A report by K C Orcutt for XXL Magazine.
Nitty Scott‘s second solo album, Creature!, opens with a whimsical monologue, showcasing how her fierce voice is one that is capable of being simultaneously soft-spoken and self-aware. “I woke up in a wilderness today. A place my mind could not remember but my soul already knew,” she delivers.
As she calmly sets the stage for her sophomore record, speaking over sampled sounds originating from her indigenous roots in Puerto Rico and featuring the distinctive call of the Coquí, the island’s native frog, an intention is set: “You are free to transcend. You are free to be Creature and you are free to bend.”
The Brooklyn-based rapper is simply not the same girl who was catapulted into the spotlight after her freestyle over Nicki Minaj’s “Monster” went viral in 2010, although that person lives proudly in her past. While the 26-year-old has clawed her way into a multitude of meaningful discussions surrounding modern day hip-hop throughout the past decade, she has done so on her own terms and without compromise, with her battle cry more fittingly a powerful declaration.
She’s been praised for being a woman in rap who didn’t put her sexuality in front of her handshake to garner attention at the beginning of her career—much like the music industry notoriously forces the hand of female-identifying artists to do in order to be universally “accepted”—and met with resistance after trading in her hoodies and Timbs for other garments that catered closer toward her femininity. For years, Nitty Scott has been exploring and challenging the deeply personal concept of identity through her music. And, most importantly, doing so authentically, ever since she first stepped into the studio as a teen.
With her latest body of work, Creature!, she continues that same journey, doing so in a way that once again bares her soul through her bars. However, this time around, she navigates her story through a character she created, fondly known as Negrita, consciously enabling and empowering herself to speak directly to other women in the Afro-Latina community on a larger scale. Through impactful and impeccable songwriting, Nitty presents her multi-dynamic perspective, as an individual representing for the LGBTQ community, women of color and other minorities and calls out oppression in every sense of the word—all while festively celebrating the revolutionary moments that come with taking ownership of one’s individuality, identity and ancestral roots.
“My story is known to spark a thousand debates/Imitating me so well they repeat my mistakes,” she spits on the track “Write!,” further proving that when it comes to her experience in this lifetime as an artist, advocate, activist, revolutionary and musician, she is the one best equipped to tell it.
Whether she’s writing about it firsthand for an emotive editorial or rapping over beats that somehow consistently always fuse gloriously with her spitfire rhymes and vibrant personality alike, Nitty Scott is as much a student as she is a teacher. With a dedicated emphasis on self-expression, intersectional feminism and unapologetically blazing her own trail as an independent artist with a devout and ever-expanding following, Nitty Scott’s Creature! marks the latest entry into a lifelong commitment to present herself and her art as honestly and openly as possible.
While the album has been roughly two years in the making, and was put on hold while she focused on No Panty, a group alongside Bodega Bamz and Joell Ortiz, it’s a refreshing reminder that incredible art follows its own timeline and cannot be forced. After all, as JAY-Z reminds us, what is real cannot be threatened.
In celebration of the July 21 release of Creature!, XXL sat down with Nitty Scott to dive deep into the making of the 13-track collection, the story of Negrita in Wonderland and how this project marks an era that is as ephemeral as it is transformative.
XXL: Even just saying that you’ve been through a lot with this release is an understatement. Walk us through a little bit of the making of Creature!.
Nitty Scott: Basically, all throughout 2016, I was making the album. Working on it creatively, building on the concept itself, developing what the aesthetic was going to be. I also began discussing the album publicly in interviews and to my fans because I was anticipating releasing it last year.
When I was in the process of making Creature!, I got a call from Salaam Remi. He’s actually someone who I have stated in past interviews is someone I’ve always wanted to work with. So it felt very full circle and simply amazing to even get that call. He had this vision to kind of put myself, Joell Ortiz and Bodega Bamz together to form an experience really, which became No Panty and the West Side Highway Story album.
I had so much fun making that album and we all just made this really dope body of work. I think it was one of those projects that for a lot of the people who enjoyed it, they also didn’t know that they needed it. This fusion of Latinos and hip-hop just hasn’t been seen or felt too much recently, and people who enjoyed the album may have forgotten that feeling and experience until they heard it again. I think that’s why the project was so well-received and I think that we will revisit No Panty in the future, especially because it spoke to an entire community of people.
Anyhow, I chose to put Creature! on hold to focus on that. I wanted everything to have its own season, in order for each project to be really absorbed and experienced. I could’ve put out Creature! and West Side Highway Story simultaneously but I think it may have taken away from one project or the other.
So this summer in a way was perfect timing?
