Latto on Her New Album, Mariah Carey Collab and Bringing ‘Big Energy’: ‘It Has Nothing to Do With What’s in Your Pants’

Courtesy FYI Brand Group

When it came time to record her sophomore album, Latto had no choice but to bet on herself.

“I was my own competition when I was recording every day for the past year and a half, making this album,” the 23-year-old rapper tells Variety. “It kind of turned into me vs. me, because I was making these fire songs that couldn’t have just any song come after it on the track list. It was definitely a challenging process, but I feel like I remained authentic.”

The result is “777,” a 13-track triumph of versatility and confidence, complete with powerhouse features from 21 Savage, Lil Wayne, Childish Gambino, Lil Durk, Nardo Wick and Kodak Black. The project stays true to Latto’s Atlanta roots while also presenting her as a player in the pop world, as her hit single “Big Energy” continues to climb the charts (it currently sits at No. 14 on the Billboard Hot 100).

And, “Big Energy” just got a big boost with a remix featuring Mariah Carey, which released on Monday. It’s a crossover of epic proportions since “Big Energy” samples Tom Tom Club’s “Genius of Love,” as did Carey’s 1995 triple-platinum single “Fantasy.” Latto pays homage to Carey’s version in the song, rapping: “Bad bitch, I can be your fantasy/ I can tell you got big dick energy.” In the remix, Carey supplies her signature whistle tones and sings “Fantasy’s” iconic chorus.

For Latto, working with Carey was nothing short of a dream.

“She’s such an uplifting spirit,” Latto says. “I’m grateful for the remix and for her vocals — Mariah’s a legend — but I’m grateful for the experience that she gave me with this song and all the words of advice.”

Below, Latto discusses the best advice Carey gave her, collaborating with Lil Wayne and Childish Gambino and the importance of female representation in the rap game.

“Big Energy” is huge, but it’s definitely a poppier sound for you. What drew you to the song?

I was in L.A. working on my album and I could hear [my A&Rs] going back and forth about a song that they wanted to play for me, but they was scared of how I was going to react to it. But I was at this headspace at the time where I just wanted to challenge myself, and I wanted the album to be very versatile. So I just tried it. I heard the beat, fell in love and I looked at it as more of a challenge, like a task or a fun homework assignment. Like, let’s test my own potential and see if I can attack this beat. So I was working on that for like a week straight, and every time I left the studio and went back to the hotel, I was humming it. Like, I could not get it out my head. So I just knew that it was special, and I stayed at it until I perfected it and got all the singing parts to where I liked it, even down to the ad-libs and the intro and the outro. Every element of the song was so planned, and everything was on purpose to get it to a point where I just absolutely loved it. I wanted my first pop introduction to the world to be something of my standards.

Why was it important to you to subvert “big dick energy” to be for the girls, too?

It’s a cool way to bring self-love back into the community and to women, specifically. When you make these uplifting songs, people think it has to be corny and it doesn’t… It can be in a cool way where you don’t even realize you’re practicing self-love when you listen to this song but you are in a fun, exciting, fresh way. Women can have big dick energy, it has nothing to do with what’s in your pants — it’s a confidence, it’s an aura. It’s just believing in yourself and not letting anyone change your mind about yourself. 

How did the Mariah Carey feature come together? What was your reaction when you knew she was going to hop on?

Man, I didn’t even believe it. When we first started talking about “Big Energy” remix shortly after the original dropped, of course off rip I’m like, Mariah. But at the same time, I’m like let’s be realistic, so I start thinking of other options because I’m like, I would love Mariah but I could never get that. Come to find out, she was down to do it, and that alone just blew my mind. But even further than that, she was so dope to work with and such a humble spirit and a refresher in an industry full of madness. She was definitely a breath of fresh air. We’ve talked on the phone countless times, we’ve texted back and forth countless times. She’s given me so many good conversations and just advice.

Courtesy FYI Brand Group

What’s the best piece of advice she’s given you?

Really her work ethic. She works like crazy. She was just saying how hard she had to work to [get] where she got, being in a generation where there wasn’t a lot of biracial females [in music] at the time and all of her hardships coming up. I can relate to her on not feeling white enough or not feeling Black enough, and not feeling like I had a place to fit in growing up. We had personal experiences to relate on as well, so the whole experience I cannot even put into words. I really, really am so appreciative of everything she’s done for me, it’s been so much stuff behind the scenes that I can’t even speak on. This lady is so genuine and a very, very humble spirit.

