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'When I changed as a woman, my music changed'

Atlanta rapper Latto belongs to a lineage of women inspired by Miami icon Trina, whose sexually explicit bars have both challenged gendered double standards and shown their staying power.
Breyona Holt
Courtesy of the artist
Atlanta rapper Latto belongs to a lineage of women inspired by Miami icon Trina, whose sexually explicit bars have both challenged gendered double standards and shown their staying power.

This story was adapted from reporting for Episode 4 of Louder Than A Riot, Season 2. For more about sexual agency in hip-hop, including the pioneering raunch of Miami icon Trina and her complex journey with creative partner Trick Daddy, stream the full episode or subscribe to the Louder Than A Riot podcast.

When you trace the lineage of women getting explicit on the mic, flaunting their pleasure and autonomy all at once, all roads lead South — to one Miami-Dade County icon.

It was 25 years ago that Trina was tapped by fellow Miami rapper Trick Daddy to guest on his song "Nann N****," stole the show, and soon went on to proclaim herself hip-hop's baddest bitch. Today, the lane she carved has never been more populated, or popular. From City Girls to Sukihana, Cardi B to Megan Thee Stallion, GloRilla to Sexyy Red, sexually explicit wordplay from a woman's point of view has become rap's dominant sound. Many of those artists credit Trina directly as their inspiration, hailing her commitment to position her pleasure at the center of the narrative. As the legend herself says in Episode 4 of Louder Than A Riot: "I was raw, unapologetic. I stood on what I meant. That's why I breed a whole universe of bad bitches."

Sexual agency — the freedom to determine your own sexual wants and needs — has long been a social luxury afforded to men, and systematically gatekept from everyone else. For the fans who love it, this form of rap claps back at that imbalance; it uplifts, empowers and highlights loving yourself in the ways you've historically been told to suppress. But birthing a whole universe doesn't necessarily change the world one already lives in. As Trina was wiping her Gucci pumps on dusty old stereotypes about Black women's sexuality, many detractors tried to drag her through more dirt. And despite some progress in the years since, her successors have dealt with the same double standards — listeners, critics and other artists reducing those baddie bars to the pejorative of "p***y rap," without hearing the real message.

Atlanta's Latto is one star in Trina's universe who teeters on the tip of this double-edged sword. Latto's highest chart-topper, "Big Energy," along with tracks like "It's Givin," the abortion-rights anthem "P***y" and "Bitch from da Souf" (which got a boost from Trina hopping on the remix in 2020) are as emancipatory as they are titillating.

Louder host Sidney Madden spoke with Latto about what Trina's influence means to her, the highs and lows she's faced as a woman expressing sexual agency in her art — and how far she believes this music can go, if people would just get over their fear of it.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Sidney Madden: What are some of the earliest memories you have of sexually explicit lyrics? Things that were like, "I don't know if I should listen to this" — but made you want to listen more?

Latto: I grew up in a household where our parents didn't really shelter us. There wasn't that "cover your ears" or "look away." I remember singing Kelis' "Milkshake" to one of my friends and they was like, "Um, are you allowed to say that?" I'm like, "Say what?" I think having young parents, they weren't trying to make me have this false belief of what the world really was. It was still a level of respect — we wasn't just sitting at the table like cussing to my parents. But musically, we could listen to whatever. It wasn't "bad" lyrics in my house.

Do you remember the first time you heard Trina's "Da Baddest Bitch"?

It was probably through my dad, on some sitdown. We would watch videos on Music Choice, YouTube, whatever, and he would talk highly of these women. This Trina, you know? She from Miami. A diamond princess. Listen to her music. I didn't think about what they were saying as explicit; we would be appreciating the bars and the wordplay and just the overall creativity of the artists.

So when did you transition from a rap fan, whose dad was schooling you on all these people, to someone who kind of curated your own tastes?

I would be writing raps in my room, and I didn't say nothing about it at first. My dad, his dad, my uncles, cousins, they all drag race — that was like the thing in my family. But I remember telling him, "I don't wanna drag race, I wanna rap." And I think I just rapped him one of raps that I had, and somehow he saw the potential, 'cause I was trash back then. But he just supported me wholeheartedly. I was probably like 8.

