Seasoned artists, industry vets and newcomers alike may be on a mission to crack the increasingly influential TikTok algorithm, but Saucy Santana seems to have figured it out with ease. The rapper, makeup artist and one-time Love & Hip-Hop cast member first struck gold with his 2019 hit, “Walk Em Like A Dog,” when Hot Girl Summer was reaching its peak. But unlike so many social media stars, Santana has managed to leverage that virality into longevity, since releasing numerous hits and spawning TikTok trends that users may not even realize originated with the Tallahassee-raised, Miami-based artist.
As an honorary City Girls member (the popular rap duo were originally clients of Santana’s makeup artistry before becoming close friends, and now, musical collaborators), Santana sparked the “Caresha please!” trend with Yung Miami. He’s also responsible for the “Material Gworl” catchphrase, based on his song of the same name, and it’s a trend he embodies with signature long lashes, longer nails, and an effortless embrace of the Instagram-ready lifestyle. Even as rap and the music industry as a whole become more open to LGBTQIA+ artists, there’s still a long way to go, but Santana’s fierce fanbase and exponentially growing popularity are a sign that change isn’t just on the way — it’s already here.
Santana’s boisterous, club-ready tune “Shisha” is off his latest project, the 16-track Keep It Playa, which includes features from Rubi Rose, Kali, and BeatKing in addition to the City Girls. Santana caught up with NYLON to talk about the project’s release, how to make a viral hit (hint: it has to be organic), and why being yourself is the biggest payoff of all.
You famously went from the City Girls’ makeup artist to making multiple viral hits. When did you decide to make the leap into music?
Initially, I was a makeup artist just in general. I had my own boutique. I used to do makeup, sell hair extensions, sell girl clothes and accessories and things like that in Perry, Florida. So then I moved to Tallahassee, which was an hour away. It was a bigger market to start doing makeup.
I ended up meeting City Girls through my best friend — Yung Miami's cousin. I started doing their makeup when they would have shows in North Florida.
Rap was never a thing I thought of. Around February, I would do a weekly podcast with some of my friends, and we were just like, "Oh, we need a theme song for the show," and so we went to the studio, we made a theme song, and people just started saying, "Oh, I didn't know that you know how to rap."
And I was like, "Y'all think so?" And so I went on to play around with freestyles. I did a freestyle to “Thotiana.” I did a freestyle to “Act Up.” “Thotiana” went viral. I had been shooting a $200 music video to it, and it started getting played in the clubs in Tallahassee. People were inquiring for me to come and perform it. Initially, I just thought of rap as a hustle. Just growing up, I had seen so many dudes rap, but I was like, "Those same dudes are still in the hood rapping."
I just always thought you already had to be a star or big to be a successful rapper. So it wasn't anything that I took seriously. Once I saw I started getting inquiries, I was like, "Well, maybe I should really sit down and try to make a song and see if I could just get booked at clubs."
And so I wrote “Walk Em Like A Dog,” my first single. 2019, July 4th. I put it out on SoundCloud and it did a million plays in a week. Everything changed since then.
When you sat down to write the song, were you working with other people at that point?
I write all of my songs, always. I wrote “Walk Em Like A Dog” by myself.
What was it like to realize this was going to be a career for you?
It was kind of shocking. Even with “Walk Em Like A Dog,” when I had got with my label, they were initially interested in just that song, because we didn't know. Maybe this is just a viral song, and it's going to go away, or ‘does he really have talent’? So once I had got in the studio and I did, which is now my biggest streaming song, “Material Girl,” I recorded in 2019. Once I did that song, my team was just like, "Oh, hold on. He got something here."
So it was just shocking a little bit, because I was like, "Wait, what? I'm really about to be a rapper?" It's just, this don't happen. So it was exciting, it was shocking, I was nervous, but I accomplished a lot in two years. So I'm thankful.
What’s it been like with City Girls, going from friends to now working together as artists?
The relationship is basically the same. We have a bond like siblings. So we still fight like cats and dogs, still cuss each other out, still support each other. It's just basically the same.
We were friends before anything. They started rapping, I think, a year before me. It wasn't anything that we planned. We was already friends, so they had the same start as me. They just made a song dissing some girls in the hood, and it ended up working for them. I just made a song to initially just get booked for shows, and it ended up working for me. So it didn't change the relationship at all. We just celebrities now.
What do you think are the ingredients of a viral song? When you're writing a song, are you thinking about that?
I often tell people it's like, when you try to go viral, it doesn't work. A lot of things I know that I do go viral. When I dance, when I talk in my songs, but it's just me being genuinely me and authentic. Of course, writing, you try to think of something that's catchy. When you're writing, I don't write to make a viral song, because if you put too much into it, it'll just come out corny.
Even nowadays, you just really don't know. In 2019, when I did “Material Girl,” I thought it was a good song. And that's just how we talk in Florida. We say girl with a w. And so I'm just like, "Material gworl!" I had just started fresh being a rapper. So I was ready to live the lavish lifestyle, the designer clothes and the Maybachs and all that. So I made that song, two years later, the song goes viral on TikTok. In 2019, TikTok was out, but TikTok wasn't as big as it is right now. So I didn't write that song or make that song like, "This is going to be a viral TikTok song. This is going to be big for me." I was just in the studio just being authentic.
