With her first studio album, Somethin ’Bout Kreay, about to drop on September 18, we hitched a ride around L.A. with rapper Kreayshawn to see what’s like to be the next big thing. Video by Giorgio Arcelli Fontana.
“When I was seventeen, eighteen, I pretty much locked myself in my room and told myself that if I didn’t make something every day, then I was just stupid,” says the 22-year-old rapper. “Whether it was to go on Garageband and make a song or go on iMovie and edit a video, I had to have something to show for that day.” With her first studio album, Somethin ’Bout Kreay set for release on September 18, the controversy surrounding her and her creations is about to heat up again.
“It’s like having a baby,” she says of making the forthcoming album with high-profile collaborators Diplo, DJ Two Stacks, Jean Baptiste, and Boyz Noize. “You want to find the right producer who can cook up a beat and make that exact thing you wanted.” And while Kreayshawn describes the album as “eclectic,” all her songs share the same lackadaisical rhymes coated in an up-tempo beat. (“Motivation workout music,” is how she describes her sound.) And it looks like she might have discovered the perfect recipe: The album’s first single, “Go Hard,” already amassed more than two million views on YouTube since its debut on July 24.
But for Kreayshawn, music was something in her blood. Born Natassia Gail Zolot, Kreayshawn was raised in Oakland, California by her mother, Elka, a former member of the Bay Area garage punk band The Trashwomen. “I'd be like three-years-old dressed like a punk and cursing, and she'd think it was funny,” she told The Huffington Post. “I was always a loudmouth. It made me who I am.” She recalls of her hardscrabble upbringing. “We grew up in crazy neighborhoods where there weren’t a lot of white people… we were the odd ones out.”
At the age of 10, Kreayshawn began filming herself freestyling. By 17, she dropped out of high school and began filming and editing music videos for Lil B and other Bay Area rappers. She applied for student loans to go to film school several times, but was denied. When the dean of The Berkeley Digital Film Institute, Patrick Kriwanek, saw her videos, he offered her a full scholarship to the school. After only two semesters, Kreayshawn became impatient, dropped out of school, and moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career as a music video director.
She didn’t start freestyling again until rapper Chioke “Stretch” McCoy, suggested she return to the other side of the camera. In 2010, she released her first mixtape, Kittys x Choppas, to little fanfare. Six months later, she hit the studio with McCoy (who has since become her manager), laying down “Gucci, Gucci,” a catchy single that encouraged people to ignore big labels and wear their own styles. When she uploaded the music video for the single in May of 2011 on YouTube, it garnered nearly three million views in less than three weeks. A viral sensation was born.
As her star rises, she’s had to deal just as much derision as praise. While Snoop Lion (formerly Snoop Dogg) called her "the missing link between the white girls who all love rap music and all the dudes who rap,” writer and critic Touré called her an “interloper” and her rhymes “childishly simple.”
Like other female hip-hop artists who appeared on the scene at the time—including Iggy Azalea and K.Flay—Kreayshawn’s mere existence ignited a heated debate about the authenticity of the white, female rapper. And while critics have accused of her exploiting black culture, Kreayshawn contends that her persona is 100 percent real, and not a studio creation.
Though on the surface she appears unfazed by questions on her legitimacy, her active presence on social media belies a hint of insecurity. Kreayshawn uses the platforms not just to connect with her fans directly, but also as a way to document her personality. Now, Kreayshawn has more than 561,000 followers on Twitter and posts updates on Tumblr, Twitter, Instagram, and other social networks constantly, often retweeting her fans’s praise or sending out tweets that read, “THE INTERNET IS MY BITCH!”
“People really believe that certain musicians are just made up,” she says. “I wasn’t made up or put together. This stuff online shows that I’m really a creative person.”
Indeed, social media appears to be Kreayshawn’s ideal platform—a place for her to sound off in her typically impulsive way. “I’m actually romantic,” she says. “But I’m actually a virgin. But I’m actually not a virgin. But I’m actually Kreayshawn. But I’m not actually Kreayshawn, I’m actually Natassia.” It’s a riddle her fans love to pore over, and her critics love to pick apart.
In November, she’ll begin her first U.S. tour, “Group Hug,” to promote the new album with a bevy of diverse, up-and-coming female rappers: Rye Rye, Honey Cocaine, and Chippy Nonstop. Whether or not Somethin ’Bout Kreay will win the naysayers over, it will take more than a bad rap to keep Kreayshawn from creating. —Sasha Levine (@sashalevine)