LANGUAGE ADVISORY: Videos and links in this story contain language that some readers may find objectionable.
Kreayshawn (real name: Natassia Zolot) is among the most talked-about new artists in the world of rap and hip-hop. Her song "Gucci Gucci" became a hit after she posted a video for it on YouTube this summer. She recently signed a reported million-dollar deal with Columbia Records, and is now on tour. A breakout moment in Kreayshawn's career came in July when she received a Best New Artist nomination from the MTV Video Music Awards.
In an interview with Tell Me More host Michel Martin, Kreayshawn attributes her independent and "crazy" nature to having a mother who was a musician. Her mother was part of a surf-punk band called Trashwomen. Kreayshawn was born in San Francisco and raised in Oakland.
She often performs with two other rappers in the group White Girl Mob. She says they created the name before they began rapping together, and says she knows that the name is "crazy." But Kreayshawn notes that success has come to other groups with names that some may find objectionable — for example, N.W.A., also known as Niggaz with Attitude.
Kreayshawn's songs also deal with issues of race and class. She describes her song "Rich Whores" as fun, but also talks somewhat seriously about the types of women who inspired it. "There's definitely a culture of women from upper-class families who end up going to art school, or going to school in New York or San Francisco or L.A. And I'm not saying, like, they all, you know, like party-party. But I have to say a good percentage of them party. That song is just kind of a song for everyone to get wild to, for sure."
And when it comes to "Gucci Gucci," Kreayshawn says it was inspired by the cultural differences she noticed between Oakland and Los Angeles. She describes L.A. as overly materialistic, and as a place where dress and possessions divide people.
Response To Critics
Kreayshawn's lyrics and style have been pushing many people's buttons. On music blogs and elsewhere, critics question whether her persona is authentic, and some argue that she's pretending to be black to build credibility.
In response, the artist says, "I grew up in Oakland, and I've seen every race all get along, and all live on the same street and be in the same community. ... For people to say, like, someone is supposed to act a certain way because of their race or they're not supposed to act this way because of their race — I think that's racist. ... Is there a class I'm supposed to take to learn how to be white, you know? ... I'm just being me. That's why I don't even read all that stuff, because all they say is a bunch of made-up stuff, most of the time."
When it comes to language, Kreayshawn refuses to use the "n" word but liberally uses the "b" word, which people may view as equally disrespectful. She says that some people have called her a "feminist rapper." She responds by explaining that groups of girls may call each other the "b" word to jokingly get each other's attention. So, she says, she uses the word to connect with female friends and fans.
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MICHEL MARTIN, host: If you are a fan of rap, if you follow new artists, then you've probably heard of Kreayshawn.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GUCCI, GUCCI")
KREAYSHAWN: (Rapping) Gucci, Gucci, Louis, Louis, Fendi, Fendi, Prada. I'm looking like Madonna but I'm flossing like Ivana Trump.
MARTIN: Her song "Gucci, Gucci" was a monster hit online.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GUCCI, GUCCI")
KREAYSHAWN: (Rapping) Young, rich and flashy, I be where the cash be. You can't find that? I think you need a Google map. My pearl-handed...
MARTIN: Kreayshawn was nominated for best new artist award at this year's MTV Video Music Awards – the VMA's. She didn't win but it was a sign of her growing following. But at the same time her music and her persona have sparked outsized buzz among hip-hop fans and critics. Kreayshawn often performs with two other rappers in a group that she calls the White Girl Mob, and some criticize her style as a stereotype and her lyrical content as offensive. Now just to let you know, we will be hearing some of those controversial lyrics in a moment, because Kreayshawn joins us now. Welcome to the program. Thanks for joining us.
KREAYSHAWN: Hey. And thanks for having me.
MARTIN: Well, I understand that you just signed a big deal with Columbia Records, so congratulations are in order.
KREAYSHAWN: Yeah. Thank you. You know, it's exciting.
MARTIN: Yeah. Well, tell me what that's like. You've been out here working and doing your thing, and then a deal like this comes along. Tell me what's on your mind right now.
KREAYSHAWN: Well, you know, right now it's just like, you know, taking in a new job basically and just learning how to, you know, do press and learning how to do shows and just learning how to travel and be like an everywhere type of woman. So, you know, it's exciting, especially learning the business side of stuff, you know?
