Kreayshawn (aka Natassia Zolot) got a video camera at age ten and started making and editing her own videos for several years before formally trying her hand at music. Although she's a high-school dropout, Kreayshawn landed a scholarship to study film at the Berkeley Digital Film Institute. During that time, she started making videos for artists based in and around San Francisco, including Lil B. In 2010, Kreayshawn began releasing her music to a wider audience, and her second single, the ultra-catchy "Gucci Gucci," became a surprise hit that spring.
For her 2012 debut full-length, Somethin 'Bout Kreay, she brought in collaborators such as Kid Cudi and Diplo. She's become a subject of some controversy for her lyrics and cultural appropriation, imagined and otherwise, but Kreayshawn's rhymes are, at worst, playfully raunchy. We recently spoke with her about the positive messages she gives audiences, how "Left Eye" is about going to anger rather than despair, and her approach to dealing with criticism and everyday stress.
Westword: What kind of camera and software did you use in your early videos?
Kreayshawn: I used this Canon Power Shot XL-1 in the beginning. Then I got a Sony HDR. In the beginning, I used iMovie, but then I started learning how to use Final Cut because I downloaded it. I haven't edited a video in so long, but I want to. But I've directed videos since then.
A while back, you uploaded a video to the Mad Decent website, and Diplo seemed to have liked it. He worked a bit on the song "Twerkin!!!" What do you like about his work, and what was his contribution to that song?
I just like different sounds and taking sounds from random cuts of music and putting them together. I think "Twerkin!!!" has a lot of different sounds and tempos in one song. Diplo sang the hook, and he made the beat, too.
You made a video for Lil B. How did you come to work with him?
I used to work with this guy named DB Tha General and shot videos for him. Lil B was always like "Yo, how did you meet him? I'm trying to make a song with him." I said, "I could hook you up with him to make a song." And I told him, "Yo, I do videos, let me do videos for you." He said, "Fo' sho'," and we started shooting all the time.
You have a song called "Left Eye." Is that a reference to the late rapper?
Well, the song is about catching your boyfriend cheating. She burned her boyfriend's house down by accident and kind of set his clothes and house on fire. It was about that whole situation of being angry instead of sad when your boyfriend cheats on you. Some people go to anger. That's usually what I do.
You worked with many other artists on your album. Did you mostly approach them about doing some work on your tracks?
The [Kid] Cudi song, he's friends with the guy who produced a lot of songs on the album. We were just hanging out, and the idea came up. It wasn't like anyone asked each other. With 2 Chainz, I had already done a song with him before in the studio, and I was like, "2 Chainz, be dope on this." We already knew he'd be down to do it, and he was.
You've expressed in an interview or two that you enjoy '80s freestyle. What do you enjoy about that, and have you explored that yourself as a rapper?
I've definitely made tracks. "Bumpin Bumpin" is kind of reminiscent of old-school dance music. Eighties freestyle I just like because it's upbeat and happy and reminds me of a moment [in time].
At the end of that excellent interview you did with Nardwuar, you said, "Wear condoms, recycle, don't drink and drive, and preserve water."
Yeah, I always say that.
Why do you feel it's important to always say that, and what is it about those issues that really resonates with you?
It's not really those issues specifically. It's just that people don't say stuff like that enough anymore, you know? Back in the day everyone had that, "Crack is whack" and "School is cool." Sometimes people just need to be reminded of that. The other day this woman wrote me a letter and she said, "Every time I feel like giving up in school, I think of when you say, 'School is cool,' and it makes me want to try again.' That thing has been said forever, and it's super-cheesy, but saying positive stuff like that can change things. If everyone was saying it, then everyone would do it. Now I get all As in class all the time.
In this article in The Root, they observed that the song "Gucci Gucci" is encouraging people to develop their own style.
I think it's just good to be different and be whatever you want instead of feeling like you have to be a specific way. People should just do whatever, for sure.
There's been a good deal of criticism of your work by peers and others. How do you deal with that sort of thing, and what do you feel is the best mindset to adopt toward it?
I just don't think about it. If you don't think about it, it doesn't really exist. When I run into it, I'm like, "Okay." Usually everything changes in one day, and everyone forgets about it. That's the good thing about life: Everything is always moving so fast, I guess.
You had to grow up pretty fast in life, and you've had the good fortune to be able to take advantage of opportunities that have come your way fairly early in life. Is there anything you try to keep in mind to stay grounded or to keep a good perspective for yourself?
No. I think I freak out all the time, pretty much. I'm not always calm and collected. Well, I am, but sometimes I have my moments. But I just usually keep them to myself until I explode, like anyone else. Everyone does it. My friends have done it to me. Everyone has their little moments. People stress out, and then it's all good. Unless you get counseling. That's the only way you don't do that, or you're on pills, and that's not good.
Your mother is a musician, as well. Has she gone back to being more actively playing music?
She talks about it on Facebook all the time, but I don't think she's got back to it yet. She's living the life up in Northern California somewhere in those wine vineyards.
You were on one of her Trashwomen records when you were a kid. Have you talked to her about being on one of your own?
I'm down for whatever. I'm working next [to] get some real guitar riffs in there.