Yeah, absolutely. At the top of 2017, I was ready to shift my focus back on Creature!. From there, it was just a process of really funding the whole thing and finding a way to tell the story that I wanted to tell, along with music videos and all that good stuff. I went and shot some amazing visuals in the Mojave Desert in L.A. for “Pxssy Powah!” with Foundation Media. There’s also another visual that I shot out in Mexico, where I worked with a Sundance Award-winning director who really brought my vision to life.
For me, there’s a birth process for an album. It feels like I’ve been pregnant with this project for 15 months. I do feel like this is the perfect time to release it and everything aligned the way that it should. Creature! is definitely a summer album, and releasing it this year gave me more time to really execute everything that I wanted to, the right way. For me, it’s more about putting something out that makes the most impact possible and makes the statement that I want to make. That’s more important to me than turning around and putting out a lot of work. That’s also something that has become synonymous with me as an artist, where I’m rap game
I think that’s just something that has become synonymous with me as an artist where like I’m rap game Sade and I’ma take my time, go out, live life and be inspired. Then come back and compile all of that into something amazing, and then I’ll disappear again. That’s really my process.
What were some challenges that you overcame while working on this project?
Creature! was not easy to put out. There were a lot of internal things happening and structure-wise, in terms of my team, with all of that stuff happening at the same time. It’s been difficult but I also think that it’s been a very necessary journey. I’m very proud to be able to say that it’s something that I brought to fruition by myself. I have no management and I really brought this project from a concept to fruition myself. Yes, I’ve had some help along the way but I can truly say it’s something that was fully driven by me and my vision of myself.
What are some of the concepts you explore in this new project? Would you say that over time you have become your biggest muse?
Creature! is actually based on my recent experiences. There is a narrative woven into it and that story is the story of Negrita in Wonderland. Negrita is a character but she’s a character that I really identify with, and one that I think a lot of other Black and Brown women living in the city particularly will identify with. In that way, I was very much my own muse because I created a character that is loosely based on myself and embodies all of the things that I do.
She is Afro-Latina, has maybe always struggled with identity issues and feeling like she doesn’t belong in one space or the other, culturally. Being in the city but having these island roots, you know, places where we are used to the sun on our skin and the water in our hair and the sand on our toes; this is what I grew up around and my ancestors too, if you want to take it way back. These are the things that keep me grounded and being connected to nature is something you don’t have in the city. It can be very difficult feeling disconnected from nature, as well as feeling like you’re living a lifestyle that is not in harmony with nature or with the spiritual practices of our people.
The concepts in Creature! were really born from that, from feeling detached and disconnected but craving a dose of culture and heritage and knowledge of ourselves and our history and where we come from. Just wanting to be connected to my past and the things that ground me. I created Negrita to tell that story.
What else can you tell us about Negrita and where the inspiration came from to create a character in order to tell the story?
It’s also taking some inspiration from Alice in Wonderland. So you have Negrita in Wonderland and in this story, she is walking through the Bronx and she is all of these things. She’s oppressed as a Black person and a woman and a bisexual and a Zen Buddhist and all of these communities that she belongs to that are very much marginalized. She is pretty exhausted and feeling very detached from the real her. She is walking through the Bronx and falls down this manhole, which is kind of like the ghetto rabbit hole.
The alternate Wonderland that she ends up in is a tropical dreamland that is pre-colonized Puerto Rico. When she lands there, she is then exposed to her indigenous tribe, as well as is exposed to their practices, their wisdom and all of the things that we have essentially been cut off from as modern day Black and Brown women in the diaspora.
As you’re moving through the album, the music represents the different moods and conversations that represent this experience of Negrita being in Wonderland and coming into contact with this tribe. At the end of the album, she re-emerges, just like Alice in Wonderland, when she returns back to her real reality in the Bronx. However, when she returns, she is equipped with this sense of self that she never had before. She now has been connected to her history in a way that our history books and our documentaries can’t provide, because they just gloss over and revise everything in a way that don’t allow you to really connect with your ancestors.
She is connected in the way of like, Yo, I went back and I felt and saw and touched and tasted what it meant to be alive at this time. At a time before a lot of things that exist in the system we live in today, before they ever really occurred. All of this heteronormative, patriarchal, White supremacist reality that we live in now, there was absolutely a point in time where that did not exist, at least not as a system.
There was also a point in time before slavery, before the slave ships and before the narrative they are always feeding us about Black people. There was also a point in time where we were simply living lives based on ancient knowledge and living in harmony and in alignment with nature and with the earth. And not only that, but living with this respect for the earth, living off the earth and being one with the earth, living in a sustainable way that we aren’t doing now.
