Gucci – “The Whole Thing Was Just A Concoction For Trauma”
It would not be a stretch to say that Kreayshawn is traumatized by “Gucci Gucci,” her viral 2011 hit that earned more than three million YouTube hits just weeks after hitting the platform. It looked from the outside like a music industry fairytale — little-known rapper from East Oakland strikes internet gold, signs a million-dollar record contract, is flown all over the world, and gets juicy cover stories in Complex and Nylon. All of these things did happen to Kreayshawn, born Natassia Zolot. It just wasn’t the life she wanted.
“It’s not just as simple as, ‘Oh, poor me. I got famous and I got a record deal,’” Kreayshawn says over Zoom from an undisclosed location (“I have trouble with weird stalkers”). “It’s like, I grew up terribly. I have child abuse. I have anxiety, depression, terrible PTSD. I was having seizures all the time. That’s why it sucked. If I was more of an outgoing person and didn’t have all these problems, then it probably wouldn’t have been a terrible story. But that lifestyle was not for me at all.”
Still, it’s not hard to see why Kreayshawn exploded into mainstream consciousness after “Gucci Gucci,” which, to date, has more than 70 million YouTube hits and more than 27 million Spotify streams. A bratty, hypnotically catchy rap-pop song, “Gucci Gucci” subverted hip-hop’s love of designer labels with nursery-rhyme cadence and easy-to-remember bars. “Her rejection of that reeks of white-girl privilege,” wrote Torae in The New York Times that year, before acknowledging: “But similarly privileged people may find her message refreshing.”
The “Gucci Gucci” music video, meanwhile, subverts the song’s own subversion (stay with me here) by showing Kreayshawn gallivanting around Fairfax Boulevard in Los Angeles, one of the world’s most famous destinations for designer swag. It also didn’t hurt that she tapped a killer crew to appear with her: White Girl Mob member Lil Debbie, rapper Speakz (who ghostwrote the track), as well as Jasper Dolphin, Taco Bennett, and Left Brain of Odd Future.
In addition to a magnetic hook and endlessly rewatchable video, “Gucci Gucci” practically laid the groundwork for today’s Very Online meme verbiage: Instead of “Hot Girl Summer,” Kreayshawn gave us “One big room full of bad bitches.” Instead of “cheugy,” Kreayshawn called out “basic bitches” who “wear that shit so I don’t even bother.” If Cardi B was known for “making money moves” in 2017, Kreayshawn became ubiquitous for making anti-money moves by claiming to eschew “Gucci Gucci, Louis Louis, Fendi Fendi, Prada.”
Still, as she quickly learned, a life of non-stop record promotion just didn’t sit well with her. When Kreayshawn became pregnant in 2013, she was swiftly dropped from her label, and today she claims that she still doesn’t see any money from “Gucci Gucci,” as she owes a significant debt to Sony.
Even so, as “Gucci Gucci” turns 10 (its video premiered 5/16/11) and finds new audiences on platforms like TikTok, Kreayshawn is in a remarkably better place. She even still writes and releases music (her 2017 track “Missing Kitty” soundtracks more than 40,000 TikToks). “Overall, if I look back at 18-year-old me and she saw what I was doing today, she’d be like, ‘Sick,’” she says.
Below, Kreayshawn digs deeper into the genesis of “Gucci Gucci” and filming its accompanying music video, and why, 10 years later, it sends her into “an instant panic attack.”
First off, I really appreciate you taking the time to chat. I looked back at some recent interviews you did around “Gucci Gucci,” and it didn’t seem like it was really something that was pleasant for you to talk about.
KREAYSHAWN: Yeah, that fucking song, man.
It feels pretty wild that it’s turning 10!
KREAYSHAWN: That’s special. I had to do [the interview] because that’s pretty special.
Prior to the song coming out, what had you been doing at the time, music-wise?
