Hours prior to my meeting with Kreayshawn, a 21-year-old rapper who’s alternately hailed as a hip-hop star in the making and dismissed as a one-hit phony, she tweeted “I GOT 23 INTERVIEWS TODAY!” In the months since she’s become famous, she’s gained notoriety by hustling the circuit, performing rowdy live shows, and baiting Rick Ross, among other things.
I interviewed her in New York City when she was in town for the MTV Video Music Awards. I arrived at her label’s office and soon we were giggling about classic VMA moments like Britney Spears’s kiss with Madonna (“Madonna is hot, she can kiss anyone!”). She told me how much she wanted to win the Best New Artist award. Instead, it went to Tyler the Creator.
“All I need is two or three weeks of studio time to finish my album,” she said wistfully. “But there’s so much press. It’s just about finding time…” Her voice trailed off.
Natassia Zolot, otherwise known as Kreayshawn, catapulted to quasi-fame just this year. She’d been recording for some time, practicing playful freestyles as part of the East Oakland rap crew White Girl Mob, which included her best friends Vanessa Reece (aka V-Nasty) and Jordan Capozzi (aka Lil Debbie), and directing videos for other East Bay artists like Go Gettas and Lil B.
In 2010 she released her own silly, sloppy mixtape called Kittys x Choppas, named for her two cats. Its best song, “Bumpin’ Bumpin’,” lays a few bars of whimsical rapping over a dancey pop track: “Rockin’ in the club, catch me on an elephant / Young Kreayshawn grimy, but I feel so elegant…elegant…ela-ela-elegant.” The song is the aural equivalent of cotton candy: sugary and quick to dissolve. Her style, though, is what really stands out—in the music video, her cat-eye makeup and Flintstones hoodie threaten to outshine the music.
And then, this past May, her video for “Gucci Gucci,” a single that mocks “basic bitches” for relying on designer clothes to define their style, hit YouTube. She stomps and brags her way through (“I got the swag and it’s coming out my ovaries,” she boasts in her most thrilling moment), and she’s perfected a look that could be characterized as thrift-store chic with an Urban Outfitters splash—not exactly one of a kind, but on her tiny pale frame, accented with bright tattoos of cartoon characters, it’s intriguing, even electric. Two months after the video debuted, Columbia Records gave her a million-dollar record deal, one which she’ll conceivably complete if she ever manages to get that “two or three weeks of studio time.”
Since she posted the video, it’s racked up 24-and-a-half-million views.
Despite what her hype machine may want us to think, Kreayshawn has peers out there beyond her sidekick V-Nasty, or Ke$ha. But not every female rapper can steamroll into a million-dollar record contract on the strength of one breakout song.
I spoke to Angel Haze over the phone in September. She records raps between shifts at her mother’s Virginia-based day care. Her rhymes are more dense and dexterous than Kreayshawn’s, and more plentiful too, but she hasn’t yet attained anywhere near the audience. She’s working on her debut album without the help of a label, but multiple free mixtapes, including her latest, which she boldly entitled KING, have established her as one to watch by rap blogs that regularly go days without posting so much as a verse by a female MC.
On KING, Haze uses every curse word imaginable while pogoing off of beats that, in typical hip-hop mixtape fashion, she mostly borrows from her favorite songs of the moment. On a version of Lil Wayne’s “6 Foot 7 Foot” she jumps in quick as a machine gun. Later in the song, her boasts get extra creative: “Verbally destructive, I’m spittin’ and it’s a whirlwind / Outside of my box I’m fittin’ to put the world in / You do not add up, don’t think you can do the math, stupid / We are not the same, equal sign with a slash through it.” She continues, nonstop, for three more minutes, with lines like “Nestlé bar flow, I get nutty when it’s crunch time / Eat the best of everything like cutting in the lunch line.”
When Natassia Zolot was about nine, a decade before she became Kreayshawn, she and her single mother, Elka—a guitarist in the all-female West Coast punk band the Trashwomen—moved from San Francisco to Oakland. There, Natassia tried four different high schools and partook in plenty of what she describes as “naughty” behavior—skipping class, smoking weed, generally carousing. She dropped out of school at 16, and later earned her GED. “The hard way,” she insists, “is the best way to learn.”
Raykeea Wilson, aka Angel Haze (a name inspired by her favorite porn star), meanwhile, has, at the age of 20, “never been drunk, never been high, never been to a party.” (She does, however, cop to skipping school.) When she was growing up, her family was extremely religious, members of what she now refers to as “a freaking cult.” Her pastor told her mother that if they left the church, God would kill her children. (Eventually her mom “said fuck it all and left,” Angel said.)
Angel wasn’t allowed to listen to music as a kid. She didn’t hear a rap song until she was 16 years old, and the first one didn’t exactly move her. “It was something stupid, like Young Joc,” she recalled. Lauryn Hill was the only female rapper she’d heard prior to Nicki Minaj. She was, however, into poetry, regularly writing poems inspired by Andrea Gibson and E.E. Cummings. “I used to be such a miserable kid, suffering all day,” she said. Poetry “was about overcoming and a way to rid myself of my emotions. I never really wanted to be a rapper until my old best friend encouraged me to turn my poems into rap.”
That same friend got jealous when Haze started to rap and found that her skill began to win her an audience. “Everything got weird, because he wanted to be a rapper too,” she said. “My buzz continued to grow and he moved further away from me, saying, ‘You don’t deserve this. You didn’t even want to be a rapper!’” Now, she says, “I don’t have friends. I’ve cut everyone out of my life. I don’t have time for it.” She doesn’t seem too concerned about this isolation. “I have too many fans to be lonely.”
I asked Haze what she thinks of Kreayshawn, and she squealed. “She’s so cute. If I had any guilty pleasure, it’s Kreayshawn. I go crazy to her music.”
For all their differences—Kreayshawn has released only one single since “Gucci Gucci” and for the time being appears to be focusing more on stoking her internet fame than on her music, while Haze is “really consumed with my album, I want to have my shit out”—the two share a number of similarities. Perhaps most notable are their complex explorations of gender and sexuality, something that’s increasingly common in the world of popular girl rappers, particularly since Nicki Minaj hit big.
“I think I’m cute, but I don’t embrace a sexual side because I don’t see that in myself,” said Kreayshawn, remembering feeling too small in high school. “Any girl who was bigger than me, I was like, That’s what a woman is supposed to be. When will I be a woman? Now I’m 21 and still the same height and same weight as I was back then, but I’m more comfortable with myself.” She likes to keep people guessing: “It’s always fun to play around with gender, sexuality, and androgyny.”
Instead of writing lyrics about how she can please men sexually, Kreayshawn raps at unnamed adversaries and threatens to steal their girls, even though she identifies as straight. Haze, who identifies as a bisexual (“but not consistent enough to accept one label”), said she appreciates the sexual ambiguity employed by Kreay and Minaj, who’s her all-time favorite. “Those people are clever,” Haze said. “It’s one thing to actually be bisexual, but to play with the lifestyle is more intriguing. You need people to fantasize and to wonder and to want to figure it out.” And, you need respect.
“I want to push woman power like Beyoncé does,” Kreayshawn told me. “Female positivity!” For Haze, woman power is less about solidarity and more about finding the competition she craves. “I wouldn’t be rapping if I didn’t think I could be a challenge for Nicki Minaj,” she said. “We could go bar for bar right now.” She sounded pretty convincing.
Kreayshawn, who’s had more time to get used to public adulation, is more pragmatic: “You don’t want to set yourself up as the hottest chick,” she said. “Because you never know when a hotter chick is going to come out.” ♦