In early June, Hot 97 DJ Peter Rosenberg incited a media and music industry fracas by using the Summer Jam sidestage as a megaphone for his ideals on rap’s purity. “I know there are some chicks here waiting to sing ’Starships’ later,” Rosenberg said, referring to the Nicki Minaj pop hit. “I’m not talking to y’all right now, fuck that bullshit. Bullshit! I’m here to talk about real hip-hop shit.” Rosenberg’s statement, which caused Nicki Minaj and her Young Money Records affiliates to pull out of the show, branched off into its fair share flared-up discussion points; one on hand, there was the sexist nature of the comments, given that Nicki was the only female performing on the main stage that day, and that her show featured unscheduled performances from pioneers like Foxy Brown and Lauryn Hill. On the other hand, a talking point arose surrounding the nature of Rosenberg’s beloved “real hip-hop,” whether his interest in perpetuating the exclusive nature of that community was a daffy, outdated concern, whether nods of the head from power brokers like Hot 97 or Rap Radar were essential building blocks to a successful rap career and mainstream traction.
Certainly, someone like Kitty Pryde — an auburn-haired, spindly Florida teenager who’s caused a bit of a media ruckus thanks to viral videos like “Okay Cupid” and a media-member-saturated NYC debut performance –- isn’t meant to be included in this kind of power circle, and she doesn’t necessarily want to be. That’s part of why her debut EP, Haha, I’m Sorry, is so striking (Editor’s note: If it weren’t for Joey Bada$$’s 1999, Kitty’s tape would have filled this space last week). Kitty raps in a non-aggressive, non-confrontational way about underage drinking, boys she likes, the Internet, youthful lust or fixation and insecurity. She borrows Riff Raff’s construction when she calls herself “Rap Game Taylor Swift,” and while it’s meant to be a sort of goofy reference to Riff being on that track, it’s not an ill-fitting moniker. Her laid-back, unhurried style is ripe with Internet hat-tips -– “Datpiff, no downloads cuz I am not gifted / I sift in through the shit on Twitter, I want to quit it,” she raps on “Orion’s Belt,” and on “smiledog.jpg” she boast that she’s “very YouTubeable” –- and if you’re curious about the subtext of some of Kitty’s lyrics, she’s got an account on the raps lyrics site Rap Genius where Kitty herself will walk you through them. But anyone her age won’t have to. Like most kids in her generation, Kitty a savvy, self-aware media sponge; her peers probably first came across Kitty on Tumblr or Twitter or Facebook. While Kitty puts together some lines that people are going to build thinkpieces around -– “You say, “This little white girl is ruinin’ hip hop” / I say, “Damn right!” / And take a lick of the Ring Pop” –- it might be more useful to look at Haha, I’m Sorry as a modern marker of youth culture, yet more evidence of rap’s continuing emergence as a populist means of expression.
Sure, it’s not the greatest thing in the world, musically, and it doesn’t have the traditional structure of something like fellow teenager Haleek Maul, a Barbadian rapper who put out his own precocious debut this week. But Kitty’s savvy enough to pick pillowy production that plays to her strengths. The pill-addled textures of Beautiful Lou billow beautifully beneath Kitty’s fluttering rhymes, and songs like “GIVE ME SCABIES,” a song that samples a sax-heavy Lite FM version of Carli Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe” and closes the EP, serves as a potent reminder that Kitty’s not taking any of this too seriously. That attitude is central to Haha, I’m Sorry, where Kitty exudes a strong sense of herself while maintaining central light-heartedness. I don’t know how good it is, but it’s fun as hell.
Last weekend, as you may know, Kitty Pryde played her first NYC show, a performance that was more like attending a unilaterally-talented friend’s birthday party rather than a meticulously-constructed musical performance. Which was totally OK – Kitty won over the crowd early with her self-mocking stage dialogue (“I haven’t pissed myself, so we’re good”) and her crowd-captivating charm. She wore a pink strapless dress that she struggled to hold up most of the night. She was flanked by her best friend and her brother on-stage, lending even more of an amateur vibe to the proceedings. Though Kitty expressed anxiety over saying the “C word” in front of her parents who were in the crowd, but they didn’t seem to be stressing; “We’re going to London!” Kitty’s mom exclaimed to a friend when she asked Mom Pryde if she thought this was weird at all. And you know what? It is weird. But the next day, Kitty was in London recording.
The type of place where careers are built, bar-by-bar, in the way Peter Rosenberg might approve, is probably not open to people like Kitty Pryde (for what it’s worth, here’s Peter Rosenberg cheering on a Justin Bieber freestyle). But, in the modern landscape that allows something as fun and fascinating as Kitty Pryde to thrive, is Peter Rosenberg’s place even worth preserving anymore?
Download Haha, I’m Sorry at Bandcamp.