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Insurgent Hip-Hop: Kreayshawn, Lil B, and Bay Area Rappers Throw Out the Rules 

Wednesday, Aug 3 2011
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"I knew I was challenging what people in hip-hop and a lot of people in the world still have stereotypes on," he says, implying allegiance to the cause. After the initial I'm Gay uproar, though, Lil B added the explanatory subtitle "I'm happy."

Even in a one-on-one interview, it's hard to tell what he means to say. "I respect gay people," he says. "And 'gay' is just a word. Of course I love gay people because they're human. I love babies and new people and anybody that's on Earth as long as they've got a good soul and they're not thieves."

And so Lil B wriggles back into his mythology, leaving it up to his interpreters to decide which parts of his answers came from Brandon McCartney, the skinny marketing genius, and which came from Lil B, the hyperactive online deity.


Whatever the title of Lil B's album, all the graphic sex he depicts is with women. Natassia Zolot, on the other hand, is a nationally known rapper signed to a major label who actually shows herself in videos getting with people of the same sex. But Kreayshawn, as she's better known, refuses labels like "bisexual" or "occasional lesbian" — partly, she says, because accepting one could spark prejudice against her in the hip-hop community. "Titling keeps us separate," the 21-year-old says. "I usually just say I'm a free spirit."

Even without emphasizing her sexuality, Kreayshawn has raised a considerable uproar just by being who she is: a creative-minded rapping white woman raised in the "murder dubs" of Oakland — and a reminder of the unusual people produced by the urban milieu of the Bay Area. Since signing with Columbia, she has been on a nonstop press tour around the U.S. and Europe. On the day she speaks with SF Weekly, she's already done four interviews. She says all this has only underscored the uniqueness of home.

"Being from the Bay, it's kind of like we only understand each other," says Kreayshawn, who moved to L.A. in February. "It's kind of multicultural, and there's a whole bunch of subscenes. It makes sense to me, and it makes sense to people who were raised like that. But there's also going to be people who don't understand it."

She was born in San Francisco to a 17-year-old girl who played in a band — so by the age of 5, Kreayshawn was already a rock 'n' roller. There's a recording online of her shouting "Boys are toys!" over fuzzy surf-punk from the Trashwomen, a Berkeley outfit in which her mom, Elka, played guitar. The child's playful shrillness anticipates the spirit Kreayshawn now brings to lines like "Basic bitches wear that shit, so I don't even bother."

By age 10, Zolot was freestyling over beats made on her mom's boyfriend's DJ equipment. She gravitated toward hip-hop and stations like KMEL, but she even made country songs with her friends. In her teen years, she bonded with V-Nasty over video, graphic design, and music — and a desire to avoid the troubled lives many of their peers ended up leading. "We both grew up white girls in Oakland, which is really hard, because some girls, they go down the wrong path," she explains. "They end up becoming hos."

About a year ago, Kreayshawn started taking herself seriously as a musician. Partly, she was inspired by meeting Lil B, who was putting everything he made — no matter how ridiculous — out for the world to hear. Then Kreayshawn met Stretch, who encouraged her; she'd soon finished a batch of songs that included "Gucci Gucci." She and Stretch showed the track around to mixed reaction. "People would say stuff like, 'This is never going to be on the radio,'" she remembers. Then "Gucci Gucci" hit the airwaves.

Prince Aries had heard an earlier Kreayshawn song called "Bumpin' Bumpin'" before, and he wasn't impressed. But the first time he heard "Gucci Gucci" on KMEL, he knew it was what he calls "a milestone in hip-hop."

"It kind of encompasses the next generation of hip-hop — in sound, in attitude, and shoot, you could even say in race," he says. "It's more widely accepted that white folks are rapping now. She's a female; she's got that swag, that Bay Area swag, in the way she talks."

Yet for everyone heralding Kreayshawn as a new brand of rapper, there are skeptics — even haters — saying her flow isn't up to snuff or that her sound is too out-there. Other critics have taken on her race. One writer for Clutch magazine dismissed her as the latest example of whites appropriating black culture. A local feminist blog insisted that "dismissiveness and denigration of black women animate her success." Many have speculated that the White Girl Mob must be suburban kids acting black to get famous.

Her supporters give little credence to these arguments. "People started hating on her when she first dropped, like 'Look at this white girl, stealing our culture and making wack songs,'" D Sharp recounts. "But if you really listen to 'Gucci Gucci,' that shit kinda dope. The beat and her delivery on that shit? I mean, it's a dope record."

Perhaps the biggest controversy isn't of her own making. Wherever Kreayshawn goes, she gets asked about White Girl Mob member V-Nasty's habit of using the word "nigga" in everyday speech — often by people who think Kreayshawn uses it, too. In one recent interview, Philadelphia radio personality Tazz Daddy hammered her:

Tazz Daddy: A lot of people are very upset with your free use of the word "nigga."

Kreayshawn: I don't say that. That's V-Nasty.

Tazz Daddy: ... Do you talk to her about it?

Kreayshawn: Well, when we're in Oakland ... before everyone was staring at us, it was like, 'Yeah, I don't care if she says it, that's Vanessa.' But now that everyone's freaking out about it, thinking I'm saying it ... Now I'm like, 'Vanessa, come on, please.' ... She doesn't get it. Now I'm onstage and I gotta answer this question, and it's V-Nasty's fault.

About The Author

Ian S. Port

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