For the last three summers, women have dominated rap. In 2017, just when it seemed like "Bodak Yellow" was the biggest song of the season, Cardi B released Invasion of Privacy extending her reign another year. In 2018, the City Girls caused everyone to "Act Up," and last year was scorched by the warmth of Megan Thee Stallion's "Hot Girl Summer." Flo Milli, the ringleader of this summer, isn't a fast-talking rapper from a big city, and she isn't old enough to drink legally. But her bossy raps have permeated outside of her hometown of Mobile, Alabama, causing the world to latch on to her monstrous confidence, which she shamelessly plugs in ad-libs and song titles as "Flo Milli Shit."
"I really didn't expect all the attention [the mixtape] got," she tells me over a Google Hangout, batting eyelashes bigger than the animated personality that comes through on her records. We talk briefly about the industry's tendency to rally around women in rap while they're profitable, only to abandon them when they need support. She's still getting used to the fame but hopes that the Flo Milli Summer transitions seamlessly into a lifestyle. "I've had this dream since I was little, so for me, it's long term."
Over the last year, she released a string of loose songs that found popularity on TikTok with "Beef (FloMix)" and "In the Party," building anticipation for her debut mixtape Ho, Why Is You Here? Her mixtape cover is a modern take on 90s nostalgia: Her squat is a modest version of Lil Kim's 1996 album Hard Core, and she's dressed similar to Halle Berry's character in the film B.A.P.S., blonde wig and all.
Flo Milli's music straddles two worlds. Her tone is polite, with traces of southern hospitality, but her lyrics are Regina George-level petty. She flips beats from her male peers, as she did on the aforementioned singles, and puts her feminine touch on it, completely refreshing songs that once were associated with Playboi Carti ("Beef") and NLE Choppa ("In The Party"). Most importantly, Flo Milli's music finds her at the intersection of Gen Z and Millennials, using her beat selection and nods to pop culture as a bridge between two audiences.
The 20-year-old credits watching BET's video countdown show, 106 & Park, growing up as an inspiration for her rap ambitions. The show was a conduit for emerging talent and premiered in 2000, the same year Flo Milli, known to her inner circle as Tamia Carter, was born. She and the show grew in tandem, and at 11, she became enamored by the charismatic Queens rapper Nicki Minaj during her Pink Friday era. By the time she got to high school, 106 & Park's reign was over, but it wouldn't be long before she would embark on her own journey as an artist. But school wasn't exactly a fun time for the Mobile rapper.
"I could just tell girls didn't like me type shit," she says. Flo says she wasn't bullied, but teen drama kept her skin thick and her confidence high. It was the first iteration of the unshakeable confidence fans have come to love in her music. "I had to deal with that for four years," she says. "I kinda looked at school like jail. We're put into this jail, and we're here for years, and you just have to deal with it. [Rapping] became a coping mechanism, and I just started not giving a fuck."
In high school, she transformed into Rose Milli, one half of a rap duo that never fully materialized. "I kept the Milli, but everyone said my flow was hard, so Flo Milli became my name," she says. In June, she released "Like That Bitch," a braggadocious mantra where she juggles at least five flows in the second verse alone. When it was time for college, Flo enrolled in a community college to eventually transfer to Clark Atlanta University. "College was short-lived," she says, laughing. "I had a plan, but I ended up getting famous in college, so I left that alone." Turns out, fame wasn't a bad back up plan.
The viral success of "Beef (FloMix)" and "In The Party" set an early precedent for what fans could expect from the Alabama rapper. Bodacious songs like "Eat It Up," and "My Attitude" followed although they don't appear on the mixtape, Flo says those songs were necessary for keeping up with her momentum. "It was a lot of stuff going on in the backend, to the point where I could only drop singles," she says tight-lipped. "I was just doing the best I could to keep my fans wanting more. That's all I can say about it."
Flo Milli might have a rambunctious, little sister energy on her tracks, but Tamia Carter seems much more reserved. Where newer artists are selling their personality as a product, Flo does the opposite. Make no mistake; she's skilled in social media and managed to build a following of 20,000 people before graduating high school. But now, take one look at her Instagram feed, and it's strictly business, except for a handful of selfies and Black Lives Matter posts. Her guarded approach to marketing is a relic of the days where artists weren't always accessible.
Her music is imbued with doses of nostalgia, too, as best shown on her breakthrough single "Weak," which repurposes SWV's 90s R&B hit into a saucy rap track. While rappers like Lil Xan and Lil Yachty made headlines for thinking Biggie and Tupac were "overrated" or "boring," Flo Milli dispels the myth that Gen Z artists aren't students of rap. "May I" is a melting pot of her influences, bridging the gap between generations of rap fans. She effortlessly interpolates Snoop Dogg's "Gin and Juice" on the hook, rapping rapidly over a beat that could fit comfortably into Missy Elliott's "Pass That Dutch" era. Elsewhere on the song, her lyrics read like a music library filled with classic throwbacks. "I'm with your daddy, getting nasty like 2 Live Crew / Word to Stevie, they can't see me like Do I Do."
If Flo Milli's process seems like a formula, that's because she's thinking about her concepts like science. "Although my generation can say we didn't grow up on those artists, you can't say the people we look up to didn't," she says. "I look at it like this. Someone can have a child with orange hair, and the parents might not have that gene, but the grandparents do. There's going to be something you possess that you might not even know you got from people before you. It's important to pay homage."
Much of Flo Milli's allure is nestled in her youthful, fun approach to rapping. The danger in being associated with your youth is that, eventually, you mature. At 22, even Lil Yachty's reign as "King of the Teens" seems like decades ago. Flo says she's not worried about the adjustment, assuring her fans that it'll be a "smooth little transition." One thing you can bet on is that she won't tell you how she intends on evolving.
"It's important to keep your mystery," she says. "You want to give people just enough to want some more."
Kristin Corry is a Senior Staff Writer at VICE.