When you hear Flo Milli rap it’s hard not to take notice of her. Her voice is distinct and electric, Project Pat through the prism of Angelica Pickles. The Mobile, Alabama product, born Tamia Monique Carter, made a few viral tracks like “Beef FloMix” and “In The Party” in 2019, but her real breakthrough came with her 2020 debut Ho, Why Is You Here? The tape showed off her brash and bratty form of black girl empowerment, along with providing a showcase for her fierce rhyming talent and self-assured style. While the pandemic raged and kept a lot of people inside their homes, Flo Milli gained a lot of new fans and notoriety online through avenues like TikTok and Twitter. Now, with her follow up record You Still Here, Ho? — conceived as a sequel but billed as her official debut album — she meets a scene that has been fervently anticipating what she’s got in store and eager to see her come up start in earnest outside of the computer.
Released last month, You Still Here, Ho? shows an even more dexterous and eclectic side to Flo Milli. The album overflows with confidence and style, as she experiments with different genres and flows while still maintaining her distinct persona throughout. Last week, I met up with Flo Milli in New York to discuss this new album, her musical rolodex, reality TV, and what it was like to blow up during a pandemic.
How did the recording of [You Still Here, Ho?] come about?
FLO MILLI: I wanted to do a sequel from what I did at first, [Ho, Why Is You Here?]. That was my first ever project, ever out. So I wanted to kinda do something as a sequel. But at the same time, I wanted to showcase different things about me, like versatility with my music and stuff, instead of giving them the same things that I gave them before. So that was really my process going into it.
You definitely dabble in different styles and experiment a lot on the new album. Was there a specific reason behind that? What was your mindset at the time?
FLO MILLI: Of course. I think every artist deals with criticism, and people were saying a lot of things like, “Oh, her voice is annoying,” “She has the same flow,” Or, “She doesn’t do anything different.” This and that. And it was like, but you still here, ho [laughs]. I have different versatility, and I wanted to take my fans and the people that support me on a roller coaster ride and showcase different parts of myself that I feel like they didn’t know that I had. So yeah, it was very intentional for different reasons.
Are you influenced by different types of music? There is a lot of playing with different genres on the record.
FLO MILLI: I think I am. I grew up in the church, and that’s one type of music. And then I lived with my mom, so as a kid, you don’t really have control over what your mom plays in the car, so I had to listen to neo-soul music growing up. And at first I really hated it, but now that I’m older, all those songs, I love to this day. Like Jill Scott, Erykah Badu, Anthony Hamilton; I’ve kinda gotten exposed to different stuff like that. And then of course, Fergie, Katy Perry, Rihanna. Like I was always into a pop bag as well. I loved Shakira growing up, and I was just always listening to all that as a kid.
Did you hate neo-soul because it was your parents’ music? Was it a specific thing that turned you off about it?
FLO MILLI: I didn’t understand it. But I feel like people get mad at what they don’t understand. As a kid, I didn’t find any of that music made sense to me. All that love music, I didn’t experience love at five years old, so I’m like, “What the hell is she singing, turn it off.” But when I got older, I heard the songs again, and I understood them on a way deeper level, like, “Dang, now I see why my mom was bumping these.”
How did you first start rapping in Alabama?
FLO MILLI: I started rapping at 10 years old. I would have this notebook and I would just write raps all the time. Me and my sister, we would battle each other in the room all the time, ’cause she would rap too, but she didn’t have a passion for it. But that’s how it started, and of course, just watching 106 & Park, I loved that show. I faithfully watched it every day, so I just knew I was going to be on there someday. I was just heavily obsessed with music culture growing up. I stayed on a computer on YouTube, learning new songs, learning about other artists and stuff like that.
Was there anyone specific that you modeled yourself after at first?
FLO MILLI: Not really. It was such a big variety of different things, I remember that whole era from 2010 to now. I was invested in all that, everything you can think of, from The-Dream to Lloyd, Black Eyed Peas, a lot of stuff.
When was the moment you realized you had something special?
FLO MILLI: Oh, I realized that at nine years old [laughs]. I felt like God told me then, “You have a bigger purpose.” And plus, my god-dad would always tell me that. He was like, “You’re gonna be big one day.” But I didn’t know what he was talking about. He just knew that I was gonna be something.
And you knew it would be music?
FLO MILLI: I wanted to be a singer at first, but then I felt like I couldn’t sing. I remember being in my grandma house crying because I couldn’t hit this certain note, and I was just like, “Fuck it, I’mma just rap.” I started rapping more, and that was when things jumped off. But I really was trying to hit that note for about a good two days, and I was just like, “Fuck it.”
You had dedication at least, that’s impressive.
FLO MILLI: [laughs] Yeah.
There’s a few dance and electronic skewing records on here, which is influencing a lot of major pop artists currently. How did those tracks come about?
FLO MILLI: Yeah. It’s crazy because the “Pretty Black Cute” beat spoke to me. I’ve never gotten on a song like that. So, it was tying into what I was trying to create with this album. Just giving them a bit of everything. And I felt like [that track] was the cherry on top to showcase a different vibe.
FLO MILLI: But that specific song, “Pretty Black Cute,” is an empowering song I feel, and it was made intentionally to uplift women and for them to be comfortable in their skin.
That’s a thing that comes up a lot in your lyrics, trying to be confident and comfortable in your skin and as you are.
