Stuck in the middle of a generation fascinated with Twitter, Facebook “likes” and cultural trends (“Let’s bring back planking!”), West Coast figure KREAYSHAWN is contending to separate herself as a talented artist from the daily batch of mediocre. But as anyone can point out – it’s a monumental challenge, especially when your self-produced Internet music video currently sits at 30 million views and a new found friendship with Columbia Records provokes more stares than being a nerd at the biggest college party on campus. While in the studio and keeping it real at her California home, the Oakland rapper reflected on the change she’s brought to the music industry, how it’s affected the recording of her major label debut and why skeptics will always be humbled by an individual’s freedom.
Having experienced overnight viral success yourself, do you think videos are the new key to artist exposure?
Yeah, I think the Internet is really important now. People always ask me – “If you could tell me a couple of things to get famous, what would it be?” – and of course it’s not only the Internet, you know. You’ve got to have personality and luck as well, but having a big online presence is really important. I didn’t do it on purpose or anything. I’m just a loser… I’m like a cool loser now, I guess.
Do you feel that because you were dubbed “an Internet sensation” that parlaying this popularity into a full-blown rap career would be more challenging?
It definitely is difficult because when people think of an Internet/viral/celebrity-thing they think of like Rebecca Black, you know? It kind of has a stigma towards it. No disrespect to Rebecca – cause’ that’s a home-girl – but the Internet kind of has a joke-y vibe because with a lot of the things you can’t tell if it’s real or it’s a parody. I think it’s definitely a bit harder as an artist, but there is a difference that people are starting to recognize now. Like as far as when Tyler, The Creator put out the “Yonkers” video – that was a viral music video that’s nothing like “Gucci Gucci” but at the same time it kind of shows the formation of people releasing videos on the Internet and how people are counting the views and tracking and shit.
Do you worry about how critics might respond to your debut album as a musician when they can be so harsh on “manufactured” artists such as Lana Del Rey who they previously couldn’t stop talking about?
I like her! I read something recently that was like “Will the world understand Kreayshawn and Lana Del Rey?”, and since I like her, I don’t really understand why not. There’s probably people right now just waiting to hate on my album as there’s a lot of people that are like that. I’m not really going to go after the critics because of what I read and stuff like that because I’ve showed a couple of big people my songs thus far and they’ve really fuckin’ loved it! This one guy – I can’t tell you who he is – but he’s the best guy in the world and he listened to one of my songs the other day and was like “Oh my god! People are going to love this! No one is expecting this from you”. A million people can tell me my album sucks but him just liking that one song made this all worth it.
“When Kanye wakes up in the morning he doesn’t go and check his mentions on Twitter, he doesn’t see people talking shit about him;
he’s on his own thing. Sometimes I think I want to do that…”
Has it been a different creative project for you now in terms of working with a record label?
I’ve got to think of things a little bit differently because any other time I was in the studio, I was goofing off, saying things like “Hey! Let’s make a song about smoking crack, it’ll be hella fun!”. But now I can’t do stuff like that. It’s interesting because it’s always good to have friendly limits on how far to take things.
Do you still have creative freedom?
I can basically put any person on the album I wanted to and I can really make songs about whatever I want in any kind of way I want, so I have a good deal of freedom. I couldn’t imagine not having any freedom, I’d go crazy!
Despite your “I don’t give a fuck” attitude, do you hope that your new music will convey your true talent to listeners and put the skeptics to rest?
I would say the album is going to be for the people who like me, who already like my music and are waiting for my new music to come. I’m not trying to prove myself to anyone who didn’t like me at all before cause’ I don’t like them if they don’t like me!
In the last few years you’ve released a few mixtapes that experienced popularity; why do you think mixtapes have become more of a popular medium now in hip hop and rap?
I think it’s about putting out songs and reminding people you’re there. When you put a mixtape out it’s a little bit more relaxed, people are looking for fun songs and aren’t really judging anything. On my mixtapes, I’m like freestyling on most of the songs and most of the beats are ripped off of YouTube or it’s a cover of a song. I think it’s just about being relevant and keeping stuff out there and showing people you’re still working and blah blah blah.
To keep reminding people you’re there, will you continue to direct your own videos for your new music?
Yeah, I’ve written a couple of treatments for songs on the new album, so I’m definitely going to keep directing my own videos. A lot of other artists have reached out about videos but I’m always just busy so it’s hard! I think once my album is out and I have some more free time then I’ll definitely concentrate on maybe taking some film classes again and getting into some graphic design. I’m all about the arts.
With the arts, critics have written full-blown essays on how your image and music exploits African-American culture. Is this something you were prepared to face being a female white rapper?
Hell no! I never even thought it did that. Sometimes I’ll read stuff like that where people are analyzing everything in my life – like my gold earrings and just weird stuff like that – and I think it’s way over-analyzed. Everyone has the freedom to be whoever they want. Male and female of any race, gay or straight, don’t have to act a certain way because they’re gay or they’re white or they’re a girl. I don’t believe that and I thought a lot of people felt the same way. It’s weird to see people go back and say things like that, it’s strange.
Because information is so easily accessible, we seem to hear about things like that and see new Internet “beef” everyday, your own included. Is this just another obstacle that artists today have to overcome?
I think as far as “big artists” go, they don’t really use the Internet as much as I use it. When Kanye West wakes up in the morning he doesn’t go and check his mentions on Twitter, he doesn’t see people talking shit about him; he’s on his own thing. Sometimes I think I want to do that, that I want to separate myself from the Internet, but I can’t turn my back on the thing that made me poppin’. I’m on the Internet for life!
Which would you say is more important: integrity or having passion for music?
I would say having passion for music. I mean there are some songs I like that people don’t even have any idea why, but it’s just part of my passion and what I like.
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