“Do you have my black purse?” Sexyy Red asks one of her team members as she makes her way in front of the camera. As her brazen track “Sexyy Red for President” blasts in the background, the breakout St. Louis rapper pulls out two massive wads of cash, carefully placing one atop her trademark bright red wig as if it were a crown.
For all the boisterous energy of her high-octane hit singles, Sexyy Red is pretty quiet in person. The clock’s approaching midnight on the day of her Billboard photo shoot — and she’s quickly approaching the birth of her second child — so her relative calm is understandable. Nonetheless, as each new song from the deluxe version of her Hood Hottest Princess mixtape booms through the room’s speakers, Sexyy quickly shifts into boss mode, helping direct her shoot. She’s undoubtedly a star — and she was one long before “Pound Town,” her January collaboration with Tay Keith, changed her life.
As hip-hop celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2023, Sexyy Red became a dominant force in the cultural conversation around the genre and where it’s headed next. Go to a college party blasting her “Hellcats SRTs,” or watch a club explode when “Yonce Freestyle” drops, and the 25-year-old rapper’s influence is obvious. From the tongue-in-cheek “Looking for the Hoes” to the Chief Keef-evoking “Shake Yo Dreads,” her music resonates with anyone willing to engage with and embrace their ratchet side.
Unlike many of her female peers, Sexyy’s raps aren’t drenched in metaphors and punchlines; her lyrics sound as if she’s saying the very first thing that pops into her head — which is exactly the case. When she spits, “B-tch, if it’s some beef, let me know, sh-t, what’s up?/All that talkin’ on the net, that’s gon’ get your head bust,” in “I’m the Sh-t,” Sexyy isn’t weaving subliminal shots throughout intricate wordplay — she’s plainly addressing her opps with equal parts humor, apathy and stone-cold seriousness.
According to Luminate, Hood Hottest Princess has collected 447.6 million official on-demand U.S. streams, helping it reach No. 13 on the Top Rap Albums chart, as well as making appearances on Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums (No. 21) and the Billboard 200 (No. 62). Sexyy has charted a pair of top 10s on the Mainstream R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay ranking: “SkeeYee” (No. 6) and “Rich Baby Daddy” (No. 2), with the former also becoming the inaugural No. 1 hit on the newly launched TikTok Billboard Top 50.
This digital cover story is part of Billboard’s Genre Now package, highlighting the artists pushing their musical genres forward — and even creating their own new ones.
Sexyy dominated 2023 amid a notable lull for her genre overall in the marketplace. Last year, no hip-hop artist topped the Billboard 200 until mid-July, when Lil Uzi Vert’s Pink Tape became the first No. 1 hip-hop album since Metro Boomin’s Heroes & Villains the previous December, marking the longest gap between No. 1 hip-hop albums since a 34-week drought in 1992-93. In September, Doja Cat’s “Paint the Town Red” became hip-hop’s first Billboard Hot 100-topping single since Nicki Minaj’s “Super Freaky Girl” in August 2022.
Both “Paint the Town Red” and Pink Tape were buoyed by the danceable, top 40-friendly sounds of pop-rap and Jersey club, respectively, signaling a shift from the 2010s, when dominant trap artists regularly launched new singles and albums to the tops of Billboard’s marquee all-genre charts. While Sexyy didn’t make quite the commercial impact of “Paint the Town Red” or Uzi’s “Just Wanna Rock,” her remarkable string of 2023 hits suggests hip-hop may evolve in a new direction: one in which less crossover-aimed rap can still captivate the culture, and in which a woman with Sexyy’s raw, raucous style can achieve mainstream dominance without a top 40-friendly hit.
Born Janae Wherry, Sexyy grew up in St. Louis listening to the likes of Webbie, Boosie BadAzz and Trina — artists that embody the unapologetically hood energy that now courses through every Sexyy Red song. As Sexyy points out, they were all revered for their fearlessness. But achieving that kind of bravery herself took some time.
“When I was little, I always knew [I was a star] because I was just different,” Sexyy says. “I was worried. I was quiet. But everybody used to want to be my friend. I was pretty, my hair was real long, my mama knew how to dress me. Everybody used to just be flocking to me, but I was shy. I didn’t want to talk to nobody. I’ve always been that person for real.”