FLO MILLI: I guess it’s a significant topic for me because it’s just who I am. Growing up, I had a lot of bitches that just didn’t like me [laughs]. So that kind of pushed me, it made me tougher. I would never bother nobody, but it was like somebody always had an issue with me. So that taught me to just not let nobody fuck with me. And that kind of carried on into my music. But once I realized the effect that I had on people, that’s when I started being more intentional with it. I saw the comments like, “Oh, this makes me feel so confident.” And I’m like, “Wow, really?” I’m just making a song about how I feel.
Ho, Why Is You Here? came out during the pandemic, so you never really had a chance to tour and get out there to push the project. How was it having this breakout tape and not being able to put all your energy behind it?
FLO MILLI: Ooh, it was so painful [laughs]. It was challenging, you know, transitioning into really being an artist in the pandemic. But I feel like I learned a lot of lessons too. I feel like it gave me time to have artist development, because the fame did come pretty fast. So I feel like I definitely gained some gems within that time and being able to just reevaluate things.
What sort of lessons did you take away from that time period?
FLO MILLI: Really just taking my time. Being more analytical and more hands on with it, is what I learned. ‘Cause that’s what I did with [You Still Here, Ho?] more than I did with the last one.
With both projects, there’s a lot of references to reality TV. Obviously, the Joseline Hernandez quote in the titles, you reference different shows, and you have Tiffany “New York” Pollard on the intro and the outro of this new album. Is reality TV a big interest of yours?
FLO MILLI: [laughs] Yeah. I grew up watching it and I still watch it to this day. I love the gathering of all these different people. It’s so funny to me. ‘Cause it’s like, with reality TV, you kinda see people in their raw emotions, and I think that’s what I like about it. Some reality TV is edited, but some of it is like, this is how this person acted in that moment. I can relate to that. And it’s better than seeing horrible acting or people just trying to create a moment when it’s just real.
It’s also a lot of personality, which is a big part of what you’re doing.
FLO MILLI: Yeah, that’s true. I definitely do have a lot of personality.
How did collaborating with “New York” come about?
FLO MILLI: We were conversating for almost a year now over social media. And of course, I did skits and stuff. I think the first time she noticed me was when I did a skit on TikTok and it went viral from the scene when she was like “Beyoncé?!” That video was the one, but I did that one day and then everybody was reposting it like, “Oh my God.” And she ended up commenting on it, and it started like that.
I feel like me and “New York”, we’re twins. It was just so inspiring to have her on my album, like to talk to her. I kept getting glimpses of when I used to get in trouble ‘cause my dad hated when I watched the Flavor Of Love. He was telling my mom, like, “She don’t need to be watching that.” And me and my mom would go and sneak and watch it anyway. But I was telling “New York” that like, “Girl, I got in all this trouble trying to watch you and everything.” And now it’s a full-circle moment that she’s on my album. And it’s dope.
Is there something specific you’re usually looking for when you’re listening to beats and trying different sounds in the studio?
FLO MILLI: Yeah. I normally look for something that makes me feel it in my spirit. I feel the music deeply, so I’m seeing what feeling a beat gives me. If it’s not gonna make me move or make me excited or if I’m not gonna love it after 10 times of listening to it, I don’t want to have it because I know if I get tired of it, other people will get tired of it, too.
Do you write that way as well, or do you write ahead of time and then just try to find something that fits?
FLO MILLI: Sometimes. When I was in high school, I used to just write stuff in my notes or I’d have a melody in my head and I’ll make a memo of it. But now I just do it in the booth. I don’t pre-write things. It’s just like, all right, I feel the beat and then I write.
So now that we’re back outside, what are your plans for your live shows?
FLO MILLI: Definitely a lot of energy. I always have a backdrop of everything that I incorporated with the album. So the memes, the Clermont twins, Joseline [Hernandez], they’re all in this PixArt thing on my screen. So I kind of create this energy. I take the energy wherever I go. So I make sure I’m putting on a good show and everybody can kind of feel the vibes and stuff like that. But I always make sure I go into the crowd too, and interact with my fans. I take pictures with them, videos, all that, but of course, monkeypox is a thing right now, so I’m gonna chill out on that right now. [laughs]
What else are you working on currently?
FLO MILLI: Right now, I’m working on going on tour. I’ve been doing a lot of features with artists and just working on getting endorsements, working with different brands and companies.
I wanted to ask about your Southern rap lineage. You hear a lot of it in your music: Three 6 Mafia, UGK, Trina. How much of it is purposeful? Or is it all just stuff in your consciousness?
FLO MILLI: I think it’s stuff that’s in my consciousness because that’s just my original state of mind, but of course, I jumped out of the box doing different beats and pop and R&B. But yeah, being that I grew up in the South, it’s just music I grew up on. Those beats, those flows, that type of music. So it’s definitely like second nature.
You talked about people questioning your flows and how you rap, and there seems to be a lot of trying different flows and different styles out on the album. Is that just as an exercise to show that you can do it?
FLO MILLI: Oh, it’s an exercise to show I can do it, but it’s also really not for other people, just for me. Just to see what pocket am I most — not comfortable in, ’cause I don’t ever feel like you should be comfortable as an artist, but as far as accumulating your sound, because I feel like you should know what you like. And the only way you’re gonna know is trying new things and doing different stuff.