The Jazz Fest 2013 edition of my VICE Magazine column Neither Big Nor Easy focused on hyper-lyrical New Orleans female rapper, 3D Na’Tee. CLICK HERE to read that article. Then down below the video for her Timbaland mashup “Switch,” is the raw, unpublished, long Q&A interview between Na’Tee and me.
Were you surprised to get asked to play Jazz Fest? I’ve liked your music for some years but I was surprised. Usually they just throw the one most hyped up rapper of the year to play.
There were two opportunities. I sat down with Scott Aiges of New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. We were just talking and he told me someone recommended me so he started telling me he’d heard a lot about me and he wanted to put me in the show. Then I spoke with another guy from my neighborhood and he was putting together the New Orleans Experience event I am performing at in Congo Square May 4.
Can you picture that crowd liking deep lyrical rap? I can kind of picture them liking Big Freedia and other crowd pleasing stuff, but you have to really listen to your music to hear it. You have to pay attention.
You really do. They’re giving me the opportunity. They obviously had to have listened. This is such a big stage. They’re not letting me go under the radar. That’s a good thing. I am not worried because it will peak interest. It will be great.
Are you from New Orleans? How long have you been rapping here?
I’m from Uptown, 3rd Ward. I’m 26. I started in 1999, but in 2006 was my first mixtape. But I had been going around doin battles and bein on other people’s projects. I am from the same neighborhood as KLC and Solja Slim and all them. I remember being 12-years-old and standing outside in Delechase Parkway???. I remember seeing KLC when he was with No Limit, he would come and visit his family in the neighborhood and I would purposely walk past that way to go to the store, and I”d just be rapping. Someone from the neighborhood would be like, “Yeah that girl right there she know howta rap! Stop her!” So I would stop and rap for him. And he always remembered me. One of the greatest things about this past NOLA HipHop Awards they honored him. And I won five awards and he got on stage and he was like “Yeah I remember Na’Tee” and I didn’t know he really gave a fuck about that [laughs]. Yeah I been doing this a long time, but really pursuing it since 2006.
How does one become drawn to lyrical style rap in New Orleans, where lyrics are often secondary? There’s Solja Slim, and of course Mystikal, but…
I never was big on bounce. I like to dance and shake my ass and stuff but I was never was big on bounce music. My favorite hip-hop artist was Biggie. Up north rappers: Jay Z, Nas of course. But then I would hear Juvenile because I am from this same area where all this music was being played, so. But I stayed with the more lyrical side because – for one, people saw it as a challenge. A girl? A girl can’t do that.
Who are the other great female lyricists? MC Lyte.
I spoke with MC Lyte on the phone a few months ago. That was the craziest shit ever. I think it was Eric Sermon; I talked to him and he told her about me and she called my phone. I was like ‘This is not MC Lyte. I’ma hang up the phone.’ I think she saw my video ‘Lil Kim.’ She told me ‘You gotta keep goin, cause this is what they need. You have to continue because the industry is lacking this.’ I’m still on the phone like, This is not real.
But unlike me you weren’t listening to MC Lyte when you were little.
No it was more like Lil Kim and Dr. Dre, Lauren Hill, Eve. Lil Kim, Da Brat – some of the artists I look up to obviously listened to MC Lyte, so I did my research.
Freestylin is your bread and butter?
I can freestyle but I don’t like to. I’d rather get my thoughts flush out on paper. I’d rather make sure I say exactly what I mean. It depends but mostly I write about everything. For the most part all of my stuff is written.
What do you feel about the anti-writing movement in hip-hop?
Some people can do that better than others. Some people fail miserably. I like that you call it the anti-writing period – people thought it was so cool not to write, and they were making songs that had no concept… I am big on concept, and having a complete thought on my records. I just think that it’s necessary.
When Lil Wayne stopped writing his stuff down, that’s when he started getting shitty.
Do you make beats?
I get them from everywhere. The more popular I become the more people reach out. A few days ago a guy named KE, who produced “You Da Boss” for Rick Ross and Nicky Manaj, he did “Swag Surfin,” he did “Magic,” he did a lot of stuff for Wayne. Anyway, he sent me like 150 beats, just a while buncha shit just because he had it around. I remember this particular guy…he’d produced a couple records on the charts so I hit him up. He said he liked my music and I said I wanted to work with him, and he said it would be $2,000 per beat. Fast forward years later a few days ago he hit me up on Twitter, ‘Follow back, I wanna work.’ I asked him if he remembered when I was reaching out to him. He said he remembered, and sent me some tracks and he was like, ‘Use whatever you want, do whatever you want and we can put out something.’ Proving yourself – it happens like that.
Tell me you Timbaland story. Specifically what it was in the contract that made you turn it down? I know that can be a touchy thing to speak on.
It can be a touchy thing. But what I will say about that situation is: Timbaland is a great guy, he’s a great person. The contract wasn’t just between me and his production company – they also wanted to manage me too, and I felt like the things that were in the contract weren’t really beneficial to what I was trying to do as a an artists and who I am trying to become creatively. Creatively I want to make sure I continue to represent what I stand for. I’m stickin by this. I am not going to water my shit down.
Some artists who’ve gotten signed, you can tell how they’ve been molded and compromised. Have you run into a lot of that?
