Caught Up In The Rapture: Latto
Latto sits down with the iconic MC Lyte, to discuss their creative processes, the impact of social media, and the future of rap.
Latto sits down with the iconic MC Lyte, to discuss their creative processes, the impact of social media, and the future of rap.
Latto has been forging her own path in music since the tender age of 10. With hip-hop flowing through her veins, an unmatched hunger to make it to the top, and a ferocious flair for finessing wordplay, the Atlanta-born rapper has turned the heads of the industry with her high-glamour meets hard-hitting infectious tracks. Taking center stage this past summer with a slew of viral hits off of her debut album 777, from the Mariah Carey “Fantasy” sampled track “Energy” to the female empowered anthem “It’s Givin”—Latto has not only proven she has the stamina to climb the charts, but also the staying power to keep up with the best of 'em.
At only 22 years old, she’s been nominated for a Billboard Music Award, produced two highly-acclaimed albums and collaborated with some of the biggest names in the game–and she’s just getting started. In an exclusive sit down, Latto chats with Grammy-nominated rapper MC Lyte about authenticity, pros and cons of the commercialization of rap, and the female artists who paved the way for their existence. When the pair first sign on, MC Lyte congratulates Latto for taking home this year’s BET Award for Best New Artist.
Read the full conversation below.
V MAGAZINE: Let's just start off with the basics. What made you pursue rap? How did you fall in love with the genre?
LATTO: I first fell in love with wordplay. In school, my favorite subject was language arts, and I loved school. So I would write poems, and we had these writing competitions in school. I would enter and I would win every single one. I always just had a passion for words and then I grew up around this fast lifestyle–my dad is like this street dude around rappers and cars. So my poems and essays turned into lyrics because I was around rappers and this glitz and glam lifestyle. So in a way, both of my worlds combined and it was kind of inevitable that I became a rapper.
V: That's amazing. And MC Lyte, what were some of your early inspirations and how did you get into rap as well?
MC LYTE: Well, the first person I ever heard do it from a female perspective was Sha-Rock from the Funky 4 + 1, and she opened up my eyes to what was possible. But it wasn't until I heard Salt-N-Pepa that I was like, 'Okay, now I'm going after this.' And between the two was a very long time. But prior to Salt-N-Pepa, I was in class with all the classmates and we were banging on desks, coming up with freestyles, writing our rhymes down, and reciting the message from Melle Mel and Lottie Dottie–and all of these huge hip-hop songs. So for me, it was just hearing other people do it. After that, I was like, 'Okay, I maybe can do this too.' And that's really how it started for me.
V: And riffing off of that, as you guys know, rap is predominantly looked at as a male-dominated genre. So I'm curious about both of your experiences coming into the industry. Were there any specific obstacles you've had to face?
L: I'm grateful to be coming up in a time now where I'm not looked down upon. It's more accepting now to be a female rapper, thanks to people like MC Lyte for opening doors. I don't think our struggles are anywhere near what MC Lyte went through.
L: I feel like this is her question is more for MC Lyte, I can't speak too much on my struggles because she had it harder. She paved the way for me.
ML: Well, what I will say is–For as long as we've said, it's male-dominated, it really isn't when everyone just opens up the spectrum and allows what's hot to exist. When I came in there weren't as many, but there were several [female rappers]. Everyone was different from one another, and everyone was able to create a platform for themselves. And then there was a desert of dryness. Now, there are all of these women. I just saw an article that showed 22 female rappers from Houston, all of them had songs, all of them had videos–they were all taking their careers seriously. So I just think we can probably drop the male-dominated for this moment, and let it live. We should definitely check in with female MCs and see how they're doing but not from the perspective of, there's not enough. There's plenty. The more that we embrace the plentifulness of it, then more will come and feel comfortable coming forth as female rappers because you must be courageous. Isn't that right, Latto?
L: Mm-hmm. I almost feel like I'm being ungrateful if I speak about my struggles on zoom with somebody like MC Lyte.
ML: Well, let me make this clear, though. I understand that whatever your struggles or whatever you've had to overcome or still overcoming is still of great importance to who it is that you are, and the whole trajectory of your life. What I was going through may not have been the same as Sha-Rock, she might have said, 'Girl, you better just be grateful that you're up in there.' It's all a matter of perspective and I get it. Just as you said, you might prefer this time, as opposed to years prior. I will say to you, I prefer my time over these years now because I don't know that I'd be able to keep up with everything that's happening. But that's the thing about hip-hop, young people are all up on it. When I was younger, I knew every song I knew every artist, I knew when somebody dropped something, I knew when somebody was freestyling. There's a connectivity that happens when you can really focus on hip-hop music, and I commend you all for doing it.
L: That's crazy how it can always be a different perspective because I never thought about timing. And whether you would rather come up in your time or our time. There is always a different perspective on everything.
ML: It is, especially with social media. In the TV show, "Partners in Rhyme,' the character that I'm playing is mentoring a younger girl. And she's always like, 'You don't know what it's like to be on social media and have everybody viewing your every move. Or feeling like they have the credentials to say anything about what it is that you have spent months upon months in the studio working on, and somebody can listen in three minutes and try to chop your song down.' And she's right, in that sense. I don't know what that's like. So yeah, I prefer my time. You guys have a difficult way. You have to be so strong in who it is that you are because people will try to tear you down–some for no apparent reason at all, except they don't feel good about themselves.