Negrita just becomes exposed to all of this information that we are otherwise disconnected from. Because of that, she is a more fully realized person and is able to navigate this world and this society a little bit easier. She’s also now able to teach her fellow brothers and sisters a bit more about who they really are and not what the history books say we are or what society says we are. Just to bring it home, I was absolutely my own muse for this album because I was only able to create that story and create that concept based on my own very real feelings of feeling disconnected from my history and saying, like, Wow, what would it be like if I had access to that information? What kind of person would I be? What kind of person would we all be as Black and Brown women if we were exposed to this knowledge? It inspired me to imagine it and create it.
Do you think it was a bit easier to write such an impactful story through the perspective of a fictional character
Creating Negrita was more about creating something that could embody a whole group of people and seeing that as a way to maybe speak to them and resonate with them. It’s almost like the effect of like, yes, Eminem can tell you his story, but maybe he can tell you B-Rabbit’s story, and it’s just a bit more appealing. I kinda 8 Mile‘d it, because it’s very much based on me but it’s also this character that I think it does make it easier to introduce these themes to the world.
Would you say Creature! is a catalyst for you? Such as being a moment of no longer looking back and being the record that changes everything? What’s going through your mind now that it’s finally out after working on it for the past couple of years?
This project is going to be an era. It’s something that is going to be regarded as, well, ever since this project came out, there has been certain changes in my work, my image, my sound, etc. Creature! adds to my work as a whole. What I mean by that is yes, I am making statements that are pretty definitive, but at the same time I am an artist. I am an artist. I am constantly growing and constantly evolving. I’m not the same person I was five minutes ago.
I also am here for longevity. I’ve always talked about that and about witnessing artists that go out as fast as they got in. I’m really big on not being one of those people. The people who are legendary, specifically in entertainment, have shown us how they have an ability to reinvent themselves and this ability to adjust to whatever climate. That’s me, for sure. My work is cumulative. I don’t feel like, anyone will be able to define or discuss my legacy until I am gone. Until I am dead and gone and not creating anymore. That is when it will be done.
Up until that point, I cannot promise a certain anything. A certain approach, a certain aesthetic, a certain message. The only thing that I really can promise is authenticity and giving the real me at that point in my life. I feel like you can line my projects up in chronological order and you can hear the story and hear the evolution.
You can hear me go from being a 19-year-old teenager with certain world views all the way up to a 26-year-old grown ass woman, with completely different views. And that’s just as of right now. I’m not going to stay in this space either. This is just what is speaking to me at the moment, what is important to me at the moment, what is relevant to me at the moment and what is a current theme in my life, which is identity. My identity is a huge part of my life right now, liberation, sexual liberation, spiritual liberation. Just all forms of middle fingers to oppression and oppressive systems. These things are very much a theme in my life right now.
And Creature! is a direct reflection of that?
Creature! is definitely a reflection of that, just like every project I put out will be a reflection of that. It’s a little bit of both. I do want people to feel like my work fits on top of itself and for that reason, can’t be defined, but I also think that I’m making songs on Creature! about women, about race, about spirituality, about all of these things that are new views that I have that very much challenge my old views. I think that’s powerful and I think that’s dope. It should be embraced.
I don’t think there are a lot of our artists out there that are willing to check themselves and challenge themselves publicly. And turn around and challenge their fans as well. I think that’s really the trait of a leader. The trait that you would want in someone who was a voice in our generation. A leading voice in our generation is someone who is willing to own what is problematic and willing to adjust those things and care about projecting something that is good for the culture. It’s why I had to take my entire brand into my own hands and put myself into a position where all you were going to get was my voice.
What has working on this album, from start to finish, taught you or reminded you, especially when comparing yourself to the earlier stages of your career?
I’m really keeping my promises to be authentic and to challenge ideas and to challenge oppression wherever I see it. While I did have a different way of presenting myself when I was 19 years old—which is totally fair and understandable—I think that it’s brave and honest to say that this is who I am now. I was being authentic then and I’m being authentic now. Those two people can look like two completely different people who were still being authentic. I’ve always been one to challenge.
The point that I am really trying to make and trying to show is that I’m really doing the same thing even if it looks a little different. If any of the fans have been listening this whole time, I’ve always been one to challenge. It might look or feel different but I’m still challenging y’all, the same way that I was challenging when I first came out. Challenging the idea that women have to be hyper-sexualized in order to be given a shot in this industry. I was challenging that and I did break that barrier. I became a relevant, active hip-hop artist without looking like Nicki Minaj.
But when I said that this no longer suits me and I no longer want to carry myself this way and I’m a grown ass woman now, I was met with all types of resistance. While now, I have to prove to myself that we can also look like this and still be intelligent and talented. Even if it doesn’t look the same, I’m still literally fighting for the same thing. Nudity empowers some women, modesty empowers some women. Shaming us for doing either empowers no one. That is the message.
In what way does the message match the mood of the album?
