On Wednesday afternoon, the 23-year old Atlanta rapper Salma Conteh, who goes by Salma Slims restaurant in the Barneys Downtown store. She requested a "sweet tea," and the waitress frowned. None of their teas were sweetened. "We're not in the South anymore," Slims's agent, who was present, mumbled under her breath.
Despite her sweet appearance, Slims can put it down. Born in the U.S. to Muslim immigrants who not only disapproved of music, but struggled to make ends meet, she learned how to sate her own appetite. In her recently released mixtape, "The Diary of Salma Slims," her lyrics about high-end designer fashions flow together with lines about growing up an "Islamic girl."
Growing up, Slims's father was a successful businessman in Gambia, and owned a shopping center and a nightclub. But right before Slims started high school, her family lost everything after a political relationship went sour. It's something she still can't really discuss. "My family was well off, and then all of a sudden I had nothing," she said. "I was so confused about everything that was going on. That's when I really got into music. I had to figure out how to get it all back."
After seeing TLC live at the age of six, Slims wanted to be on stage. In high school, she joined an all-female rap group, but by college the girls had fallen out of synch. She also dabbled in modeling, but couldn't land any jobs. "I wanted to give up," she said. "I was like, 'What is it about me that no one's f—cking with?'"
Slims couldn't even get her parents on her side. "I'm Muslim, and music is not something my parents accepted, so I had to force it down their throats," she explained.
Then there's the fact that Slims is a woman in a male-dominated industry. "You have all these different lanes in music, and yet they're all occupied by males," she said. "I'm so happy that there's been DeJ Loaf and the Iggy's and Nicki Minaj. They're all there. But there should still be more. There have been times where I have a show and I'm on the lineup and everything. And then I get to the DJ booth and they're like, 'You can't perform anymore. We have blah blah and his camp about to show up.' And I get pushed back. And it was just me—I was my own manager."
Slims's big break came around five years ago, when she became the "First Lady" of Private Club Records, a title she's still very proud of. Around the same time, they also signed the rapper Madeintyo, whose hit single "Uber Everywhere" put the small Atlanta label on everyone's radar this year. It was through Private Club that she also met her now-husband, the rapper Royce Rizzy (who is not quite so slim and, according to TMZ, was once sued by his namesake car company.)
Now, after working two jobs while finishing up her degree at community college as she made the album, Slims has found a support network to get her on stage—and fans who want to keep her there. And thanks to her recent success, her parents have come around, too.
The only thing that's missing is the sweet tea.