V: Yeah, MC Lyte, you mentioned that Latto has this tool of social media that she can use to her advantage. But also, sometimes, it's not an advantage when there are naysayers. Latto, do you think you use social media to amplify what you have to say in terms of your music?
L: At first, my music was very social media driven. I feel like I was making music that I knew would be well received on social media, and not really what I like or what I believe in. So now that I'm in the midst of recording my next project, I'm more adamant about what I feel and believe in. That way, whether or not it hits or doesn't, at least I'm putting my best foot forward. I want to drop stuff that I truly believe in versus chasing a hit or social media frenzy. Going into my next album, I think I'm going in my own lane. But as far as my overall process, I'm being more creative. I used to treat it like a job, like I would be like, 'Ok, I have to get the beat, and then I have to write to the beat.' And now, I'm just having fun with it because music is not homework, and I think we have to keep that in our minds as artists, especially once these corporate giants get involved. I'm learning how to keep my authenticity.
ML: Good for you.
L: Thank you.
V: And MC Lyte, how does your experience compare or differ? Like when you were coming up, did you have that in the back of your mind, like Latto said, of making music to make a hit?
ML: I think in the beginning, there was no corporate structure around hip-hop. Matter of fact, the deal that I entered was the first deal that brought on an independent label. And so for Sylvia Rhone, I was her first signing, and everything was pretty much free–do what you want, do as you feel. We didn't have the world of got to make a hit song, it was doing what feels good, we don't want to interrupt what it is that you're doing. I think that was kind of the play in the beginning. I came into the studio with a book full of rhymes, and the producers matched up the track with all of the lyrics. Some of the lyrics didn't even have a beat, so we just make a beat for them right there, which is evident in some of the music from Lyte As a Rock. "Paper Thin" doesn't even have a hook, it was just a poem. And so they broke it up with a little musical break during the hook part. It wasn't meant to be a song, it was just a poem. And then nowadays, the only thing that really gets me to create is a bomb ass track, something that says, 'You got to be on this,' or it speaks to me in a way that makes me want to participate with what it's doing. I heard Tupac once say, 'When you want to do something prolific and introspective, you just write, and then later, you'll either find a beat that matches it, or you'll link up with a producer who can create some magic around those lyrics. Or if you want to just do something on topic, and you want to be persuaded by the outside elements, you listen to a track, and then you come up with your lyrics.' I kind of agree with him on that because it's really easy to be swayed by the music once you hear it. However, when you're sitting in silence, the only thing that you can hear are your own thoughts. I think that gives you the roadmap or blueprint to what you can talk about that hasn't been infiltrated by other forces or sources.
V: Yeah, for sure. And can you guys each talk about the messaging and themes that you explore within your music?
L: I think for me, I feel so young. I'm still learning myself as I'm learning music at the same time. So it's like every day, I have a new idea or a new goal with the project that I'm working on. I think right now, I'm speaking from my experiences and where I come from.
ML: I love that.
L: I think the beauty of music before the corporate giants and whatever got involved, it was just I'm telling my story, 'This is where I'm from, this is how I dress, this is how I rap,' and I want to get back to that. I feel like that's what empowers people and women–whoever is listening. I think the authenticity of the music is what empowered them versus saying what I think they want to hear.
ML: What's awesome at this stage for you and many others is that it's about getting out what you want to say in an entertaining way. There are still to this day, so many MCs that use double entendres, but for good reason. Not just because there happens to be a word that means a few different things, but also because it's not meant for everyone to understand everything. So I think there are really clever ways that you and many others have been able to put what it is that you're thinking that can uplift and inspire folks that listen to. And as you said, as you're rapping and creating, you're also learning. So you could do a song now, and it takes three, four months for it to come out, and you may feel like that's hot. But wow, I feel a little bit different about that. But that's just life; people have to understand and leave room for growth and change. But I love that you just have the freedom to be yourself because that's the truth. And I can always appreciate the truth in music.
V: That's beautiful. And as we come to the end of this, I wanted to ask each of you what the future of rap is. What do you think?
L: It's hard to say, but I think it's going to be more inclusive. I think it is already headed in that direction, with different walks of life, different skin tones, sexualities, physical appearances, body shapes–everything. I think everybody is finding an artist that looks like them, or it comes from the same place they come from. I think rap is going to be way more diverse, and I love that.
ML: Yeah, for sure. I have to say I agree with you. I think it is what we make it, what we believe it to be, and what we spend our time saying it is. There are so many sub-genres that exist, and that's great. There's hip-hop that makes you party, there's hip-hop to make you think, and there's hip-hop just for the sake of hip-hop. There's probably not a commercial on TV that you can look at that doesn't encompass either someone rapping or hip-hop music, now everyone understands the vital need for hip-hop.
Below, stream Caught Up in the Rapture—Volume 1, Part 5—curated by Latto and MC Lyte.