Kreayshawn takes all her dates here—she calls it “Japantown,” but the L.A. street signs say it’s “Little Tokyo”—to show them “who I really am.” It takes only a few minutes in the Hello Kitty emporium Sanrio before someone asks her for her “name-name” (as opposed to her real name, Natassia Zolot): He’s sure he follows her on Twitter.
The 22-year-old rapper, with an endearingly old-school penchant for getting into beefs (with Rick Ross, Nicki Minaj, Odd Future’s Hodgy Beats, and Azealia Banks), looks like someone you should be social networking with: half-blonde; fluorescent-pink jelly choker; four-inch platform sneakers from Goodwill; false eyelashes; cat-eye glasses without lenses; and more than twenty tattoos, including Hello Kitty, Goofy, Daisy Duck (holding a pistol), a hamburger, a half-eaten drumstick, and, across her knuckles, the numbers of a telephone dial pad. Later, some sneaker-shop employees ask for a picture. She asks if they’re giving her free shoes. “They know I’m the ‘Gucci Gucci’ girl.”
That would be the ode to freedom from designer labels (chorus: “Basic bitches wear that shit so I don’t even botha”) she posted on YouTube in May 2011 and watched, incredulously, get 3 million hits in three weeks (11 million by August, 37 million today). The beat was impossible not to bounce to, but it was the image of Kreay, wearing Minnie Mouse ears, smoking a joint on the hood of a Mustang, surrounded by a multiracial youth party, that captured something more real and “low-key ass” (her phrase) than the pop performance of a Gaga or Minaj. It was like seeing the second coming of Desperately Seeking Susan, or the pixie child of Amy Winehouse and Salt-N-Pepa. She had, as the song says, “swag … pumpin’ out my ovaries.” Within a month, she had a seven-figure deal with Columbia Records.
Quickly, haters emerged, complaining that she had no flow and that she was appropriating black culture. The rapper the Game called her out on a diss track for using the N-word. (Kreay explained it wasn’t her, but her homegirl V-Nasty; some people just can’t tell white girls apart.) And her pushily ambiguous sexuality caused just as much chatter. Didn’t she tell Complex she was a lesbian—not “raging” but “occasional”? Doesn’t she have that song “It’s summertime / And your bitch is on my mind?” Right now, she says, she’s just “meeting people, not, like, finding the man of my dreams.” Then she de-clarifies: “The whatever of my dreams.”
Defenders, like her manager and constant companion, Chioke “Stretch” McCoy, point out that in the “Murder Dubs” section of East Oakland, where she’s from, racial lines aren’t nearly as defined as socioeconomic ones, so whatever “black culture” is in the rest of the country is simply street culture there. (Stretch is 37, six-foot-five, and black; Kreay’s five-foot-one. They make a sweet, hilarious pair.) “When you think of racism, you think of power,” he says. “And being a poor white girl from Oakland, you’re probably as powerless as you can be.”
Kreay does seem to have grown up authentically poor (she dropped out of high school and sold cocaine, and until last year was doing landscaping to make rent). Her mother, a member of surf-punk band the Trashwomen, had her when she was 17. She’s met her father, a semi-legendary San Francisco skate punk, “three times throughout my life,” she says. “He’s a famous bum, I guess.”
She spent her teens living with friends or her “pop-pop”: “He had my mom when he was, like, 22,” she says. “I’m going to be, like, the oldest person to have a baby in my family. I’m like the person who went to college, but didn’t go to college. The success story is that I didn’t have a baby.” She actually did go to film school for two semesters, dropping out to make friends’ music videos (she cites Missy Elliott, No Doubt, and John Waters as influences). But she scoffs when I mention MTV: “MTV gets you pregnant! Teen Mom. It’s crazy how the ‘M’ in MTV is for ‘Mom.’ It’s not for ‘Music.’ ”
That she’s putting out a proper album (Somethin’ ’Bout Kreay) now shows a desire to make her “Gucci” moment last. “I wanna make stuff that sonically sounds really good,” she says. “I don’t wanna make a song about how people think I’m this when I’m really that. I don’t wanna make a song about how I grew up broke.” The tracks are light but packed with sly drug references (bread, syrup, juice). “It’s definitely like a teen-girl CD, but you have songs like ‘Breakfast’ on it that are teen girl–slash–36-year-old–drug dealer.” We pass a sushi restaurant. Is she hungry? “I was born hungry,” she says, then stops to admire a clearly insane gentleman singing opera. “That’s gonna be me in like two years, I swear. Just embracing life, you know?”
Have good intel? Send tips to firstname.lastname@example.org.