Sitting in bed at home in St. Louis, Missouri, Janae Wherry is a bit preoccupied. Holding her phone with one hand, she’s trying to wrangle a toddler that’s throwing his limbs in front of the camera with the other. “Stop, Chuckie. Stop!” she laughs, with a lock of bright red hair now peeking out of her black and pink cheetah print bonnet. Five minutes in, our video call cuts to black. “Can you see me on the camera? No? Good. My son, he just ripped off my bonnet and my wig,” she exclaims, as the two-year-old giggles in the background. “He’s bad!”
On this particular scorching July afternoon, Wherry, a rapper, is fighting off jet lag as she gets her apartment in order after a week-long UK press tour as Sexyy Red. Days like these are becoming rare for the 25-year-old, who’s attended several award shows and music festivals and recorded an entire mixtape in the span of a few months. “I feel I'm still in shock,” Red says of her viral hit “Pound Town,” a completely freestyled, raunchy earworm (“I’m outta town, thuggin’ with my rounds/My coochie pink, my bootyhole brown”) that launched her into the spotlight practically overnight.
“My life was changing,” Red says, struggling to chronologize things. “Everything started moving fast.” She recalls that when a DJ played “Pound Town” at one of Future's concerts—sometime after she recorded it in November—she knew something big was coming. “As soon as the beat came on, everybody just started going crazy,” says Red, who’s been a household name in St. Louis for years. “And it kind of made me cry a little bit because I was like, ‘Damn, I ain't never seen people react to my music like this.’ Looking back on my life, I never expected to become this person that everybody just loves.”
In June, Red dropped Hood Hottest Princess, a strong compilation of “standing-on-the-table raps” that transport you to the 2000s: There’s “Female Gucci Mane,” which sounds like a contemporary take on “My Kitchen” in Trina’s register; “Sexyy Walk,” a flip of Project Pat’s “Cheese and Dope”; “Strictly for the Strippers” feat. Juicy J, a mash up of flows and melodies from Gangsta Boo’s “Where Dem Dollas At,” T.I.’s “24s,” and Three 6 Mafia’s “Sippin on Some Syrup.” Beyond channeling the energy of foundational Atlanta trap and Memphis street music, the St. Louis rapper wears bedazzled BB Simon belts, True Religion jeans, and loud, all-red ensembles like a second skin. Red doesn’t just confidently play the part—she reinvents her roots into something all her own.
“I'm gonna just keep being me in this shit,” Red says, even amidst recent controversy: The rapper has caught flack for her feature on NLE Choppa’s provocative “SLUT ME OUT,” for simply performing—in an act of charity—at a high school, and for walking two men on leashes at Rolling Loud. Red’s music and image has outraged conservative pundits, set the manosphere aflame, and sparked debates around respectability politics, but she could care less about any of it: “I know who I am at the end of the day.” Below, Red speaks to BRICK about her latest mixtape, St. Louis’s regional sound, and how she’s paving the way as an independent female rapper.
You’ve been a household name in St. Louis for quite a while now, despite “Pound Town” going viral overnight. Did you feel supported by your city before your big break?
I've always been popping in my city as one of the few female rappers there. But now I feel like I'm getting a lot more hate since I'm more viral and they feel like, ‘Why her and not me?’ At first everybody supported this, this, and that, but now, I get on Facebook, they’re debating about my raps and stuff and I don't know. I just feel like they wish it was them instead of me. When I was low-key, it wasn't a big deal. But now since I'm... Now, everybody got so much to say. ‘How come she made a dumb song and went viral?’
How do you handle being online and being exposed to what others are saying all the time?
It don't bother me at all. It don't bother me one bit. I see it all. I see everything they say. They call me ugly, call me dirty. They say I can't rap. I be seeing a lot of false information in there too. You know how people just want to throw dirt on people's names? I just seen false rumors. It don't phase me because I know it's just the internet.
And you’ve never gotten as much attention as you have with “Pound Town” before. When did you have the realization that things were going to be different this time?
I felt like I knew it was different when a DJ played it in an arena. I’d never seen my music get played in big old arenas. This was the first time and it was a lot of people there... It was a Future concert. They played my song while they was on break and that's when everybody went crazy and I was just like... I was in disbelief. I had never seen it firsthand, my songs getting that big. It was life changing. I didn't even expect ‘Pound Town’ to do the deal. So, once it did, it just was like... I don't know. I can't believe how far it got me.
With things moving so fast, are you still based in St. Louis, and have you considered moving to another city?
