Release Date: September 18, 2012
Somethin ‘Bout Kreay, the debut album from Oakland-born, YouTube-bred video-director-turned-rapper Kreayshawn, is about a year too late. You might remember her from last summer, when her “Gucci Gucci” briefly broke the Rap Internet. The song and video offered a colorful vomiting up of broad-stroke youth-culture signifiers — nose rings and all-over prints and anti-consumerism and Odd Future members and a magnetic young girl at the center of it all, bragging about the swag dripping from her ovaries. Like “My Name Is” or “Through the Wire” before it, the track did exactly what a breakout rap single should do: It established an identity. The cutesy, thrift-shop-hopping shit-talker was an unoccupied lane, and the result was enough of a hit — 38 million views at current count — to turn Kreay into a media (and Tumblr) darling for a split-second. But it wasn’t nearly enough to make her an actual pop star.
Controversy filled the void left by her inability to produce a follow-up single, fueled in part by her misguidedly named White Girl Mob and the casual use of the n-word by Mob member V-Nasty. (Kreay herself does not appear to use it.) This shifted the conversation to the Music Internet’s favorite talking point: the matter of authenticity. It was something of a red herring. Kreayshawn, as a personality, is very real. The sort of ethnically ambiguous, hoop-earring-clad, gum-smacking, post-hipster rap fan that she embodies is as much a part of the Bay Area’s current cultural landscape as the new-money techie or the hotboxed VW van. She did grow up in the rougher parts of Oakland, and she did pay her dues by directing videos for turf-certified gangsta-rap locals like DB Tha General. It is possible that the only thing inauthentic about Kreay is her chosen profession. She raps, but she is not a rapper. Or, at least, she didn’t intend to be one at first. Though she’d previously recorded a handful of playful and amateurish YouTube freestyles inspired by Lil B (for whom she also directed early videos), it was DB’s manager who met her on a video set, recognized her star quality, and convinced her to pursue an actual rap career.
Strangely, he was not at all concerned by the fact that she can’t rap very well. And I don’t mean that in the way that “real hip-hop heads” throw around the phrase can’t rap when dismissing simplistic-to-a-point pariahs like Waka Flocka or Chief Keef. Nor is it the sort of can’t rap that applies to indifferent white-girl pop stars like Ke$ha or Fergie. All of the above artists are able to sidestep traditional hip-hop standards in favor of styles more serviceable to their ends — be that club riots or Disney radio sing-a-longs. But Kreay is not blessed with such instincts, and that’s readily apparent on her debut album. Her natural voice is thin and raspy, her sense of rhythm is rudimentary, at best. She is a human who was probably not meant to rap.
None of this mattered with “Gucci Gucci,” included on Somethin ‘Bout Kreay even though it feels like it’s a thousand years old at this point, because the song itself works to compensate for the deficiencies of its performer. The beat, crowd-sourced via Twitter from DJ Two Stacks, triangulates dubstep wobble and skate-hyphy waddle. The raps, penned by L.A. emcee Speak, are infectious, and leave a lot of room for Kreay to breathe without feeling empty. But nothing else on the album is as refined, and what’s worse, very little of it approaches that track’s organic joy. “Ch00k Ch00k Tare” comes closest, playing up the Bay Area melting-pot impulse as Kreay trades very basic bits of Russian with fellow Oakland rapper Chippy Nonstop, who quite comfortably ricochets between English and Hindi rhymes. “K234ys0nixz” might’ve been a clever re-imagining of JJ Fad’s “Supersonic” if “Fergalicious” hadn’t gotten there six years ago — still, its tempo alone synthesizes some semblance of fun.
If Kreayshawn were fully dedicated to that sort of throwback electro/freestyle vibe, she could’ve made a reasonably enjoyable and completely forgettable album. It’s not like Debbie Deb was a particularly skilled vocalist, either. Instead, Kreay indulges the full breadth of her influences, turning Somethin into a series of wan genre studies. She can’t-raps to warmed-over Lex Luger impressions and cookie-cutter chillwave and a grinding mechanical mess courtesy of Kid Cudi. There are also a couple aspiring, blissful pop numbers that reveal her as a performer who not only can’t-rap but can’t-sing either, affecting a tone so flat that not even AutoTune can bring it to life.
In the space between, she stumbles through sub-Wayne punch lines like, “I’m in your city like the mayor, ho,” glass/pass or go/ho nursery rhymes, and semi-ironic teenybopper clichés. (There is seriously a song called “BFF”; it is subtitled “Bestfriend,” in case you were confused.) It’s all such a saccharine affair that it’s hard to understand how anyone ever mistook her for an artist who was courting controversy. Minus a couple of allusions to snorting or selling coke, and a song about burning down an ex-boyfriend’s house, Somethin ‘Bout Kreay rarely exceeds an Avril Lavigne level of mall-punk rebellion. (Appropriately enough, Hot Topic is the exclusive distributor of the physical CD.)
None of this is to say that Kreayshawn is completely untalented. Far from it. There are things that she does very well — directing short-form videos, fashion, creating kitten-oriented ASCII art, making friends on computers. It’s just that those things don’t necessarily involve music. The push to fast-track her star qualities into actual pop-music stardom had the unfortunate side effect of stunting a budding auteur — or at least a really charismatic Internet user — by molding her into something she’ll never be.