June 21, 2024

Karlae Remains “Unapologetic As F*ck”

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In a male-dominated industry, it isn’t easy being a woman edging your way into the spotlight, especially as the First Lady of one of Hip Hop’s most coveted collectives. YSL Records, led by Young Thug, has been dominating the rap game for years as artists like Thugger, Gunna, Lil Keed, and formerly Lil Baby have helped construct a foundation that has been unshakeable. The male energy at Young Stoner Life Records was interrupted when Karlae became their First Lady, but she wasn’t intimidated as the rapper, singer, model, and businesswoman is no stranger to hard work.

Prior to stepping up to the mic, Karlae had already branded herself as a success. She emerged around 2014 and quickly became a social media hit, pushing her into making entrepreneurial investments including her swimwear collection, but music was always an interest that kept her captivated. Soon, Karlae would move from penning poems privately to spinning rhymes lyrically, earning her the title of being the first woman to sign with YSL Records.

Karlae
Prince Williams / Contributor / Getty Images

With singles like “Did That” and “Blind” featuring Lil Yachty under her belt—and her ENTER mixtape finally hitting streaming services last week—we caught up with Karlae for our Ladies First series. The 300 Entertainment favorite tore the veil, getting candid about not always having it together and what it has been like balancing a bustling career that includes dream collaborations with some of the hottest names in Rap. However, Karlae did say that when it comes to the ladies in the genre, she hopes to see even more unity in the future.

“I feel like with men in the music industry, they link. They do collabs. They’ll just all be at the same studio and they’ll just all hop on a song together. With females, it’s kind of like we just all are in our own worlds so it’s hard for us to kind of just cross paths and work together. I wish that we could come together more and kind of just do what the guys do ‘cause they really stick together. They’re constantly blasting each other’s music on their pages, on their social media accounts and stuff. Not saying females aren’t doing that now, but I just wish we could do it more and I would say that’s one thing that’s a challenge ‘cause of course my gang YSL, they support me. But as far as other women, it’s like, I want us to go as hard as men as far as support. And just kind of sticking together.”

We caught up with Karlae prior to the release of ENTER, so read through our expansive interview with her where she speaks on maintaining her indisputable work ethic, collaborating with Gunna once again, bringing Rap and R&B vibes to her next mixtape, wanting a respected reputation in the industry like Trina, receiving support from Nicki Minaj, and creating “seamless, great” music for the culture.

This interview has been slightly edited for clarity.

HNHH: Hi Karlae! Thank you so much for taking the time out for Ladies First. I really wanted to talk to women in the industry about where they are and what they’re doing, how they’re moving, what obstacles they’ve run into—just to get the business aspect from women in Hip Hop.

Karlae: Good, good. I love it already. Let’s get into it.

Just to kick it off, I know that you have a lot going on musically. So, before we get into the business side, I want to hear all about your new mixtape, everything. 

Next, I’m dropping my first official mixtape, ENTER. That’s been getting all of my time and attention the past [few months]. I’ve put a lot into it. It’s gonna be over 13 songs and it’s gonna feature three videos. So, super excited about that. I got a new brand deal with Fashion Nova. Also, working with some other big fashion brands on collaborations and stuff. 

And for that project, I don’t know how much you can tell us just yet, but is there anybody that you’re working with that you can reveal?

Yeah so, I do have a feature with Gunna on there, which is big for me because he just dominated the charts when he dropped his last project so, it was long overdue that I kind of got like—I already have a song with him but to do something that was new after he dropped and did so well, yeah. The other features are definitely gonna be a surprise, but it’s gonna be good. I feel like it gives people a dive into really who I am as an artist and it just shows different sides of me.

I think that for some audiences—that’s one of my other questions as well—is that there can be such a narrow scope of who a woman in Rap is, or who a female rapper is.

Right.

They often just see you as, ‘Oh, she’s posing on the Gram,’ or ‘Oh, she’s just looking for attention.’ But it’s like, I always try to ask people, what’s something about yourself that doesn’t necessarily translate because there’s this veil of celebrity? What’s something about Karlae that people don’t often get to see about the heart of you as a person?

