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GloRilla’s Fast and Furious New World

All it took was one song for the Memphis rapper to blow up.

Photo: Gabriel S. Lopez
Photo: Gabriel S. Lopez

GloRilla’s meteoric rise began with a beat originally dreamed up for Megan Thee Stallion. Not hearing back from Meg quick enough, standout Memphis producer Hitkidd reached out to Glo, who was on the way to get her lashes done, saying he needed a summer anthem — and fast. The artist had been on his radar since he saw her perform at a local showcase last year. She arrived at his studio straight from the appointment, stepped outside to hit a blunt before getting in the booth, and came back with the hook that changed the trajectory of her life: “I’m F-R-E-E, fuck nigga free / That mean I ain’t gotta worry ’bout no fuck nigga cheating / And I’m S-I-N-G-L-E again / Outside hanging out the window with my ratchet-ass friends.”

Eager to share, Glo uploaded part of the hook to Triller (the short-video app that predates TikTok), playing over a video of her, blunt in hand, swaying from side to side, before the song was even finished. It was savvy; posting song snippets across socials prerelease has become a new way for artists at all levels to try to guarantee a hit. The clip initially went viral in her home region. A week and a half later, Hitkidd brought her back to the studio to record a new first verse, titled the song “F.N.F. (Let’s Go),” and told her to return with all her friends later that day to shoot the video. The next day, it was uploaded at 9:01 p.m. (a nod to Memphis’s area code) and began to spread across the internet. It sits at ​​34 million views today.

“Literally, it was so crazy. My car got repo’d, like, less than a week before I dropped this song,” says the 23-year-old. “A week before!” It’s an exceptionally hot day in Greater Los Angeles, and GloRilla is in an all-pink velour short set and white forces, sprawled on the bed of her non-air-conditioned artist trailer with the back of one hand delicately placed on her forehead while the other holds a purple mini-fan directly over her face. We’re on Cal Poly’s Pomona campus, where she’s shooting a video for an unreleased song, “Nut Quick,” about a sneaky link whose company she genuinely enjoys but whom she sees no future with, for reasons the title implies. It’s a classic fuckboy dismissal in the vein of her breakout hit.

“F.N.F.” thrives on the satisfaction that a day of unbridled debauchery with the girls will always beat being stressed over a man who refuses to act right. The video feels like a day-in-the-life vlog, with unsteady camera movements following Glo & Co. around an empty parking lot in the middle of the day. There are shots of Henny being poured down girls’ throats; one of her friends is drinking a 40; her pregnant homegirl is on the hood of a car twerking; a baby runs into the frame for a quick second; Glo delivers a funny attempt at Memphis’s jookin’ dance form. It’s a setup so DIY it’s no wonder people have been tripping over themselves trying to re-create it with videos of their own from the moment Glo’s day ones knowingly posted a scene on Twitter. (“Twitter for bougie people,” she laughs. “People from the hood use Facebook.”) The song’s ubiquity pushed Memphis rap legend and executive Yo Gotti to sign her to his increasingly stacked label, CMG, in early July. She’ll drop an album before the end of the year, going from zero to 100 within eight months.

Raised in the Frayser area of North Memphis, Glo — born Gloria Woods — and her older brother weren’t allowed to listen to rap for the majority of their upbringing. Her mother, a woman of God, kept the radio tuned to Memphis’s 95.7 Hallelujah FM; any non-radio rap that GloRilla heard was away from home until she got her own phone in her late teens. By the time she entered MLK Prep in the tenth grade, it had strict uniform codes and longer hours than other schools in the city. “I hated it,” she recalls saltily. “I used to get suspended on purpose by being defiant and talking back to the teachers.”

Photo: Gabriel S. Lopez
Photo: Gabriel S. Lopez

Things shifted when she went to live with her more lenient father halfway through high school. (“I said, ‘I’m not gonna get no whoopings no more. I can do whatever the hell I want to do.’ ”) At her new school, where she was less connected to other students, she started to take an interest in rap after realizing that she wasn’t good enough to get too far just singing in church. Before she had really uploaded any music to the internet, her rap name was gonna be Big Glo, but a close cousin suggested she change it to GloRilla because it was more striking. She ran with it, and in 2019, she dropped a yearbook-superlative-inspired mixtape called Most Likely Up Next. Surprisingly, the deep sultry drawl that’s such a large part of her appeal now is nowhere to be found. Her voice is more of an untamed wail. “I hate it,” she says, cringing. “I sounded like a baby. That’s how I started rapping, but as you can hear, my voice ain’t the softest. So I was actually making my voice softer in the music.”

