Show & Prove: ScarLip
Words: William E. Ketchum III
Editor’s Note: This story appears in the Winter 2023 issue of XXL Magazine, on stands now.

There’s repping for your hood, and then there’s what ScarLip did at Yankee Stadium this past August. The 22-year-old Bronx native performed her boisterous viral hit “This Is New York” at her borough’s most hallowed grounds. She commanded the stage in a white jumpsuit alongside Snoop Dogg, who brought her out during his set at the star-studded Hip-Hop 50 Live celebration concert.

That’s just the latest accomplishment ScarLip’s nostalgic, ante-raising breakthrough single has gotten her. Since the record was released this past April, the video has collected over 4 million views on YouTube, landed Snoop on a remix called “This Is Cali” and helped earn her a deal with Epic Records. There’s also a league of rap’s East Coast greats that have already shown their faith in her. She enjoys mentorship from Swizz Beatz, was given her first diamond chain by Busta Rhymes, has a cosign from Cardi B, dined with 50 Cent, and has the hottest verse on Swizz’s “Take ’Em Out,” a song with Jadakiss and Benny The Butcher.

“I went from being in a parking lot every day making TikTok videos to performing in front of almost 60,000 people,” ScarLip reflects on her come up. “I be thinking, if these legends like you, they don’t like nobody! So, if they like you, then, girl, you better do what you gotta do.”
With all that the rapper, born Sierra Lewis, has been through, she deserves every bit of success she achieves. ScarLip has fond memories of her early childhood with her mother, but not many of her Nigerian father, whom she says wasn’t present and married her mother for citizenship. However, everything changed after Scar turned 12.

Her mother died following a hit-and-run car accident in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn in 2012. Then Scar endured years of traumatic experiences: she survived drugging and sexual abuse at the hands of an aunt’s boyfriend for four years, constantly got into fights at school, and was shuffled through several foster homes and detention centers. “All of these things happening to me in my life made it like hell, and I didn’t have nothing but music, real s**t,” she expresses.

ScarLip wrote poetry as a little girl and began crafting raps at age 16 while in foster homes as a way to deal with her trauma. She listened to Lauryn Hill and Nicki Minaj, but her favorite rapper was DMX, another MC who suffered from abuse as a child. “I loved how he put his pain in his music,” she shares. “He was just so real, so raw, aggressive. Because he was able to do it, I said, I’m gonna do it, too.”

Another piece of childhood trauma led to her rap moniker: her older brother punched her in the face because she didn’t have money to give him. Doctors stitched up the cut on her lip, but she had a permanent scar. The future femcee weathered trash talking about her physical appearance, which promoted some insecurities before she finally chose not to let the scar get her down anymore. “One day, I’m just like, You’re gonna let these people judge you because of how you look, or are you going to embrace it?” she remembers. “This scar is a wound that’s healed.”

After releasing her first freestyle at age 16, she began to use music to tell her story. In 2018, ScarLip started posting YouTube videos she recorded from her foster homes. She rapped about the difficulties of her life as she stared directly into the camera. Hip-hop figures like Wallo of Million Dollaz Worth of Game podcast and cast members of Black Ink Crew and Love & Hip Hop reposted her on social media, earning her story viral recognition. Some of the videos eventually became songs. “Therapy,” “Suicide Awareness,” “Foster Care” and “Loose Control” were all released in 2019.

In the summer of 2022, she began to use social media for musical moments that were more lighthearted. She made a series of videos where she held food, using the items as props and topical jump-offs for her rhymes. “Glizzy Gobbler” saw her gripping a hot dog while lyrically wiping out her opps. More than 50,000 people used the sound on TikTok, following a challenge to fill their cheeks with animated franks.

Then “This Is New York” arrived this past April, after creating the song more than a year earlier. Over a rugged drill backdrop by producer NY Bangers, she flexes a threatening baritone toward anyone who tries her. “A few times, I made a couple n***as run from me,” she says in her raspy voice. “I’ll take the biggest n***a in your crew and make ’em hunt for me.”

It’s the aggressive, scrap-ready demeanor of someone who’s been in more than a few fights herself—and the fearless rap style that has made legends of East Coast rappers like DMX, The LOX, Fat Joe and Onyx. But the song also has humorous, tongue-in-cheek barbs as well. “This is New York/What I look like telling a n***a good morning?” she quips. It’s grimy enough to appeal to classic Big Apple rap fans but self-aware enough to be in on its joke. The song began to gain traction across Twitter and Instagram, with fans and critics praising her.

Swizz Beatz was one of her first big supporters. He shared an older Instagram video of ScarLip reciting her poetry titled “Life of a Black Girl.” She then reached out to Swizz since he was the primary producer for her favorite rapper, DMX. Scar and Swizz eventually began working together. He helped guide her through label offers before she signed with Epic this past summer.

“ScarLip’s background and her ability to have survived her hard-knock life upbringing shows her strength and resilience as a person,” says Epic Records Chairman & CEO Sylvia Rhone. “She’s a product of the juvenile and foster care systems, so she exudes a gritty, street-smart persona as a protective shell. But deep down, she’s a super smart, sensitive young lady with a magnetic personality who’s very friendly and open.”

Now, ScarLip is determined to make the most of her moment. She appeared on Swizz’s Hip-Hop: Vol. 2 EP this year on the song “Take ’Em Out.” In November, Scar dropped the drill track "Blick." She plans to showcase her rapping and producing skills on her upcoming EP, Scars & Stripes, and harness Swizz’s guidance as an executive producer on her studio debut. Her projects will showcase the unapologetic, aggressive side she’s known for and the other aspects of her creativity and personality.

“Only thing I can be is me,” ScarLip offers. “I’m just constantly in my skin.”

scar lip photo
Raven B. Varona

Read ScarLip's interview in the Winter 2023 issue of XXL Magazine, on newsstands now. The new issue also includes the cover story with Latto and conversations with Killer Mike, Flo Milli, DD Osama, Maiya The Don, Monaleo, Mello Buckzz, Sexyy Red, BigXThaPlug, plus more. Additionally, there's an exclusive interview with Fetty Wap, Quality Control Music's Coach K and P discuss 10 years into the label's growth, in-depth stories on the popularity of sampling in hip-hop in 2023 and the state of hip-hop touring, and the best moments of hip-hop's year-long 50th anniversary celebration.

See Photos From Latto's XXL Magazine Winter 2023 Cover Story