The Wealthy Store, a metro Detroit streetwear spot, is seeing its usual flow of Wednesday evening traffic. A 30-something couple with toddlers is purchasing a set of hoodies while their children take turns shooting basketball at a small rim near the front of the store; another passerby wanders in and buys a black T-shirt with the store's boxed "Wealthy" logo embossed on the front. The shop, which opened in 2018, resides in a small strip mall on Nine Mile Road in Oak Park, and has seen everyone rocking their brand from Detroit rappers Allstar JR, Babyface Ray, and Sada Baby to comedian-actor Marlon Wayans to NBA players Dwight Howard and D'Angelo Russell.
As the last customer leaves, the store's owner Rashad Hosea locks the door, and tells rapper Pretty Brayah to come out from the back. Brayah struts out wearing a red deep V-neck top, black shorts, and Gucci sandals while carrying a red cup. She has tattoos on her arms, chest, and legs, and her hair, make-up, and lashes are all camera-ready as she takes a seat on a red leather couch in the middle of the store.
Brayah is the proverbial "next up" artist on Detroit's hip-hop watchlist, which many believe is the most influential hip-hop scene in the country. Hosea has been her official manager since the beginning of the year (he also manages emcee Jugg Harden), and says he sees a limitless future for her.
"She has a star-like personality," Hosea says. "She makes good music, writes her own music, she got the look ... I want to see her blow up. I think she got it. She just needs to block out all the negativity. If it's not her, then who in the city?"
Weeks ago, Brayah found herself in a heated social media sparring match with another local female emcee. The actual origin of the rift is not clear, but the social media posts and the diss records released by both artists captured the attention of Detroit's hip-hop fans everywhere as the drama played out like a reality show catfight.
"I never thought I'd have to make a diss record," says Brayah. "I'd rather collab than to go against any female, especially one from my city. My song was a response to a diss towards me, and at the end of the day it's all about my respect."
Last Monday, Hot 107.5 host Big Greg showcased both diss tracks, taking calls from fans who voted for their favorite. No winner was declared, and Greg encouraged both artists to quash their differences and make a song together. Greg's sentiments were shared by other Detroit entertainment heavyweights.
"I wish y'all supported they music just as bad as y'all supporting a beef," wrote entrepreneur and hip-hop manager Chanel Domonique in a Facebook post. "I'm irritated these two beautiful black women even beefing they BOTH got talent."
As of now, all negative posts have been deleted by both artists, but in the aftermath Brayah's social media numbers have increased by the thousands.
"I hate the city and beyond got to see how naturally gifted Brayah is with this rap shit under these conditions, but it is what it is," says Hosea. "When you got a star player on yo team, you can't hold 'em back! Heavy press moving forward."
Hip-hop is guilty of the double standards it holds over female emcees. If they're too sexy, then they're called sluts; if they're too gangster or lyrical, then they're criticized for not being sexy enough. Critics and their male counterparts constantly compare them and nitpick their music, pitting them against each other, which leads to more tension than camaraderie. It seems every woman in rap has faced accusations of not writing her own material, and most importantly, the industry seems to never let multiple female emcees shine at one time.
Nationally, before the emergence of Cardi B, Nicki Minaj stood at the top of the mountain of female emcees for years. (Cardi B and Minaj have also been feuding, with Cardi B expressing exasperation in a recent Twitter rant. "This shit is tiring, old, and redundant," she tweeted. "Same formula, DIFFERENT YEAR = start chaos, drama, and then promote their shit.") Locally, Kash Doll has been the main face of women in Detroit hip-hop (and you can also make an argument for DeJ Loaf), but a few years ago, rising female rappers Rocky Badd and Molly Brazy also became mired in a beef. So when Hosea asks, "If it's not her, then who in the city?" — he's speaking from this constant narrative where only one female rapper gets called up to the big league at a time. As of right now, the field is wide open.
Enter Pretty Brayah, who describes her musical styles as,"Freaky, slut, heartbroken, and real." Brayah, who's in her early 20s, is half-Puerto Rican and half-Black, and grew up on the Eastside of Detroit where she attended East English Village high school. "I was confrontational, I was feisty, I was like a hothead," she says, reflecting on her time in high school, adding, "because I was broke, I just felt angry, like when people would talk about me."
