Mulatto continues to open doors. But her name is still ruffling feathers. We talk to five Mulatto fans and asked if the rising star should change her controversial name.
Last week, Mulatto’s rap name was the topic of conversation.
Attention for the rising rapper usually arises due to her biting bars and the bass-heavy beats that have become ubiquitous with her music. But, rather than focusing on this, social media users — mostly on Twitter and Clubhouse, an emerging audio platform that’s quickly becoming a go-to for industry insiders — had their eyes set on debating whether or not her stage name is problematic.
The word mulatto is seen as a derogatory term for someone who is biracial. (You’ve probably heard of the “tragic mulatto” trope which is a literary character that was introduced by Lydia Maria Child, a white abolitionist, writer, and journalist.)
If you trace the history of the term “mulatto,” it derives from the Spanish and Portuguese word for a mule. Parlour reports most academics who have studied the origins of mulatto are certain it’s long-standing proof of Spain’s heavy hand in the slave trade. In 1850, it was used by the US Census Bureau who dropped two new race categories, “B” for Black and “M” for mulatto. As years progressed, “multiracial,” “mixed,” “mixed race,” and “biracial” became widely used in academia and in real-life conversations.
In September, Mulatto candidly shared why she’d chosen the aforementioned moniker with Billboard. Since she is the daughter of a Black man and a white woman, she decided to reclaim the word. “I knew what the definition of the term was, and I knew its history as a kid,” she said. “I [wanted] to flip that negative and make it a positive.”
Even with this explanation, Mulatto’s name became a talking point.
When she was asked by HipHopDX if she’d been thinking about making the switch to a new name — like “Big Latto,” which is her nickname — she responded by sharing, “I would be lying to say it hasn’t crossed my mind before.” Mulatto also added, “It is a controversy that I hear and see every day as far as my name goes, so I would be lying to say no I never thought of that. But I can’t say too much because right now, because it’s going to be a part of something bigger.”
Then, on November 30, things blew up. A Clubhouse room titled “Why would you want to be named Mulatto?” was created on Clubhouse; the room drew in nearly 800 listeners. In this room, the floor was open for fans and commentators who spoke about their personal issues with the stage name. Mulatto entered and exited the room a few times, but wasn’t allowed on stage to speak.
At one point, her manager Brandon Farmer raised his hand (this action is necessary on Club House before you are allowed on the stage). He then proceeded to defend Mulatto when fans on stage dug into her artistry and her use of dark-skinned Black women in recent music videos. The tone of the room was hostile, and Farmer said the creators of it were attempting to get “clout” by hosting it.
Another room was soon created by 21 Savage’s manager Justin “Meezy” Williams called, “Hotep clubhouse people are the worst…until they want a job.” Mulatto and Farmer could be seen jumping in and out of this space. Mulatto spoke in this room and after her appearance, a rumor started that she denied colorism existed, something she would later deny.
I WOULD NEVER SAY NO SHIT LIKE COLORISM DOESN’T EXIST!
— BIG LATTO 🎰 (@mulatto) December 1, 2020
Please stop with the false narrative!
— BIG LATTO 🎰 (@mulatto) December 1, 2020
After Williams closed out this room, he tweeted, “Today showed me Mullatto is about to be a SUPERSTAR.”
This entire year it’s seemed as if the stars have aligned perfectly for the hip-hop star. A few months ago, she dropped her well-received RCA debut Queen Of Da Souf. The release came after she made an appearance in Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion’s “WAP” video. Accolades she can mark off her bucket list include being named a part of XXL’s 2020 Freshman class and becoming RIAA certified Gold for “Bitch From Da Souf.”
On December 3, in a video clip featuring ESSENCE’s Nandi Howard, the rapper shared the following on her name, “I don’t want to ever come across as irresponsible in choosing a name that’s disrespectful or offensive to anybody.” She went on to say amid the backlash her name has been receiving that her, “intention is not being interpreted correctly.”