When I'm turning like 16, 17, I'm like, aight — I wanna cuss in my music. [He was] like, nah, we ain't doing that. So that relationship with my dad became rocky around that time. That's when it starts being like, "OK, you wanna protect me, but I'm growing up. I'm writing my own music. I got stuff I want to talk about now." I probably had a little boyfriend I wanted to write a song about. Or, I'm at the club and these bitches was hating, and we jumped them outside in the parking lot. It wasn't even sexual lyrics, it was just explicit as far as cussing and just being a little less of a commercialized kid rapper. When I changed as a woman, my music changed.

Take me to the era of Queen of da Souf, and creating the anthem that was "Bitch from da Souf." It's not that long ago, but it was such a step forward at the time.

I was getting my feet wet in the industry, and I felt like I had a point to prove. I'm reintroducing myself as this adult, sexually liberated woman, versus this kid that was rapping about having a crush on you and how they love to read.

And this is when you started to get a lot of huge collaborations. What did it mean to get Trina on that track?

Oh my God. To this day, nobody understands — 'cause first of all, I was independent when Trina did that, and she just seen the vision. Being an independent artist and coming into the game as a grown woman, her approval meant the world to me. Nobody ever gonna speak on Trina in my presence.

In reporting this season, one artist we spoke to was Omeretta the Great, who actually invoked your name. She said, "Latto, she talks about sex a lot, but Latto is actually hard. I feel like she had to take that route for people to pay attention to her hard raps." What do you think about that?

You know, you can never see yourself from a third-person point of view, but I think it is less strategic than people think. Like, there was never a sit-down meeting where I'm like, "OK, now I'm gonna do this so people can start paying attention to me." No, I literally just became a grown woman. I went from living in my mama house and having a curfew to being grown. I'm f***ing, I'm s***ing, and I'm rapping about it. It is what it is.

I guess I could see how that could be interpreted differently, because people didn't see the transition — they just saw me as a kid, and then the next day I'm talking about, "First I make him eat it till he lockjaw." I get it. But it was just way less strategic than what people think. I do think to a certain extent, as a female rapper, you have to have some type of sex appeal.

Why do you think that?

You know, it's definitely changing for the better for sure, but we're still women. We're still fighting for men to just look at us as humans, rather than an object. In real life women fight that battle daily, so it's not gonna be no different in the music industry. Anybody say otherwise, that's cap — that's not being 100.

In what ways do you feel like your sex appeal and your explicitness has helped you? And then in what ways have you felt like maybe it was used against you?

I think it gives me another experience to rap about that women can relate to. I can speak from the perspective of in the moment having sex, or I can rap in about sex from a n**** from the past. It's so many different ways that you can flip the sexual content, so that's a positive.

A negative would be, because those songs are pushing the boundaries, people love the drama, so those songs tend to run to the forefront. People who aren't familiar with your whole catalog hear those couple songs and run with this narrative that that's all you talk about. That's the songs that y'all are making blow. I record so goddamn much — I'm in the middle of an album right now — and I have so many songs that are not about that.

And if you wanna hear "It's Givin," or just read the title, and be like, "Oh, Instagram bad-bitch music"? That's the s*** I'm talking about where people be so simple-minded. I see the comments — my ass can't stay out them damn comments. But if you get past it and you listen to the record with an open mind, it's so empowering. I say, "Work a nine-to-five and she tryna finish school / I bring the table to the table, n****, why would I need you?" Like, I'm lifting women up. But you know the stigma with female rap. As soon as they hear "p***y" or anything just putting down a man, they throw it all in the same category.

They be bullying female rappers behind closed doors. Half the time these n****s don't be interested in doing no song with us if it don't come with no p***y.

That song is from 777, your major label debut. There was so much push around it, and then something happened that kind of sucked the air out of the moment: You were interviewed on the radio before the release, and mentioned that a rapper featured on the album had tried to push up on you sexually to get their verse cleared.

That one issue became a big part of the narrative. Other rappers started taking shots at you, and people online accused you of lying and clout-chasing. I'm not going to ask specifics about that. But I do want to know why it was important for you to say it, and how it made you feel when it blew up this way.

