How "Big Energy" Rapper Latto Keeps Betting on Herself—and Winning
If you’ve spent any time scrolling through 23-year-old rapper Latto’s social media, one thing is immediately apparent—she’s been busy. Even finding time for this interview was tough with her jam-packed rehearsal schedule. Coming off the high of a successful headlining tour and her smash-hit single “Big Energy” (which has become so ubiquitous you’ll hear it in clubs and coffee shops alike), it might seem like Latto has hit the jackpot. But anyone who’s followed her career knows she didn’t get here on luck.
At just 16 years old, Latto won The Rap Game, a reality TV series where aspiring rappers compete against each other for the chance to sign a record contract with So So Def. The show propelled her into the mainstream and made a major impression at the beginning of her career. “To this day, people still remember me from the show,” she says. “It was an early introduction to the world, and [it] prepped me for what was to come.” Sixteen might seem young, but Latto had already been preparing for this moment for half her life. She started rapping at just 8 years old and was already in the studio by the time she was 10.
Photo:Christian Cody; Styling: Khiry earrings and ring; Aliétte bodysuit; Giuseppe Zanotti shoes
Her love for the poetic music genre is thanks in large part to her father, who she calls a “hip-hop king.” Growing up, he introduced her to his favorite rappers and hip-hop groups, like NWA, Ice Cube, Tupac, Trina, and Gangsta Boo. But it wasn’t until Nicki Minaj hit the scene that Latto began to truly envision herself taking the mic. “I’m watching this woman do it, and she’s doing it in my generation,” she says. “When Nicki came out, she touched me. I watched her come up. When I saw her do it, I’m like, ‘Oh, I can do this, for real.’”
Following her success from The Rap Game, Latto released her breakout hit, “Bitch From Da Souf,” which earned her a covetable contract with RCA Records in 2020—right before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Following so much positive momentum, Latto felt like she might be going bust. “I got discouraged so many times just because I felt like the world was over,” she says. “I just signed my first major deal, [and] it’s over.”
The global lockdown ultimately pushed her as an artist, and she found herself recording nonstop during the summer of 2020 as part of her team’s “pandemic game plan” to help launch her onto the music scene.
As she continues to establish her name in the music industry, the rapper’s jackpot collaboration for a future song would be a Minaj feature, but that doesn’t mean she hasn’t already worked with big names like 21 Savage, Saweetie, Childish Gambino, and, of course, Mariah Carey, who’s featured on the “Big Energy” remix.
“I didn’t even believe [it] till I got on the phone with her,” Latto says of working with Carey. “It was a dream come true.” Latto’s mother and business manager, Misti Pitts—who’s a huge Mariah Carey fan—cried when she read the news. “It’s opened so many doors, and I’m so honored that she even was open to doing it. I knew she’d probably heard the song and was like, ‘Who the hell’s this little girl?’ But no, she was very, very humble and just made the process so smooth and fun.”
“Big Energy” might be the song on everyone’s radar, but Latto’s personal summer anthem from her new album, 777, is “It’s Givin,” an upbeat confidence booster that gives any listener their main-character moment. 777 embodies that feeling in general—it’s tough to listen to it without immediately feeling like you can take anything the world throws at you and win. It’s like a pep talk from your best friend in album form, proof that the universe has your back.
I ask about the meaning behind the album’s numeric title, and she reveals it was purposefully chosen. “Seven is God’s number,” Latto says. “It’s always been special to me, just in my household growing up. As I changed my name to Latto in reference to the lottery, casino aesthetic and hitting the jackpot, that 777 casino slot machine became a part of my brand.”
It’s worth noting this is the first album Latto’s releasing under her current moniker (Her legal name is Alyssa Michelle Stephens.)
Latto’s name has been a point of controversy in the past. “First, it was Miss Mulatto,” she says. “I was given that name when I first started rapping. [I] didn’t really know the context of it or … [the] historical meaning and the depths that it had.”
She dropped “miss” as she got older, but it wasn’t until she was 21 that she truly began to understand the cultural ramifications of the name. After facing public criticism (particularly on Twitter) and taking time for self-reflection, she decided the name—which is commonly used as a derogatory term for a mixed-race person—didn’t align with what she stands for. So after jumping through many hoops with lawyers, trademarking officials, labels, publicists, and more, she walked away with Latto as her new moniker.