Decided to tap in with @mulatto this week and we were able to chat about her being 21, learning from her mistakes, and listening to everyone's concerns about her name. She was super sweet. Interview out next week but here's the sneak peek we posted on the @Essence IG. pic.twitter.com/57NK17wzK7
— Nandi (@itsnandibby) December 3, 2020
To get a deeper understanding of where her supporters stand, we decided to create space for them to share their thoughts. Read on to see what Mulatto’s fans have to say about her moniker and if she should change her stage name.
NiLaja Hill, Culture Critic/Writer
I do believe her name is problematic due to the historical context and it being a dated term. I understand some may feel harmed by it but it is a term I feel only biracial people can reclaim. I also believe the use of the term as a stage name will continue to ostracize audiences, particularly Black women. As we move forward as a culture — especially Black women in music — we are all we have and we need to do everything we can to make sure we aren’t contributing to an oppressive system we fight against daily.
I believe the decision to change one’s stage name should ultimately be left up to the artist. From a marketing and public relations standpoint, I think the name change is a good decision for career growth. However, I still maintain every artist should live in their truth on their own time, not the masses. It seems Mulatto now understands why the name is controversial as a stage name but it ultimately remains up to her.
Madeline Smith, Journalism Student, Florida A&M University
I feel that her name definitely can be problematic due to the connotation of the word historically. In the past Mulatto was a degrading term for mixed raced people, but in turn it also gave them some form of superiority over fully Black people. If she were just a white person or someone who was not actually of mixed race and was trying to claim blackness, then it would be problematic.
Also, if her music was degrading or if her actions and words were those that were racist I could see then how her name would be disliked, but she’s a positive person. She always has been and her music is dope as fuck. I don’t think that Mulatto should change her alias at this point.
Chantal Gainous, Entertainment Marketing, Axiom
I think [changing her name] is something that she might not think she would ever have to do, but the way our culture is. You get pressured into things when you realize that the community won’t have it. I think it’s what comedians, actors, [and] anyone in the spotlight has to be willing to receive that criticism and adjust even if their personal viewpoint isn’t that strong or even possibly opposite.
I do think her rap name is problematic. I think that it has a lot of history that is valid and concerning. But I also think that hip-hop and culture as a whole is always going to have contradictions. I think she’s being held to a standard that itself is hypocritical. A standard that picks and chooses when it manifests and when it exerts its power. I don’t really understand the rhyme and rhythm to it, but I know that a lot of what sways that standard, and therefore the conversation is biased [since she’s] a female rapper and a good one. I think it has to do with misogyny. I think it has to do with misogynoir in the sense that she is a perfect villain to latch onto, to create an example out of it.
Nathan Vinson, Digital Creator
I can see why Mulatto is considering changing her rap name. As her star continues to rise, it’s important for her to remain open to all opportunities when it comes to branding and partnerships. If a racially coded term is getting in the way of it, it just might not be worth it — even with the plausible reasoning behind her name.
Personally, [I] don’t feel like her name is problematic. Mulatto has previously expressed that she was called [the term] derogatorily during her childhood, so it’s her way of reclaiming the term. With a large portion of Black people re-claiming the n-word in a similar fashion, the reasoning is comparable. Also, as someone who’s Black, but not biracial, it’s not even my place to police her experience as a biracial woman that grew up in the South. People that have an issue can always call her “Latto” which she’s already nicknamed herself.
Ruth Samuel, Journalism Student, UNC-Chapel Hill
I watched her latest interview for ESSENCE, and the willingness to change her name shows some growth. Big Latto said that she never “wanted to come off as irresponsible.” However, intent does not eradicate harm or the fact that she’s used the word “roach” when talking about Black women. It’s also important to acknowledge that this stage name of hers was chosen when she was 16, on [The Rap Game], and managed by her father. Similar to when Noname changed her name because she learned more information about the Romani slur, at age 22, Big Latto has the capacity to evolve and change.
I deliberately call her Big Latto because the m-word word is not my slur to reclaim because I am not biracial. For example, Wes Lowery just interviewed Trevor Noah for GQ and when he publicized the interview on Twitter, he referred to both himself and Noah as the m-word, saying biracial children often joke about this. Considering Big Latto is a biracial woman, she is well within her right to reclaim it, but when you weaponize it to perpetuate colorism and have the broader public using the term, that’s when it becomes problematic. Multiple things can be true at once.