Lil Debbie is 30 minutes late, and she is high. This is clear because she tweets, "hella high at this L.A. Weekly interview," a few minutes after sitting down (38 retweets, 147 favorites), and because later, while telling a story, she blanks and says, "Honestly, I just smoke so much weed I forget sometimes."
It's important to note that she is also fabulous. The rapper's debut EP, Queen D, will be released this month on indie label Give n Go Sounds, and she has the easy confidence to match her self-proclaimed royalty. Tiny and platinum blond with Cleopatra eyeliner, the East Hollywood–based Debbie looks as if Tinkerbell fell out with the Lost Boys and fell in with a girl gang.
Her teal nails, tipped with gold stripes, pinch fries and deliver them to her mouth one by one as she explains her plans for the evening. "I'mma get tatted up tonight," she announces. The new ink — a hummingbird, a money sign and a California poppy (the state flower) — will bring her grand total to 21 tattoos, and she plans to get them done in typical Lil Debbie style, i.e., without planning out much in advance. "I'm, like, really ghetto with my tattoos," she says.
Born Jordan Capozzi, the 23-year-old befriended fellow Oakland rappers Kreayshawn (Natassia Zolot) and V-Nasty (Vanessa Reece) when she was 15, and the three of them formed the White Girl Mob, a Caucasian crew dedicated to brassy, bold lyrics and looks that were gaudy but great. In 2011, they found viral success overnight with the release of Kreayshawn's "Gucci Gucci" video.
In the three-minute spot, for which Debbie served as a hype woman and stylist, she and Kreayshawn hang out on Fairfax in white tees and gold jewelry while the latter rhymes about her distaste for luxury brands and "basic bitches." The group's sugar-spice good looks and Bay Area street cred, combined with the "based rap" trend that linked their names to others like Lil B, helped further their success. But the viral video and Kreayshawn's deal with Columbia soon led to tension in the posse. Four months after "Gucci Gucci" blew up, the other members kicked Debbie out.
Recriminations in the form of all-caps tweets included accusations that "swag jacker" Debbie skipped Kreayshawn's birthday and just wasn't active enough in the group. (Now, Debbie complains about too many rules and a hierarchy created by a manager who worried about Kreayshawn and no one else.) Not long after, V-Nasty, who came under fire for using the N-word, also left the now-defunct outfit. "Motherfuckers just grow apart," she told L.A. Weekly in an interview earlier this year.
Debbie and V-Nasty now are friends again, but she and Kreayshawn are not. "It doesn't really matter," Debbie says, pulling at her gold hoops and adding that, seeing as Kreayshawn recently had a son: "There's nothing to say about us anymore. You can't really talk about a mom."
In fact, she's thankful the trio split up. "It's sad — I feel like White Girl Mob could have gotten bigger than what it ended up being, but I'm thankful that I'm in my position, because I don't really see what anyone else is doing right now," she says. "I ended up being MVP, and nobody even knew it."
This is a slagging off of Kreayshawn but a curious one, considering that Kreayshawn's name is synonymous with a hit song, while Debbie's highest-profile release, a mixtape hosted by DJ Fletch called Keep It Lit, hasn't gotten much traction. "I have real hits, real bangers, real fun stuff," Debbie says, when asked about the difference between her solo songs and Kreayshawn's. "I'm not talking about weird shit. I didn't try to go to alternative rap. I stuck to what I normally do and did my ratchet, my bitches."
She means this literally. Queen D features a song called "Bitches" followed by one called "Ratchets," which boasts more swagger than substance. In the video, she oozes bravado in front of black backup dancers, the kind of thing that tends to inspire the sort of racial-appropriation critiques that Miley Cyrus has been receiving. (In fact, Lil Debbie's fans complain that the artist formerly known as Hannah Montana stole Debbie's style, from the all-white styling and black backup dancers to her use of said "ratchet" aesthetic.)
Since moving from Oakland to L.A. for the second time more than a year ago, Lil Debbie's output has been mixed. She paired with another gaudily dressed, zeitgeisty white rapper, Riff Raff, for YouTube hits including "Squirt," ("rap game Betty Crocker, in Versace boxers"), "Brain Freeze" ("When it comes to houses, I've got more spots than a Dalmatian") and "Michelle Obama" ("I just wanna have some fun, Cindy Lauper").
Although Debbie's voice can be shrill, and she doesn't possess what you'd call traditional MC skills, the videos have more than a million views each, thanks in large part to the force of both personalities.
The video for Queen D's single "Bake a Cake" finds Debbie dressed like a red-light Marie Antoinette, mixing batter. Everything from the gauche gold set design to the tips of her unnervingly long white nails was her idea; having dropped out of the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising (she studied at both the San Francisco and Los Angeles campuses), she now takes particular pride in the concept and styling of her videos.
"I know what I want to wear, and I'm very picky," she says. "I never go on-set and just have clothes there I've never seen. I would freak out."
When it comes to the bigger picture, however, Debbie is less hands-on. iTunes notes Queen D's release date as Oct. 22, but until recently her next planned project was a mixtape called California's Sweetheart, which her manager bluntly asks her not to discuss on the record.
In general, her place in pop culture remains unclear, and she contends that she's "broke as fuck," sometime between hitting up her manager for french fries, noting that she shares an apartment with a roommate, and saying she opts for the cheaper Calvin Klein weed strain from Kush Collective on La Brea. "What I wear, I wear every day and buy with my own money."
Getting signed to a larger label is definitely the goal. "They pay for your song placement, bitches get surgery, you know what I'm saying?"
In the meantime, she just wants to release enough material to build her social media following (including more than 100,000 Twitter followers) into a successful independent debut.
Although her interest in fashion is on the back burner, she's working on a number of one-off design projects and plans to one day release her own line — "nothing too bougey." She wants to move out of L.A., which she calls "poisoning" and "delusional," to the East Coast. In five years, Debbie plans to be "on a private jet, hot-boxing on my way to Italy, like, 'What's up, biiiiitches?' "
She has a lot of work left to do. But first, she has to survive those tattoos tonight. "That's it, though," she says, looking at the empty space on her left arm. "No more after that. That shit hurts."