Show & Prove
Words: Peter A. Berry
Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in the Fall 2021 issue of XXL Magazine, on stands now.
The first stage Baby Tate, formerly known as Yung Baby Tate, ever performed on was one she put together all by herself. At the age of 4, she stood atop playset furniture chairs as she sang to her mother at a makeshift concert. “I think from that moment she realized this little girl has star power,” Tate recalls of her mom noticing the talent within. Twenty-one years later, now the world of hip-hop is catching up.
Since unloading her EP, ROYGBIV, in 2015, Tate, 25, has rendered Black womanhood through a kaleidoscopic blend of deft raps and retro R&B that oscillates between playful and emotionally transparent. In the process, she’s carved out a space as one of the most inventive, rising artists in hip-hop. Last December, she consummated that rise when she released “I Am,” a Flo Milli-assisted self-affirmation that earned TikTok ubiquity and over 44 million Spotify streams. Rapped in firm, matter-of-fact sentences, Tate’s hook for the song spills out like a pep talk: “I am healthy, I am wealthy, I am rich, I am that bitch/I am gonna go get that bag and I am not gonna take your shit.”
The track spurred the #IAmChallenge, a viral social media trend that saw people like singer Chloe Bailey and actress Yara Shahidi post videos of themselves rapping lyrics from the song. It’s impact isn’t lost on Tate. “It wasn’t just like, Oh, I have this song that’s going viral on TikTok because there’s a cool dance to it,” she remembers of the special moment. “It was like, no, people really just want to listen to this song because this is making [their] entire day better. That is something I will never take for granted.”
Before her lyrics were rapped by celebrities, the blossoming rhymer was born Tate Sequoya Farris, the sheltered daughter of Arrested Development singer Dionne Farris. Growing up in Decatur, Ga., Tate’s mother was very protective and would rarely let her leave their house, but when she was permitted to go, Tate played games of four square with friends and acted in plays at her local church, where she attended from ages 6 to 15.
At 13, Tate used her mother’s Mac desktop and the microphone piece attached to some Apple earphones and GarageBand to record her first songs. The beats Tate produced herself. At first, she just sang, but a year later, the colorful, genre-fluid stylings of Nicki Minaj inspired Tate to blend her rapping and singing talents. After buying a Snowball USB microphone for a more pristine sound, she began recording rap songs.
Tate would play the music for her friends and mother, but she wanted to release it on the internet. Her mom was hesitant. “She just knew that I didn’t understand the business,” the rapper explains. “She would have to like, essentially be my manager and do all of these other things. And, I think that she really just didn’t want to kind of be feeding her child to the wolves.”
While most of her high school classmates didn’t get to hear her music, they did get to see Tate’s growing musical expertise when she wrote songs about different religions for her AP World History class projects.
In 2014, Baby Tate was enrolled in Georgia State University and free to drop music as she pleased. Over the next year, the artist performed her first shows, and classmates approached her to ask where they could find more of her music. After putting in a year of effort on campus, she dropped out of college and began uploading mixtapes to her SoundCloud account.
The projects ROYGBIV, Xmas, Cuddy Buddy, Boys and Summer Lover followed between 2015 and 2018, each release adding to her growing streaming numbers. By 2018, Tate reached her highest career plateau to that point with “Bob,” a playful, dismissive anthem aimed at lame, would-be boyfriends everywhere. “Very shortly after that is kind of when I was approached by my now-manager, to kind of get this good distribution deal with StreamCut [an indie distribution platform], who I’m with now,” she conveys. “That was definitely the moment that everything kind of started to really move.”
A year later, her Girls project dropped, and Tate was invited to J. Cole’s Dreamville rap camp as a songwriter before she landed songs in the HBO dramedy Insecure. Ultimately, series creator Issa Rae signed Tate to the Raedio record label in 2020. Tate’s celebrated EP, After the Rain, arrived on the label that year, including the hit “I Am.” She’s since parted ways with Raedio.
To date, Baby Tate’s career is largely the product of DIY proficiency, as the majority of her music has been self-produced from her bedroom. With newfound access to more collaborators, she’s poised to do it even bigger.
“She’s only starting to play with different instruments or colors or sounds that she didn’t have access to on her own, but she knows how to control them,” says Quinn Goydish, her manager and Vice President at StreamCut. “She’s at the starting point of what can be really interesting and exciting.”
For now, Tate, who unloaded the After the Rain deluxe this past May, is in the studio working. She plans to drop a new album in 2022, and has entered her next chapter at a new label, Warner Records, with the release of her latest single "Pedi." This past summer, she starred on season 10 of Love & Hip Hop: Atlanta, and wants to appear in scripted TV shows. On a macro level, Tate is focused on elevating women who look like her and the LGBTQ+ community through her music.
“I make music for Black women,” she breaks down. “I make music for the gays. I make music for trans people. Black women are very low on the totem pole of respect from other people. I think it’s very important in my music to kind of switch that narrative and make us like, the top.”
Check out more from XXL magazine's Fall 2021 issue, on stands now, including our cover story with Tyler, The Creator, Lil Nas X's battle for respect in hip-hop, Wale talks about his new album, Folarin 2, find out more about Maxo Kream in Doin' Lines, Bia reflects on how far she's come in her career after "Whole Lotta Money" success, BMF actor Da'Vinchi talks rap music in Hip-Hop Junkie, Isaiah Rashad keeps it real about his faith, SoFaygo discusses signing to Travis Scott's Cactus Jack label, CupcakKe's fresh outlook on life with new album on the way, OhGeesy's new solo career and goals, Blueface embraces the good and bad of going viral and more.