Not necessarily. It was percentages, and things like that. I don’t want anyone to think I haven’t signed a deal because of money. It’s not because of money. I’m not worried about the money.
Well, it’s interesting you would give up the money?
I been through a lot of shit. To be 26-years-old going from getting in trouble, parents were in drugs and daddy committed suicide, and all these things – and I am the happiest that I’ve ever been in my life, period. I am happy and excited. And I am not going to fuck up this happiness over some money and be forced to be somebody I don’t want to be, and ruin that happiness. But a week and a half ago I sat down with Steve Rifkin and they’re talking some great things – that’s the guy who signed Wu Tang, he’s responsible for AKON’s career. So I sat down with him and with a few people.
This all does make you sound picky.
But not in a disrespectful way. I’m just trying to do what’s good for my future.
Don’t you worry that the train is gonna leave the station?
I don’t worry about that at all. I’m not arrogant when it comes to my career. I make pretty good music, but I’m not arrogant. I know there could be a day when people aren’t interested in what I’m doing. But this is my truth, and I feel strongly about it. And I don’t want anybody to ruin what people love, or taint what I’m doing. If I sign a deal even though it’s not right, and then I’m totally different – the fan base that I have built is totally from me, and the type of person that I am, and if that totally changed I’d abandon all the core fan base.
How do you write? It’s so dense, lyrically.
I always looked at it like pages out of my diary, shit that I gotta get down on paper. I like rappin fast sometimes.
You don’t like choruses?
I do on certain records. I just like to spit. But I will be having a lot more choruses on the next project. I didn’t consciously do it. I was actually writing records for other artists and they had choruses, so I can definitely do it.
Does anyone ever say your music sounds old school?
They don’t put it like that. But I think it’s a compliment. They don’t word it like that – you make it sound so bad. It’s not so bad. I definitely understand when people say that. And I hear it and I think that what they love, I remind them of the era that they love. That’s a beautiful thing. I want to be a part of bringing it back. I believe it will be, I believe it will.
I feel nostalgia for the day when people were trying to outsmart each other on the mic.
Hip-hop has always been dictated by the youth. And it’s dictated by corporations believing what the youth wants to hear. They look at the kids like they’re dumb, they’re fucking idiots. So they find the dumbest artist who looks like an idiot and puts them out there. I’ve met some of them. The fact that now they’re forcefeeding shit and that’s the beauty of YouTube and other social media. If someone doesn’t want to hear that – people say all the time, please bring real rap back! YouTube and everything makes my music available, and whatever artist they like. That’s the great thing.
But how do you monetize your talent then?
Right now I have the mobile app that I sell. Every week I drop new music on it. Lots of things you don’t see on the internet I put on the app for people who pay 99-cents. People go there first. I also have the clothing line BMB, Business Minded Bosses. I’m all right, I’m not rich.
Ghostwriting for Detox is good work, I hear. Bionic Brown from New Orleans was doing that before he died in the car wreck.
D.O.C. wants me to work with him. He’s doing some stuff. He want me to work with him on some things he’s got happening. He wants me to ghostwrite some things for other artists because that’s what he’s into. He’s gonna have his surgery to get his voice back. D.O.C. can still write his ass off. And he saw me on Dear Father and he called me, and he was like pouring his heart out, telling me how dope he thought the song was – and this was way before the Timbaland shit. So I would always talk to him about shit I was going through. As far as the ghostwriting thing, he did so much stuff for Dre, and I just think he’s one of the greatest ever when it comes to ghostwriting – and I’m not just saying that because I fuck with him. But as far as ghost-writing I do get paid for my versus on other people’s songs. I am now able to do shows and get money. I am able to do shows out of town. A lot of artists from out of town will ask me to get on their record and I get paid for it.
Tell me about your freestyle with Kendrick Lamar on Sway in the Morning.
I am a big fan of his. I like Kendrick Lamar. I did Sway in the morning a month before that and they asked me to come back on the show at South By Southwest. They had DJ Drama in there, Pusha T from the Clipse, a buncha artists, and they were doing the interviews two by two. They had a buncha up and coming artists there, and one of the producers of the show said, ‘I’m gonna out Na’Tee up there with Kendrick Lamar.’ And I was like ‘Oh, shit’ because everybody’s gonna see that. It was a decision made by the guys on the show. It was definitely a big opportunity.
When you see pictures of yourself, you definitely play on your attractiveness. Have the people who have offered you contracts tried to focus on your beauty?
Some of them. But this is what I think it is: people have never seen an attractive woman [rapper] that didn’t talk about her pussy all day. But I am a female and I love men, you know what I’m saying? I love being a woman. I’m not going to dress like Da Brat just because I need you to focus solely on my music. I think that’s why that will be the total package because I am a woman and I love being a woman.
But it seems like people would be annoying the shit out of you – lame people trying to make you famous for the wrong reasons.
I’ve had that. And not with the Timbaland deal. But people are used to seeing Lil Kim, with her titty out and shit, and play up on that fact, and she rapped about sex a lot in her music – so if you see me and I’m not dressed with my pants sagging or not like a fucking lesbian or anything, then you would expect me to do the same thing, and then when I don’t…it gets people to look at me and then when they hear my music I think that adds to the wow factor. But I don’t consciously do it – I’m just me, I’m a woman.