MARTIN: Well, no, it's exciting for us to kind of we feel like were catching you just kind of on the cusp of a new chapter. Tell us a little bit about how you did grow up. You grew up in Oakland, as I understand. Tell us a little bit more, if you would.
KREAYSHAWN: Yeah. I grew up in the Bay Area. I was born in San Francisco. I was raised in Oakland, so I'm like super Bay Area born and, you know, it's just really multicultural up there and there's a lot of subcultures just from like anything, like from rockabilly to like crazy punk scenes to, you know, a huge rap scene, and there's just all kinds of things you can do out there. So I was just raised to really embrace myself and just be, you know, whatever I want to be and do anything I wanted to do, so.
MARTIN: Tell me about the White Girl Mob. It's not just girl mob, it's not, you know, friend mob. It's White Girl Mob. Tell me a little bit about it, if you would.
KREAYSHAWN: Mm-hmm. Right.
MARTIN: Like why is that important to put the white in there? Well, you are white. I'm not saying you shouldn't be white, but is it important for you to kind of represent being white in rap?
KREAYSHAWN: Well, the White Girl Mob was just me and my two sisters and, you know, this is - we made this up before the rap and everything started popping off. Sometimes like I realize that, you know, that is kind of like a crazy name, you know what I'm saying? But then at the same time, there's been successful groups like the N.W.A, who had like, you know, which is it's not the same as the White Girl Mob, but it has like the same type of group name, you know what I'm saying, so.
MARTIN: Well, not only do you talk about, you know, race in a funny way, you know, in a funny way, but you also talk about something that Americans don't often like to talk about, which is class and this whole question of what it means to have money or not to have money and which is something, of course, that "Gucci, Gucci" also alludes to. But I just want to play a little bit of a clip from - and I just have to give a language advisory here. This is not a word that everybody wants to hear, but it's - parents be advised. This clip is from "Rich Whore." Here it is.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RICH WHORES")
KREAYSHAWN: (Rapping) Rich whore, rich whore, spending at the thrift store. Line it up, line it up, sniff more, sniff more. Rich whore, rich whore, spending at the thrift store.
MARTIN: What was the inspiration for this?
KREAYSHAWN: That song was kind of just like, you know, it's just like a jam song for like people to have fun to. And, you know, there's definitely a culture of women like from upper class families who, you know, end up going to art school, or going to school in New York or San Francisco or L.A. And, you know, I'm not saying like they all, you know, party-party. But I'd have to say, you know, a good percentage of them party. And that song is just kind of a song for everyone to just get wild to, for sure.
MARTIN: If you're just joining us, this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We're visiting with rapper Kreayshawn. We're talking about her music, her style and some of the reasons why she pushes people's buttons. Well, one of the things that I wanted to talk to you about is that your music, your style, and I've also listened to a lot of your interviews, a lot of what you're saying is that it's important just to be yourself, be whoever you want to be. It's interesting that there've been these long impassioned pieces on the music blogs, you know, asking, you know, are you for real or are you pretending to be black in order to build cred, this kind of thing. I'm curious about a number of things. First of all, what do you make of it - especially since you're only just at the beginning of your career, so I'm curious like why you think you push all these people's buttons. And then, to the substance of it, talk a little bit about that, if you would.
KREAYSHAWN: Well, you know, you got to remember, you know, I'm a product of my environment. Like I grew up in Oakland, and I've seen every race all get along, and all live on the same street, and be in the same community. So like, you know, for people to say, like, someone is supposed to act a certain way because of their race or they're not supposed to act this way because of their race, like I think that's racist. Like, you can't tell a certain race, like you're supposed to act this way and you're not supposed to act this way because of what color you are, like that's just holding everybody back, you know what I'm saying?
And if I grew up, you know, in the ghetto like and I wasn't taught any other way to talk or a way to act or other food to eat or just like anything like that, like when I'm I supposed to do? You know, like is there a class I'm supposed to take to learn how to be white, you know? Or, you know, if a black person grew up in a rich community and was there a class that they're supposed to take, you know what I'm saying? So it's just like, you know, I'm just being me. And that's why I don't even read all that stuff because all they say is just like a whole bunch of made-up stuff, most of the time.
MARTIN: Where do you get the inspiration from for your songs?
