Latto, sometimes called Big Latto, is easily one of the most popular female MCs in the game. Initially calling herself Miss Mulatto during her days on Lifetime’s The Rap Game, she shortened the moniker to Mulatto. She would keep the name until 2021, where she would change it to simply Latto. Many fans wondered why the rapper would change her stage name, especially with the moniker being the namesake of classic mixtapes.
Alyssa Michelle Stephens, a.k.a Latto, was born in Columbus, Ohio, to a biracial couple. Her father, Shayne Stephens, is African American. Her mother, Misti Pitts, is white. In interviews, the artist revealed that her biracial ethnicity was the target of bullying while growing up. Her bullies often referred to the artist as a mulatto. Mulatto is a derogatory term to describe those who are mixed. The artist owned the term, using it for her stage name.
The young artist explained the name's background during her time on The Rap Game. Admitting it was a controversial choice, the future winner of the show said that she was passionate about her race, and her name was to flip the negativity of the term. “I took that negativity from the word mulatto and now … everybody calls me Miss Mulatto," said Big Latto during her time on the show. The artist was 15 years old at the time.
The now 24-year-old eventually had a change of heart, shortening her stage name in 2021. Although it was a part of her identity, Latto admitted how continuing to use the term as a stage name could be problematic. “Mulatto was a negative term that I was trying to make positive,” said Latto in an interview with Billboard. “We’re gonna start positive, and I feel like that’s gonna bring that energy my way. I feel like, in a way, that could’ve been holding me back, and I don’t want to attach that to myself anymore.”
History of the word “Mulatto”
According to historians, the term mulatto was coined during the era of slavery. The term was popularized in the Southeastern United States. It was used to describe someone of mixed origin. A few Spanish-speaking countries consider it non-offensive, but it is generally considered offensive in non-Spanish-speaking countries.
Though she was trying to flip the negativity of the term into a positive, Latto could not avoid controversy. The artist received heavy backlash from critics, with a few accusing her of colorism. Some critics claim that the word is just as disparaging as the terms “colored” and “the n-word.” After acknowledging its history, fans felt Latto was racially insensitive and colorist in keeping the stage name. Although she would change her name, Latto had no shortage of back-and-forth arguments with fans online. Other incidents and online arguments also spurred accusations of colorism from fans.
After changing her name, the Queen of the Souf rapper received praise and skepticism from fans. One Twitter user wrote, “L[a]tto had white music executives and corporate bigwigs casually calling her Mulatto like it’s 1821 and people can’t understand why it was a problem.” Another user called the action “performative progress,” tweeting, “But the ‘Latto’ in ‘Big Latto’ still stands for ‘Mulatto’… but y’all happy as hell [because] the ‘Mu’ is gone.” Though critics still questioned the history of the stage name, many of Latto’s fans came to her defense, feeling the change wasn’t necessary.
What’s Next For Big Latto
While the backlash provided for a strong controversy, Latto’s career continues to press on successfully. Despite the controversy from the previous years surrounding her name, the rapper had a hugely successful year in 2022. Latto won Top Rap Female Artist at the 2022 Billboard Music Awards. The same year, she won the BET Award for Best New Artist. She received a nomination for Hip Hop Album of the Year at the 2022 BET Hip Hop Awards. The “Big Energy” rapper also received a Best New Artist nomination at the 2023 Grammy Awards.
Though previously facing backlash, Big Latto’s career seems to flourish without much damage. Though some still question the name change, her fans still defend the artist and appreciate her modesty in changing her name after the controversy. With the release of her latest single, “Put It On The Floor,” releasing a week ago, it seems that Latto, or Big Latto, is continuing to move her momentum in the right direction despite her previous controversy.