I think the number one thing, first, I would say is just my work ethic as far as my music journey. I really put a lot of time into my craft and it wasn’t like man-made. It wasn’t like, ‘Oh she just has affiliations with certain people so she’s just gonna blow up overnight.’ Like no, actually, it’s been a long process and it gets frustrating sometimes, which is a part of the game that we’re in.

I would say that and then also, two, they just think that it’s all about just like, social media and what they could see with their eye. When it’s like, I’ve invested into businesses to have a lucrative income coming in for myself and stuff like that. I would definitely say the number one thing is my work ethic, and I feel like when I finally drop this project with so many songs, I feel like people gon’ be like, ‘Okay. Dang. She really has a catalog.’

I know that you’re a part of this collective that is all men who support you, but who are some women in the industry that have shown you the most love, as well? It could be a rapper, could be a singer. Could be somebody behind the scenes, but who are some women who have just been supportive in general?

Oh, wow. It’s so many [laughs]. Starting from artists, I would say, which is a huge deal to me, Nicki Minaj has shown me a lot of love. Social media-wise, I’ll post different things and she follows me on Twitter and Instagram, and that was a huge shock to me. And she’ll just comment and stuff like that. And I’ve even DM’d her before and was like, ‘You’re music just picked me up on days where I just wanna give up,’ and stuff. So, that meant a lot.

And then, I would say…just all female artists honestly. Latto, Yung Miami, all of them are huge supporters of my music career. Also, Trina as well. I did a video with her and Yung Miami and she gave me so many words of encouragement on set and she was like, confidence. Be confident. That was the main thing she kept saying to me. She was like, ‘Always keep your head up.’ Stuff like that.

And more so behind the scenes, the women at 300 [Entertainment]. They all really want to see me win, whether it’s marketing, PR. Her name is Chey, she does the marketing for me. She just really gives me a huge boost. She’s always encouraging me. It’s a lot of different women more so behind the scenes. Like, I literally don’t want to leave anybody out!

Oh, wow. It’s so many [laughs]. Starting from artists, I would say, which is a huge deal to me, Nicki Minaj has shown me a lot of love. Social media-wise, I’ll post different things and she follows me on Twitter and Instagram, and that was a huge shock to me. And she’ll just comment and stuff like that. And I’ve even DM’d her before and was like, ‘You’re music just picked me up on days where I just wanna give up,’ and stuff. So, that meant a lot.

And then, I would say…just all female artists honestly. Latto, Yung Miami, all of them are huge supporters of my music career. Also, Trina as well. I did a video with her and Yung Miami and she gave me so many words of encouragement on set and she was like, confidence. Be confident. That was the main thing she kept saying to me. She was like, ‘Always keep your head up.’ Stuff like that.

 

You don’t have to name everybody, it’s okay!

So many people support me a lot.

Of the interviews that I’ve done for Ladies First with other women in the game, Trina is a common answer. Her name is said almost every time. Everybody is like, ‘Trina. She always gives wisdom to us about everything.’ So, that’s really good to hear.

Yeah, and that’s something good to be known for. That’s how I want to be like. For so many people to say her name, that’s good. That’s dope. It’s like, positivity. No hater vibes. None of that. Which comes with being an artist, but still, I love her.

And having that sort of relationship with other women in the industry that have been supportive, let’s kind of shift gears to also talking about your team—the people that work with and for you, and the people that are just around you. Do you think it’s important for women in the industry, women in Hip Hop, women in R&B, to also have women on their teams as well? I spoke with a rapper who said it doesn’t make a difference because whoever’s riding for her is riding for her, while others were like, ‘I keep at least two or three ladies on deck and in my crew.’ Is that important?

