Flo Milli may have started her career with a series of viral moments, but heading into debut LP ‘You Still Here, Ho?’ the rapper is aiming for progress, success and longevity.
“I feel like I’m more secure in myself [performing on stage]. You just feel it more, being in real life with fans,” enthuses Flo Milli. Far away from her Mobile, Alabama beginnings - and following a pandemic during which her star rapidly ascended across the internet - these days the rapper is more than just embracing the mantra ‘we outside’, she’s amplifying it to increasingly massive levels.
In less than a week prior to today’s conversation, Flo has tackled a gruelling schedule traversing the stages of Denmark, Sweden, the Netherlands, England and Portugal, making her debut at renowned festivals including Wireless, Woo-Hah! and Rolling Loud. “This will be my first Rolling Loud out of the country; it’s a lot of firsts going on right now,” she affirms with a grin, sat in Sony Music’s Kings Cross office.
Rewind to the start of the month and, standing on Wireless’ main stage (“The London-crowd was lit,” she exclaims, declaring the show her favourite European date so far), Flo Milli embodies every bit of a star performer. Engaged, with her cadence perfectly projected, you’d think that the 22-year-old had been training for these centre stage moments since her infancy, and the reality wouldn’t be far off. From her early school years, Flo would enrol herself in talent shows, obsessed with showcasing her dancing and singing skills. “I would sign up every year for most of elementary and a little bit of middle school,” she recalls. “Those moments were fun for me, I even remember choreographing routines in nursery. I was always passionate about music and displaying that,” she laughs, referencing Ciara’s ‘Goodies’, and Fergie’s ‘Glamorous’ as songs she’d dance to.
It’s this same childhood spirit of inquisitiveness and directness that informs Flo Milli’s musical character too. It anchors her debut single ‘Beef FloMix’ (a remix of Ethereal and Playboi Carti’s 2015 track ‘Beef’) - which quickly ascended to Gold status, exceeding half a million sales. “It took me a while to come out of my shell, but at least I can say I did it with no help,” she notes. Now the rapper has employed that confidence in each and every one of her numbers to date. “Who got beef with me? Girl you don’t wanna compete/ I’m too fast on my feet and you know where I be,” she raps across the aforementioned single, before labelling herself “the petty queen”.
Most of Flo Milli’s infectious numbers follow in this lane: an oft-adopted brand of braggadocio that can be traced to rappers such as Biggie Smalls (‘Juicy’), Lil Wayne (‘A Milli’), and Queen Latifah (‘Ladies First’). In Flo’s case, she’s merely adapted colloquialisms like ‘petty queen’ for digital natives in the 21st century.
After years of traversing the realms of Soundcloud and TikTok, ‘Beef FloMix’ caught the attention of RCA, who signed the rapper following the breakout success of the track. With her animated, youthful and cartoon-adjacent abilities immediately making her stand out from the pack, she soon repeated the trick with follow-up single ‘In The Party’ - another viral, Gold-selling success. In a crowded market, and during a time that restricted artists to the internet instead of allowing for real world interaction, Flo used the time to her advantage whilst maintaining her sights on bigger things. “I wanted to get my initial record out and prove to people that I was here to stay, more than just a TikTok trend or fad,” she affirms.
Proving those with doubts wrong, Flo’s inaugural project - 2020’s ‘Ho, Why Is You Here?’ - plunged the rapper into a new realm of social media fame, quickly trending across the whole of its debut weekend. Laughing at the recollection, she recalls the time she realised the furore surrounding her arrival. “I went onto Twitter and saw myself everywhere, so many people, more than I thought were tagging me and talking about how much they loved it,” she says giddily. The tape itself encompasses relentless, boisterous cockiness, paired with thundering trap hues and cartoon-esque adlibs (the hypnotic “la la la” on ‘In The Party’ a case in point). At all turns, the record provides empowerment and endorses self confidence. “I like feeling and being myself and [being] confident,” she explains when reflecting on the project. “It’s something I’m leaning more into as I grow as an artist; I really learn as I go along to appreciate how far I’ve come and how solidified I am now.”
There has, however, been social media attention of a less desirable type in the past too. Mentioning her inclusion in Beats’ 2020 ‘Flex That Clapback’ campaign, Flo danced in front of a confederate statue to promote the Flex model release. Facing a largely polarising response, including pushback from subsets of Black Twitter, two years later Flo is accepting of her mistake and trying to utilise it to outline lessons for artists who come after her. “Please listen to your gut and know you have power. I didn’t push back enough when I was confused about the creative direction. I didn’t have visibility over the ideation of the creative, but fought back three times and [Beats] still convinced me to do it,” she says. “There’s power in fighting back on what doesn’t make sense.”
Born at the turn of the millennium, Flo Milli is “a 2000s baby”, as she readily notes. A product of the Gen Z group of rappers and a growing community of fresh-faced women in rap including Latto, Monaleo and Lakeyah, Flo Milli’s formative years were marked by the peak of MTV’s Base, BET’s 106 & Park and the wider boom of early reality TV. “My dad wouldn’t let me watch everything,” she recalls, toying with her cream acrylic nails across the table. “But I grew up around that era, and my mom would let me watch shows like [Bachelor-style dating show] Flavor of Love.”
