Kathryn Beckwith knows you probably hate her music. Hell, half the time, she does too. “Wiz is black and yellow / And I’m white and fucking terrible,” she raps in her peculiar talk-flow on D.A.I.S.Y. Rage, her newest EP. To a degree, you can’t blame the confused and angry hip-hop diehards who shunned her as soon as they saw her last year. Who’s really sure, right away, what to make of a red-headed, teenage white girl who lives in suburban Daytona Beach, Fla., works at a Claire’s, has a huge crush on both the major Justins (Bieber and Timberlake, natch), and calls herself a rapper?
In other words, 19-year-old Kitty Pryde—her stage name, recently shortened to just “Kitty” in order to spare X-Men fans some rage—confused the shit out of everyone last year. When she went viral with her video for “Okay Cupid,” a single from her last EP, haha i’m sorry, she was met with everything from seething vitriol to fascinated deconstructions of her persona. (Even The New York Times took a stab at figuring Kitty out.) But the more people squabbled in YouTube comments sections, the more people listened, and the more people noticed: the girl is actually pretty good. Good enough to bring her and “Okay Cupid”—a hazy, languorous track rife with girlish giggles, self-deprecation, and cute druggie crushes who drunk-dial at 3:30 a.m.—to No. 17 on Rolling Stone’s list of the best songs of 2012. She landed herself a tour and some of her dream collaborations, including one with her former rap crush Danny Brown, and now with D.A.I.S.Y. Rage, Kitty’s showing that she’ll stick around longer than your average cat meme.
Which is all as surprising to Kitty as it is to you.
“I never thought I was gonna make music at all because I’m not really very good at it,” she says. “Like, I tried to take voice lessons and I tried to learn piano, and none of it worked. And it was humiliating so I just kind of stopped.”
But her rap career happened anyway, thanks to a “cool black dude” Kitty knew in high school. “I thought he was the coolest person,” she says. “I did something in class with a poem and he was like, ‘I bet you could rap!’ And I was like, ‘For you, I will!’ And then I made one video on YouTube and got like four nice comments and I was like, ‘Wow, maybe I’m good at this!’”
The “maybe” in that sentence is more crucial than it looks. Kitty’s confidence stays consistent in neither her music nor our interview, though she’s tasted success since releasing haha i’m sorry. She quit her job at Claire’s, overcame a serious eating disorder, and started living part-time in New York with her boyfriend, Nick Koenig a.k.a. Grammy-nominated producer Hot Sugar. But she’s still a master of self-lacerating humor. On D.A.I.S.Y. Rage track “R.R.E.A.M.,” she makes fun of her own tendency to break out in hives when she’s anxious. “Rash rules everything around me / Gettin’ drowsy, Bena-Benadryl, y’all,” she raps, riffing on Wu Tang’s “C.R.E.A.M.” When I tell her I think she’s improved since her last EP, she’s quick to ask, “I don’t look like a sellout, though, do I? As long as I don’t look like I sold out!”
That hyper-self-awareness crops up again on “Dead Island,” when Kitty speaks directly to all the bloggers who still don’t know whether she’s good or not. Over a dreamy, shimmery beat, Kitty raps, “You’re unable to discern if I’m the wunderkind or underdog, / So fuck it all, I’m the wonderwall.” She confesses to reading much of what’s written about her—unlike what most stars and musicians will tell you these days—and her Tumblr and Twitter accounts are frequently filled with back-and-forths with the meanest of Kitty haters. “Fucking saccharine…find another subculture to debase, ok? You are not offering ANYTHING of value, you contribute nothing to the art form, you are not needed, wanted, or at all necessary. You are not now, nor will you ever be, remotely listenable, despite what ‘rappers’ that want to fuck you might say,” begins one particularly cringe-inducing post on Kitty’s Facebook wall. On her Tumblr, one user voices hope that Kitty will “go the way of Sarai and Kreayshawn,” two other white girl rappers who burned bright for a minute before fizzling out.
Kitty does not ignore the haters. By way of response, she sent a YouTube link of Hopsin’s “Ill Mind of Hopsin 5” to the Facebook weirdo and offered a concise “shut up bitch” to the Tumblr girl. Her goal, she says, isn’t to get taken “seriously” as a rapper—but it’s also not to attract so much ire from the Internet’s crazies. “I can’t really do anything without humor,” she says. “I don’t ever wanna make anything that’s like, [imitates manly voice] ‘real’ hip hop, serious, political, ‘please listen to what I’m saying!’ Because I never have anything of substance to say. I want people to laugh with me, but not at me. Which is hard to do, especially when there’s like a million mean people on the Internet, but whatever.”
She phrases the dilemma neatly in another two lines from “R.R.E.A.M.”: “I like to be the trending topic, the pound key / Even though I break out when they hound me.”
And make no mistake, Kitty has been hounded. She tells me about a show she once played at a college in Madison, Wis., where a few fratty football players got out of hand. “I seriously got chased off the stage,” she says, now mostly amused. “Someone had to distract the audience ’cause there was a whole bunch of guys who said they were gonna come after me and find me later. They were talking about really awful stuff, and it was really scary.” Nothing ended up happening, but Madison is notably absent on her latest tour schedule.
With D.A.I.S.Y. Rage, there is less reason for hounding, however. Though still playfully girlish, funny, and sharp, Kitty’s rhymes are stronger and, on certain tracks, she “nails down a sound she flourishes in,” as Stereogum notes.
“I think I put more time into [D.A.I.S.Y. Rage],” Kitty says. “I definitely didn’t care at all about the last one [haha i’m sorry], I just kind of whipped it out as fast as I could and I didn’t really care if it was good or not. But this time, I was like, ‘If I don’t make something good, then everybody’s just gonna assume that this is all I can do.’ And I don’t want people to think that anymore, I want people to know that I can do something that’s worth listening to.”
There will, no doubt, still be those who take issue with her glittering, dreamy beats and high-pitched talk-flow, but to the inevitably rabid @replys, she offers only these words: “You don’t know why all the boys flock to me? / Bitch, draw your eyebrows on then talk to me.”