It represents a movement and a collective vibe. I am proud of my Blackness, I am proud of my sexuality, I am proud of what it means to a creative, what it means to be LGBT. With Trump and everything he represents, it really is this rising up of the marginalized. I think I tap into that energy as well. As an artist, it is also our job to document the times and be a reflection of that. I think Creature! definitely captures that energy along with very personal writing.
I wanted there to be a celebratory feel with this album as well. It’s deeply personal and there are moments where the moods are different but overall, it’s a celebratory, festive vibe because I felt like this journey to myself and this acceptance of myself—this ability also to escape all of the men, the systems and the situations that have really tried to control me and censor someone like me–I think all of that should be celebrated. Me conquering that is something that should be celebrated. The mood itself too is also very “wepa bailando,” which is the Spanish phrase that we use to turn up. Let me celebrate this newfound freedom with you because this freedom just tastes so good and I want to share it with you.
At this point in your career, would you entertain a deal from a label or do you think being independent means more to you in 2017?
You can define success for yourself in this day and age. It’s really about making a living doing what you love, being fulfilled and having some sort of creative control over that work. That’s my personal definition. Do I have goals? Do I have ceilings that I would like to reach, that I haven’t yet? Absolutely. I think it’s very important for me to maintain my control and show people what I am capable of independently. I tour, I have a huge following, I have endorsements, collaborations and campaigns with huge companies, such as Sprite, Miller Lite and Paramount Pictures [Zoolander 2].
Being independent is empowering and fulfilling for me. While I do think it’s a lot more glamorous and a lot more financially stable to be with a label, there are things that you give up to have that security that I’m not sure I’m willing to give up. For me, if I could find that marriage where what I want creatively is respected and the deal is something that isn’t insulting, then we’ll see. Ultimately, I have yet to see a label situation that would be completely transparent and in the best interest of the artist. When I see that, we can talk. When people knock on your door because they see what you have built and what you are doing, there is power in that, especially when it is art driven. For me, art, message and substance come first.
How did the collaborations on this project come together?
The collaborations were very organic and mostly from other women of color, which I chose to feature deliberately.
Zap Mama was kind of a shot in the dark, I got her on “La Diaspora,” because I’m a huge fan. She’s worked with Erykah Badu and has an amazing catalog. I reached out via email and was able to connect. I also invited Raina Rich over to the studio to put her sauce on it. There’s another collaboration with Luis Alkobokutei Ramos. He is featured on the last two songs [“Indígena,” “Mango Nectar”]. He is a Taíno Indian who runs the Mobile Indigenous Center of New York City, which is essentially this mobile library that has all types of literature and material on indigenous culture. I reached out to him as well to participate in the project.
The proceeds for “Mango Center” will be entirely going toward the NYC Indigenous Mobile Center. I wanted to do that because I wanted this project to also help fund opportunities for cultural information to arise. That is what this project is about on some level. Wisdom and the knowledge of my ancestors. I thought it was important to do something through the album that supported that as well, in a tangible way.
All of the collaborations on the album are very intentional. I strayed from having super trendy features. I have my wish list of people out there doing their thing right now that I would love to work with someday but this project was so personal. It was about making a statement, versus making something really hot or making the club bounce or whatever. It just wasn’t about that. I only recruited the people who I did who were the best people to tell the story.
When people listen to Creature!, what do you hope they walk away with as well as walk away with from getting to know you through this project specifically? Any words for the people who have counted you out?
For those who have counted me out, I just feel like I am one of the only artists who came up through a certain era that is still able to navigate the climate now. I think it’s really easy to celebrate those individuals who are the hottest or look the most glamorous or busy or whatever the case may be right now. But a lot of artists, both male and female, are lifted up and paraded as the next big thing when a lot of time it’s to their own detriment because they aren’t ready to take on that role or haven’t proven themselves musically.
Let’s talk about having that full package consistently. Even if it may become more perfected over time. I think we have to do a better job as a culture acknowledging who has been out here consistently, as opposed to who is new and hot and fresh. I just think that is very important and that’s something that I possess that not a lot of other artists do. Respect that I’m still here after all of this time and respect that I will still be here after your favorite is gone.
Second of all, even though I created this album very much for myself, I have not played it for a Black or Brown girl who did not feel like this was for her. That is very special to me; it’s something that I was able to achieve by sticking to my experience. Whenever I play this music, for Black and Brown girls specifically, the way their eyes light up and hearts are filled with relate-ability, that just makes me feel like it really doesn’t matter what else happens with Creature! beyond that.
I feel like I’ve made my statement and I’ve really liberated myself in making this statement. I have also made hundreds of Black and brown girls see themselves in this music and that is all that I can ask for. Anything else that happens is a bonus.