St. Louis native Sexyy Red does it with her foot on the gas. The 25-year-old rapper’s music is unabashed fun. She’s a classic Southern rapper with a sticky and viscous flow and an anachronistic approach to music. She abstains from traditional lyricism or liquid singing for one-sentence phrases or personal and sexual anecdotes that are meant for fans to call back to her onstage. Her hooks are her greatest talent, allowing the listener to sing along with her. You insert your rambunctious fun along with her; you sing along when she makes a sexual pun that not only feels liberating but also ominous for the man she is talking to.
As we enter a nail salon in Manhattan for a pedicure — Red’s treat — I start to play “SkeeYee” off of Hood Hottest Princess. Red smiled and laughed bashfully — her face acknowledging how fun this was and how extra I was being by playing her song loudly on my phone. That’s the appeal of Red’s rise: It’s been just as fun for the listener, and it is clearly for her. We’ve needed more interesting dirty talk in a genre that has started to grow stale with its songs about romantic decay. Someone is finally rapping about getting their toes licked and shaking phalluses during intercourse.
Sexyy Red, born Janae Wherry (I found this from Wikipedia. Red declined to tell me her name because people “call her by it like they know it”), hails from the north side of St. Louis. “Growing up there was fun. When I got older is when things started getting real,” she tells me. “St. Louis is the Wild West.” While being driven to school by her mom, Andrea, who also joined us for the afternoon, Red listened to a steady diet of Lil Wayne, Juicy J, Gucci Mane, and others. “We just listened to all the hood stuff,” says Red. Growing up, Red says, she was a likable person and popular.
When the father of Red’s son, whose name is Chuckie, cheated on Red, Red made a diss song to her then-boyfriend and started rapping. To everyone’s surprise, the rap was strong and it got everyone imagining Red as the next hot rapper from St. Louis. “There wasn’t any girls rapping like that,” Red claims. “So everyone was like, ‘You should just rap.’ Once they heard I could freestyle, everyone told me I should make a real song.” At first, Red didn’t even know what studio to go to. But it didn’t matter: All of her friends in St. Louis were listening to her freestyle via clips on Instagram — a moment of distinct truth for Red. After that, she started making real songs.
Right now, Hood Hottest Princess, her June mixtape, is a welcome surprise. No one is doing it quite like Red is right now. On “I’m the Shit,” she raps, “He was thirsty for the pussy, so I gave him something to eat.” The “SkeeYee” video shoot being stopped by the NYPD (“I guess there was too much traffic. That was crazy,” Red says) is a reminder of how big that song has become in a short period of time. The remix to “Pound Town,” featuring Nicki Minaj, is on Hood Hottest. Two magnetic stars like Red and Minaj linking up was productive for both of them. Minaj gets to have more fun; Red gets to have a historic link-up.
As for the original song “Pound Town,” it is going up, especially since Minaj got on the remix. The song has garnered 56 million streams since its release in May, according to data from Luminate. While the original is better, it is historic that Minaj ended up on the remix. “Larry Jackson hooked it up and thought that Nicki and I would make a good match,” Red excitedly tells me. “So we met in L.A., and we clicked. I think she went to Instagram and thought, ‘Let me help out Sexyy Red.’”
Growing up, Red listened to Minaj. (“Itty Bitty Piggy” is her favorite). Although Minaj has beefed with fewer women artists than people make it seem, she has been in the news for her disagreements with several, such as Cardi B and Remy Ma. (Minaj is always more complex than people make her out to be — both fans and detractors). Red, when I ask about Minaj’s beefs with other women, is not having any of it. “They be saying that, but I never seen that. She don’t got to shout me out. So when she does, I appreciate it. I don’t see Nicki beef with people.”
Red is a private woman, but there is one personal fact that she has put in her music: Her child’s father is currently in jail. Red declines to tell Rolling Stone why he is in jail, but it affects her intensely. Every day she is with their son, Chuckie, or “Sexyy Junior,” who was born in 2020, she is reminded that he is not here to enjoy Red’s newfound fame. Red, Chuckie, Mama Red, and I went to the Disney Store in Midtown to get Chuckie some action figures. She struggles to answer the questions when I ask her about Chuckie’s father. “It’s a lot for me,” Red says. “That’s my high school sweetheart. Free him. That’s my dog. I hate being on this journey without him. I have my momma, but I don’t have him.”
The journey Red has been on is definitely one for the ages. This past weekend she was being hyped up by Travis Scott at Wireless Festival in the U.K., and her star doesn’t seem to be dimming any time soon. She says she’s sometimes shocked by how many people have come to accept her as she is. She dresses and acts the way she wants, and people are obsessed with it. “I never let nobody knock me,” Red says while smiling. “I do what I do.”