Kreayshawn: Overnight Sensation, White Girl Tourist, New Rap Paradigm?
The rapper herself.
During a five-day promotional stay in New York City earlier this month, a cab driver ran over Kreayshawn's foot. The unceremonious snub came after the Bay Area-raised rapper spent her time there taking meetings, granting interviews, posing for photos, dealing with 100-degree temperatures, and being recognized by what she terms as "a whole bunch of crazy people" -- including 16-year-old girls, a '70s-looking hippy chick, and someone she describes as "an older business guy who looked like he was up on the computer -- like some bald guy." Kreayshawn says that her foot is okay; the incident occurred when she tried to retrieve a cellphone her manager had left in the cab. "I'm like the Hulk, nothing ever hurts me!" she boasts. "I definitely felt like a New Yorker for sure!" Ask the curmudgeonly cab driver, though, and he likely viewed her as just another annoying out-of-town tourist whose friends should take better care of their cellphone.
The concentrated attention Kreayshawn received was thanks to the near-overnight success of her song "Gucci Gucci," which tallied up more than a million YouTube video views within a week. (It now stands at more than three million.) But despite a win in the online viral marketing numbers game, "Gucci Gucci" has left a polarizing ripple: The first wave of reaction to Kreayshawn has focused not on her most popular song's merits (it's very catchy), or content (a virtuous antibrand name stance), or even her rapping ability (she'll never be compared to Eminem on mic skills alone), but whether she's in some way denigrating hip-hop culture by virtue of being a white female rapper seeming to invoke the tropes of what is traditionally framed as a largely black and male rap realm. (As ever, the key contribution made by Latinos to hip-hop's genesis is always left out of these discussions.) Regardless of Kreayshawn's early success -- and "Gucci Gucci" won her a major label deal with Sony/Columbia, although reports of her receiving a $1 million advance are inaccurate, according to her publicist -- she's still being analyzed as a hip-hop outsider, a white girl tourist taking a jaunt through hip-hop's authenticity-obsessed lands.
Kreayshawn is used to the suspicious glares. She uses "alien" to describe some of her experiences in the music industry as a white female. Growing up in the Bay Area, she says she'd always hear people call her "snow bunny" and "white girl" but never found it an issue: "I was like, 'Yeah, so what, I don't care, I'm white.' " People from the Bay Area, she says, are "always mixed together" and "everyone understands each other." But, she adds, "People always have a problem with it outside of the Bay."
Now she lives in L.A. and makes music with a global audience. But it's an audience that hasn't been wholly convinced by Kreayshawn, let alone the White Girl Mob she heads up with fellow rapper V-Nasty (who cops to a rampant use of the N-word in raps and yelling at people in YouTube videos) and member-without-portfolio Lil Debbie (who looks like Garth Algar in the "Gucci Gucci" flick, and who Kreayshawn describes as a "bitchy queen number one princess superstar type girl").
Listening to Kreayshawn talk about her music suggests the things she's being attacked for are things she's (perhaps understandably) never explicitly sat down and thought to analyze. The idea of making music as a fun thing to do is more prevalent than assessing her right to a place in hip-hop's grand cultural scheme. She cut her first song at the age of five after she picked up a karaoke microphone her mother's punk band, the Trashwomen, was using during a rehearsal at her aunt's house and delivered the phrase "Boys are toys." As she first flirted with rapping, she chose the name Hustleina, back in the days when she envisioned herself as "a little trap star." She laughs about it now.
Kreayshawn's relationship with rap is likely familiar to most fans of her age and generation. They're kids for whom every image or signifier in the "Gucci Gucci" video is all around them anyway, not least cascading down their Twitter and Tumblr accounts. Walk by any metropolitan high school at 3 p.m. and you'll hear the chatter of "Gucci Gucci" at large, with talk of bitches, blunts, guns, and the N-word being spouted by kids of all races. (Kreayshawn is on record saying that she doesn't use the N-word in raps.) For better or worse, this is part of pop culture now.
Maybe that's the real point with Kreayshawn -- that she symbolizes just how far hip-hop has come to dominate the mainstream. Since "Gucci Gucci" blew up, she's already made a song with Snoop Dogg (who -- despite being fond of posing in pictures with his dogs -- had two cute kittens called Rick James and Teena Marie at his house, according to Kreayshawn). But she also talks enthusiastically about wanting to make a song with Ke$ha. The rap and pop worlds are one and the same for her generation. So there's nothing really rebellious about Kreayshawn, because there's little rebellious about rap anymore. This isn't N.W.A. receiving letters from the F.B.I.; it isn't even the Beastie Boys eroding the nation's morals by spraying beer on girls in cages. Instead, it's a white girl performing a fun song and posturing in front of a Fendi store. She's a mall queen, but she's rapping outside of the mall. And these days, that might be more hip-hop than some of Kreayshawn's detractors would like to admit.