I would say most definitely, for me, because I feel like no matter what, I personally think you have to have a woman on your team because of perspective. So like, if you’re explaining something or you have a point of view, sometimes you gotta have a woman there to say, okay, I understand. I get it. Not saying men can’t do that, but sometimes it’s good to have a woman around who understands the hardship of being a woman in this industry. I think it is different for us. We kind of all have the same struggles, similar stories, in some way. So, I feel like it’s important for that reason. And not to take away from men ‘cause it’s okay, but I feel like a lot of strong and successful women today, they have some women in their lives that’s backing them somewhere. Most of the ones I know.

I think you touched on something that was important, as well. One of the purposes of Ladies First is also to show that there are more similarities in what you all deal with than there are differences, because I think the industry often pits you guys against each other as if you have to be in constant competition. What would you say are some obstacles you’ve faced? Or something that you struggle with being a woman in a male-dominated industry?

I would say, I feel like just the collabs and stuff. I feel like with men in the music industry, they link. They do collabs. They’ll just all be at the same studio and they’ll just all hop on a song together. With females, it’s kind of like we just all are in our own worlds so it’s hard for us to kind of just cross paths and work together. I wish that we could come together more and kind of just do what the guys do ‘cause they really stick together. They’re constantly blasting each other’s music on their pages, on their social media accounts and stuff. Not saying females aren’t doing that now, but I just wish we could do it more and I would say that’s one thing that’s a challenge ‘cause of course my gang YSL, they support me. But as far as other women, it’s like, I want us to go as hard as men as far as support and just kind of sticking together.

Speaking of collaborating with women, one of my favorite songs in Hip Hop is way back in the ‘90s, “Not Tonight” with Angie Martinez, Left Eye, Da Brat, Lil Kim, and Missy Elliott. I love that type of collaborative respect coming together to make a hit. Five women came together to make a classic. Now, let’s say that you were reimagining a song like that and it was you a handful of other women. Who would you lock in on that track?

I think…Kali, Latto, Megan Thee Stallion, and Doja Cat.

That sounds like a dope line-up.

Yeah. It’s all different vibes, I guess. Kali got her own style. Doja definitely does. So, I think it would be a lot of contrast in that.

How would you describe your style?

I would say, I feel more so vibes. Wavy. Just kind of like, chill. But it’s also just a grittiness to it at the same time. It’s like, I’m not really the hardcore, like I have songs like that. But more so the majority of my songs are just kind of vibe music. It’s just kind of a calm feel but at the same time, it has that good level of grit and just confidence in it.

And that’s what we can definitely expect on ENTER?

Yeah, no [laughs]. My mixtape, it’s gonna be like 50-50 I would say. Because some of the songs I have are slower, R&B vibes. And then I also just have the straight Rap. It’s a big mix, but I definitely have some R&B bangers on there.

I’m excited about that, I love me some R&B.

Yes! [laughs]

Okay, so let’s say you are on a track, you have a woman in R&B next to you…you two are about to make a No. 1 song. Who is that woman?

Hm, wow…I don’t know… I don’t even know honestly. I could name just one. I love SZA. I just love her vibe and it’s really weird but I love the way she, I don’t know what I would call it. She has an accent a little bit to me when she sings. I like her vibe of music, so I would say SZA first. And it’s plenty others but, yeah.

And if there’s a woman in the industry you could sit down with and interview? Any woman in Rap and you could just pick their brain for 30 minutes. Who would it be and what would be the center of that conversation?

I would definitely say Nicki Minaj. Because I would want to ask her about just perseverance and just how does she stay motivated just from the start of her career ‘til now, and how does she keep her confidence and her decisions so strong? ‘Cause I seen this thing where she was like, when a woman is assertive she’s a b*tch. And she’s like, but when a man does it, the people love him and he’s a boss. So, I would just want to ask her how did you make decisions and you were just like, that’s it, without letting people just sway your opinion or whatever. I always wanted to know. I’m like, dang, when she first started, how did she stay just so stern? To get to where she is? Basically. That’s why I said perseverance.

She’s a common answer. A lot of people want to know about maintaining that longevity, being motivated, and staying motivated. Especially in an industry that will try to take women down.

Right. I definitely would want to interview Rihanna as well though. Because I feel like she’s another one. I love her attitude. Unapologetic as f*ck.

