed with my grandma. We were always moving and getting evicted. Since I just had my grandma, I feel like I had a lot of freedom to do what I wanted, and there was a time that I stopped going to high school. When I stopped going to high school, that's when real life hit me. I always felt like there was something better out there.

I have two brothers on my mom's side and a sister on my dad's side. We were all raised together. My little brother is like 15-years-old, my older brother, he's 21, and he's locked up right now. Coming up, my family, we were never wealthy. I had friends whose parents had houses and nice cars and looking at that I was like, "Ok… I want this in life." At the time, I had people in my ear like, "If you don't go to school, you're not going to have this, this and this." But I was always like, "Yes, I'm am…one way or another." So I just always try to think big, especially when someone tries to tell me that I can't do something. That's motivation to go do it.

I think growing up and experiencing hard times really shapes you into someone who know how to handle difficult times when you get older.

If I could go back and change the way I grew up I wouldn't, because where I come from made me the person who I am. I feel like the kids who got it all and grew up with everything, they don't work hard because everything was handed to them. I didn't have anything, so I was always working toward something. I never had anything handed to me.

Back in mid 2018, you experienced a traumatic incident with domestic violence. I grew up in an environment where domestic violence was pretty heavy, so I really admired how you spoke up and didn't let anyone silence you. It helped a lot of girls who were going through similar situations.

I think probably like 90 percent of females that are in relationships with dudes, most dudes always put their hands on women. Even if it's a push or a shove. But with that situation, I was in a relationship and that wasn't the first time it happened. I spoke up because I felt like I wanted to help other people, as kind of a cry for help. I wanted people to know, if you're going through that, it's not the end, since most people in that situation think it's over for them. From that, other females started reaching out to say, "Thank you, I really needed this." So I think it helped a lot of people.

What advice do you give with girls who may be dealing with domestic violence and want to get out of their situation?

You were born by yourself, you started with nothing, so there's always a comeback. That's always my motto: Life is what you make it. It will always get better.

"We're all human. We all die the same way. I'm no different than anyone else. Rapping is a way of doing something with my life but I never want other people to feel like they can't do it."

Do you feel like the industry does a good job with supporting women in rap?

I feel like the industry is accepting females now. I mean they been accepting females, you got all the female rappers like Lil Kim, Nicki Minaj, Missy, all the people who been doing it. But I've always felt that the industry is always looking for 'the next Nicki Minaj.' Everyone wants their own personal Nicki Minaj at their label. When I say that, I mean an attractive woman that streams, does numbers, attracts people, attention and a crowd. But I feel like we get taken advantage of a lot because it's a male dominated industry. We get stomped on and pushed over. Although we have a voice, we don't have a loud enough or big enough voice.

How do you think that voice can be amplified?

The best way we can amplify it is through our music, our social media — any type of outlet. As far as walking into a label and demanding what we want and what we need, I feel like they're just like, "Yeah whatever, we already got everything planned out for you." But I've got my own plan. I don't want to do it that way. I want to do it my way. I don't want to be the next Nicki, or the next Cardi or the next Kim. I want to do it my way and come up with my own ideas. Females don't really get to do that. Mainly the males in the industry get to do that, they let the males control what they want to do with music and videos. But with women they try to puppet us. It's always a bunch of dudes just trying to control you behind the scenes. Me personally though, I always try to prove myself. When someone says I can't do it, I try to do it anyway.

There are definitely a lot of double standards within the industry. Are there any common misconceptions you feel like young girls should know about before entering that world?

A lot of people think the labels run things. They think if you're with a label, you're lit. But really, a label just makes you look good and let's people see like, "Oh, you got a team behind you, cool." Really, that whole team controls all your stuff and can turn you into a robot. If you're active and ambitious and if you're not used to hand outs, you're not going to get too comfortable with the label because you know in the back of your mind, this isn't free. This isn't a free ride, all the money is coming from somewhere. I always thought if y'all can do this, then I can do it by myself. I started by myself so I can do it by myself.

You were recently caught up in a scandal involving Cardi B. How does it feel to look back on that whole situation now that people know the truth?

I just feel like I got taken advantage of. Even though I had a chance to speak out and tell people I wasn't involved, it really is just not the type of life I wanted or what I want attached to my name. At the end of the day, I think most people knew it wasn't true. It was just entertainment to some people. And for a lot of people, as long as they can get some entertainment, they don't care. Some people know for a fact it's not true, but they just want drama. But that can mess up a lot of things in people lives.

What can we expect in 2019 for Cuban Doll?

I have a documentary coming out that will be based on people who have cancer. We're going to be donating money and starting a Go Fund Me to support women who have cancer or gone through chemo who can't really work or move around. My mom has cancer, so that inspired me. And whenever I go back to my hometown, we're going to do some type of fundraiser. None of the proceeds are going to me, I'm actually donating money to it.

There are so many people in low income communities who can't afford proper treatment and high medical bills. I think it's really commendable that you're using your platform to not only help your mom, but really make a difference.

I think this cancer fundraiser is so important because a lot of times, when people do donations, you never get to see where your money is actually going. I think as rappers we should use our platform to make a difference in people's lives. We're always promoting our music, but with this I just want it to be like, "Okay, donate five dollars to the charity. You don't even have to buy my song."

Are there any parting words you feel the world should know about Cuban Doll?

I always want my fans to feel like they can talk to me. I never want them to look at me like I'm Hollywood or bougie, because I've always been that girl around the corner. I never want people to look at me like, because I have money, I have no problems. I want people to look at me like a human being that's starting a movement and actually trying to do something. I feel like it's deeper than rap and just making music and making money and being famous. We're all human. We all die the same way. I'm no different than anyone else. Rapping is a way of doing something with my life but I never want other people to feel like they can't do it.

Follow Cuban Doll on Instagram (@cubanndasavage).

Art Director: Talia Tabatha Binx Smith
Photography: Patrick Chen
Photo Editing: Alex Rivera, Kate Kim
Set Design: Noel Anthony Martinez, Faye Dell
Set Coordinator: Teliza Adams
Lead Stylist: Jay Khendar Davincii
Co-Stylists: Domi Reina, Javahn Spill
Stylist Assistant: Taylor Burrell, Noel Anthony Martinez
Makeup: Scott Osbourne Jr, Ashley Dalton, Tatyana Mckella, Sage White, Niasia Boyd, Laiecha Fedrick, Sam Monize, Marisol Solis and Michele Parker
Hair: Shanise McKane, Coree Moreno, Nafisah Carter, Jaelah Turner, Jared 'JStayReady' Henderson
Production: Talia Tabatha "Binx" Smith
Production Assistants: Tia Long, Monet Jeffries, Erica Figueroa, Yolanda Wadolowski, Sabrina Chung, Josh Kim, Spencer Ahn, Taylor Khoi
Special Thanks to: Splacer, Yung Lords, Khoi Agency

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