There are times when you run across a famous musician and think about how their art has become irrevocably severed from their real self. Buried under layers of carefully manufactured media-machine polish. Inevitably, the delicious morsels of the artist become so atomically different from the source that any listener develops an insatiable curiosity: What would happen if you got to the alien nucleus of it all? What could the artist really be like in person?
And then you talk to Sexyy Red. She introduces herself and says: “Hi, I’m Sexyy,” and those nagging questions about the sublimation of self in the modern music industry start to dissolve because, of course, she’s sexy. She’s Sexyy Red. She is her proud physicality, which is her discography, which is her online presence. Every engaging piece of viral information fed to the general public about Sexyy Red isn’t just a marketable approximation of a person, it’s a full-throated extension of her real self.
In the unlikely case your algorithm hasn’t been inundated with her catchy “Pound Town” line detailing the pigmentation of her genitalia, you need to know that Sexyy Red is a global sensation. Following the June release of her album, Hood Hottest Princess, the star boasts some 30 million streams worldwide. Cosigned by titans of the industry among the likes of SZA, Nicki Minaj, Cardi B, and Summer Walker, Sexyy is relatively unsurprised by her recent success. “I always be predicting the truth,” she says. “Last year, I predicted that 2023 was gonna be my year. I was like, ‘I’m gonna just go hard.’”
And hard she went, rising to a level of global recognition in a mere six months that one can only attribute to her unmatched originality. Sexyy, with her lilting lyrical coyness and conspicuous desirability, offers a refreshing reprieve from the cyclical mediocrity of the Billboard charts. Next year, she predicts, if she continues at the pace she’s going she’ll cement herself as a long-term fixture: “Like Cardi B. like Nicki Minaj.”
When I speak to Sexyy, she’s in the studio working on new verses. I ask if she likes to foster a rambunctious atmosphere to inspire the vibes of her music. In fact, the opposite is true. She’s most creative when she’s alone. “Sometimes,” she admits, “it helps when people are around and they can throw ideas to you. I mean, I guess I’ll take advice sometimes.” Ultimately, though, she’s a solo talent. She emphasizes that her writing process depends on her mood that day.
Mostly, her verses come to her in the studio while the music is already playing—“Pound Town” was a freestyle. “I can hear stuff on beats,” she says. “If the beat hits me, it just automatically makes me start thinking about something.” Sexyy hears something good, the lyrics bubble out of her. She doesn’t endeavor towards controversy, she doesn’t set out to break any conventions. She’s just Sexyy, and people love Sexyy.
Actually, the internet has always loved Sexyy Red, even before her music career. “Before Instagram and all that was popping, I was already viral on Facebook and all those social medias, just by being me—just dressing cute, doing some cute hairstyles and crazy nails, crazy outfits. I’ve been in the limelight. So it’s not really nothing.” She claims that she can’t attribute her clothing or style to any particular inspiration: “I would describe it as me! Like, I’m not looking at people saying, ‘I want to dress like this.’ I got my own style. They be saying I’m dirty sometimes. But honestly, I’m just going with my mood, I’m just dressing how I feel.”
Sexyy has a son and doesn’t impose her own style on him, “I want him to pick what he wants to wear,” she says. “I don’t ever turn him down because I know how [kids] be. Even if he doesn’t match. I’ll just be like, ‘Alright. I let you do what you want to do. That’s how you feel.’” The rapper has a lot of care for kids in general, as can be witnessed in her recent charity work at schools in her hometown, St. Louis.
I bring up the online discourse regarding one particular charity event, captured in a viral video. She bursts through the doors of a school auditorium, sticks her middle fingers up, waves hello, and is immediately enveloped by a sea of excited young fans. Though she was there to help out with the teens from expenses, anonymous online masses used her visit to fuel misguided, pearl-clutching hate (something about sexuality, brazenness in schools, the works). Sexyy doesn’t seem phased: she corrected the controversy via Twitter and even retweeted memes about the encounter, one of which captions her breezy entrance with: “This don’t even mean flipping someone off when you’re Black sometimes.” She wants to continue the charity work. “I like making kids’ days. I’m supposed to be doing a school drive when school starts back. I want to give out some stuff like hair, bookbags, haircuts, shoes. I just want to help.”
If she seemed unphased by the school controversy, she seems even more uninterested in the discourse surrounding the shameless sexuality in her songs. I ask her about the ridiculous buzzword: “hypersexuality” tossed around in the online discourse about Black women rappers, and she laughs. “I don’t know what that word means.” She googles it, and laughs some more as she reads, “‘An obsession with sexual thoughts, urges or behaviors that may cause distress or negative acts.’ That’s funny!” She doesn’t feel that she raps with any sort of convention-breaking goal: “I feel like I really rap like a guy. I’m just seeing it in a girl way...Just like dudes speak for the dudes, I just speak for the girls.” For Sexyy, it’s just that simple.
She isn’t immune to the anxieties of fame (she admits that she used to throw up before she got onstage); she doesn’t just ignore the haters to say she ignores the haters (“They’ll always do it,” she muses); the tired arguments about brashness, about ‘hypersexuality’ are so myopic—so irrelevant to her—that they’re laughable: “I’m not a mean person. I’m really a nice, cool person. Like, I’m not a loud personality. I’ll just be chillin’ for real.”
Of course, Sexyy is hot, and raunchy, and cool, but she never purports to be emotionless. We broach the topic of eternal love. “I believe in it,” she says, “Because that’s how me and my baby daddy is...We not together. But [if] he cries for me, I will cry for him. We feel each other’s pain...If he would call me and want to come over, I’ll still let him in.” In Sexyy Red’s universe, love and sexiness coexist. She tells me that when she’s seventy, she’ll still be rapping for the seventy-year-olds, nurturing that love through all time.
It’s clear that Sexyy Red cannot be broken down into transmutable elements. She’s herself, the whole unimpeachable package, and there’s no way to manufacture that vigor. But God, if there was some replicable formula for that intensity of being, wouldn’t we want to know? I do, at least. So desperately do I want to know how to be sexy. Be like Sexyy. I ask her what makes it possible, and, rather unsurprisingly, she utters: “Confidence. Because once you own it—own that confidence—who can tell you any different way?”
Photographed by Hannah Sider
Styled by Von Ford
Creative Producer: Mui-Hai Chu
Written by Annie Bush
Hair: Jayden Torres
Flaunt Film: Pierce Jackson
Market Editor: Pascia Sangoubadi
Location: Blanc Studios New York