That kind of authenticity is now helping her fans access their own — one two-and-a-half-minute track at a time. From the start, Sexyy’s career has felt organic and, at first, low stakes. Growing up, she always had a creative spirit: “I used to think I was going to be a painter. I used to design my Barbie dolls’ clothes. I used to be doing hair. I just was multitalented, so I knew I could do it, but I just didn’t know how,” she says.
When a former boyfriend broke her heart in 2018, Sexyy reacted in the most hip-hop way possible: She recorded a dis track. The response among friends was so overwhelmingly positive that even the song’s subject encouraged her to seriously pursue music. (“He’d have me rap the song to his friends,” Sexyy recalls.)
From that very first song, listeners clamored to hear Sexyy’s specific voice, her cadence, her energy, her off-the-cuff rambunctiousness tempered with sincerity. Performances at local clubs and parties soon followed — “A free party? And I get $50 just to go up there and just do something? Why not?” — as did a debut mixtape, 2021’s Ghetto Superstar, and support on social media from R&B star Summer Walker. But it took a mixture of old-school grind and new-school social media prowess — and a little help from the music industry — for Sexyy to harness the zeitgeist.
In 2021, Rebel Music, an independent Miami-based label and management company, signed Sexyy after coming across some of her early tracks. “Once she got off the plane and I heard her voice, I knew she was a star,” recalls Vladimir “Sunny” Laurent, Sexyy’s A&R executive. “Like, her voice, it just tells you who she is.” By mid-2023, Miami-based distributor Open Shift and gamma — Larry Jackson’s media company that creates, distributes and markets content with a specific focus on Black culture — “reached out to [Rebel] and expressed interest not only in Sexyy, but their broad platform [too],” according to Dave Gross, who became Sexyy’s manager around the same time. (Sexyy remains signed to Rebel Music, while gamma and Open Shift handle distribution of her music.)
In January 2023, Sexyy Red dropped the track that would change the course of her career. “Pound Town” is emblematic of Sexyy’s ethos: Say what you feel, and do that before anything else. From “too many b-tches, where the n—as at?” to “My c–chie pink, my bootyh–e brown,” her impulsive bars quickly drew listeners in, inspiring a litany of memes across TikTok and X (formerly Twitter).
The track also brought “p—y rap” — which music journalist Robyn Mowatt describes as “a subgenre of rap where women embrace their sexual prowess” in the face of “the patriarchy and misogyny” common in the male-dominated rap world — to the fore of hip-hop discourse. As female MCs have seized the mainstream, p—y rap has dominated, with Sexyy as one of its most prominent purveyors — even if she disputes the classification.
“I don’t agree with that [classification], because why is that the only thing you heard me talking about?” she says. “That’s the only thing that you got out of everything I just said? You just heard me say ‘c–chie’? I hate when they say that. I just rap about my daily life. Girls that live like me, I just rap about what we go through. I don’t sit and talk about c–chie all day.”
She’s right. What has made Sexyy such a contentious subject of hip-hop conversations is that she embodies an energy and perspective many are comfortable glamorizing without respecting. In lyrics like “When I don’t hear from my n—a, I write him/He a bad boy, I don’t care, that’s how I like ’em/Yeah, free my n—a ’til it’s backwards/F–k the police, f–k the pigs, they some bastards,” she’s not conjuring a scene to give the illusion of a hood aesthetic — she’s literally pulling from her real life.
“Authenticity is self-relative, and for Sexyy, it’s that she’s independent, fierce, strong, unafraid of the world’s opinions and unbowed by backlash,” Gross says. It’s not about whether she’s acting “hood” — it’s about expressing those qualities and aesthetics authentically in her music and performance. Sexyy is always being Sexyy, first and foremost.
“Pound Town” peaked at No. 66 on the Billboard Hot 100 following a remix with Nicki Minaj, marking Sexyy’s debut on the chart. “I specifically had the vision to make sure that we got that done and out by Memorial Day weekend so that we could just own the f–king summer,” says gamma CEO Larry Jackson, who was instrumental in orchestrating the remix. “That, to me, was like throwing a lit match in dry shrubbery.”