That's so cool that it's just your authentic self that’s resonating with people so much. What would you say that the message you're conveying to your fans is?
Have fun. Be yourself. Be yourself. A lot of things that I rap are true, and things that I've been through and things that I'm going through, things that I'm doing. And so people just relate to it. Be relatable. Even though we're celebrities, and people think highly of us and put us on a pedestal, people just always love things that they can relate to. White, Black, Spanish, Puerto Rican, Chinese, whatever people just want to be able to relate to it.
So who doesn't want to be a material girl? Who doesn't want nice things? Who doesn't want diamonds and Chanel? Who doesn't want to ride down, Miami and your boyfriend, you know what I'm saying, taking you on a shopping spree. I just like to have fun and just be relatable for people and just give people nice beats and good vibes and just things that they could talk about.
As someone who is so online, how do you deal with the inevitable haters and negative comments?
It's trying. Definitely now with even Instagram. They're scrutinizing us public figures and influencers and celebrities so much. We can't even clap back to haters or anything now. It's kind of dehumanizing, because at the end of the day I wake up and put my pants on one leg at a time like everybody else. My breath stinks in the morning like anybody else. People really expect us to be like, "You're a celebrity, you're this. You're not supposed to say that."
But you know, everybody has feelings. If I'm scrolling through my comments and I have a hundred comments being mean...of course you want to take the higher road. And a lot of times I ignore things, because I just always been like that. Even when I just came out being gay younger, I was feminine. So walking into a store with a full set of nails and mink lashes, and people looking at you like, "What the hell? What is going on?"
So I always did my own thing and didn't really care what people thought, but we're still human at the end of the day. Of course things are going to affect you. Of course, you want to correct your narratives. Blogs post these things and create false narratives for people. You want to defend yourself. So it's trying sometimes, but I don't let it phase me that much.
Do you think that being out prepared you for being a public figure?
I mean, I guess it goes hand-in-hand. I've helped so many people. I've encouraged so many people. I've been an influence for so many people. I get so many DMs and comments from people that are just thankful and showing so much gratitude that they have someone like me that's unapologetically being myself. I’ve ran into so many gays that's like, "Oh, I always wanted to get my nails done, but I was scared. I wanted to get my makeup done, but I was afraid what people might think," or, "I want to put on a pair of heels or wear a purse, and I just was nervous of what my parents are going to think or my peers or just anything." So I'm just grateful that me just being Santana 100% helps and empowers and influences other people like me.
As your career has taken off, what are you thinking in terms of your goals? Have they gotten bigger? Where do you feel like you want to go?
Every year, my goals get bigger, and I just really look back at how much I've done with only starting rapping in 2019. Last year, I performed at the Atlanta Hawks game on TV for the NBA, and I never would've thought I would be in a position like that. Especially being a Black, openly gay male and NBA being a male-dominated sport. I would probably could have saw like, "Oh, they'll make me go perform at the WNBNA, maybe." But that was really just a big thing for me. I'm just always planning on elevating. Having those looks and just giving that star quality and that star power and just showing my community and other people who aren’t believers yet, that I can do it. We can do it.
Musically, is there anyone that you're just dying to collab with or any really big influences you look up to?
My favorite rapper is Gucci Mane, so of course I've been a die-hard Gucci Mane fan since I was 15. I want a song with him just for the culture. That's always been someone who has influenced me, and I looked up to.
And then, of course, all the other greats. Nicki, Cardi, Doja Cat, Lizzo, Ariana Grande, Lil Nas. I want to be able to collab with the greats and the people that's really pioneering the music right now. Just be able to come up, just make good music for people.
I know you met Rihanna — has anyone else in the industry has shown you love or reached out to you?
Like almost everybody. It kind of shocks me still sometimes. I know I'm a public figure and a celebrity as well, but I meet people and they would be die-hard, so in love with me, and I would be like, "Come on, me? You know me?" It's just been so many people.
Just recently, on set in LA, I met Lala, Lauren London, Nia Long, Khadijah, and everybody was like, "Oh my gosh, Santana, we love you!" and I was like, "What? Me?" Like, "Girl, I grew up watching y'all on TV!” [Laughs]
It's just crazy, Lizzo supporting my song on Instagram and TikTok. I'm just like, "Oh my God, these people really love Santana." And you know, I love them for it.
Do you have a name for your fan base yet?
No. They kind of name they selves. Sometimes they're Material Girls, sometimes they're Dog Walkers, but Kehlani just posted a video on TikTok, and she said that I should name my fans the Stantanas. That was cute. So I'm thinking we could go with that.
Stantanas is super cute. Do you have any tour plans lined up?
Yes. So we are going on a tour actually. I'm going on tour with Latto. We're starting in March, so it's going to be exciting. This is my first tour. I get the tour experience of being on a tour bus, going from city to city and things. So I'm excited.
Lastly, are you planning to be on Love & Hip-Hop again?
That page is closed. Yeah. I did a few episodes on Love & Hip-Hop Miami, but it's not really my thing. I liked going more so a music route. I'll be doing more TV stuff, but it won't be Love & Hip-Hop.
Saucy Santana’s Keep It Playa is now on streaming platforms.