KREAYSHAWN: Well, I had moved to LA to shoot videos because I had went to film school and then I came to LA. And I was like, “I’m going to work on sets, be a grip and work my way up.” I had just got off a tour. I was shooting tour video for… It was YG and Bobby Brackins, and Ty Dolla $ign’s tour. It was the one YG was touring “Toot It And Boot It.” It is really crazy. I had just got back, and I would just always make songs all the time for fun. I met this dude, Speakz [also known as Speak!], and he wanted me to shoot a music video for him. And then he liked my music a lot. He was just like, “You just be freestyling for five minutes straight.” I’m like, “Yeah, that’s just how I do it.” And then he wanted to teach me how to really make a song with a hook in verses, and stuff like that.
So we were working together, and then he wrote that song for me. He was like, “Yo, I wrote this song for you.” He’s like, “You just record it.” And I was like, “Oh, shit. That’s dope.” I never knew that that was a thing. So I did that and I don’t know, I just thought it was a funny song.
What do you remember about making the video? It had such a guerilla-style shooting look. Maybe that’s why it went so viral, how on-the-fly it looked.
KREAYSHAWN: I’m not even 100% sure how the video thing came about because I’m guessing that I had put the song out before the video. Maybe I just posted it on, I don’t know… Back then we used HulkShare, was a random streaming thing.
So these dudes from Canada, I think they’re from Canada. They wanted to shoot the video for it, and they were like, “Yeah, we’ll come down and shoot it.” And I was like, “All right, cool.” So they came down here and they weren’t very familiar with LA. So I had been hanging out on Fairfax all the time, where we all hung out back then, kicking hundreds. And everyone would just pull up all throughout the day and smoke blunts and drink. And then we’d party after. So I was like, “Yeah, we can just go to Fairfax.” So we just were on Fairfax, shooting and stuff. And then my homies, after that, were like, “Oh, there’s a house party at the Orsini.” I don’t know. Do you live in LA?
I do live in LA, but I haven’t been here for long enough to know a ton about what people did in the early 2010s, if I’m being totally honest. I was in Brooklyn in 2011.
KREAYSHAWN: Well, that’s pretty cool, honestly. It’s cooler than LA, I think. But yeah, they were like, “There’s a house party at the Orsini,” which is like an apartment complex, full of young people. It still is like that. It’s just where young people live in LA, the Orsini. So that’s how we shot the video.
How did your relationship with Speakz evolve after the video went viral?
KREAYSHAWN: After, I wanted to continue working with him. Back then, though, it was very like, “Oh my God, somebody helped you write a song? Shame on you.” Nowadays, I feel like it’s like, “Yeah, somebody helped me write it,” or it’s like, “Yeah, I collaborate. I don’t just sit in my room by myself. I need help. So what?” But back then it was hush-hush. And I think that he really wanted to jet-set his own rapping thing. It was extremely hard for me, at that time, to have any work friendship. Any relationship was just out of the question. I could not manage any of that and neither could anyone else.
It was always like, “Where’s my money? What’s going on?” And it’s like, “I don’t know. I don’t know what’s going on.” Nowadays people are like, “Oh, I put a song on Spotify, and three months later, my check comes.” That makes sense. But back then it was like, “This song is famous. Why don’t I have money yet?” I’m like, “I guess you have to wait. I don’t know.”
So, it was very hard to maintain that work relationship at the time. And then, because it became this whole thing of, “Oh, Kreayshawn had somebody help her write that.” On my album [2012’s Somethin’ Bout Kreay], I was like, “I don’t want anybody to write a single lyric on my album, except for me, because I know I can do it and I’ve done it before.” It wasn’t like I never rapped before, and somebody was like, “You should be a rapper… Have a song.” It wasn’t like that. So I was like, “I’m going to make a point to never have somebody do that again,” because I felt like it just bit everybody in the ass.
Yeah, I know you said that the industry is kinder now to artists who work with songwriters. Do you feel the industry has evolved for the better in terms of young artists announcing that they’re pregnant? Cardi B comes to mind as an example. I know you faced some label friction after your pregnancy.