Let’s talk about “777.” You have some insane features on the record, including Childish Gambino and Lil Wayne on “Sunshine,” which has such a classic vibe to it. How did that collaboration come to be?

When I first recorded the song I got that same vibe off rip, a very nostalgic vibe. So I wanted the feature to elaborate on that sound and just turn the record up from a seven to a 10. I definitely had to gun for some GOATs with that song, but [it was] another one of those instances where I’m just shooting for the stars preparing myself for a no or a pass. But to my surprise, both of them agreed and they both killed it and did exactly what I envisioned for the song. They just put the cherry on top. I definitely chose them in particular just because it is that positive sound, it’s a happy feeling and they’re two GOATs in that lane.

One of my favorite tracks is “Sleep Sleep” — it’s super sexy and explicit. What made you want to put a track like that on the album?

I think it’s just shocking when people — especially women — are very outspoken about their sexuality. People receive that well when I do that, so I was like I wouldn’t be mad to add in a song like that, just giving them a taste of that comfortability in my sexuality. But that was just an idea, I didn’t have the song at the time and I hadn’t found the beat or the ideal lyrics to actually execute it. But then one day, my A&Rs played the “Sleep Sleep” beat and I was like “Oh no no no, that’s the beat for the idea I keep talking about.” We put blue lighting in the studio, real moody, candles lit, Casamigos shots — I just got in my bag for real.

You got to work with another legend, Pharrell, who produced “Real One.” What was it like being in the studio with him?

P is so, so cool. I was so grateful that I got to work with him toward the beginning of the album recording process because… everyday going in, he just gave me new insight. He made me look at myself in a way that I didn’t look at myself before, and just broadened my horizons as an artist. He made me see my potential and how big the world can be for me. After those sessions with him, I started looking at my project different and that’s when I got real big on versatility and bars and standing out and separating myself. I got real keen on setting the tone for the industry and introducing myself to the world. He definitely left a lasting impact on me.

What was the most challenging part of the recording process?

I wouldn’t say the music was even the hard part. I think it was moreso the business and everything that goes on behind the scenes. There were so many times where I was told no and things couldn’t be cleared on time and things weren’t getting cleared, period. So many opinions and so many things I had to deal with that I had never dealt with before that really started distracting me from the music and the recording process. But despite everything that I went through, I think its success and being on tour right now and seeing people screaming these lyrics off of snippets on Instagram and TikTok, everything I went through was for a reason. I didn’t appreciate it at the time, but now I do and it just makes it all worthwhile knowing everything that I went through to get to where I’m at right now.

You’ve definitely faced some criticism, whether it’s been for changing your sound or working with Dr. Luke on “Big Energy.” How do you handle and respond to that criticism? 

I’m really learning how to deal with the hate and the social media criticism. I think I’m just trying to learn how to balance it all being so young, you know what I’m saying? It’s hard for anyone, but especially coming up in the industry — I’ve been rapping since I was 8 years old and I was introduced to the world at 16 on “The Rap Game.” Now, I’m 23 and I’m still young and trying to learn everything — when it’s appropriate to speak up on things, when it’s not appropriate, when it’s appropriate to clap back, when it’s not appropriate. It’s all eyes on you, and being so young a lot of times I don’t even think people care what I say or I don’t think I’m a role model to anyone. But truth of the matter is people do care. They pay attention, I have an influence on people and I am a role model to some people. I have to take that responsibility whether or not I want it — I have it and it comes with the game. I’m just trying to figure it all out.

As a woman in the rap game, what would you like to see change in the industry so that it’s more equitable?

Representation. We get shitted on when it comes to lineups on festivals and concerts. We get shitted on in playlisting. We get shitted on in the business side when it comes to getting clearances and CEOs from labels having a say in whether or not they think their male artist is doing us a “favor” by giving us a feature. Just not appreciating our craft and taking us as serious. I’m grateful for how far we’ve come, but it is still a long way to go for women in music, not only just women in rap.

What do you hope people take away from your music?

I hope that my confidence transfers through the music and leaves them with self love. I hope people can feel that through the lyrics and through the beat choices and just leave the car or the club — wherever you listening to my songs at — thinking you’re ready for the world and you’re unstoppable, because that’s how I feel in real life.