At Roscoe's House of Chicken and Waffles in Hollywood, V-Nasty pours sugar into her iced tea, forming a small snowdrift in the middle, before adding a couple packets of artificial sweetener. Then, for good measure, she coats her ramekin of grits in sugar as well. This display causes her manager, Stretch, to burst out laughing. “And they wonder why diabetes is so prevalent in the ghetto,” he chuckles.
V-Nasty is indeed from the ghetto — the 35th block of East Oakland, to be exact. She still has a house there, although she now also has a place in North Hollywood. Today, the infamous white rapper looks cute and slightly tomboy-ish in ripped skinny jeans, Air Jordans and a scoop-neck white thermal that doesn't conceal her leopard-print bra. One side of her dark hair is shaved, the rest has been straightened. In its natural state it's so nappy, she says, that in jail she mixed jelly with hair gel to tame it.
Stop us if you're unfamiliar with this combustible hip-hop character. She's a member of the White Girl Mob, a crew headed by Kreayshawn, who became a rap household name earlier this year with her blog smash, “Gucci Gucci.” V-Nasty quickly gained notoriety herself, and now is known primarily as the white girl who uses the N-word in her rhymes.
A strangely compelling rapper whose stage presence dwarfs that of Kreayshawn, V-Nasty's N-word proclivities have drawn vitriolic responses from all corners. But until now, she's been conspicuously quiet on the subject. In fact, this is the first time she's ever spoken with the press. “I never did an interview before,” she says sheepishly. “I was scared. [But] I actually wanna let people know how I feel about things.”
In our talk she is self-deprecating and as sweet as her tea — the opposite of the defiant, race-baiting image she's acquired. It's obvious that the negative attention has affected her, but she remains on message concerning her narrative arc: that of a girl who grew up in the 'hood and was handed a ticket out.
As her fame swells, she's facing increasing pressure to tidy up her act. Where she once staunchly defended her word choice — which she says reflects the environment she came up in — she's now switched her stance. One wonders: Is V-Nasty capable of taking the edge off?
Now 21 years old, Vanessa Reece grew up in an Oakland neighborhood known for drugs and a high crime rate. She was a rough-and-tumble kid who dreamed of being the first girl in the NFL. Her best friend is her mother, who was in her midteens when she had her. Her father, meanwhile, is in jail. “I love him, but I ain't gotta do shit for him 'cause he never did shit for me,” V-Nasty says.
When she was in sixth grade, V-Nasty and her little brother were at home when the police knocked on the door. She went looking for her parents but couldn't find them — it turns out they'd been arrested without her knowledge. “So I ran in the living room and grabbed my little brother off the couch. [The police were], like, 'Come out with your hands up!' I said, 'It's just me, I'm just a little kid!' ”
By the time she was 12, she was cutting class and stealing alcohol from Safeway, and in ninth grade she dropped out of school. At 15, she gave birth to the first of her two children, both of whom are half-black. Since that time she's been in and out of jail. Robberies usually, she says. Once V-Nasty swiped a girl's purse at a Berkeley frat party; another time, she and friends were pushing people into oncoming traffic as a “prank.”
She most recently returned from incarceration — six months in Alameda County Santa Rita Jail — in December and remains on probation. She won't discuss the details but contends that she's cleaned up her act. Now, “V-Nasty is a square,” she says with a laugh.
Though she recounts her tangles with the law in an almost-humorous manner, at one point a somber mood comes over her. “I wish I didn't have to go through struggles. I could damn near tattoo my whole back with a list of R.I.P.s. That don't feel good. I wish I was from a town where there wasn't a gun in that motherfucker.”
In the mid-aughts, V-Nasty met Kreayshawn through a cousin. The two rappers became extremely close, even living together at one point. Upon the sudden and unexpected success of “Gucci Gucci” in May, Kreayshawn became an overnight sensation, bringing V-Nasty and the third White Girl Mob member, Lil' Debbie, along for the ride. The crew have since toured the country, and V-Nasty has had the opportunity to make a mixtape with her favorite rapper, Gucci Mane, which is slated to come out next month.
She's not signed. Her only solo work released so far, a mixtape called Don't Bite Just Taste, which came out in April, is chock-full of taunts at “bitches.” The N-word is sprayed throughout, and it's a messy affair — she's not always rapping in time to the music, for one thing. But it's also catchy and evocative; one can't help but appreciate the chorus of “You Already Know Me”: “I don't wear heels.” (Well, obviously.)
Despite lacking anything approaching a hit song, she's been catapulted into the spotlight and exposed to ridicule among bloggers almost entirely because of the N-word. (Our own Shea Serrano called her an “ignorant broad.”) Her brazenness in this regard is nearly without precedent among white rappers. Though Eminem did use the word on a tape he recorded as a teenager, he has since renounced it. More recently, white Cleveland rapper Machine Gun Kelly — who also has a half-black child — told XXL he “wouldn't touch that shit. Not where I'm from.”
The subject causes V-Nasty to grow defensive, and she insists that no one could mistake her for racist. After all, her kids' father, with whom she is no longer together, is black; her current boyfriend is, too. She also seeks to distinguish “nigga” — which she uses — from “nigger,” which she doesn't. “Now if I hear somebody say it with an '-er,' I'm gonna speak up! I don't take that shit lightly. I wish somebody would come up and call my daughter or my son the N-word in that way.”
She also associates the word with working-class culture (“What, 'cause of my skin I can't be ghetto?”) and feels unfairly singled out, considering that other nonblack rappers like Fat Joe, whose parents are of Puerto Rican and Cuban descent, use the epithet with immunity.
Nonetheless, she's decided to stop using it in her rhymes, she says, though she won't do so when talking with friends. “They're used to it, they don't give a fuck, you feel me? In Oakland it doesn't matter.”
Indeed, both Kreayshawn and Stretch, who is black and also shares their hometown, have asserted that use of the N-word among other races in Oakland is not a big deal. At the end of the day it seems clear that the word is, somehow, a part of her identity.
V-Nasty still hasn't earned her GED but wants to go back to school. “I'm [more] retarded than a motherfucker,” she says. But she's clearly not stupid, and in fact seems eager to break the cycle of poverty and violence she grew up with. She wants her 5-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son “to have whatever the fuck they want, learn, have a career,” and hopes to move her mom out of Oakland.
Still, the city made her who she is, and she remains in many ways stubbornly loyal to it. “If you're not being yourself, who you gonna be?” she posits. “You can't be somebody else, can't act all the time. Nah, this is me.”
But staying too true to herself might hinder her chance at fame. With Kreayshawn's major-label debut scheduled to arrive early next year, V-Nasty likely will be heavily scrutinized by the national press. If she's presentable, she may have an opportunity to recast her image and find a wider audience; then again, her passion, unrefined sensibilities, and refusal to become a chameleon are what endeared her to her fans in the first place.
She doesn't seem to worry too much about this artistic conflict, however, considering she's already more successful than she could have imagined.
“I never thought I was gonna have a good job. I thought I was gonna be broke all my life,” she says with a delighted giggle.
Hers is a good story, and America loves a reformed sinner. But it's the unrepentant ones we remember best.