Friday, May 11, 2012
Teen Rapper Kitty Pryde Ready for the Haters to Materialize
By Alex Pappademas
The president expressed support for gay marriage and the buzzed-about rapper of the moment is a teenage girl who goes by "Kitty Pryde." Maybe we really are just living in Joss Whedon's world now!
Some things that are most likely true about Kitty Pryde, gleaned from a morning's perusal of her social-media glitter trail: She's white. Her last name is Beckwith. She's mystique-y about her actual age, but she went to prom on April 21. She's from Daytona Beach, Florida, and apparently still works at the Claire's in Volusia Mall, which according to Wikipedia is "the largest retail shopping center in the Volusia-Flagler market." It has a Macy's and a Sears.
In February, she apparently attended MegaCon 2012 in Orlando and posed for pictures with a dude cosplaying Beast Boy from Teen Titans. Then, yesterday morning, the video for her song "Okay Cupid," a breathy, awkward, but not un-clever cloud-rap mash note to some guy with cigarette mouth and a penchant for drunk-dialing — possibly the Adderall-endorsing Detroit rapper Danny Brown, or her boyfriend, whose name is Kevin — premiered on the Fader's website, and a hundred rap critics posted SMH-ish status updates before leaving their cubicles to go punch a fire extinguisher.
She's apparently been rapping since January, or last January; the timeline is fuzzy. She has what people in the Bronze Age of the music industry used to call a back catalog floating around in the Bandcamp/Tumblr/YouTube aether — freestyles over MF Doom and Soulja Boy instrumentals, songs named after memes spawned by TV shows set in the iCarly universe, an EP ironically entitled The Lizzie McGuire Experience, an apparently non-ironic tribute to Justin Bieber. But for all intents and purposes, "Okay Cupid" is her first "single," in that it's the first song with an accompanying video in which she actually does stuff (she goes to a garage sale and hangs out in a driveway with her friends while wearing a Yeastie Girlz T-shirt) as opposed to just rapping into a webcam. It's also the first one with a really great original beat, a loop of screwed-down blobby vowel sounds by Beautiful Lou, who's worked with A$AP Rocky and Lil B (whose loose criteria for what constitutes a finished rap song has obviously been an emboldening influence on Pryde).
And yet virtually all her press already makes some reference to her "detractors" and how she may prove them wrong. This should be weird, and yet it isn't. Affirming your importance by invoking straw-man haters is a hip-hop fundamental, for one thing. And for a lot of artists these days, hip-hop related and otherwise, "backlash to the backlash" is now square one; developing an un-following (or at least the perception that one exists) as a prelude to developing a following is a totally routine career strategy. The interesting part with Pryde is that aside from the usual comment-thread thumbs-downing, we've yet to see a whole lot of actual Kitty bashing out there, but everything written about her proceeds from the assumption that a backlash exists, or will by the time you read it, like she's a rap-game Rebecca Black waiting to happen. It's the Lana Del Rey arc bent into a Möbius strip.
The emergence of an anti-Kitty movement does seem kind of inevitable. Critics, fans, and practitioners have always viewed hip-hop as a mode of expression that needs to be safeguarded from interlopers, particularly privileged interlopers, particularly privileged interlopers who seem to stand a decent chance of stealing light from realer rappers. The most common reference point in stories about Pryde is the Bay Area swag-rap sensation/outrage magnet Kreayshawn, whose very existence purists took as an affront. There's even a Pryde song out there where she says, "I can go a lot harder than Gucci Gucci Louis Louis Fendi Fendi Prada,” although Pryde's said she didn't mean this as a Kreayshawn diss.
It's a flawed analogy, though. Both Kreayshawn and Pryde are proof (if anybody still needed it) that "hip-hop" as a sound and "rapping" as a way of delivering lyrical content no longer belong to any particular demographic, that they're now factory-standard presets in the pop toolbar, just like "rock." But Pryde doesn't actually sound like Kreayshawn; her delivery on "Okay Cupid" lands somewhere between this and this.
And Kreayshawn was interesting/objectionable because she acted hard, talked up her hardscrabble background and picked fights with Rick Ross; Kitty Pryde raps about spending the summer "watching Jimmy Neutron and dying of boredom" and being a "lawyer's daughter." She doesn't make absurd assertions about her right to throw the N-word around, the way Kreayshawn's creepy White Girl Mob associate V-Nasty did, shortly before cutting a war crime of a duets album with Gucci Mane. Kreayshawn and V-Nasty stay in character more studiously than Sacha Baron Cohen punking Noam Chomsky; Kitty Pryde hangs a lantern on her lack of cred, exploring the gulf between her actual background and the lyrical/musical vocabulary she's drawn to, building a persona out of the elements of her biography that would have made her an unacceptable rapper in another era.
The first thing she says on "Charnsuka" is, "Don't laugh at me"; the first thing she says on "Okay Cupid" is, "Get out of my room." This is not the work of someone operating under the delusion that she's Gunplay — or an artist like Iggy Azalea, who's Australian born, Barbie blonde, and seemingly the happy ending to a thousand trend pieces about the music biz's struggles to Weird Science itself a hot, white female MC with skillz.
Azalea, who beefed with Azealia Banks (no relation) earlier this year after cluelessly dropping the phrase "runaway slave master" in a rhyme, has signed with Interscope (for reach) and T.I.'s Atlantic-backed Grand Hustle imprint (for cred). Kitty Pryde, meanwhile, shares a manager with the obscurantist Oakland space-rap duo Main Attrakionz, which means she's not depriving anybody of oxygen just yet. Obviously, it's only a matter of time before a major label (or, y'know, some energy-drink/streetwear clout-accumulation concern that counts as "major" in today's parched economic climate) does get involved — and I haven't checked Twitter since I started typing this, so it's possible it's already happened.
The minute Pryde becomes the beneficiary of any kind of marketing push, the aspects of her self-presentation that seem guileless now will start to seem objectionable, particularly the degree to which the camgirl-jailbait-goes-Hope you survive the experience.