We're living in a golden age for women in hip-hop, with more new female stars — including Megan Thee Stallion, Doja Cat, Saweetie, Mulatto — than ever.
And Milwaukee native Lakeyah is ready to join their ranks.
On Friday, just four months after her head-turning debut mixtape "Time's Up," the Atlanta-based rapper is releasing an even stronger sophomore set, "In Due Time," nabbing guest verses from Gucci Mane and Yung Bleu.
"It was such a male-dominated game in the beginning when hip-hop first started," Lakeyah said in an interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, part of the USA TODAY Network. "Women are getting much more respect when it comes to being rappers. … They're killing the game right now, and I am grateful to be a part of this."
Behind the scenes, the 19-year-old is working with some of the best in the business. Last July, she signed to Quality Control Music, the label backing Lil Baby; his "My Turn" was the top-selling and streaming album released last year, according to Billboard. Major acts like Migos, City Girls and Lil Yachty are also on Quality Control.
"I feel like Lakeyah can be a big star … a real threat," said Quality Control CEO Pierre "P" Thomas. "Not only can she rap, she can sing and she can write. I see her not just being an artist, but a big brand ambassador."
Lakeyah became a brand ambassador for Rihanna's Savage X Fenty lingerie line last month.
"She's the total package to me," Thomas said. "It's a great time for females in hip-hop, and she could fit right in with what's going on in the culture right now."
'She would go places'
Thomas first discovered Lakeyah on Instagram in October 2019, when he saw her freestyle remix of City Girls' rapper JT's "First Day Out."
After keeping tabs on her freestyles and social media posts for about nine months, Thomas determined, "with the right team, she would go places."
"When I recorded my first song in Milwaukee, I could not listen to my voice. The flow of it, it was cringey as hell," Lakeyah said. "When I first recorded, it had to be dark in the room."
After signing with Quality Control, Lakeyah felt "a ton of pressure when they're investing a lot in you."
"But P really believes in me," she said, as do her label mates and other Quality Control staff who have offered praise and motivation. "Now it's like, 'Put the beat on, punch me in right here.' … I was born to be a rapper. I'm not like the girls that get up and want to rap one day. I got the flow, I got the metaphors, I got the bars.
"I am going to be a star."
Celebrating Milwaukee's street rap sound
Between natural talent, guidance from her label and a relentless work ethic — Lakeyah had to squeeze in this interview on her day off on a Saturday — Lakeyah is on her way.
On "Time's Up," the newcomer held her own opposite City Girls on the swagger-soaked "Female Goat Remix," and celebrated the Milwaukee street rap sound with "Big FlexHer" featuring breakout Detroit rapper 42 Dugg, filming her debut Quality Control music video in her hometown.
As of December, the same month the debut mixtape came out, Lakeyah had released four music videos for "Time's Up" tracks that combined had just north of 5 million views on YouTube.
She's since released four more music videos from the project, and her music video views on YouTube have more than tripled as of Thursday, for a combined 17.7 million views.
Over on Instagram, Lakeyah has seen her following jump 38%, to 655,000 followers. And she's become active on TikTok, frequently dropping playful dance videos and freestyles, where she's gotten 2.2 million likes and 192,500 followers.
Help from Gucci Mane, Yung Bleu
And all of this happened before "In Due Time's" release. As impressive as that debut mixtape was, the follow-up is noticeably stronger.
The proud and raunchy "Young and Rachet" and "Poppin," with Gucci Mane, are perfect for the club. "Perfect," with Yung Bleu, could be a breakout, with Lakeyah's assertive verses ("Put my name on you in cursive/Imma lay it down way better than my verses/Make you wanna die for me (expletive)/I'm perfect") floating over a fresh, marimba-powered beat from Quality Control producer Twysted Genius.
And after the R&B-flavored "Windows" from "Time's Up" proved to be one of her biggest streamers on Spotify, Lakeyah is doubling down with the vulnerable and unflinching "Too Much" and "XO."
"The first one was the appetizer," Lakeyah said. "This one is the entrée. Everything is so much harder and more confident."
Four music videos from "In Due Time" are already in the can; the music video for "Easy" is already out, and the "Poppin" visual treatment with Gucci Mane will do big numbers when it's released April 12. Lakeyah will be making more videos from "In Due Time," and she's already working on her third mixtape, due this year.
"Here we are on her second project in less than six months," Thomas said. "You don't see a lot of people doing that kind of work, but she's staying in the studio, working 24/7. She really wants it bad."
"She's got the potential to be one of the first (hip-hop) artists that really makes it on the mainstream level from her state and her city."
This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Meet Lakeyah, a rising hip-hop star