KREAYSHAWN: I get a lot of inspiration, you know lately, you know, from traveling and just, you know, I got the inspiration for "Gucci, Gucci" from, you know, growing up in Oakland and then coming down to L.A. and just seeing the difference between like the L.A. culture and the Bay Area culture. Like in L.A. like there's a lot of like materialism and, you know, people who think they're better than each other because of the clothes they wear or how they dress and in Oakland it's not like that. You know, like every body who is broke all lives in the same community, like we're all from the same area and we all know each other, so in L.A. it's just like everything is separated by like class and materialism and stuff like that so, you know it's...
MARTIN: If you come out to D.C. and I see you rocking a Gucci bag I'm going to call you out, right?
KREAYSHAWN: Yeah, you have the acceptance to slap me if you want to.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
MARTIN: Well, I won't be slapping you, but I will be calling you out.
MARTIN: OK, now you know I have to ask you about the language piece, because I understand you said in an interview that you don't use the N-word. You know, it's just the perpetual thing about rap and hip-hop is, you know, the language. You don't use the N-word, right, to describe black people - that's correct? But you do use the B-word...
MARTIN: ...a lot, freely.
KREAYSHAWN: The female dog word.
MARTIN: The female dog word. What's up with that?
MARTIN: What's up with that? A lot of people view them as equivalent - at least in terms of disrespect. So tell me about that.
KREAYSHAWN: Well, it's just crazy because, you know, a lot of - in a lot of interviews I get people have called me a feminist rapper. Like people have called me a feminist rapper and I would say, you know, I'm making music more geared towards women. But at the same time, you know, you get a lot of guys that will call you the B-word and stuff like that, but when you're within a group of your girlfriends it's different. Like all your girlfriends call each other that to get your attention or, you know, like in a joking way so, you know, it's all just in a joking way to connect with female fans because I mean if you called a guy that he would probably be pretty mad at you, you know what I'm saying? But if you call a girl that and you know this girl, like it's not in a disrespectful way.
MARTIN: OK. Well, I won't be calling you that.
KREAYSHAWN: OK. Good.
MARTIN: And hopefully you won't be calling me that - just so we're clear, OK?
MARTIN: All right.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
MARTIN: OK. All right. Well, before we let you go - and it's been a pleasure to speak with you, and as I say, congratulations on everything you're doing, and when you become Madonna-huge you're going to come back and talk to us again, right, and you're not going to act like we don't know you?
KREAYSHAWN: Oh yes, Michel.
MARTIN: OK. For sure. What's next for you? What are you working on now? I know you're working. You've been signed to your record label, so presumably you've got something coming out. What's next for you?
KREAYSHAWN: Well, I'm going on like my first like two-week tour where I'm going to be like on a bus and everything and it's going to be pretty exciting so that's going to be taking up, you know, some time and just finishing my album before the end of this year and just, you know, getting things popping.
MARTIN: OK. That was Kreayshawn. You may have seen her online hit "Gucci, Gucci." As we said, she's just been signed to a major deal with Columbia Records, and we'll be hearing her new CD soon, we hope. And she was kind enough to join us from L.A. Kreayshawn, thank you so much for joining us.
KREAYSHAWN: Thank you. Thanks for having me.
MARTIN: We're going to go out on your song "Bumpin' Bumpin'."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BUMPIN' BUMPIN'")
KREAYSHAWN: (Rapping) Bumpin' bumpin' bumpin', it's 10:15. If you looking for me, I'll let you know where I'll be. A swagged up chick in the VIP. Don't come around playing got that chopper on me. These clubs fulfill all my wishes...
MARTIN: And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Let's talk more tomorrow.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BUMPIN' BUMPIN'")
KREAYSHAWN: (Rapping) ...she always used to haunt me. Bumpin' bumpin'. Dance floor is bumpin'. Bumpin' bumpin'. Dance floor is bumpin'. Dance floor is bumpin'. Dance floor is bumpin'. Bumpin' bumpin'. Dance floor is bumpin'. Bumpin' bumpin'. Dance floor is bumpin'. Dance floor is bumpin'. Bumpin' bumpin'. Dance floor is bumpin'. One big, one, big, one big, one, big one, one, one, big. One, one-one-one. One, one, one, one, one. One big room full of bad (bleep). One big room full of bad (bleep). One big room full of bad (bleep). Rockin' in the club, catch me an elephant. Young Kreayshawn grimey... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.