Pop Culture

How GloRilla Went From Rising Memphis Rapper to Grammy Nominee in the Same Year

The Yo Gotti protege has charmed listeners with her unique baritone drawl to the tune of two summer bangers and a Grammy nom. And she’s just getting started.

How GloRilla Went From Rising Memphis Rapper to Grammy Nominee in the Same Year

When rising Memphis rapper GloRilla stepped onto Yo Gotti’s yacht for a meeting in Miami this past summer, she already knew what the follow-up single to her catchy breakout hit “FNF (Let’s Go)” would be. Before playing her future label head a slew of records that would strengthen his hunch about signing her, GloRilla grabbed the aux cord and queued “Tomorrow 2.” “She told me ‘This the next song I’m dropping because people think I’m a one-hit wonder,’” Gotti tells me.

GloRilla made the right call. The day before I meet with her for our interview in the “social media command center” of the Roc Nation HQ in Chelsea, the Cardi B-assisted remix of “Tomorrow 2” was certified gold and became Glo’s first top ten hit, debuting at number nine on the Billboard Hot 100. For Glo, the success feels like divine timing. “I’m just super blessed,” she muses. “Sometimes I still can’t believe it.”

I catch Glo in early November, during one of the busiest weeks of her life. She’s gallivanting around New York City on the promotional tour for her new EP Anyways, Life’s Great. There are podcasts, press, last-minute shows in Delaware, then back to NYC for more press—so it’s understandable that she arrives about a half-hour late for our interview on a Wednesday evening, but when she arrives—dressed in a two-piece purple fit that exposes her many tattoos, glossy makeup, and Targaryen-platinum blonde hair—she’s as lively and engaging as her music, singing my name as we shake hands. (The outfit will serve as her  listening-party look later that night.)

Her hustle pays off. Just days after Anyways, Life’s Great’s release, Issa Rae (who, thanks to Insecure’s soundtracks and her new series, Rap Shit, is something of a hip-hop tastemaker) goes viral with a clip of her rapping along to one of the EP’s songs. And then, in a shockingly rare display of relevance, the Grammy board nominates “FNF” for Best Rap Performance, just seven months after the song put Glo on everyone’s radar. The menacing track, a staple at all functions since its springtime release, celebrates Glo’s freedom from “fuck n-ggas” and embraces a summer of debauchery with her girlfriends instead. “I’m F-R-E-E, fuck nigga free (fuck ’em) / That mean I ain’t gotta worry ’bout no fuck nigga cheating.” (When I reconnect with her later a few days after receiving her nomination, Glo is still reveling in her triumphs. “This means everything to me,” she said. “I get to say I’m Grammy nominated. I love that.”)

GloRilla says the song came together earlier this year when budding producer Hitkidd sent her the beat to rap over in April. When she arrived at the studio, she still didn’t have any words written, as she’d been running errands all day. “I had pulled up to the studio like ‘I ain’t gon lie, I gotta go sit out in the car.’ I had been smoking then the lyrics would come to my head.” After laying the hook and verses, GloRilla knew she had a hit. Those around her knew it too.

“I couldn’t stop playing it,” she recalls laughing. “I played it for my manager the next day and he couldn’t stop playing it. It was like some drugs.”

GloRilla.Courtesy of Edy Perez.

Born in 1999 as Gloria Hallelujah Woods in Memphis, Tennessee (“the westside of Frayser to be exact”), GloRilla grew up in a religious family of ten kids. “Life wasn’t always easy, but we made the best out of everything” she says of her upbringing. Her mom being a firm believer in God meant most of her Sundays were spent singing gospel music in the church. All this changed when she got to high school and began attending less church and listening to more rap, particularly Chicago drill rapper Chief Keef. “He was young and turnt and nobody else sounded like him,” she says. “He came out on his own wave. Young, crazy, and didn’t give a fuck.”

After graduating high school, GloRilla soon realized she wanted to rap and was already participating in online rap challenges. Key people in her inner circle noted she had the right bars and could spit, but her delivery and her voice weren’t as captivating. Encouraged by her cousin to take it more seriously, she began honing her craft. Her first visit to a professional studio in 2018 solidified her dream. “That one time I was in the studio I fell in love,” she said. “I said ‘Okay, this what I’m going to do and I’m gonna take it serious.’”

That determination set her up for a meteoric rise. After releasing small projects in 2019 and 2020, she began linking with other female rappers in 2021 in Memphis including Gloss Up (who’s now signed to Atlanta’s monster label Quality Control) under the guidance of Hitkidd. They crew met at a local showcase with hopes of going mainstream. Their EP Set the Tone , released last September, drummed up buzz about the collective, but it would be this year’s  “FNF (Let’s Go)” that pushed Glo’s name beyond the realms of Memphis. Upon its release the song and video’s virality caught the attention of mainstream labels almost immediately.

In July it was announced Glo had signed with Yo Gotti’s CMG, the powerhouse label boasting a stacked roster of acclaimed street rappers like Moneybagg Yo, EST Gee and 42 Dugg. Glo says she met with a number of major labels and all the deals sounded real, but the meeting with Gotti felt real. Gotti says the rawness of Glo’s voice and the number of songs she had ready is when he knew she had more to offer than just a single.

“Jay-Z said it best and I agree: We don’t sign songs, we sign artists,” Gotti intones. “In the history of this industry, whenever something new comes around and it sounds different, it feels different. And it even looks a little different —I think that’s what Glo is in this time of music right now. And I think we needed something refreshing.”

GloRilla and CMG label boss Yo Gotti.Courtesy of Edy Perez.

What sets GloRilla apart from the newest wave of women rappers is her deep and textured drawl, which draws in listeners from all identities. “FNF” may come from the perspective of a woman, but videos on social media show men rapping along just as aggressively hard as women are. Her rapping voice is abundantly deeper than her speaking one—that’s the main part of her appeal—but it’s something she only started embracing as her rapping improved.

“I had a softer voice when I first started rapping,” she said. “I tried to sound like a girl rapper. But when I would rap something in my soft voice then rap in my deep voice, people always preferred that, so I was like I’m just going to rap the whole song in my deep voice.”

While some will argue the depth of Glo’s voice doesn’t make her a “pussy rap” contender, Glo disagrees, saying her main focus when crafting a song is ensuring that its topic aligns with reality.

“I feel like you should rap about whatever you want to rap about,” she says. “If it’s about my coochie, if it’s about these niggas, if it’s about my friends, if it’s about being rich, being broke. I rap about stuff people can relate to, no matter what the topic is.”

Amidst all the success, GloRilla is still hungry to prove she’ll be here for a good long time. Unwilling to rely on the popularity of two hits, Glo says Anyways, Life’s Great is a gift to her fans and a message to naysayers: She’s just getting started.

“They’re gonna know I’m here to stay when they hear it.”

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