I’m still in St. Louis but I'm going to move. I'm planning on moving to Miami. But I'm nervous, because that's a big move. Somebody just up and moving out of town, changing their life... I always said to myself, ‘I don't care how big I get, I'ma always stay in St. Louis.’ But that's thinking little because it's really not nothing out here. I don't got no business opportunities out here. Nothing. It's nothing out here. If I was in Miami, I’d have more of a chance of running into Drake, anybody, because people be in Miami. But if I'm in St. Louis, I'm not going to see none of that at all. You could make some money out there in Miami. I could just be in the studio chilling. Somebody gone come in there because it's a big studio. Everybody know this one studio I go to. So, say I'm just in there chilling. It could be, Moneybagg Yo could walk in there and say he want to do a song with me, give me $10,000.
It seems you’re doing a good job of adapting and rolling with the punches.
I do, but sometimes I don't. Because I be like, ‘Man, I'm not ready.’ I'm ready but it be overwhelming. Sometimes I'll be on the road and I'll be like, ‘Man, I'm done with this stuff. It's too much. I don't want to keep doing this.’ Or I be sad, missing my son. It just be a lot. We still human at the end of the day, but we got to put on a show.
What are the things that make you the most anxious, and what keeps you going amidst all of that?
I came from being an at home parent to now… I’m on the road and I'm waking up. I'm leaving shows two, three shows a night, hopping on a plane right after the show. I be tired, but then I see that money and I'll be like, ‘Yeah.’ It's a job. Some people would think it's an easy job unless you really in the game. It's not easy, but I would rather work this kind of job than work nine to five. And I’ll think about my son and it'll make me want to go harder and just be like, ‘Yeah, I got to keep getting some money for him.’
It’s definitely hard work, and you’re not taking the easy route: you’re independent, and released Hood Hottest Princess through a distribution deal, not through a major label. Can you tell me more about that, and if it’s something you’re looking to change?
I feel like being independent is better because some people that be with labels, they can't drop music when they want to, how often they want to. I got a team, don't get it mistaken. I got somebody behind me, helping me. At first, I was doing it by myself, but now that I got help, it's even better because now, I can drop music when I want to, go to the studio when I want to. If I say, ‘I want to do my video like this,’ they help me bring it into life. It’s better. And I feel like when you with a label, sometimes they don't be wanting you to drop certain stuff. Because I know somebody that's with a label… and her label… they didn't want her dropping certain songs and they just wasn't taking it seriously basically. They basically pick what you can and can't drop and I'm not with none of that. I like to do what I want to do. However I feel at that moment I'm going to do it right.
Especially the sound that you have, it feels very raw, authentic. It has an identity. Based on your music’s reception, do you feel any pressure to conform or change your approach to the industry at this stage?
Sometimes my team, they don't agree with something I would say, but then, I would have to remind them that this is what my fans like… when I'm being myself. So I'm going to keep doing me at the end of the day. And they ain't got no choice but to respect it because it's the truth. This is how I got this far—from being myself and doing what I do without asking for nobody's opinion. I stick to the script. I'm going to keep being myself because I already know this is what got me to this point, so why change myself now? Why try to change how I'm rapping? Try to rap sweeter, or try to not say certain things? This is what got me to this point, and my team respects that. I got all the creative control. Whatever video I want to do, I can do it. Whatever I want to do for that video, I call it down. They just make it happen.
Which brings me to the mixtape, which I thought was a really well done homage to the South. Tell me a bit about the process behind recording it.
All these songs I made after ‘Pound Town.’ I made ‘Pound Town' first. Then I was just in Miami going to the studio every day catching up on music that I wasn't doing. That's when they started bringing other engineers in, giving me beats and that's when I was creating ‘Hellcats SRTs’ and ‘I'm Looking for the Hoes’ and all them new songs. I just made all of those. Only songs I know that's old is ‘Nachos.’ ‘Nachos’ is old.
The beat for that one is crazy.
That song... I was in the studio playing beats and stuff and then that beat came about and that just sounded different. And I was going through a situation where somebody thought I was his bitch and I made a song where I'm like, ‘Nacho, nacho…’ I was sneak dissing for real, for real. I was sneak dissing on the song. I made that song so quick and easy because I was serious on that song. I was talking to somebody, I was going through a situation and they was acting crazy and I'm just like, this is not that. And I just kept trying to tell them this is not that and they still wouldn't get it. I just made a song. I swear that's how I went. That's exactly how I went.
