As music fans, we’re always on the hunt for new sounds and creators. Through Highsnobiety Soundsystem Co-signs, we’re connecting with the next generation of artists that we’re excited about. These are the origin stories of those pushing boundaries and shaping the future of music culture. For this edition, we connect with Alabama newcomer Flo Milli for a FaceTime shoot directed by Vicky Grout.
Where: Alabama For Fans Of: Nicki Minaj, Missy Elliott, Rico Nasty Playlisted: "Weak," "Send the Addy," "Beef FloMix"
Tamia Carter was coming home from school when she turned the TV onto BET’s 106 & Park. As an 11-year-old, it was her ritual to sit down and watch artists like OMG Girlz, Mindless Behavior, New Boyz, and Rihanna - but this time, it would change her life.
“My grandmother always told me, ‘Whatever you dream, make sure you dream big,'” she reflects. “And I never forgot that. So I remember seeing Nicki [Minaj] on 106 & Park in around 2010. I was amazed at how much fun she was having, and I wanted to do shit that I could have fun doing and make money. I was like ‘I wanna try that shit!’”
The next step toward the Alabama-native’s ambitious new career choice was a visit to Walmart to buy some notebooks to start writing. Soon enough, she’d be performing for her classmates at school, and her best friend’s mother was convinced she would inevitably end up being famous for her talent. At 14, she visited a studio for the first time, but didn’t record anything because her mother “was not fucking with” her ambitions of rap stardom.
But her passion outweighed the discouragement: she started a rap group with six of her friends called Real and Beautiful, which went through a name change (Pink Mafia) and lost five members as their interests dissolved. Eventually, at 15, Tamia was the last girl standing. “I was alone and shit. I was like, ‘What the fuck am I gonna do?’ And then a year later, I started going to the studio and actually rapping.” She recalls being terrified attending her first session at Dauphin Street Sounds, where she turned out to be a natural: “That was how Flo Milli came about.”
After building a small following on Instagram through high school, her name began to spread further afield with last year’s viral hit "Beef FloMix." The track saw Flo jacking the instrumental from Ethereal and Playboi Carti’s "Beef" with her petty punchlines and catty braggadocio. “I’m always trying to reach for the heights when it comes to writing music,” she says. “When I hear the beat I’m trying to figure out the best lyric, the best everything. Forget what anybody else has done, I’m thinking about how I can bring the beat to life. I’m looking for everything to be on point; the beats, the cadence, the voice, everything.” Her version now eclipses the success of the original, with over 54 million streams on Spotify and 10 million views on YouTube.
When she recorded the follow up – "In the Party," her second TikTok sensation – Flo was juggling college and a job at a phone store, but she was far too easily distracted by her real passion. “I used to get in trouble all the time,” she remembers. “The phone place was next to a tax company, and I had speakers that I would sell. But when I was at work by myself I would just put beats on and blast them and rap. Like, I wouldn’t even be working - I would make up raps at the counter.” Eventually the employees of the company next door snitched to her boss. “I didn’t care about nothing for real but rap shit!”
The focus paid off: at 20 years old, she signed a deal with RCA Records and was finally able to prioritize music. A&R’s Skane Dolla, Shareen Taylor and Karl Frickers first met with her through Skane’s niece, who was a fan, and managed to make contact with Flo’s best friend online. “I actually couldn’t get in contact with her,” says Skane, a veteran A&R and partner in DJ Clue’s Desert Storm records - home of Fabolous - who signed Joe Budden and Ludacris to Def Jam. “For me it was strictly her rawness and her delivery,” he says, of what made her stand out amongst the hundreds of artists that cross his desk. “She has a bit of an old school approach as far as lyrics go. She’s lyrical with the punchlines, and that’s my era of hip-hop.” Taylor adds: “It’s the uniqueness of her tone and her voice, she stands out amongst other female rappers. And when she walks into a room she lights it up, you can just see the star quality in her. When we met her a year and a half ago to where she is now, it’s like a star unfolding before us.”
Until then, Flo Milli’s process generally began with a YouTube beat, but when she was introduced to J. White Made It - the producer behind Cardi B’s "Bodak Yellow" and Megan Thee Stallion’s "Savage" - she recorded the tracks "Weak" and "Like That Bitch." The former centers around a sample of SWV’s song of the same name, which Flo remembers being a household favorite growing up - “You not gon’ be in the family and not know that song!” - and it became the foundation for her debut mixtape. “You know how they say when you make a great movie script you write the ending first?” asks Skane. “Technically ‘Weak’ was our ending, then we worked around that so we could build to those records.” The resulting mixtape, Ho, why is you here?, is one of 2020’s most enjoyable rap breakthroughs. Intentionally free of features, the 12-song collection proves that Flo Milli’s bratty brand of rap has a lot more to offer than 15 seconds of fame.
The reaction to the tape was fast and overwhelmingly positive. "Flo Milli" was trending on Twitter within hours of its release. When one fan tweeted that Flo Milli was the next gen Missy Elliott, Missy responded: “Flomilli is Dope let’s say flomilli is the next @_FloMilli.” And an ever-growing list of artists and celebrities, including SZA, Cardi B, Kehlani, Gabrielle Union, Rico Nasty, Janelle Monae, City Girls and Joe Budden, have all shared praise of their own. “It was amazing to see these people that I always looked up to from the industry to recognize me,” reflects Flo. “I think it’s definitely reaching a different diverse crowd, because first it was just younger girls and now I see a lot of older people, men, girls, everybody, listening to it.”
Flo Milli is beginning to live the fantasy that began that night when she turned on the TV. “I actually followed my dreams and didn’t give up,” she reflects. And while she’s proud of where she’s at right now, she won’t be getting too comfortable. “I was never always this wealthy, or popular. I’m 20, so the majority of my life was spent living in poverty,” she says. “And I’m not going to say my situation was horrible - I was definitely blessed - but I came from nothing. I know exactly what it feels to be without, and I know exactly how it feels to have nothing, so I’m not afraid of it.” She’s playing the long game and investing blood, sweat and tears into her work: “How I look at it is, once it’s out there, it’s out there forever. That’s why I feel like, if my shit gon’ be out there forever, it’s going to be good.”