Hip-hop star Saweetie on how her Filipino roots shaped her
Growing up in a multiracial household was, at times, frustrating for hip-hop star Saweetie, who was born to a Filipino mother and an African-American father.
She had to juggle both sides of her family and their differences in language and culture. But looking back, she wouldn’t have it any other way. Because it’s precisely the kind of upbringing she had that expanded her worldview and shaped her into the woman she is now.
“There was a lot of code-switching because I come from two different families. So as a little girl, it was really frustrating. But it taught me that no two groups of people are the same, and you have to be respectful of morals, values and cultures,” she said when asked by the Inquirer at a recent press conference about growing up biracial.
“I think it was an advantage for me because it didn’t limit how I viewed the world,” added Saweetie, who visited the Philippines to lead the roster of performers at the 2023 Fiba (International Basketball Federation) World Cup draw last Saturday at Araneta Coliseum. (The event was aired on the OneSports and OneSports+ channels via Cignal, Cignal Play and SatLite.)
“I’m really grateful to have experienced cultures that are important to me and taught me to be the woman I am today.”
Her mother, Trinidad Valentin, was the disciplinarian—a “tiger mom,” quipped Saweetie, whose real name is Diamonté Harper.
“She was really hard on me as a child. But I’m happy that she was really strict. She made sure I had good grades and disciplined me,” she said. “I feel like she cares about my future. It was tough love. But now that I’m older, I understand. I really love her.”
While music has always been her passion, it had to take a backseat to her education. But after earning a degree in communications from the University of Southern California, Saweetie finally shifted her focus on her rap career.
Known for her “1990s rhyme reverence” and her fashion-forward visual style, the 29-year-old artist drew on her love of poetry to come up with colorful verses for such hits as “Best Friend,” “My Type,” “Icy Girl” and “Tap In,” as well as her upcoming debut album, “Pretty Bitch Music.”
Her growing success and fame has allowed Saweetie to travel the world and share her talent. Wherever she goes, she makes sure to pay homage to her Filipino roots—not only through words—but also through fashion and other visual details in her music videos.
“The Filipino culture is in my DNA. It’s in my roots. I’m proud of where I came from and who I am. And my mom and her brothers and sisters and my lolo and lola—they’re all immigrants. I was raised in a real traditional Filipino household. And I’m proud of that,” she said.
“It’s important for me to represent that, especially in an industry where we don’t see many Filipinos,” she added. “I love showing a part of my heritage.”
Once other Filipinos learn that you’re a kababayan, you become part of the family—no questions asked, she said. “They will love you. Every time I travel to a new city, there’s always a Filipino tita or nanay who cooks pancit and brings it to my shows. And they’re like, ‘We know you’re Filipino, we love you out here,’” she related.
Aside from music, Saweetie has been expanding her brand to business ventures in the fashion and beauty industries. “I like to do things that are organic to me. I juggle my creative and business sides with the help of a good team. That’s important,” she said.
Embrace the culture
“As Filipinos, we’re really hard workers and we like to do everything ourselves … But the bigger you grow, the more you need helping hands.”
One of Saweetie’s most unforgettable musical collaborations was the pop disco track “Closer” with fellow Filipino-American and Grammy-winning artist H.E.R. So, given the chance, she said she would love to continue working with new Filipino artists in the future and share her platform with them.
“I was just talking to my team, like, ‘Where are the upcoming artists? I wanna meet them. Normally, when I go to a new city, I like to meet new and upcoming local artists who are trying to pursue their career path because sometimes they don’t have a platform,” Saweetie said.
And if she could give a piece of advice to Filipino artists hoping to make it big on the world stage, it’s this: Embrace the culture.
“Sometimes, when people travel to America, they feel like they have to embrace American culture. But what makes us really unique and special is where we came from. I love that my mom taught me the core values she learned as a little girl and instilled them in me. We should all be proud of where we came from. Because if it weren’t for our home, we couldn’t be who we are now.