The tape was really strong for something that came together in such a short amount of time, you’ve already got new songs like “SkeeYee” doing numbers, for example.
I was ready to drop some singles and they like, ‘Pound Town taking off. You finna just drop the tape.’ I didn't want to drop no tape. I didn't want to drop the tape because I was nervous that it wasn't going to do good because I dropped a tape [Ghetto Superstar (2021)] before but I wasn't out there like that when I dropped it. It didn't get a lot of views, but it got some nice songs on there. So I'm like ‘Man, I'm just wasting music." Like, I just made ‘SkeeYee.’ I made ‘SkeeYee’ and then I hurried up and dropped the project. I took a minute for ‘SkeeYee’ because if you would pay attention, I was sick on ‘SkeeYee.’ I had recorded the hook. Then I waited for a couple of weeks and I was just working on verses and stuff and then I dropped it because everybody was asking for it and I was just teasing the hook. And then I'm like, ‘Okay, now I got to do a verse.’ When I did finally do the verse, I was sick. You can hear it—my nose was stopped up.
“SkeeYee” leads me to this other thing I wanted to talk about… You’ve got Tay Keith on there, being a producer from Memphis, using the quintessential murderbells in this song’s production, for example. There’s a lot of Memphis influences on this tape, including Juicy J and a Project Pat flip.
Yeah. I love Memphis. I love Project Pat. Now that you mention it, there really is a lot of Memphis influence on the project. I love Memphis because I feel like they just like St. Louis. They similar. We real similar and we only four hours away. Whenever people from St. Louis want to take a vacation, they just drive to Memphis. I don't know. It's like that's our second home type stuff. We listen to all they music. They was a big influence. I ain't even notice all that for real because it came naturally.
Yeah, there’s a lot of early 00’s trap influences too, like the “Female Gucci Mane” concept, that’s heard in a lot of your music.
So the Gucci influence, I swear I don't really be thinking I rap like nobody. I just feel like I'm rapping like myself. But people will start comparing me like, ‘Oh, you rap like Gucci Mane,’ or ‘You like, the female Gucci or something.’ But yeah, that’s one of my favorite artists. I love Gucci. But I ain't think I rap like him. I'm a whole female. I'm just thinking I'm just rapping. And then people start saying, ‘You like the female Gucci, you rap like Gucci, but you a girl.’ And I just took it like, okay. Period. I ain't used to see that. I never would've compared myself to Gucci Mane. I would've never did that.
Speaking of Gucci, another thing you guys have in common is your taste in jewelry. You have these big chains, they’re loud. Is that an influence too?
Definitely. I like big chains. I'm extra. Anything I do, it got to be big. If I get nails, I'm not going to get no short nails. I'm getting long nails. If I get some weave, I'm not going to get no short weave. I'm getting long weave. Even when I was younger, I had all the crazy hairstyles. You do hair, you going to be at home just trying shit. I used to be just doing all kinds of shit. I had every color in the rainbow. Any color you can think of, I done had it. Purple, green, pink, yellow, blue, orange, brown, white. Any color. Some people was liking it and some people would be like, ‘Why she dressing like that though?’ But some people be like, ‘That's just her style. She just different. She stand out.’ Whatever I do, I just want to do it big. If I get a car, I'm going to get a big size car. Everything. Rims, I want big rims. Everything big. That's how I came up with the Big Sexyy, the Big Sexyy chain… They was calling me country when I had my Big Sexyy chain. Then I came up with the Hello Kitty chain, I went off his Bart Simpson chain and I was supposed to have my chain for the “Female Gucci Mane” video, but it wasn't ready in time. But you know how Gucci be. He got them characters.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
I see me being real big because I'm going to just keep being myself and I feel like that gets you far. If you just be yourself and you not trying to blend in with everybody else, it make you stand out. For real, for real. I see me being real huge, rich, just out here. I could just see it. I always been the type to hustle and get money every kind of way, selling handmade bows, the little bows girls used to wear in their hair. I used to sell those, I cut the scarves up from the beauty supply and made them. I used to sell candy, chips. Anyway I could get some money, that was me. I never wanted a job.I feel like rapping is perfect for me because I'm a natural-born leader. I'm a big influence on people. I see the hate. It don't phase me. It boosts me up. I like getting under people's skin. Y'all don't like my red hair? Now I'm going to use some extra red hair. Once I see them hating and talking about stuff, it make me be like, ‘Okay, now I'm finna really give y'all something to not like.’