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Flo Milli

Nothing is going to stop Flo Milli

Following the release of her new album, You Still Here, Ho?, we catch up with the Alabama rapper to talk sexism in hip hop, her friendship with Tiffany Pollard, and the importance of optimism

The braggadocious raps of Flo Milli (real name Tamia Monique Carter) replicate the thrill of carrying out a spending spree on a cheating ex’s stolen credit card. With dizzying flows and a sex-positive fearlessness, the 22-year-old’s penchant for risqué storytelling has deservedly resulted in a legion of fans.

Perhaps her mission statement can be found on breakout 2019 smash, “Beef FloMix”, where the self-proclaimed “Petty Queen” boasts: “I like cash and my hair to my ass”. It’s a sugar rush of a bop that can’t decide whether it wants to unfold like NFSW Betty Boop (Tamia’s favourite cartoon character growing up) or an empowerment anthem for high school outsiders (“It took me a while to come out my shell / at least I can say I did it with no help”). A continuation of the rebellious, thugged-out Clueless energy of Missy Elliott and Ludacris’ legendary “Gossip Folks” music video, it bum-rushed Ethereal and Playboi Carti’s original “Beef” off the stage, making it sound like sleepy nursery rhymes by comparison. 

Growing up, in Mobile, Alabama, Tamia says this type of hyper confidence was used as a survival tactic. “I didn’t realise until I got older that a lot of my teachers were racist,” she reflects. “Not all of them, but the way I was treated was definitely different from the other kids. I moved to a certain school and I was literally the only Black girl in my class. It meant I had to be real strong at a young age, you know? It was kind of fucked up.”

As a teenager, Tamia could encounter alligators down at the swampy Mobile-Tensaw River Delta, but a rap scene in her hometown was non-existent. Instead, she had to create her own. And when you consider that during Mobile’s Mardi Gras celebrations, Tamia has vivid memories of a float advocating for a return to racial segregation laws, the artist’s fearless rap persona takes on extra weight. “There were literally people here cheering at the memory of Jim Crow laws,” she remembers. “But rapping [as a child] made me feel like I was 10 feet tall, so none of the hate mattered. Any time I had a bar in my head, I would ask to go to the restroom and type it out on my phone.

“I was dissing the other girls in my class in my lyrics, but it was a real rush for me. Towards the 11th or 12th grade, I knew I wanted to be a rapper for real. That’s around the time when I stopped listening to the teachers.” 

It’s a decision she doesn’t regret. Her new album, You Still Here, Ho?, is among the year’s very best pop albums, with a collection of sticky heat wave anthems that surge forward like a dangerous runaway train. As always, Flo Milli makes fuck boys feel like mere peasants (“I would rather hold my bag than hold his hand” is the brag that lights up “On My Nerves”), but the way she centres dark-skinned girls in the middle of a rave (“PBC”), reminding them that it was their space to begin with, feels especially important. At the same time, the solemn “Tilted Halo” displays obvious growth through its armour-piercing vulnerability.  

As a body of work, it’s similar to Cardi B’s Invasion of Privacy, in that every song feels designed to keep the summer going until October. Cheeky proclamations like “My opps taking pictures when they see us / I’m so fabulous” channel the woozy intrepidness of Lil Kim and Regina George. “This is music designed to get people out of their shells,” Flo Milli clarifies. “These are songs that will make you look in the mirror and want to go even harder.” 

Dazed caught up with Flo Milli to talk about her love for Earth, Wind and Fire, becoming friends with famously combative reality TV star Tiffany Pollard, sexism in hip hop, and the importance of making people smile. 

There isn’t a week that goes by without something terrible happening in America, but I love that your music is so committed to making people smile. Why is that so important to you? 

Flo Milli: As a kid, I literally came out of the womb wanting to be a star. I was always involved, but as I got older, people would DM me more and more and say my music gave them the confidence to be happy. Once I realised that was the effect, I got to be a lot more intentional with it. 

Not everyone is blessed with a happy home or a good childhood. Some kids grow up not knowing their worth. They don’t have the luxury of caring parents. For those dark-skinned girls, who weren’t taught how to love themselves, that’s who I am here for. It’s like, there’s someone else who looks like you and she is confident and loves who she is. You can have this too! Everyone doesn’t want to listen to sad shit all the time… there’s already too much of that.  

On “Bed Time” I get the impression that when you use the word “hoe”, you’re not just speaking about women. Men can be “hoes” too, right? A lot of people fundamentally misunderstand a Flo Milli song, because a lot of the insults are really aimed at men. You are taking lines that were historically slurs used by men against women and reversing the power dynamic.

