Post-COVID life — whenever that comes — is predicted to usher in a new Roaring Twenties era. The decade, which marked both a period of economic prosperity and social change, came right after the 1920s influenza pandemic, and gave rise to a time of profound transformation of life as folks knew it back then. Poised and assured as ever, Flo Milli is channelling that renaissance energy in her latest track and manifesto, “Roaring 20s,” her first offering since the release of her breakthrough mixtape, Ho, why is you here ?
“Everything was flourishing at that time, so I feel like manifesting that into my career,” a soft-spoken Flo tells me over the phone. Her calm and airy demeanour is a stark contrast to the bravado heard on tracks like “Pockets Bigger” and “Not Friendly.” She sounds focused and grounded. Perhaps it’s because, at 21, the Mobile, AL rapper is also at the beginning of her own rebirth — and she’s setting out to make the most of the decade.
“I’m a big person on manifesting and speaking things into existence, because there very much is a power in the tongue,” Flo muses. Flo’s tongue is mighty, as she proved to us on her debut, and she solidifies that fact on the Kenny Beats-produced “Roaring 20s.” “You can’t hate on pussy if it rule the planet,” a cocksure Flo boasts over a sample of “If I Were A Rich Man” from the classic Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick musical Fiddler On the Roof. “Roaring 20s” is an apt song title for the young rap dynamo, who spent most of the previous year gearing up to kick ass and take names. In 2020, Flo quickly became a salve for unbothered Black girls everywhere. “Flo Milli Sh*t,” her now illustrious catchphrase, was repeated so often across social media that one could call it a mantra. 2021 is her coming-of-age year, and if the trajectory of 2020 is any indication of where the star-in-the-making is headed, you can rest assured that Flo is here to stay—and it’s not just because the industry is trending in her direction.
2020 marked a year during which women rappers ran the world. In May, Nicki Minaj and Doja Cat tag-teamed on the inescapable "Say So," while Beyoncé dropped bars alongside Megan Thee Stallion on the chart-shattering remix to "Savage." For two weeks, the ladies occupied the top spots on the Billboard Hot 100, stamping historic milestones for Minaj, Doja and Megan. Not only did the trio land their first No. 1 hits, but "Say So" also became the first single by two female rappers to reach the top of the chart. Come August, Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion would drop "WAP," the sex-fuelled collaboration heard around the world. Meanwhile, Rico Nasty, Bbymutha, Junglepussy, Chika, City Girls, and Mulatto were all releasing captivating new music. Chi-town’s CupcaKKe made her comeback. Overseas, Lex Amor stunned with her debut album, Government Tropicana and became a fave on music platform COLORSXSTUDIOS. The list goes on.
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Then, there was Flo Milli—skilled, irrefutable, and not one to f*ck with. Her confident take on Playboi Carti's "Beef" ("Beef FloMix") took TikTok by storm, leading up to the release of her landmark debut EP. The 12-track, 30-minute mixtape was featured in multiple Best of 2019 lists — including The New York Times, NPR, and Complex — and has racked up 500 million plus streams and video views across the world. “In The Party” is now RIAA gold certified. Flo was also nominated for Best New Artist at the 2019 BET Hip-Hop Awards. But while she may have gained momentum through viral fame, Flo quickly (and graciously) corrects me when I allude to her as an internet sensation.
“I never was a viral internet star. I just used my internet platform to my advantage, but I’ve always been an artist first,” she tells me. If anything, Flo considers, the attention she garnered through TikTok taught her how to use her social media platform to market herself as an artist. This skill would prove beneficial amidst a global pandemic, when many people were quarantined and scrolling on their phones at home. I ask her if she feels the circumstances of the pandemic slowed her down at all, if things ever became tough for her to navigate despite all her success. “The best thing to do in the music industry right now is to take advantage of your circumstances,” she says.
That’s something Flo has done throughout her career. And if managing a budding music career while the world was on fire got to her, she isn’t showing it. “I feel like I had a lot of free time, and with that free time I was able to be inspired by a lot of different things instead of being discouraged,” she says. “I feel like in order to make something dope, you can’t always be serious, you have to have some type of fun with it. You gotta be free with it.” In that free time, Flo’s been working on her follow-up album, teasing that fans can expect new work at the end of the year.