She says she had always been a fan of hip-hop, and cites Detroit acts like Team Eastside, Doughboyz Cashout, and Bandgang as a few of the many groups she used to listen to. But unbeknownst to her, she had an untapped lyrical gift that was only showing itself in spurts.
"I've always been the type to listen to beats and started rapping to them," she says. "Even when I was younger, my stepdaddy, he was taking music seriously. He would be in the basement and shit, rapping and shit. I would come down there and hoe everybody and he would be like, 'Do it again,'" she adds through a laugh.
During high school she got pregnant, and had to tolerate family members and naysayers doubting her future and asserting that she would never go to college or amount to anything. She responded by obtaining her bachelor's degree in public health from Wayne State University.
She unashamedly admits that her main motivation was strictly to prove her haters and family wrong.
Brayah leans forward, raking her nails down the side of her hair. "That's some petty ass shit ain't it?" she says. "But I'm still like that. I see people talking shit about me all the time and I screenshot it because I just can't wait until I can post like, 'What was said?'"
Brayah strives off what people say she can't do. Her collegiate and motherhood grind showed true grit, hustle, stamina, and a wealth of mental fortitude. "I was doing that, working full time, I was going to school full time," she says. "I don't feel like children stop anything, for me at least. ... I can juggle multiple hats at one time."
She adds, "I kept looking at how I grew up, and I didn't want that shit to happen again. I've been poor my whole life, for real. You gotta break the cycle at some point."
As the years ticked by, Brayah started to take music more seriously. "I started writing for myself and took it from there," she says. "When I got locked up, I just wanted a way to talk my shit live without looking dumb, so I just made it a rap."
Brayah's night in the slammer was the outcome from a domestic dispute. "A bitch was lying," she says. "My feelings was hurt. I got mad and took it too far ... She cheated on me. I found out because I was snooping. I went through all this shit to find out to see if it was true, and it was."
Nothing resulted from the altercation but a night in jail, dropped charges, and a life lesson. However, Brayah's freestyle about the incident went Detroit viral, and motivated her to dive deeper into her obvious pool of talent. She put the incident behind her and pressed forward.
"I did a song called 'Wassup,' it was a real raunchy-ass song," she says. "I'm kinda taunting hoes I didn't like in that song."
Released in 2018, "Wassup" put the Detroit hip-hop game on notice, and officially put Brayah in the race. "Everybody wanna be great but nobody wanna work for shit/ they see you out here winning, take yo name and throw dirt on it," she raps.
Brayah has also turned heads for being openly bixsexual. (She identifies as a femme and says she's into other femmes.) This is still a space that hip-hop is adjusting to. There have been female emcees who've come out as gay later on in their careers, while others have said they have had sexual relations with other women (but won't label themselves as gay or bisexual), and some have kept an ambiguity around their sexuality in order to use the mystique to generate interest in their music. But Brayah is out.
"I market being bisexual," she says. "I think that's better, because why play with it? What if it's a bad bitch out there waiting for me somewhere just trying to figure out what I am? So no, you know what I am."
To double down on it, Brayah incorporates tales of ménage à trois into her raps, and doesn't believe it's cool for a woman to simply flirt with the idea of being bisexual. "Them hoes be fake gay," she says. "Them hoes be the ones that gotta get drunk to sneak a kiss in. But me, I like to rap about it. I like to rap about being bisexual and shit like that. It just adds to my character. I feel like I lowkey made that shit cool in Detroit. I don't know nobody that's broadcasting that shit the way I do."
Although much of Brayah's content has always been very sexualized and aggressive, it's also well-balanced. She says the core of her audience is made up of mostly women, but she's always gotten the respect from her male counterparts and makes a few songs for them as well.
Her 2019 song "Pops" explored the complexities of growing up without a father. "That was one of my first songs," she says. "I was in 8th grade when he passed. A lot of men like that song. You know, a lot of my songs are 'fuck these niggas,' and nobody wanna hear that all day. But they liked that one because I wasn't rapping that girly shit."
In 2019's "Good Girl Gone Bad," Brayah plays the role of a heartbroken girlfriend bent on revenge, like a trap version of your favorite Keyshia Cole song. "That's my biggest song," she says. "I woke up one day and I was just everywhere, on Facebook and the streams just started shooting up."
In "Frenemies," released earlier this year, she calls out former friends and jealous peers. "That's about people who were just slimy, they weren't loyal," she says. "I don't care how much money you got, loyalty is everything to me."
