Feb 12, 2013

Music Review: "D.A.I.S.Y. Rage" by Kitty

By Ian Cory

It is nearly impossible to talk about Kitty’s (formerly known as Kitty Pryde) music without opening ten thousand cans of worms. The last few years have seen an explosion in alternate voices in hip-hop, but even as the genre diversifies it’s hard to figure out exactly where Kitty fits into the puzzle. Some would even say that a 19-year-old white girl rapping doesn’t count so much as diversification as it does cultural appropriation, and there’s certainly a case to be made there*. But despite being nearly as far as a person can be from the concept of “real”, at no point does Kitty come across as disingenuous or rap about anything other than her experiences. On the contrary, she represents a new wave of sincere artists born and raised on the ironic leanings of Internet culture.

From a purely musical standpoint Kitty isn’t that much of a break from tradition. If anything, her beat selection is a fairly logical progression from cloud rap sound pioneered by fellow Internet MC’s like A$AP Rocky and Lil B. You could even draw a connection to the work of cLOUDDEAD and other members of the experimental Anticon crew. The difference really comes in what these beats are trying to achieve. Whereas A$AP Rocky uses the sound to build an aura of coolness and cLOUDDEAD were deliberately trying to shake things up, Kitty’s beats are meant to complement the mix of melancholy and emotional detachment she shows in her lyrics**. There is a palpable sense of absence in these songs, as if a batch of frequencies fell through a black hole. Sometimes this missing element is the “beat” itself, like on “Dead Island” where the rhythmic thrust of the tune is provided by Kitty herself while the rest of the song floats around her like a Julianna Barwick composition. It’s completely abstracted from anything aimed at getting heads nodding. At times Kitty’s own voice is swallowed whole by the swirling chants and harps that she surrounds herself with, becoming just another texture in the mix. This is almost completely unheard of in hip-hop, a genre whose selling point is almost always built on the lyrics and persona.

What’s truly incredible though is that this mixing decision isn’t arbitrarily made. Instead it functions as an expression of the central themes that Kitty is grappling with in her lyrics. She spends much of D.A.I.S.Y. Rage struggling to find the balance between her emotional turbulence and her pride (I’m really sorry for that pun) in her work. While other rappers like Kanye and Drake have dealt with this dichotomy, most chose to ultimately align themselves with their victories, whereas Kitty lives almost entirely in her fears. Some critics have described Kitty’s lyrics as being similar to diary entries, but a more accurate (and less anachronistic) comparison would be tumblr posts. She makes jokes out of her self-loathing, regurgitates pop culture as a means of self-expression but is quick to defend herself against attacks on her art. There’s a warts-and-all honesty to her approach beyond the lyrical content, as she often stumbles over her words when adlibbing or will end a verse by breaking out into giggles. Mostly importantly, and probably most aggravating to her detractors, she does nothing to change her voice into something more acceptable for rapping. Kitty never shies away from being herself on a public stage, which is both courageous and compelling.

Again, though, all of this can often get in the way of the actual sounds involved in her music. Early on it was easy to forgive her somewhat lackluster skills in favor of her unique point of view, but now it’s equally easy to overlook how god damn good she is on the mic. Over the last year Kitty has developed a knack for rapid-fire alliteration and internal rhymes. When she picks up the pace like on "Unfollowed", her voice can take on a hypnotic quality, making her repeated hooks not so much melodies as mantras. She isn’t as rhythmically deft on the slower tunes, but her lyrical wit remains razor sharp for the full 22 minutes of the EP.

“I’m bitter because I do cool shit and you ignore it” Kitty says at one point. While it would be a stretch to say that people are ignoring her, they are certainly passing over the innovative and affecting nature of her work for the controversy that it brings. There is a lot to talk about when the subject of Kitty is broached, but if D.A.I.S.Y. Rage is any indication, she is quickly channeling the focus of the conversation back to her undeniable skill as an artist.

*I, however, am not the person to be reading for this kind of critical racial commentary, mostly because I’m not an expert on the subject and it would be very condescending for me to speak in the place of those who are. Needless to say, you could write an essay longer than my entire body of work on cultural appropriation, and I highly recommend you look into the subject

**As for Lil B, the motivations behind his aesthetic choices remain completely unfathomable. It is not for the mortal mind to know why the Based God does what he does.

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