“The new name Latto, in reference to the lottery and the jackpot aesthetic, it’s been manifesting positive energy for me versus the Mulatto name,” Latto says. “I feel like I didn’t even know it, but I [was] harboring this negative energy. I [was] bringing this negative energy with me, and it was holding me back from a lot of opportunities.”
And recently, opportunities have been knocking on Latto’s door. “Big Energy” has catapulted to the top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, and it reached number one on Billboard’s Hot Rap Songs and Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs charts. She’s been announced as Lizzo’s special guest on the flute-playing pop star’s upcoming tour, and she just performed live at the Billboard Music Awards—something she was both nervous and excited about. Not to mention, she became the first solo female rapper in Atlanta to go RIAA-certified Platinum with her song “Bitch From Da Souf.”
Being from the South is an intrinsic part of Latto’s identity as an artist. “Atlanta is everything,” she says. “Everything about who I am as a woman is Atlanta and then as [an] artist is even more Atlanta. The slang, the BPM of the beats that I choose, the sounds that I like in my beats, everything has this Southern aesthetic.”
Her love for Atlanta doesn’t stop at the music. It easily weaves its way into Latto’s videos too. Take “Wheelie,” for example. The music video is a fast-paced, colorful, high-energy homage to the city that shaped her, and it was also the first time the rapper worked with Zerina Akers, the founder of Black-Owned Everything and a stylist whose client list includes the likes of Beyoncé and Chloe x Halle. “She just showed me you can be covered and still give sexy and mature and grown,” she says. The two clicked right away, and anytime Latto needed a stylist afterward, she phoned Akers.
Since working with Akers, Latto feels her personal style has stretched to new heights. “One day, I will want to give grown and sexy, then the next day, I want to give tomboy, and the next day, I want to give hoochie mama,” she says. “I just had to find somebody that could keep up with me. Zerina does exactly that. Shoot, I’ll tell her what I want to give, and then she’ll give me what I wanted to give with a little razzle-dazzle on it. She executes every time.”
For Latto, an outfit isn’t just an outfit—it’s what she builds her entire look around. In the hierarchy of her look, it goes outfit, hair, makeup, and nails. “We usually start with the outfit and base everything off of that,” she says.
Anyone who follows Latto knows that her beauty looks are equally on point. Her makeup might seem professionally done, but she actually did all of her own makeup for her 777 tour. Although, she hadn’t planned to.
When she first found out her makeup artist was unavailable, she panicked, but it quickly proved to be a relaxing ritual. “It was very therapeutic before the shows,” she says. “Just doing the whole look in my head, matching the outfit with the makeup, and then coordinating that with the hair, it was super fun. I started getting real fancy and started playing with colors and rhinestones.”
If she’s feeling bold, she’ll opt for a statement look, like vibrant, showstopping neon eyeliner. If she wants to channel a more laid-back vibe, she’ll keep it simple. But one thing always grounds her look: her signature glossy nude lip. She admits she’s particular about her lips and always uses the same MAC lip combo (a liner, a lipstick, and a gloss on top) to achieve the reflective dusty-rose pout she’s known for.
As for her hair, being best friends with your stylist makes the process more collaborative. Right now, the swoop—a style defined by sweeping the front part of your hair in a deep side part and slicking it down for hold—has her in a choke hold. She says it serves as the perfect performance style, delivering both control and movement.
Latto’s looks have become a part of who she is, and fans can always count on the rapper to give major beauty and outfit inspiration. “I feel the most confident when the look is just a 10,” she says. “When I look good, I feel good, and that’s why I’m so particular about my glam.”
With spot-on glam, a formidable stage presence, and a slew of chart-topping songs already under her belt as she finds her footing in the mainstream music scene, Latto has all the makings of a hip-hop star. As the rapper continues to break barriers, one thing is clear: Right now, she’s seeing sevens across the board.
Photographer and Director: Christian Cody
Stylist: Zerina Akers
1st Styling Assistant: Mayte Negrete
2nd Wardrobe Assistant: Dunstan Lucky Henry
Hairstylist: Keshaun Williamson
Makeup Artist: Meli Ocasio
On-Set Producer: West of Ivy
Creative Director: Alexa Wiley
Videographer: Samuel Schultz
Entertainment Director: Jess Baker