As scores of streaming-era artists know well, it is easy for a viral hit to overshadow the artist behind it. Sexyy Red and her team sought to avoid that, Jackson says, delivering a constant stream of singles and remixes to support Hood Hottest Princess. The project arrived alongside the official single release of “SkeeYee,” a raucous party anthem named after a cat-calling phrase frequently used in Sexyy’s hometown of St. Louis.
“SkeeYee” quickly became a staple on locker room playlists across the country, the go-to celebration song for athletes from college football’s Ole Miss Rebels to MLB’s Baltimore Orioles. Its success shifted Sexyy into a different tier from her peers like Kaliii and Flo Milli. Most mainstream female rappers are ignored by straight male audiences save for a verse or two, but Sexyy had that demographic captivated for an entire calendar year — from the countless videos of ecstatic male fans at her festival appearances to Travis Scott’s giddy embrace of “SkeeYee” during his 2023 Wireless Festival set.
“She’s the female Gucci [Mane]. She sounds like Trina. Everybody thinks she’s like a p—y rap artist, but she’s not really,” Laurent says. “She makes music for dudes who like fast cars. That’s why dudes connect with her so well. Everybody loves her, from the LGBT community to [straight] women — it’s all walks of life.”
“Hellcats SRTs” (along with its Lil Durk remix) and “Shake Yo Dreads” added two more hits to Sexyy’s résumé, and smart features on NLE Choppa’s “Slut Me Out” and DaBaby’s “Shake Sumn” kept her momentum going. In 2023, ratchet party rap reemerged in popularity, and Sexyy led the charge with music and energy reminiscent of iconic voices like Waka Flocka Flame and Chief Keef. “I see Sexyy Red as a female me,” Waka says. “How people are like, ‘Man, Waka’s music just ratchet!’ It was records outselling me by millions of copies, but they can never get played inside the club.”
Neither “Pound Town” nor “SkeeYee” was a major Hot 100 hit, reaching Nos. 66 and 62, respectively, but they still captured and defined the year for large swaths of consumers; Sexyy landed six entries on the TikTok Billboard Top 50. And after her hit linkup with Minaj, she spent the rest of 2023 maximizing her commercial reach by collaborating with another Young Money icon.
According to Gross, Drake reached out to Sexyy via DM around the time the rest of the industry began to truly take notice of her. So, between supporting Moneybagg Yo on his Larger Than Life Tour and headlining her own Hood Hottest Princess tour, Sexyy opened for Drake and 21 Savage’s blockbuster It’s All a Blur Tour. That cross-country trek set the stage for Sexyy’s highest-peaking Hot 100 entry yet, “Rich Baby Daddy” (No. 11), a track from Drake’s For All the Dogs album that also features fellow St. Louis native SZA. “Rich Baby Daddy” also became her most beloved track yet (by critics and fans alike), on an album that also featured heavy hitters from Bad Bunny to J. Cole — an indicator of how quickly Sexyy had risen in the industry.
Her stint on Drake and 21 Savage’s tour also laid the groundwork for her own headlining tour, which her team estimates sold 75,000 tickets across 28 shows — a rare feat for a female rapper, especially one so new to the game, and a testament to the strength of the Sexyy Red brand in a year that had numerous cancellations of hip-hop tours and festivals.
“Touring was stressful at first, because nobody knew I was pregnant,” Sexyy explains. “I’d be in the bedroom trying to suck my stomach in or wear clothes to show I wasn’t. It hurt to just be onstage all day holding your stomach. It’s hard to hide it.” For an artist like Sexyy, deeply committed to presenting herself authentically, the decision to do that was deeply personal, and tactical: She shot more than 10 music videos, made several festival appearances, went on three tours and performed at awards shows — and did most of that while carrying her second child.
“Being pregnant is stressful; it wears your body down. I was tired, but I tried to hide it as much as you possibly could,” she says. “I like to have a personal life. I’m already famous or whatever, so everything be out there. I be trying to have something to myself that I could keep. Just go home and be with my son and my family. That’s the reason I was hiding.”
Gross recalls one summer stint in which Sexyy “hopped off the stage with Drake, hopped on a jet to make it to a Moneybagg Yo show, did an afterparty after the Moneybagg show, then at six or seven in the morning took another jet to go the next city where the Drake tour was.” That kind of work ethic is what drew him to Sexyy in the first place.
