“I’m from the Southside / Bougie bitches and dope boys,” the artist born Alyssa Stephens raps on last year’s single ‘Soufside’, emphasising the distance she’s travelled as a Platinum-certified star who has overcome stinging controversy and the music industry’s glass ceiling to become one of the most exciting rappers in the world. And with album two, Georgia-raised Latto peels back the layers of her larger-than-life persona.
It’s a record that meets Stephens on the other side of criticism that has dogged her since she introduced her unintentionally offensive former moniker, Mulatto, as an eventual winner of reality show The Rap Game in 2016. Last year, she told NME: “The negative definition of Mulatto might have been holding me back.” She explained that her then-new abbreviation meant “lottery” and that she hoped it would “be forthcoming of good fortune – financially, spiritually, emotionally”. On the hard-boiled ‘Trust No Bitch’, the 23-year-old puts it more boldly: “Big Latto – short for lottery / So ‘fuck I look like losing?”. No wonder this album’s title references the jackpot on a slot machine.
For the most part, the mood is fittingly buoyant, the album’s trappy percussion variously slathered in blaring horns, crisp acoustic guitar and – in the case of the 21 Savage-featuring ‘Wheelie’ – a buzzing syntheziser that would put a swagger in Mario’s 8-bit step. Perhaps inevitably, the feel-good highpoint arrives in the form of the mega-hit (almost 64 million Spotify streams and counting) ‘Big Energy’, a dumb, fun summer anthem wrapped up in a squelchy sample of ‘80s new-wavers Tom Tom Club’s ‘Genius of Love’.
Away from the Billboard chart-bothering singles, however, Stephens dials down the braggadocio and dials up the introspection. If there was a criticism of her 2020 debut ‘Queen of Da Souf’, it was that the “rich bitch shit” (as she defined her lyrical preoccupations on the clenched ‘He Say She Say’) and steely production could seem a little one-note. With this second round, Latto is utterly compelling when she slows things down.
Take the foe-forgiving Lil Wayne and Childish Gambino collaboration ‘Sunshine’, or the Kodak Black team-up ‘Bussdown’, on which she demands respect: “Got it out the mud without no handouts”. In that NME interview, Stephens insisted it would be “ignorant” not to acknowledge the stigma that female rappers still face, adding: “it’s flat-out in our face every day”. Here is proof, once again, that Latto could go toe-to-toe with the best of ‘em.
Release date: March 25
Record label: RCA Records