Roger Kisby, Getty Images
At the end of January, a 19-year-old white girl from Florida dropped her latest project.
Kitty (formerly Kitty Pryde) raps about wetting the bed, relates the pain of unrequited love and getting unfollowed on Twitter, and even offers her own rendition of Wu Tang's "C.R.E.A.M." (which reveals her struggles with anxiety rashes). Needless to say, this mixtape irked hip-hop's inner circle of "heads," among others, to no end.
These unlikely topics coupled with her laissez-faire recording style have raised hackles among those who still stratify human experiences in strictly black and white terms like "important" and "unimportant." In hip-hop, a genre founded expressly to give to the voiceless, it seems odd that the old vanguard has reacted with such resistance to mutant strains like Kitty and other artists of her ilk.
Teenage girls are among the most embattled groups in society and where is their voice? Plenty of voices speak to them -- marketers, media outlets, magazines, advertising. The women in the music industry who speak to teenage girls include a 28-year-old pop star like Katy Perry, who essentially equates the concept of a teenage dream to a wet dream. Meanwhile, she insists she's not a feminist. No shit.
But who speaks for teenage girls? Who tells the terrors of deciphering text messages from crushes, navigating sexual behavior and finding self-esteem in a world increasingly riddled with negative, harmful messages? Kitty once described her songs as diary entries, and they sound very much like confessionals. Her vocal curlicues feel like the doodles of a teenage girl's handwriting, while her level of honesty is at times almost an affront to the unexpecting ear. But her rhymes are clever and original, and her songwriting is clear and concise even when centered on troubling topics. The production on D.A.I.S.Y. rage feels like a mix of floral frippery and some sort of concentrated hate. It's the best of two diametrically oppositional themes.
It's easy to see why older (and let's keep it real, mostly male) critics are at odds with Kitty's music. Many of them are rap traditionalists, and her music relates an experience they will never understand. Plus the flippancy with which she creates her musical pastiche upsets those with purist roots, because to them, hip-hop is still, well, hip-hop.
But I would counter that part of my growing love for the weird, twisted genre of hip-hop/rap/R&B is that it tells stories I would never otherwise hear. I will probably never experience anything that Kendrick Lamar raps about on g.o.o.d kid, m.A.A.d. city, and that's undoubtedly part of the reason that record speaks to me. Even though his specific experiences are divergent from my own, I feel the power of his opportunity to relate them. I feel the universal implications of his chance to speak.
There aren't many narratives in our culture that tell the real tale of life as a teenage girl. Contrary to popular belief, it isn't very pretty. It's confusing, full of messy physicality and disorienting emotions -- and no one speaks to it. The cultural stories told about adolescent girls rarely acknowledge the struggles this experience holds. The offered anecdotes are saccharine or sexualized, covered in ideas about adolescent women as naive, stupid, boy-obsessive, silly or ultimately meaningless outside of their sexuality. Almost every description and instruction in mainstream culture about life as a teenage girl is related to sex, or more pointedly, how to be conceived of as a sexual object.
Kitty certainly doesn't shirk the topic of sexuality but instead addresses it as part of her own centrifugal force. She relegates it to a mere radial topic that emanates from her core. She is able to address things like her complicated relationship with her mother. Her urge to interact with the world in new and taboo ways, coupled with a desire to please her mom. She raps about complicated friendships, power dynamics in relationships and the deadening pull of money and fame. For a 19-year-old, Kitty is wise and eloquent. She talks in her own language -- in the memes of a teenage girl in 2013 -- and her words are pouring out and into a cultural void that desperately needs to be filled.
The post-modern era has opened a gateway into absurdism and irony -- the possibility that every phrase spoken is both true and false simultaneously. The chance to drape anything statement in sarcasm, thus blunting the force of its impact.
This disingenuous behavior has spilled into art with surprising results, though. Absurdism is the philosophical underpinning that gave us Tity Boi's reinvention as 2 Chainz -- and his outrageous success in this role. In many ways Kitty is also tapping into the absurdism of playing the role of "teenage girl" to the fullest. Nuanced and developed though, her portrayal of the character of "teenage girl" is equally compelling to 2 Chainz depiction of the role "rapper." Just keep in mind, in both cases, Tauheed Epps and Kathryn Beckwith are fully aware of the stage they are on and the characters they are inhabiting.
Don't discount Kitty because you haven't been a teenage girl. Don't discount her because she giggles, because she raps about social media or rashes or bed-wetting -- these are real experiences and to someone though perhaps not you, they matter immensely. Don't try to silence a voice that is the only real, tiny growth in an otherwise barren field of sexualized tropes and calorie-free figures. Certainly don't discount her by saying she can't rap. She definitely can.
Just realize that she is purposefully rapping as a teenage girl, purposefully relating a perspective that has been kept in a darkened corner for most of recorded time. Cosigns from Antwon and Lakutis as features on the project weren't needed to prove Kitty's chops, but certainly her curation of these two outer-edge yet highly specific flow styles further illustrates her musical discernment. You don't have to like Kitty's music, but you can no longer write her off as meaningless. That would be like saying teenage girls on a grand scale are meaningless. Both are more powerful and complex than they appear on the surface. So is Kitty.