I think that’s the first time I’ve heard Rihanna!

Really? Yeah?

Yeah, seriously.

[Laughs] No, I loved when she was showing up to some event and they were like, ‘You’re late,’ and she was like, ‘No sh*t.’ And like, one time, somebody was walking up on her, just like in her space, it was disrespectful. She was like, ‘Yo, back up, back up.’ I don’t know. I just love it. She’s not trying to be somebody she’s not. She’s not trying to fake it. You can tell. I love women who come in peace but they mean business. That’s why I said Nicki and Rihanna.

Artists like them…you also said you have your hand in multiple pots when it comes to business. How are you able to balance that with being a performer?

Well, honestly, if we’re being truthful, it’s very hard to balance and that’s what I’m learning now. It’s the one thing that I’m actually getting the hang of. I’m not gonna say, ‘It’s easy, I balance like this.’ I’m figuring it out.

Yeah.

And I’m taking it day by day, honestly. I just try to keep myself motivated and with the transition from being just a full-time businesswoman to being an artist full time. I’m figuring it out. But more so than anything, I think the key is having a great team and people around you who understand who you are so it makes it easier for you. They know what I like and they know like, okay look, she’s gonna be tired, she’s gonna have a 10-hour day. So they help me out for sure. But I’m still in the process of figuring it out.

I love that honesty. It kind of goes back to the expectations that the world or your fans or followers have of you like, ‘Oh, she’s got it all together.’ And so, they treat you like you’re supposed to know all of the answers. For people to be—especially women—to be vulnerable and say, ‘Hey, I’m in the business and I’m still figuring it out,’ is really helpful for others. What is some advice that you would have for other women that are aspiring to come into the game? Those that don’t have support and probably doing it on their own. What’s something that you would tell them?

I would say to them, one, is to build a team. A strong team. Of people that you trust. Because it’s needed, and I feel like that’s the first thing that’s very important. And surround yourself with people who believe in your vision…and also to be confident in everything that you do, and also learn how to shut out opinions. Like, too many opinions.

A lot of young women will tell me, can you give me advice on this, so many people are telling me this but I feel like that. Or, this person said my song is this, but I really feel like, you know. But I really feel like it’s important for us to be confident in what we want and roll with it. It’s okay to take advice but I feel like too many opinions and critics in your ear can just drown out your creativity and your passion.

This is my last question. With that creativity and passion that you have for your career, what is the legacy that you want, not just in music but just in entertainment, what’s the legacy of Karlae? What are you building toward?

I’m building towards putting out seamless music. Great music. Something that people can look to for motivation, for a confidence booster. I want to be relatable. I want to definitely be something that other women can look to and say like, okay she’s not perfect. She’s just like me and it’s okay ‘cause she made a way out of all of her imperfections. That’s what I want to build towards. Just basically to give back and do something good with my platform. And that’s like to me, that’s my version of success and business-wise, just more business deals. Staying innovative, I guess. Definitely using my platform for the better. That’s what I’m currently building towards.

I’m building towards putting out seamless music. Great music. Something that people can look to for motivation, for a confidence booster. I want to be relatable. I want to definitely be something that other women can look to and say like, okay she’s not perfect. She’s just like me and it’s okay ‘cause she made a way out of all of her imperfections. That’s what I want to build towards. 

That’s beautiful. Thank you so much, I really appreciate it. I know that women in the industry read these Ladies First interviews and they really find it comforting that their peers are being honest about what they’re going through and what they feel about their careers. 

No, I really appreciate you ‘cause it gives me a chance to be transparent and that’s what I want more of, even for myself. Just to be honest and keep it real instead of being like ‘Oh, I got it all together.’ Hey, take this advice, and learn from it but it’s good to be… I think transparency is important so I appreciate you for having me.

Yes. And hopefully, other women and more women in Rap will see it and know that this will be a space where they can just talk about stuff with another woman and not feel like they need to put on or be something they’re not.

No, and that’s the vibe, listen, I feel like they’re gonna get that from this. I definitely do, honestly.





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