Last week, the internet cut loose a massive peal of griping: Kreayshawn, a young, white, female rapper from the L.A. area got signed to a record deal with Columbia. She's annoying, a hanger-on of such California luminaries as Soulja Boy, Lil B, and some lower-profile members of Odd Future. MTV dubbed her "both the darling and the bane of the blogging world," but like most hyped-up artists who have a limited catalogue, she seemed to wear out her online welcome pretty quickly.
But the signing of Kreayshawn is actually a good thing for rap music, even if it would have been unimaginable 10 years ago. That's not to say that she (and her White Girl Mob) don't make a mess, but rap has never been a simple, unproblematic medium.
One powerful critique of Kreayshawn is that she's entirely innocent (or ignorant) of context and authenticity. Just on the face of things, she's a young white woman, so what business does she have rapping? Why is she hanging out with rappers? And making videos of other white girls rapping? And saying the n-word? It seems like she doesn't have the right to express herself as such, since it seems to place her in a world where she doesn't belong. But what Kreayshawn is doing isn't trying to wedge herself into another world; she—like a lot of young rappers—is creating her own world. And how can you not belong in your own self-made world?
In one brief interview where she was asked why anyone should want to listen to a white girl rapping, she says, "It's the new wave, from Odd Future to Lil B." It's true. Her friends and fellow rap weirdos are on the new wave of rap, which, strangely doesn't require that you be that great at rapping. Or dress like a rapper. Or look like a rapper. This new wave, rolling from the West Coast, is like the anti-New-York-in-the-'90s, still seemingly the platonic ideal of what rap music means.
GZA, Jay-Z and Nas were all technically adroit rappers and massively gifted storytellers. They were the great realist-modernist novelists of the genre. Their narratives were minutely detailed yet poetic, real and metaphysical at the same time. Latter day OutKast, Lil Wayne, and other rappers of the South helped remake rap in a post-modern way. They took the brute narrative excellence of New York's best rap and blew it up, creating weird, cross-genre experiments and entirely non-narrative discursive blasts. And now rap music is more unmoored than it ever has been. Pop radio, not geography, rules. (Or can it be that it was all so simple as the Wu had it then: Cash rules everything around me.) In either case, the new wave of West Coast rap is now surfing through the detritus of a solid decade's worth of decentralized rap power.
The only option left to young artists is to take the blown-up world and try to piece it back together. This is exactly what artists like Kreayshawn are doing, hopefully more for better than worse.
To say that Kreayshawn lacks context or authenticity is to really miss the point. Is an artist who emulates the mid-'90s hip-hop class "doing it the right way," or simply making a poor photostat of a long-faded idea?
Authenticity aside, some of Kreayshawn's problems are bigger than others. She says her crew member V-Nasty is fine with saying the n-word because "she goes in and out of jail for armed robbery all the time." That's a misappropriation of authenticity. The best parts of Kreayshawn create authenticity rather than coast on it.
Her breakthrough song "Gucci Gucci" is a study in rebuilding a sound from the castoff pieces of a million other things. Its space-age overtones sound a little like Young L's production, and they float over the familiar dubstep bass whomp. The lyrics alternate between clever, personal, and gangsta--the last being the most problematic. Even Yelawolf never claimed to have "popped the trunk" on someone, so it goes past laughable to sad when Kreayshawn says, "I keep that work in my trunk. / Got my hand on the pump if you wanna press your luck."
But elsewhere, all the weird influences floating through her life cohere into something great. When she calls herself "The editor, director, plus I'm my own boss. / So posh, nails fierce with the gold gloss, / Which means nobody getting over me. / I got the swag and it's pumping out my ovaries," it's a uniquely Kreayshawn moment. Because she really does seem to have worked her ass off. She got a scholarship to (and dropped out of) film school, making movies for rappers who are actually making money. And she's been able to use the word "swag" in a way that makes you actually sit up and notice.
Kreayshawn's certainly not perfect, and she's not unproblematic. But folding new voices into the rap discourse, especially ones from passionate young people, is never a bad thing. Kreayshawn may ultimately be one of the unfortunate post-post-modernists, someone taking apart and recontextualizing reality that's already been pretty well worked over. But that swag pumping out her ovaries might actually yield something awesome.
Fuse June 21, 2011