Flo Milli: 100 per cent. Yeah, you’ve got to reverse that dynamic. It is showing them: “You ain’t doing or saying nothing that we can’t say back to y’all!” Men need to be able to take what they dish out. You are going to meet your match one day. You better treat women fair, just like you’re supposed to. 

What was the exact moment you would say that your confidence blossomed?

Flo Milli: When I was at my lowest, I got this tattoo on my arm that said: “Where fear ends, faith begins.” I told myself from that moment forth, you better not ever fear shit! I don’t care what happens. Very soon after that, I uploaded Beef to YouTube and quit my job. It was like, fuck fear… I don’t care what comes my way. Nothing is going to stop me, you know? Soon after that, the rap stuff started to take off.

For those dark-skinned girls, who weren’t taught how to love themselves, that’s who I am here for. It’s like, there’s someone else who looks like you and she is confident and loves who she is. You can have this too!” – Flo Milli

Your rise has been quick. As a woman in rap, can it feel like you have to work harder than the men, despite often having more talent?

Flo Milli: When you compare female versus male artists and really, really think about it, well, there’s definitely a double standard. A woman got to get her hair did, nails, make-up… all of that. We have to wake up a lot earlier than the guys just to get anything done. It’s more expensive too. We deal with pressure as there are less of us in general and critics seem to come down harder on women.

For the males, it’s a lot easier, period. They don’t have to do anything but get a haircut and throw on some clothes. But you know what, the male rappers go through some bullshit too… it’s just different! For the men, there’s this toxic thing where they feel pressure to spend millions of dollars on their day one friends. They feel like they have a duty to take 15 guys from their hood overseas on tour and end up getting extorted, financially. We all have different pressures. 

Bar-for-bar, I feel like you can go with anyone. But when these best rapper lists come out on Twitter, they’re always dominated by men. Can that get irritating?

Flo Milli: You funny! I mean, no, because I come from humble beginnings. I don’t get like that! I can see why people would think I would get irritated, but in my eyes, everything in life comes when it is meant. I look at the greats and it took hard work and consistency for them to get their dues. You can’t be mad. I look at [being left off the lists] as extra motivation.

Traditionally, the rap media tended to pit women against one another, but when I hear you and Rico Nasty ripping “Pay Day” to shreds, I can feel the solidarity. This new generation of women in rap is a lot more united, right?

Flo Milli: Yeah, I definitely think so. I dealt with it earlier in my career. Fans were trying to pit women against each other for their entertainment. But recently, in the past one or two years, it has become more obvious to us what tactics they try to use. It means we now want to be at peace and come together. I don’t look at them as rivals or celebrities, but real friends. We all have our own voices. We can co-exist and everyone can make money and support each other. I want to do a whole women in rap tour. That would be sick, right? I can definitely see me and Rico doing a whole collaborative album in the future. We could do some dope shit together if we had a chance to sit down and brainstorm.

There’s a real carnival atmosphere to a song like “Hottie” and you’re the ring leader. You rap about how people “used to hate on a chick / now you claim you’re proud of me.” Has it been weird getting famous and suddenly seeing naysayers convert to supporters?  

Flo Milli: The inspiration behind that song was actually Earth, Wind and Fire. The style, the dance routines, the vocals; I just love the way they performed. I always get inspired by old artists and old songs, particularly from the 1970s. That era just had a different vibe. The artists really filled the stage. If we had that type of excitement back in music in our time, then that would be crazy. That’s what I am trying to bring back. I want to make the 2020s the “roaring 20s”. 

Certainly, there are people who treat you differently when you blow up. When I go onto Instagram, I now see that there are girls from school who didn’t like me who literally watch every Story. But it’s cool just so long as they know: I did exactly what I said I was going to do! 

Fans were trying to pit women against each other for their entertainment. But... now we want to be at peace and come together. I don’t look at them as rivals or celebrities, but real friends”

Tiffany Pollard deserves to be on the Mt. Rushmore of reality TV stars. She always had that energy like she would walk in high heels over a sugar daddy’s chest and then curse him out. Why was it important to get her on the intro and outro?  

Flo Milli: It is so crazy; this album was so intimate and close to home for me. I grew up listening to Tiffany. I was 5 or 6, I remember I was a kid getting in trouble and my dad would whoop me for watching her shows. I would sneak and watch it with my moms. Now I’ve got her on my albums, calling me the Head Bitch in Charge, which is funny as hell. Tiffany is more gangster than most rappers. Shit, maybe she’s too gangster?  

And if you could speak to the Tamia who felt like an outsider at school and didn’t know she was Flo Milli yet, what would you tell her?

Flo Milli: I would tell her you are smart and bright and I am proud of you. Stay focused. Don’t care what society has to say; fuck them! You are going to be great. Don’t let anything stop you.  

You Still Here, Ho? is out now on RCA Records.