That morning that I had to do all this press stuff, I got the news that if I take this song off my album, then it's not gonna be dropping at the same date that I've been promoting all this time. And I'm a new artist — baby, we can't be doing all that. I'm just stuck.

So when they asked me, "How has the process been," that's what was on my mind that morning. I'd just had to make an executive decision to leave something that I did not want to be on there, to do something that I did not want to do, to deliver a project to my fans and put my name attached to something that I wasn't confident in. I kept names out of it, because I didn't want it to turn into what it turned into, this narrative where it's like I'm looking for sympathy.

Honestly, that's not even the half of what I've dealt with in this industry, so I was blindsided by people's reaction to it. People don't know what they're proposing us to do in exchange for these features. They be bullying female rappers behind closed doors. Half the time these n****s don't be interested in doing no song with us if it don't come with no p***y.

I think your honesty in that moment was important. Even if it's the tip of the iceberg, it opened up a conversation of what you deal with being in this industry as a Black woman, and the misogyny that still is allowed to operate in this space.

I'm appreciative for the way things are shifting for female rappers, but people still don't know. Y'all see all these thriving female rappers; that's beautiful. But I know so many of them have stories similar to mine, maybe even worse than mine. And people don't see us speaking up, because look at when we do.

It shows you that hip-hop is no different than the real world. People see the money and the glitz and glamour of female rappers and think that we are above certain things. No, the same stuff that my mama be telling me she deal with being a woman in the corporate world, I be dealing with in a male-dominated music industry world. That is everyday life, for all women.

Trina has said in a couple interviews that she reached out to you after that and gave you some tips on how to deal with it, because she's had those experiences herself. What was some of the advice she gave you?

Don't let people silence you. Don't let people intimidate you from your experiences. This is s*** that you experienced — no one can invalidate that. And a lot of women was in my DMs or texting me, giving me those same words of advice. But, you know, I'm young. It's easier said than done. I can't even sit up here and act like it didn't bother me.

What are some double standards you think are still in place for women in rap?

The first thing that comes to mind is performances. Men can get up there with no t-shirt on, just some damn Amiri jeans and a couple chains on, and just go hold they nuts like, "Yeah, that's all I got for you." We getting paid the same amount to invest half of that s*** into dancers, lighting and just putting on a real show. We sitting in glam for two hours. We done did a week of rehearsals. And when we hit that stage, they gonna critique us up and down on social media — name finna be trending when we do them award shows. But the men, half the time they don't even be rehearsing. They get up there fresh off the flight and just treat it like a festival or whatever.

Another double standard is rapping about sex and, you know, regular lifestyle things that we all rap about. For whatever reason, the woman rapper is under the microscope: You can't drop two, three singles in a row talking about your p***y. But these n****s love talking about how many hoes they got, which car they driving, what hood they from and what gun they gonna kill you with. They can talk about that every day, up and down every album. And my feature thing is another good example. They look at us as like, "Oh, she reached out for a feature — that means she must wanna f***." Like, nah, I'm actually just a fan of your music. But they be taking it and running with it.

So what do you feel like the industry, or just Black men in hip-hop, owes Black women to make it safer?

So many female rappers now, we are linking up with each other, featuring on each other's songs and being there for each other. Whenever you see me do a song with a female rapper, I don't charge. I need to cover my costs: My glam is expensive, so I'm gonna need your label to pay for my glam. But as far as profit, I don't want no money for the feature or to show up for the video. I want to do my part where where I can.

But — we need the men. We need them to call these n****s out when they do some lame s***. That might be your partner. Y'all might be from the same hood. Y'all might got a mixtape together or a feature, whatever. But we need them to speak up for us, because the s*** these n****s be doing and getting away with publicly and nobody speaks up, that's foul. We all have to work together to rewrite that.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit

Sidney Madden is a reporter and editor for NPR Music. As someone who always gravitated towards the artforms of music, prose and dance to communicate, Madden entered the world of music journalism as a means to authentically marry her passions and platform marginalized voices who do the same.
Gabby Bulgarelli
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