It’s the same energy Sexyy started the year with after the father of her baby got locked up. “I don’t got no more distractions. I can work now,” she says. After every show, she went straight to her 2-year-old son, Chuckie — a testament to how she manages to balance work with her personal life. “This year was very unique and there was an extremely heightened sense of concern” around the impact of Sexyy’s promotional schedule on her mind and body, Gross says. “Our game plan is always going to be to take our cue from the artist.”
As quickly as she has become a pop cultural touchstone, Sexyy has stirred up plenty of controversy. In October on the podcast This Past Weekend With Theo Von, she said, “Trump, we miss you” — arguing that “they support him in the hood” because “he started getting Black people out of jail and giving people that free money.” One conspiracy theory accuses her of being a plant by the CIA to destroy the Black community, while some posts on X have called for Jackson’s condemnation to hell because of his involvement in promoting Sexyy.
For Sexyy, wanting to be in the rap game for the long haul has meant finding a way to exist amid all that noise. “It don’t really faze me, because I know what’s going on in real life,” she says. “I just do me. I be really nice.” And, in real life, Sexyy is connecting with audiences because she’s giving them the space to revel in their ratchetness. “In my opinion, she is the first one post-pandemic who brought us a hot summer,” Jackson says. “She dropped music that made us feel good for the first time in four years about being outside again.”
“I think she’s every woman’s spirit animal. That rambunctious girl that says anything she feels. She says things people are afraid to say,” adds Laurent. “She’s like a heroine in a way.”
In 2024, Sexyy Red has one goal: “I’m showing my ass. I’m going to just be getting richer, bigger, more trendier. I’m going to be everywhere,” she says. “I’m going to be in it for the long haul, [but] not even on purpose, though. Even if I try to stop rapping, they’re going to take some sh-t, turn it into something, put me on the blogs, make it something it doesn’t even have to be, so Imma be here for a minute.” Her manager is aiming for “three or four albums next year. That might be ambitious,” he acknowledges. “But I want 2024 to be the year of Sexyy Red like 2023 was.”
In December, she dropped a deluxe edition of Hood Hottest Princess featuring collaborations with Chief Keef and Summer Walker, and she has also scored rising hits in “Bow Bow Bow (F My Baby Dad)” and “Free My N—a.” The negative response to the latter in particular — some critics contended that the song and music video contributed to the glorification of the incarceration of Black men — exemplified the vitriol that has moved some veteran female rappers to defend Sexyy.
“We don’t know what [Sexyy is] going to be talking about on the third or fourth album, but right now we’re talking about where we came from,” Trina tells Billboard. “We’re talking about the bottom. The gutter, the trenches, the dirt, the slime, the scum. All of that. Some people have just grown above it and they’re not in the hood no more, but everybody has not got to that place yet. You can’t expect them to be talking about the most lavish things in life and they haven’t addressed where they from and what they’ve seen and how they seen it. Give them a chance to grow. Give them a chance to elevate. Give them a chance to evolve. They’re still young women. They’re still under 30 years old. They still have time to do whatever they want to do, but this is just the beginning.”
Sexyy’s vision and hope for hip-hop’s future is centered in the same principle she has upheld since “Pound Town” blew up: authenticity. For her, that’s the only way to know “who really f–king with you when you’re just being yourself and not trying to pretend.”
And for her heroes — like Boosie BadAzz, the only artist she requested to hear during her Billboard photo shoot other than herself — it’s the reason her voice is so needed in rap right now. Sexyy is “a girl from the hood who finally got her chance to speak and it’s accepted,” Boosie says. “When I listen to her music, it’s like the girls from my project talking. You got to respect it or watch other people respect it. We got a voice, too. The hood has a voice, too. A lot of people don’t respect it because they don’t understand it.”
Perhaps that’s what the future of hip-hop looks like under a Sexyy Red dynasty: a scene where a young woman can captivate a nation with her own perspective and narrative while also giving a voice to the place some of the culture’s most overlooked movers and shakers come from — and where none of that is just a performance. As usual, Sexyy puts it best herself: “I’m just doing me in this rap sh-t.”