Women in hip-hop cannot be smart and sexy at the same time. At least that's what Afro-Latina rapper Nitty Scott was led to believe when she was breaking onto the hip-hop scene. "I always felt those were the two extremes I had to choose from," Scott told Mic. So in the beginning of her career, she chose to cover up, "believing that I would be more respected if I drew attention only to my mind, only to my talent."
What was in that mind created some serious buzz. Scott's debut EP, The Boombox Diaries, Vol. 1, dropped to wide critical acclaim in August 2012. XXL celebrated her socially aware raps as "conscious," but not cliche, "direct, but potent." She's performed alongside Kendrick Lamar and legends Ice Cube and Mos Def, and she recently made Mic's annual Mic50 list, celebrating emerging leaders.
But Scott is no longer satisfied following the prescriptive roles hip-hop has laid out for female MCs. She's been trying to break the mold, expanding her artistic persona by bringing her sexuality in communion with her intellect. It hasn't met an entirely positive reception in the space. In the process, Scott has shown us all how deep misogyny in hip-hop runs.
Nitty's story. When Scott came onto the scene, she styled herself as a no-nonsense, Timbaland-wearing, conscious MC. She discussed feminism and biracial and bisexual experiences. She has advocated for trying to eliminate the stigmas involved with seeking assistance for mental health needs, especially within minority communities. "Nitty Scott can rap her ass off and keep her ass in her pants at the same time," read a line she shared on Facebook from a Store13 promo in 2010.
But when she decided to confront heady topics while celebrating her sexuality in her art, things got dicey with her management. They were "concerned with creating this image of someone who's generally not sexual, almost anti-sexual," Scott told Mic. "When I expressed wanting to grow out of that, things got sticky. There were disagreements about wanting to revamp my brand."
She soon had a realization: "A woman who is covering it up for validation is no better than the woman that's taking it all off for validation," she said. "I realized the only way to really be true to myself and do justice for women was to fully embrace who I wanted to be. ... That's true feminism."
The new Nitty. Scott ditched her brand and started to introduce some sexuality into her art. It was soon recognized and lauded by the Instagram community. In January, Ebro Darden from Hot 97's show, Ebro in the Morning, indelicately announced it to the world: "On the 'gram, Nitty Scott has changed from Timbos and jeans to, like, showing it!"
Scott playfully mocked the reaction Ebro and others have had in her latest video for her remix of Omarion's "Post to Be." "They say 'Damn, Nitty, I didn't know you had them titties!'" she raps. "Yeah, but I still keep it gritty so respect the kitty!"
Unfortunately the transition hasn't been flowers and rainbows. "I can't say there hasn't been any backlash," Scott told Mic. "But more than backlash, there are hundreds of young girls and fans, even men, that I have opened their eyes to the reality of the way women are treated, especially in hip-hop, in this culture that truly doesn't respect women and their natural growth."
Her photos on Instagram are littered with comments like: "You are so fucked up for this shit. You know what you are doing. Smh. More BARZ less tits if I can't be the one." Or: "Fuck rapping. Start stripping!"
"For a lot of people, it was sort of amazing to watch someone who they know to be so respected be disrespected because they were wearing a mini-skirt, or because they're wearing high heels or makeup," she told Mic. "That's why I chose to continue and to use my situation as a microscope for people to say, 'See what happens when a woman decides to be herself? Do you see the things they feel they're allowed to say to you now because your cleavage is showing?'"
But Scott feels the climate is changing. "I think it was important for my audience to see," she says. "I've received letters from men saying, 'Wow, I never saw the plight that you women go through. I never know how hard it was and how complicated it could be to just be yourself.'" With every eye opened, we move closer to truly understanding the misogyny that still pervades hip-hop.
This is why Scott doesn't take days off on Instagram, and why she keeps striking for deeper political and existential topics with her music. She describes one of her two upcoming EPs as evoking darker moods than fans are used to, and she'll be sampling entirely from one of her favorite bands, which she refuses to name.
The deeper she dives, the more open the field will become for the next generation of female MCs to look, sound and act like whatever they want. "It's slowly moving to the forefront where it's cool to be smart again and to be conscious about issues that affect the world and your community," Scott feels. Let's hope she's right.