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Last week, the birth of rap’s newest star-to-be happened suddenly. Kreayshawn, a California rapper with Amy Winehouse’s tattooes and piercings, Queen Latifah’s earrings, and a modified version of Michelle Williams’ pixie bob, dropped her video for “Gucci Gucci,” and every person who was tweeting about Odd Future after their appearance on Fallon in February had a new curio to investigate.
That makes some sense, because the “Gucci Gucci” clip is a “Look at the fun stuff I do!” video backed by a snotty song that lives and dies by its brand-heavy sing-song hook (“Gucci Gucci, Louis Louis, Fendi Fendi, Prada!”) and the potency of dismissing “basic bitches” who probably care about those status markers. Odd Future members Left Brain and Jasper show up in the brightly hued clip, but Kreayshawn’s style is very much a sprinkling of new-school Los Angeles and dollops of the color of the Bay Area, where she was raised by her mother, Eight-Ball Scratch and Trashwomen guitarist Elka Zolot, and attended Berkeley Film School. And the presence of the cooking dance popularized by swag messiah Lil B is another tip that her approach more closely approximates B’s “based” free-for-all than Odd Future’s dark, lurching fare.
Would that the music were as masterful as the triangulation! “Gucci Gucci” has a dynamite hook, an infectious refrain (“One big room, full of bad bitches”) and two great bits of verse: “Bitch, you ain’t no Barbie, I see you work at Arby’s / Number two, super size, hurry up, I’m starving” updates Biggie’s seminal “Don’t be mad, UPS is hiring”; “I got the swag, and it’s pumping out my ovaries!” is just fun. And as a statement of purpose, it’s potent: by the end of the second verse, Kreayshawn’s “I get shit done” ethos is well established. But she’s not quite a gifted technical rapper, dips into the world of web 2.0 for some lamentable Google and Twitter-reference bars, and drops one really moldy Ivana Trump reference. “Gucci Gucci” is the sort of single that gets replayed and vibed to — gliding bass and synth and a few strong drum loops make it replayable — until the hook comes in.
But, the Internet arena being what it is, as soon as the video dropped, Kreayshawn was a sensation, anointed both a Next Big Thing candidate and the long-awaited White Girl Who Can Rap. (And that brought with it the inevitable scrutiny of her tweeting, where she quoted a DMX N-bomb that was dismissed rather than discussed.) It’s too bad the best female rappers working are decidedly not in Kreayshawn’s White Girl Mob: that cadre has made its niche and will get its shine.
Any discussion of the most talented women in rap has to start with Nicki Minaj, who tops being the best woman rapping on urban radio by being rap’s most dynamic performer. Her much-lauded kinetic domination of Kanye West’s “Monster” last fall was just an “I can beat the boys” moment; since last summer, Minaj has churned out a series of hits (“Your Love,” “Check It Out,” “Moment 4 Life,” “Super Bass”) as varied as her facial expressions, and established herself as one of the genre’s flagship performers.
Pink Friday, Minaj’s debut album, earned few laurels from critics when it dropped on the same day as West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy — then promptly beat ‘Ye’s overstuffed opus to platinum status. She has the sense of humor that made Lil Wayne’s “Mixtape Weezy” a sensation, and as strong a command as anyone of the hashtag rap style that seems likely to keep haunting purists for some time. This summer, Minaj tours with Britney Spears, which should give her a chance to perform her astonishing verse from the “Till The World Ends” remix almost nightly. Nicki, clearly, is rap’s current queen.
While it took Minaj years to break through, though, the next generation of women who rap may find shorter routes to stardom; Kreayshawn, certainly, seems fast-tracked, and Minaj’s high-profile remix-mate, Ke$ha, is growing into the rapper half of her singer-rapper existence with creative cadences and improving lyrics. And then there are the underground’s more fully formed artists: Na’Tee’s sneering take on “Hustle Hard” includes an Arby’s punchline that beat Kreayshawn’s by more than a month and the sort of tough talk that most men can’t match, while Angel Haze’s Altered Ego mixtape delivers superb technical rapping and emotional range that would be staggering for a 25-year-old rapper in the prime of a career.
Except Haze is 19, so her talent is almost unfathomable. This, I can’t help but think, listening to her wish “And if I could, I’d take your eyes and make ’em blend in with the stars” on her her soul-baring “Fall For Your Type” cover, is the prodigy who should have Tyler, the Creator’s press. (And while fans will appreciate her talent, what editor couldn’t do something with a teenage female rapper who happens to be bisexual and multiracial?)
The future of women in rap is bright, especially if Kreayshawn and Angel Haze can coexist on opposite ends of a spectrum. The generation that was, though, can’t be counted out: Lil Kim may be running on fumes after an ill-fated campaign to discredit Minaj as a successor to her style — to her, Minaj’s early homages are an affront; to most observers, they’re a distant memory — but Da Brat’s returned from her prison bid with her smirk and flow intact. And underground legend Jean Grae, when not decrying the odious ghettoizing of female rappers with the term “femcee” with withering, sarcastic tweets, is dropping verses with Lil B and prepping an album, Cake or Death, and its even better-titled mixtape, Cookies or Comas.
Celebrate Kreayshawn if you want: her superficial raps can be compelling as long as they stay fun and minimize the generic “basic bitch”-bashing. But there’s rarely been a deeper bench of women in rap than today’s; the creation of that is what’s really worth celebrating.