Born Tamia Monique Carter in 2000, Flo is part of the last in a generation of kids raised on MTV and BET, when music video countdowns still reigned over the airwaves. She cites shows like BET’s 106th & Park as inspiration. “I swore up and down I was gonna be number one on that top 10,” she says. “I swear I used to always say that.” The artists she was introduced to back then served as notable influences. “Nicki Minaj was somebody I was heavily inspired by watching her on 106th & Park. I thought [she] was dope,” she says. “Nicki was everywhere when I was growing up. She very much inspired me in my era and she still does.”
Flo says there weren’t many artists breaking from Alabama when she was growing up, though Rich Boy, whom she admires, immediately comes to my mind. When I mention him, I hear her voice brighten.“I still have mad respect for him for doing the things that he did do and getting the respect that he did get. That’s the only person I really knew. And then after that it was just kind of like, you know.” She pauses, and I feel like she may be taking a moment to reflect.
She remains short when I ask her about what her life was like when she was growing up, which doesn’t surprise me, since there isn’t much mention of her family life in her other interviews. But what she does share (she cites navigating a “rocky road,” alluding to an overcoming of odds) further solidifies her destiny to be where she is today. She performed at school talent shows, at restaurants, and even started her own rap group (Real & Beautiful, later renamed Pink Mafia). “[I did] anything I could do to get my name out there. It was really kind of like a little girl with a dream from a small town.”
Making it out of Mobile, AL is no easy feat, Flo shares with me. “I was the first girl out of Mobile. All the other rappers were boys.” Her story points to the trajectory of the hip-hop industry as a whole, in which male rappers are magnified while women are marginalised. “I think it’s very empowering to see women dominate a male sport.”
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It’s significant to note that Flo is just one of two breakout female rappers presently representing Alabama on the mainstream charts. In August, fellow rap darling Chika, who hails from Montgomery, was featured as a member of XXL’s 2020 Freshman class. Flo pitched herself for a spot, but ultimately was not nominated. Chika shouted out Flo in her XXL profile. “I love seeing another woman from Alabama rapping her ass off and consistently applying pressure,” she said when asked who else should have been featured. “I’m down to support her, always.”
The feelings are mutual for Flo, who is excited to see a fellow Alabama native putting on for Black women in rap. “I meet girls [from Alabama] all the time who tell me that we inspire them. It’s dope to see people who come from where you come from, and it inspires those out there who are looking to be in the music industry.”
I realise early on in our conversation that Flo, a Capricorn, has had her career mapped out for a while. Capricorn women, the powerhouses of the zodiac, are known for their headstrong ambition and unshakable drive. Flo, who turned 21 on 9th January, is no different. But this is deeper than a dream. This is the drive of someone connected with their divine calling — someone who knows what they’re destined for.
“I was always going after what my heart wanted instead of just listening to people,” she shares with me. “I’ve had teachers tell me to come up with a plan B. I remember telling a teacher that I wanted to be a rapper at 10 years old, and she told me to come up with a plan B. I had church members tell me that. I never really listened to anybody. I never listened to naysayers. I always listened to my intuition and this is where it got me.”
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Following one’s intuition is key, says Flo, who tells me with conviction that “everybody on this earth has an intuition, and if they say that they don’t, then they’re lying.” It’s the key to “stepping into one’s higher self,” something she mentions a couple times throughout our conversation. I ask her to elaborate on what she means when she refers to a “higher self,” and she says, “Only you know what your higher self is. Only you know what your intuition is.”
Sure, this could sound woo-woo to some, but would explain why she got the number 777 tattooed on her neck two years ago, at the start of her career. Flo says she starting seeing the number everywhere — while travelling, attending label meetings, on billboards, you name it. “It was just crazy,” Flo recalls. “I looked it up and I found out that it meant that as long as you see those three numbers you’re gonna continue to work on your higher self. I felt like that was cool to have on my neck, because whenever I look in the mirror, I’m gonna see it. And when [people] look at my neck, they’re gonna see it, too.”
As a breakout star, Flo is as focused on being a source of inspiration for her fans as she is being a successful artist. But, as she’s noted in multiple interviews, she especially wants to be a champion for Black women—a crucial mission within an industry where misogynoir continues to leave Black women on the back burner. “I’ve always felt like a strong Black woman. We’ve always been the strongest even over time. We should just continue to know our power and our worth, and that’s what’s gonna allow us to stay strong.”
And in terms of keeping her momentum going, she has no worries.
“People fell in love with me because I was always myself, so I’m gonna continue to be myself and they’re gonna continue to love me. What’s for me is for me and what isn’t isn’t.”