KREAYSHAWN: It’s just a different time. I don’t know. Now it’s like, “We love women.” They spun it as being supportive and being like, “Pregnancy is beautiful.”
But I mean, in all fairness, I hated being on the label so much, and [getting pregnant] was to spite them, because I was like, “If I get pregnant, I don’t have to tour. I don’t have to go to Arizona and do radio shows. I don’t have to do all this stuff because I’ll just be like, I can’t do that. I’m pregnant.” Then I announced that I was pregnant five months into it. And then a week later, they’re like, “We’re dropping you.” I was like [sarcastic tone], “Oh, oh, no, no.”
How were you approached from the business side of things, after “Gucci Gucci” went viral?
KREAYSHAWN: I think it was pretty immediate after the video had dropped. I was going to Vegas to New York, to LA, to here, to there, to meet all these record label people who wanted to sign me. And I ended up picking Columbia, and then, yeah, it was crazy. None of it made sense to me. Looking back on it, as much as you want to be like, “I wish I didn’t sign,” because obviously, my first inclination is to be like, “I wish I didn’t sign.” I felt like I would’ve had more longevity if I didn’t sign. But in hindsight, I had $300 in my bank account and rent was due, and I had no money. I had no job. I wasn’t even close to where I was trying to be a famous Los Angeles movie director. So it was a blessing and a curse. That’s just the way it is.
Do you feel like you kind of got caught in the crosshairs of a shrinking industry trying to figure out how to capitalize on a viral hit?
KREAYSHAWN: YouTube wasn’t a way to make millions of dollars back then. So, they signed me and they’re like, “How can we make something that gets hella plays on YouTube into something that makes us a lot of money?” There was no formula for that yet. That’s like, Odd Future and A$AP [Rocky] and me, we all came out the same time, being internet breakthroughs. All these people discovered us on the internet, and the labels are like, “Oh, shit. We can do something with this.” But they just didn’t know. They’re like, “Oh, we’re going to take this girl who made a viral video, and we’re going to start putting her on the covers of magazines, hoping that this works.” But it didn’t because it was just way too much for me. I was like, “I can’t do this.”
What was that experience like, suddenly going from $300 in your bank account to a grueling promotional schedule?
KREAYSHAWN: It was so crazy because I actually found a schedule that had been printed out for me. It was when I was in New York, and it was a press [schedule]. I hated doing press. It was the worst. It was not like this, but it was like doing a phone call like this, literally 18 times a day, with people from all over the world, asking you the exact same things while you’re running to the airport to do a show and do an in-person interview. I was looking at the schedule and I was like, “I can never do this. How did I do this? This is insane.” At the same time as all that, I’m just drinking lean non-stop. I was addicted to opiates.
I don’t know how any of this worked. I mean, obviously it didn’t because I did hit a breaking point, and I was like, “This doesn’t work for me.” But the schedules, man, was crazy. You’re flying here and there, and going on radio shows, which I don’t even know if people do that anymore. But I would have to go to all these radio stations to promote my song. I didn’t give a [fuck] if my song was on the radio. I was like, “Why the fuck am I doing this?” And you just have to do it.
I imagine a bigger priority now is getting your artist on a Spotify playlist.
KREAYSHAWN: Yeah, yeah. I think about Doja Cat a lot, because I just find it interesting in this time, she’s huge. And I just think about, what is the difference between what she has to do day-to-day to what I had to do day-to-day, 10 years ago. I mean, because she’s really famous. She’s popping. And I’m thinking, does she have to go to Arizona and be on a radio station for 20 minutes, and then fly back home? I know that she’s hella goofy and a weirdo. I know her views on things were probably like mine, and been like, “What the fuck? Why am I doing this? This is so weird. Why am I on the cover of a magazine? Okay, this is crazy. My makeup looks wild. Who am I?”