Trusted friends gave her some sobering feedback: She had bars, but the way she was delivering them wasn’t good enough to catch on with the masses. So for two years, Glo honed her craft. She became close with Gloss Up — the South Memphis rapper now signed to Atlanta’s Quality Control — and the two pushed each other to get better. In 2021, they both performed at the local showcase where they met Hitkidd, who immediately wanted to produce for them and a few other promising female rappers in the city. The result was June 2021’s “Set the Tone,” a posse cut — in the tradition of every Three 6 Mafia album — that featured Glo, Gloss, and rappers K Carbon, Aleza, and Slimeroni. It surpassed a million views and sustained GloRilla’s buzz in Memphis and its surrounding areas.

There are only a few American cities considered canonical to hip-hop’s evolution, and Memphis generally isn’t one of them despite having no shortage of wildly influential figures. Three 6 Mafia’s DJ Paul & Juicy J architected in the early ‘90s a sinister and often chaotic sound through their label collective that shaped future Southern trap stars like Atlanta’s Gucci Mane and the eventual lofi horrorcore-indebted early 2010s “alt” rap of Miami’s Spaceghostpurrp and Harlem’s A$AP Rocky. Yo Gotti took the teachings of Jay-Z in the ‘90s and crafted a compelling narrative of a teenage trapper beyond his years who turned his street knowledge into big business aspirations. His CMG empire, established in 2012, has quietly become one of the more powerful developers of street rappers all over the nation, like South Memphis hitmaker Moneybagg Yo. The late Young Dolph carried the city’s torch for most of the 2010s; charismatic, conversational in his raps, with a pride for doing things independently, and constantly documenting his beefs. Today’s generation of Memphis rap — GloRilla, Gloss Up, Key Glock, Duke Deuce, Pooh Shiesty, NLE Choppa, Big 30, Desto — are all rapping over beats that sound like they came out of the Three 6 factory.

“To be honest, I didn’t know I carried that Memphis crunk sound until everybody told me,” Glo says. “That’s how I automatically rap. Everybody be like, ‘You got an accent.’ And I look at them like, ‘Damn, I thought I talked normal!’ I thought that’s how rap was, but it’s really just us and I’m just immune to it.”

In recent weeks, Glo has constantly been on the road performing, even as far away as London, while recording. “I feel so anxious about how hard it is,” she admits. She has a new angelic-white set of veneers and a glam team on hand. The round-the-way GloRilla standing on top of cars in videos is already living a much different life than when fans first fell in love with her. Because of the speed of her success, and because it’s largely based on the strength of a two-minute song, the three years that preceded it are often overlooked. When “F.N.F.” originally blew up, she had to be talked out of replying to allegations that she was inexperienced, a soon-to-be one-hit wonder. She’d been sitting on “Tomorrow,” her first single under CMG, and a feature on Memphis rapper Duke Deuce’s “Just Say That,” but her team persuaded her to let “F.N.F.” and its hype breathe before dropping again. All three of her most recent records draw a distinct line separating them from what came before, demonstrating Glo’s sharper command of performance and clearer sense of her ability to send a song’s energy into overdrive.

Photo: Gabriel S. Lopez
Photo: Gabriel S. Lopez

After leaving her trailer on the set, I board a shuttle that takes me to another end of Cal Poly Pomona and wind up in a big house that’s probably been the site of a Project X party. A handful of the ratchet-ass friends that Glo was hanging out the window with in the “F.N.F.” video are present, smiling while watching her through a monitor. There’s a rumor that JT from City Girls is here. Glo, in a separate room that’s fashioned like a bedroom, is fully done up, her hair bleached blonde with swirled edges and a waving side ponytail. It’s even hotter than the trailer because air-conditioner noise is a disturbance to filming. Yo Gotti is walking around looking like a concerned dad, quasi-directing.

In the scene, Glo is sitting at the foot of a bed, on the phone, while some guy lies next to her, passed out after another apparent case of premature ejaculation. A different scene will put them in couples therapy. With her newfound access to a bigger budget and more resources, it’s clear we’re about to experience the full world of GloRilla. Those lyrics about lame dudes from her past who won’t go away? Now they’ll have whole productions supporting the story, videos that weren’t conceived on the fly — a rare homegrown glo up unfolding in real time.

Debut album coming before the end of the year.

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