Time Out New York, Feature

The small MC with the big mouth sets the record straight.

“I mean, I said I wanted to be a stripper seriously as a seven-year-old, but I didn’t know what a stripper was.…” Kreayshawn offers an incredulous whatever frown as she recounts a recent interview. Welcome to the world of being misquoted, we say. “I know!” Kreayshawn responds.

The tiny California MC is curled up on an ornate sofa at the Box, a fashionably clandestine Lower East Side hotspot, getting ready for a showcase. She’s still reeling from the news that she’s up for a trophy at the MTV Video Music Awards (“I’m the newest artist in the New Artist nominees!”), and as if to confirm her newfound celebrity status, the 21-year-old was misidentified just this morning: “I was in the black Navigator and I rolled down the window for a second, and these girls are saying, ‘[Gasp] Oh my God, is it really you, Lady Gaga?’ ” She laughs. “And I’m like, ‘No, I’m not Lady Gaga! But I’m even cooler! I’m Kreayshawn!’ ”

Is Kreayshawn cooler than Gaga? Her cool, controversial friends from back in the Bay (Odd Future, Lil B) indicate so, and her crisp beats are certainly fresher than Gaga’s hackneyed Eurodisco stylings. But in terms of having something to prove, and achieving any kind of enduring fame, Kreayshawn has her work cut out.

Her big-bucks record deal with Columbia is a result of the success of a novelty single, “Gucci Gucci,” directed at girls whose identities hinge on their branded accessories (“Them basic bitches wear that shit so I don’t even bother”). She’s been accused of minstrelsy, caused outrage by using the n-word in a tweet and reputedly got her start because Bruce Willis is her uncle.

But if Kreayshawn is a fake, she does an extremely convincing job of suggesting otherwise. She doesn’t seem to try too hard in person. Her laid-back attitude and slightly monotone speaking voice may suggest she’s bored, confident, insouciant or just really stoned—but it sure as hell doesn’t scream stage school, or even really show-off.

Kreayshawn categorically isn’t Bruce Willis’s niece. Born Natassia Gail Zolot, she was raised by her mother in Oakland. Mom was just 16 when she was born, and a member of garage band the Trashwomen; ergo, there wasn’t any money around, and Natassia was raised with music in the house. (Tito Puente, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins and Kool Keith were big hits with junior Kreayshawn). She enjoyed taking graffiti classes after school, and started directing music videos, working with rappers like Lil B.

“I definitely grew up running around Oakland streets,” she says, “And there’s a lot of sick shit.” Like what? “Like, child prostitution is everywhere, you know what I’m saying? Everywhere. The average age for a prostitute out there is 12, 13. There’s usually 250 murders a year and there’s only, like, 300,000 people living there, which means it’s a killing every other day. It’s hella crazy.”

The n-word scandal shocked her, as she was quoting a song lyric, she says. And in any case, Oakland is different: “It’s so multicultural and everyone’s blended in together; the only thing that we battle with in the Bay is just, like, fighting with the police, which brings everyone together.”

Nevertheless, Kreayshawn moved from the Bay to L.A. (“Small circles mean more and more drama, and you can only do so much out there”), where success found her, fast. She wrote “Gucci, Gucci” to amuse herself and her friends, but says she knew it was something special right away. “I never thought of signing to a label—it never even crossed my mind. [But] when I made ‘Gucci, Gucci,’ I was like, This song’s hell tight, showing my friends, listening to it all day. Then we made a video, and then it just rolled all over the Internet after that.”

Fact is, one can discuss Kreayshawn’s authenticity, her supposed right to make the kind of music that she wants to make, pretty much indefinitely. But it seems daft to deny that “Gucci, Gucci” is a brilliant pop song, and a shame to not be able to enjoy Kreayshawn’s posturing—this skinny little kid acting like a gangster, unbothered by notions of prettiness: “I got the swag, and it’s pumpin’ out my ovaries!”

“I’m a confident person,” she says quietly. “But people bring it up, that it’s going to be hard as a white female in this hip-hop game, you know? And I’m trying to say for me, I don’t wanna be looked at as a white rapper anyway. I wanna prove to everyone that I’m a artist. Sooner or later it’s not going to be hard at all, ’cause I’ll make my own name.” In the meantime, there are shows to play, awards to be (maybe) won. “I’m excited,” she says. “I’m excited just to be on the red carpet and kick it, you know?”