No matter how you look at it, it’s work. Even nowadays versus back then or whatever, it’s all a job.
Right, and I’m guessing that no one really prepared you for the “work” elements underpinning fame.
KREAYSHAWN: Yeah, no, I had no idea. No. There was no, “Once you sign this, there’s no going back. We’re going to be gone.” I always use Arizona as a point of reference, but it’s just like, you’re just going to Arizona, you’re going to Spain. You’re going to all these places, and you don’t even have time to catch a breath. And on top of all that, my health was just insanely terrible. The whole thing was just a concoction for trauma. It’s terrible.
How did it land for you when kids on TikTok found “Gucci Gucci” and turned it into that “Karma’s a bitch” challenge?
KREAYSHAWN: I mean, it was cool because anytime I see myself trending, my heart drops and I’m like, “Oh, my God, it’s something bad.” I don’t know. Because that’s how it was back then. It was just like, everything was just bad news, 24/7. Kreayshawn said this, she did that, this, whatever, nude photo leak. Wow. I just was so bad at talking back then. I couldn’t say anything how I wanted to, so I always be like, “Damn, I wish I had the mind that I have now back then,” because I’m way more eloquent with speaking that I wouldn’t have gotten myself fucked up so many times. But I was like, “Wow, everyone’s being really nice. What? They like me. They miss me. That’s so cool.” I was very happy.
But yeah, I’m in debt. Last time I checked, I was in debt, $800,000. So people are like, “Let’s stream her out of debt,” and I’m calculating how many streams. I’m like, “Yeah, y’all ain’t going to be able to do this. There’s about what? A couple of thousand of you. Ain’t going to work. I’m sorry. Don’t even play it. Just play the other EPs, the newer stuff.” And then that helps. But I hate that song so much. When that song comes on, there’s a bodily response that sends me into an instant panic attack. That song, when it is in my ears, it’s so loud. And I ask my friends, I’m like, “Is this song loud to you?” And they’re like, “No.” I’m like, “Sounds like nails on a chalkboard.”
When you say you’re in debt, does that mean you don’t make any money off of “Gucci Gucci” until the label recoups everything it spent on you at the time?
KREAYSHAWN: Whatever money “Gucci Gucci makes,” or anything on that album, goes to knocking down that debt.
One thing that I didn’t know until later, way later, when I realized I wasn’t recouping was, there’s stuff that I paid for out of my budget, that I didn’t know [about]. So if I do a photo shoot, some photo shoots were paid [out of my budget]. I didn’t know that. If they said, “Hey, we’re going to use $50,000 to pay for this out of your budget. Is that cool?” I would’ve been like, “No, I’ll have my homie do it. I’ll just give him 1,000 bucks, and that’ll be dope.” But they were hiring people and studio time. Girl, I did not know I was paying studio time.
So I’d be sitting in the studio, drinking lean, smoking weed, getting drunk, not recording anything for a week, not knowing that all that was $25,000. Nobody told me. And if anybody told me any of this, I’d be like Billie Eilish, and I’d be in my room right now, recording my album. I would not be wasting time in a fucking professional studio, picking my ass.
And then yeah, they’re like, “Oh, you have a show in blah, blah, blah.” And then you think, “Oh, cool.” No, you’re paying for that flight. You’re paying for everybody’s flight. You’re paying for your managers, your DJs, the people who come with you. You’re paying for everything. And I really just did not know.
What does your life look like now, on just an average day? Did you ever revisit your interest in film?
KREAYSHAWN: I tried to revisit film, but it’s hard. It was just too much. I don’t know, day-to-day, right now, I mean, like every other girl, I’ve done OnlyFans. So that’s been keeping me afloat right now, which is great.
Fuck it. Yeah, I’m still doing music. I play video games a lot. So a lot of my time is playing video games, streaming, OnlyFans stuff, working on projects, and it’s chill. I’m vibing. Everything’s good.
Gucci – “The Whole Thing Was Just A Concoction For Trauma”