Brayah routinely pulls content from her real life and the life of her friends. "Somebody is always calling me about some shit and sometimes I make that my story," she says. "Sometimes it's my favorite cousin going through something like my song, 'Miss Me.' I said, 'Congratulations, heard she pregnant, since you stuck with that.' My friend's nigga cheated on her and got somebody pregnant. And then I was like, 'A bitch could never shit on me whose dick I had first,' but the song was part of my life and hers so I put it into one."
Brayah's not one to bring her life to a standstill when lyrical inspiration hits. She says she records bars on her phone and saves them for the next studio session. Other times she'll tap into whatever is on her heart, start rapping, and match it with a beat later.
"I usually start off freestyling with no beat, then I start browsing through beats, start creating the cadence," she says. "It all depends though, sometimes I can hear a beat and instantly come up with a rap."
Her freestyles have proven to be just as important to her image and sound as her songs. While her songs are typically composed of a story being told using the traditional format of lines and a hook, her freestyles have the energy of an 8-year-old running around free on a playground. There's no plan or parameters, just Brayah behind the mic dropping lyrical jewels via whatever similes and metaphors that comes to mind:
"Bitch I am the goat and he just copped a rollie bitch bust down/ Pussy Aquafina he in love now/ He said it's too good he can't pull out now/ but Plan B got us good now."
"Apply pressure on these hoes like I'm checking they vitals/ I leave them on red like I came on my cycle."
"Suck his dick 'till his stomach cave in like a Capri Sun/ Baby mamma drama get the condom I can't be one."
"My metaphors, my cadence is different," she says. "I don't have a ghostwriter so this shit is me for real ... I don't say cliché-ass shit like, 'I'm hot like the sun.' I try to think of good metaphors."
One of Brayah's biggest supporters has been her child's father, Bandgang Javar from the hip-hop group Bandgang. Over the last decade the group has heavily contributed to the current hotness of Detroit's hip-hop scene, and Javar has used his experience to help guide Brayah's career. The duo released the collaboration "Truth" in 2019.
"He don't like the fans thinking them songs about him," she says, smiling. "But he's very supportive. He taught me how to record myself, how to be able to do everything on my own. Certain shit, if it wasn't for him, I wouldn't even know how to do right now. But he don't help me with bars. He's helped me learn things about the music business."
Brayah knows she's not the only woman trying to make it off rap, and focuses a lot of attention on her music video treatments and her stage presence. On a 313 Day show on March 13 at the Garden Theater in Detroit, Brayah entered the stage with a guy collared to a leash crawling on all fours. The move definitely helped separate her set from the other 20 artists in the lineup. "I always sit there and think, 'What ain't nobody doing?'" she says. "That's how I came up with walking niggas on stage like a dog." (The cover art for "Good Girl Gone Bad" depicts Brayah, dressed like a dominatrix, walking three men on leashes.)
While Brayah has mostly enjoyed the notoriety and perks that have come with her local celebrity status, there have been a few other awkward and tense moments. There was another artist that showed up at her job when she worked as a waitress and tried to embarrass her. On another occasion a woman recognized her and tried to bait her into an physical altercation at a gas station. "She just kept talking and throwing up signs and shit," Brayah says.
The scariest incident occurred when a fan approached Brayah at a local Walmart during the height of the pandemic. "He was a fan, I guess," she says. "The muthfucka was standing real close. I asked him to move back and he was like, 'Bitch, who you talking to?' I got so ratchet up in that damn Walmart."
She adds, "I just don't like when fans be weird. It's OK to be a fan, but you ain't gotta do all that. They started recording me and shit like some clout shit and it's just so lame."
Moving forward, Brayah is still pushing and promoting her latest project, Daddy Issues, which was released earlier this summer. The seven-song album has been met with positive reviews, and Brayah promises more music, freestyles, and content is coming. Although she's the perfect combination of beauty, talent, and ferocity, she knows the music has to slap and continue to resonate in order for her to reach her ultimate goals.
"This is my first time trying to be this consistent, so I'm just really getting my feet into the shit," she says. "I mean, for a female it's really hard. I remember Lando [Bando, of the Hip Hop Lab podcast] asked me in my first interview, 'Did I think it was hard for a female in this shit?' I was over there all naive talking about, 'Nah, I got this.' Nah, that shit hard. I want him to ask me again! I know I'm talented, I know I stand out. So now I'm just waiting for this shit to really take off!"