"I love the glitz and glamour, but most of all, I like that money and I like handling my business," she tells PEOPLE

By Tomás Mier
Updated January 06, 2021 09:30 AM
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2021, Saweetie is coming for ya!

After a 2020 where her viral hits — "Tap In" and "My Type" — became the TikTok soundtrack to the pandemic, the rapper is preparing for the release of her debut album, Pretty Bitch Music, later this year.

In this week's issue, the rapper, 27, talks to PEOPLE about her ascent to fame and how her "icy" mentality and "hustler" instincts are getting her from being a donation-asking senior in high school to a college graduate to now beginning to build her empire in the rap world (and beyond).

"I'm always about independence, getting to the bag, and also inspiring others," she tells PEOPLE. "While I'm out here chasing my dreams, hopefully, I'm inspiring the little girls at home who are watching me, who will one day grow up and be a businesswoman or an artist like me."

Saweetie
| Credit: Blair Caldwell

Raised in the Bay Area by a Black father and Filipina-Chinese mother, Saweetie says it was often confusing to balance her mixed-race identity, but "I felt like it helped me mature at a really young age." It was also women like Kimora Lee Simmons, who's Black and Japanese, who helped inspire her drive and work ethic.

Before heading to the University of Southern California to study communications — where she graduated with a 3.6 GPA and balanced five jobs, including "coding qualitative data" for a professor — the rapper spent her high school years taking on extra jobs to be able to play sports, and well, to take herself shopping as a young woman.

"I remember I couldn't afford to play sports my senior year, so I stood outside of a bank for like two days and asked for donations," she says. "I've always been a hustler."

Saweetie
| Credit: Brandon Almengo

For more from Saweetie, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands everywhere Friday.

"I know what it feels like to have nothing. I was broke. I struggled. I had odd jobs. I've had plenty of instances that humbled me," she adds. "It keeps me in a state of gratitude because I know it can all be gone."

Fast forward a few years and she was in college starting to build her rap dreams from scratch. During her last year of college, she uploaded a "car rap" to the beat of Khia's "My Neck, My Back" about living life in luxury. The song later became her first hit, "Icy Grl."

"I was broke when I wrote it, but I feel like 'Icy Grl' was a list of affirmations. That's my affirmation song," she says. "Everything I said in that song came true."

"When you work hard, practice positive thinking and believe in yourself, you eventually get rewarded the things that do make you materialistically icy," she says. "But icy has always been a mindset. All hustlers are icy."

Saweetie
| Credit: Erika Goldring/Getty

Responsible for some of the last few years' booty-poppin' hits, Saweetie makes it clear that her debut LP, Pretty Bitch Music, will be much more than just that. ("I'm an artist, honey," she quips.)

"It's a great dynamic of the CEO part of me, the bad bitch part of me, the girly side of me, the tomboy side of me," she says. "I'm a really complex individual, so I think certain songs express those extreme personalities of me."

"I deliver different types of emotions, textures. Singing, rapping," she adds. "I feel like this project will be timeless."

Saweetie explains that as she continues to make her mark on rap, her hopes and dreams extend much more than that. And her recent designation as a member of this year's Forbes 30 Under 30 — "the best news I've ever received" — are a reminder.

"I love the glitz and glamour, but most of all, I like that money and I like handling my business," she says. "I'm just really excited to explore this business element of my career in 2021. So, yes, I'm a fashion girl. Yes, I'm an artist. But before any of that, I'm a businesswoman."