photos by scrill davis
styling by todd white
makeup by @melibabyyy
hair by @laceassassin
In hip-hop, a rapper’s name is everything. History won’t remember Jacques Webster II or Calvin Broadus Jr., but it will remember Travis Scott and Snoop Dogg. On the other hand, sometimes changing your name is an essential part of your artistic growth. At the start of 2021, only a matter of months after dropping the album that put her on the map, Latto chose to change her name from Mulatto as a way to move on from the negative connotations of this word and start fresh. “I was in a mindset of wanting to change my name,” Latto says. “I felt that it wasn’t being perceived in the right way and I wanted to address the name change, but I wasn’t sure how I wanted to address it yet. I was like, ‘I could do a mini documentary, I could make an Instagram post, I could do an Instagram live.’ But I was like, ‘Nah, fuck all of that. I’m a rapper and I need to address this in music.’”
Latto’s way of reintroducing herself to the world was through her single “The Biggest.” In this song, she addresses her haters head on, with lyrics such as “Fuck it, I’ll change my name but I bet they still gon’ find somethin’.” At the same time, she also takes accountability and responsibility for the situation at hand, which is often easier said than done. “I can’t just put the blame on everybody, maybe I wasn’t packaging the name right,” she says. “I think that some things aren’t meant to be brought back and can be left in the past. I’ve also been rapping for a long time and at 8 years old, of course I’m not hearing what anybody else has to say. Now I’m 22 and I’m a grown woman now. I’m maturing mentally, I can see the bigger picture and I can self reflect.”
Before Latto was even Mulatto, she was Alyssa Stephens, a music-loving kid living just south of Atlanta. Despite being born in Columbus, Ohio, Latto has always called Atlanta her home and attributes the ATL with shaping who she’s become. “I credit my city for everything about me,” she says. “It’s how I talk, how I rap, how I dress and my overall aura, not just as an artist, but as a person.”
As a kid, Latto was immersed in Atlanta’s hip-hop scene through her father, who was known around town for his impressive collection of candy-painted cars. Her father often lent rappers his cars for their music videos and, as a daddy’s girl, Latto was along for the ride. Before long, Latto was dropping bars of her own. “This is going to sound crazy, but I have super supportive parents,” she says. “At 8 I wrote my first rap and it was definitely trash. But my dad saw the vision and the potential, so when I rapped that verse he was like, ‘OK bet. If this is what you want to do, we’re going to do it.’ He had a serious talk with me about how much work it was going to be and how mean the world is. He was trying to prepare me for it and I wasn’t hearing any of it at the time, but now I see it.”
That support was pivotal early in her career, as she would go straight from school to the studio to record and soon began performing around Atlanta. She began to grow a sizable social media following from the Atlanta hip-hop scene and at just 16, she got her first taste of international exposure appearing in Lifetime’s “The Rap Game.” Latto would go on to win and become the breakout star of the show’s first season, but her hustle had only just begun.
“The show obviously gave me a huge platform, but it wasn’t really a cheat code to the music industry,” she says. “With a reality show, you’re basically given this platform and then, boom, it’s over. Then it’s up to you to keep it going. After the show I had to work my hardest to keep people engaged and I was grinding for years. I filmed the show when I was 16 and it aired when I was 17, but I didn’t sign my first major deal until I was 21. So from 16 to 21, it was just me and my family working.”
This period of her life may not have been the most glamorous, but thanks to a tattoo, she’ll never forget it. “I have ‘Patience’ tattooed in Arabic on my thigh and, for me, it represents the patience it took to be where I am,” Latto explains. “I’ve been rapping since I was 8 years old, so it took a lot of patience to get here and I’m nowhere near where I want to be in life.”
As Latto put in countless hours of hard work refining her rhymes and sculpting her persona, it was her patience that carried her along. She knew there would be a payoff in the end, but it came in a slightly surprising way when she dropped her single “Bitch From Da Souf.” “I believed in the song, I believe in anything I put out,” she says. “But I didn’t believe it would be a hit, my first gold record or my first platinum record. I was just putting out a song and a video to keep people engaged. When I dropped this song, it was another big moment for my career. ‘The Rap Game’ gave me this big platform, I took it and ran with it. ‘Bitch From Da Souf’ gave me a super big platform and I took it and ran with it.”
“Bitch From Da Souf” wasn’t a big production and the music video was pulled together on the fly, but it didn’t need to be as fans were hooked on Latto’s authenticity. It didn’t matter if you were a bitch from the South, West, North or Timbuktu, fans instantly connected with Latto from this single. The single was not only a breakout hit, it cemented Latto’s place in hip-hop as she became the first female rapper from Atlanta to go platinum.
The buzz from her history-making single caught the attention of many hip-hop heavyweights, notably Atlanta’s own Gucci Mane. Latto grew up listening to Gucci Mane, so connecting with him on her followup single “Muwop” was a major career milestone. “Gucci has always been my favorite rapper and when I got to do the feature with him, that was crazy to me,” she says. “I was screaming when I got that phone call, like, don’t play with my emotions. It’s always good when you hold someone up to a certain standard, they’re your inspiration, and they meet the standards you had in your head. Gucci is super one hundred and it’s super inspiring to meet someone who’s kept their authenticity to the level he’s at.”
“Bitch From Da Souf” and “Muwop” were both included on Latto’s 2020 debut album, “Queen of Da Souf.” This was her first project on a major label and she strived to keep the momentum going. “I think I was just so hungry for it,” she says. “It wasn’t really a specific process, I was just recording, working with people and making songs that I loved. I was excited to be in a new situation and have access to bigger producers, bigger budgets for music videos and bigger features. I was like a kid in a candy store, like, ‘Wow, I’ve got all these resources to produce. Let’s get it.’ And I think the hunger really showed on the project.”
Throughout this project, Latto has been able to showcase her many different talents—including her hustle in the studio and her explosive performance persona. Because when Latto hits the stage, Big Latto puts on a show. “I feel like Big Latto comes out when I’m on stage poppin’ my shit,” she says. “Big Latto is big energy and Latto is the day-to-day artist. You can’t be Big Latto all the time. A lot of people were wondering why I didn’t change my stage name to Big Latto. It’s still one of my names, but I feel like that’s the Go Mode version, it’s not 24/7.”
“Queen of Da Souf” may still be fresh in our minds, but Latto is ready to move on to her next project. Over the last year, she’s been cooking up new songs and concepts, all of which she’s ready to dish out to her hungry fanbase. And with her new name, expect to be taken to the next level.
“This music is going to be a new leaf for me,” she says. “I’m not harboring negative energy anymore. The origin of my previous name had a lot of negative energy and I could have been subconsciously harboring negative energy that was holding me back. Latto is going to bring new energy and new blessings my way. I’ve been traveling and staying in different places here and there. I’ve been working with new people in new studios and picking up new vibes to catch a new sound. I’ve been playing with new flows, tones, beats and BPMs just to elevate. Everything in this project is going to show the evolution, the time, the work and the energy to be bigger.”
Going big is what Latto does best. In spite of being 22 years old, she’s a total powerhouse, with the ability to command both studios and stadiums. Like her father told her when she was a child, this business is hard and it takes a lot of hustle to make it work for you, but if anyone can rise to the challenge, it’s Latto.