The influence of those shows is still visible in Flo’s output today: Joseline Hernandez, who helped front the Love and Hip Hop Atlanta franchise, first coined the infamous “Ho, why is you here?” line that informed the rapper’s debut project. It’s a theme that features on the record’s forthcoming successor ‘You Still Here, Ho?’ too, primed as her incoming debut album and set for release later this month. The name also acts as a double entendre, marking her survival throughout the pandemic after her TikTok-certified ascension. “I think it’s so smart to tap into the culture of [reality shows], they are a part of me and what I grew up around,” she says proudly.
In an era populated by vintage, boutique reference points and nostalgia, Flo has cleverly translated these early experiences into skits to promote the upcoming LP. First premiered across last year’s Halloween weekend, and in support of the album’s second single ‘Ice Baby’, Flo Milli and rap peer Buddy crafted an ode to Tiffany Pollard’s trademark dismissal from Flavor of Love 2. Embodying the vigour that follows in the track alongside Pollard’s melodramatic reaction, Flo divulges that the skit even gained the attention of Pollard herself. “We talk all the time,” she shares. “It’s just so surreal because she said she loves it and said that I’m special too.” Channelling Tyra Banks’ America’s Next Top Model for another of her singles ‘PBC’ (‘Pretty Black Cute’), Flo plans on eventually releasing all 13 pre-recorded skits in support of each album track.
Alongside the visual stunts and curation by producers like OG Parker and Trinidad James, ‘You Still Here, Ho?’ arrives as a notable step up both in production and vocal skill. Candid about her newness as a recording artist, Flo is clearly embracing her development and yearning for progression at all times. In previous conversations, she’s referenced renowned rap figures such as Kenny Beats urging her to toy with her voice, and in recent months she’s taken that advice on board wholeheartedly. Upcoming album track ‘Bed Time’ flirts with a new cadence, rendering Flo’s previous threats on songs of yesteryear as tame in comparison. Paired with ominous, menacing pitching, the roar of “When I see you out in public, bitch your ass is mine” hits hard over a distorted sample of Missy Elliott’s ‘She’s A Bitch’.
“[‘Bed Time’] is a real situation that I was in, so it was like, however it comes out, it comes out,” Flo laughs. “It’s like, ‘Bitch, I’m coming to get you’. It was a situation where I needed it to happen.” Using relatability as the framing, she explains how she wants to continue in this vein, appealing to audiences based on real life experiences. “You don’t know how many people are gonna feel inspired or moved, or seen by your music,” she says. “I feel like relatability is your power. When I’m angry or sad, it’s like, ‘Make a song about it’. So many artists get scared to do that, but I’ve learned to use those moments.”
Paralleled with her increasingly lethal vocals, meanwhile, is a desire to transcend her current terrain of subject matters (“Everyone knows I always talk about men,” she concedes). Her aforementioned threats stem from the 10th grade, when a trio of sisters misconstrued a boy trying to get her number as Flo trying to take the middle sister’s love interest. “I didn’t want to fight as I was an Honours Society and 3.8 GPA student,” she rationalises. “Instead I made a rap about it; my first ever song was called ‘No Hook’.”
On songs such as ‘PBC’, Flo Milli succeeds in broadening her lyrical focus by crafting an anthem for and in honour of Black women. “The expectations that people put on darker skinned women, they expect us to feel unimportant or less than,” she begins. “But I’ve always loved my skin tone, I love everything about me.” Referring back to her childhood, she explains how there was never colourism from her mother between her and her lighter-toned sister. “She’d love us equally, calling us her dark and light chocolates,” Flo smiles.
Sampling American runner Sha’Carri Richardson’s voice to create assertions of self-love, ‘PBC’ goes even further in its efforts to display unity throughout Black womanhood. As she states “Pretty for what? Pretty for who?” across the song’s chorus before affirming her unrestrained beauty to herself, Flo pokes fun at dangerously offensive ‘compliments’ she’s gained over the years.
In 2022 Flo is ready to confound yet more expectations, expanding on her feature from GoldLink’s 2021 single ‘Raindrops’, during which she sings instead of raps. “Y’all don’t even know what I can do,” she enthuses. “[Forthcoming track] ‘Tilted Halo’, for example, is very different from anything I’ve ever put out. It’s a very vulnerable song. I’m not lighthearted or having fun. I’m ready to talk about being human and talk about my heart.”
Part of Flo Milli’s desires also lie outside of music. She’s been ruminating on what her identity means to her and, as she gets older, there’s a yearning for clarity with regards to her ethnicity. “I wanna know where I’m from,” she nods. “Someone recently told me that I had Yoruba features. I looked it up and was like, ‘Wow’. There’s power in knowing where you come from.” Flo is adamant on performing in Jamaica or “somewhere in Africa” across her debut album campaign. “Anywhere where I’m around my people, I wanna feel what that feels like,” she nods.
And, as Flo Milli continues to make a run at domestic and global domination, the question of achieving these ambitions feels not so much an ‘if’ as a ‘when’. Heading into her debut album proper, Flo Milli’s not just still here, she’s thriving.
'You Still Here, Ho?’ is out 22nd July via RCA.