A long time ago, Tha Gata Negrra – who calls herself “Tha true original gata” and performed at the ING Marathon in Manhattan – found out that people were surprised when a female artist bottled up so much lyrical aggression. On her website biography, she recounts how this pivotal career moment made her never want to back down to anyone in the industry just so she could make it.
Of course, this attitude, combined with her stage attire, automatically throws her in the Nicki Minaj clone pile. Rather, we could and should listen before jumping to conclusions. Listening, we could compare her to women like Missy Elliott, who channeled her frustrations with men into fast-rapped songs like “One Minute Man.” Like Elliott, Tha Gata Negrra makes use of foreign influences and pop backgrounds mixed into mainstream hip hop beats…
You went to a performing arts high school. Do you use acting often in your songs and performances?
I think some form of acting is essential to a performance, whether live or in the studio. Even if you are being yourself, and being as honest as you can be, it’s still an amplified version of you. You also need it to convey the emotion in the song you’re performing, which is important to connecting to your audience–I’m learning this more than ever, now. Everything must be bigger. On “GATA City,” I ended up having to do some acting for the interludes, of course. I’m obviously not Meryl Streep, LOL–but I think I did okay.
What made you fall in love with manga and Lolita style?
I was exposed to different Asian cultures by my mami early on. I’ve loved anime and manga since I was a girl– old-school stuff like Akira, Gatchaman, Dirty Pair, and then Pokemon, Dragonball Z, Sailor Moon. I liked American stuff like Thundercats and stuff from Adam Warren–his version of The Dirty Pair is my favourite.
I loved video games like Street Fighter and Darkstalkers. I just always loved the look and feel of the genre. So much action and movement, big coloured hair, expressive eyes. I decided that was what I wanted to be.
In one of the groups I was in, that was our whole theme; we were characters from an anime! Part of that was because someone was always telling me I looked like I “stepped out of Japanimation” or a comic book, anyway. I’ve had a habit of adding little girl touches to my usual clothing, and I love schoolgirl uniforms, over the knee socks, hair bows, barrettes, ruffly dresses. I didn’t know it had a name until it hit the States. I tend to have more decora going on than anything, though. I’m told I have Japanese ancestry on my paternal side, anyway, so I’m embracing it.
How do you feel about others comparing you to Nicki Minaj?
It happens. Not always, but it happens. It’s frustrating sometimes, but I find it’s often because people need to label everything or identify you with something that they know to feel comfortable with it. But just about any black girl walking around with unnaturally-coloured hair or a balls-out style is gonna get called Nicki Minaj at some point.
It used to be you were called Lil’ Kim for that very same reason. It’s like, “Hello–not everyone is trying to be like those two…” It happens to me more because of what I do, of course. But I’ve had people come up to me and ask, “Are you dressed like Monster High?” “Are you a Bratz doll?” LOL… I’ve even been called Lady Gaga. It’s hilarious.
OK, it feels like some of the comparisons are warranted because of what you look like. If someone heard and not “saw” your music, which men and women in hip hop might they compare you to?
I’ve often been compared to Lisa “Left-eye” Lopes as far as how I sound. I’ve also gotten Missy Elliot, Eminem because I tend to cram a lot of syllables into a line, Azaelia Banks because of the dancey material. Sometimes I get De La Soul, but how they were when they first hit.
Why do you think there is a shortage of women in mainstream hip hop?
I think it’s because hip-hop is still widely regarded as a man’s game. There are plenty of people who think women can’t rhyme–never mind that it’s been proven over and over again that we can. I’m not sure why, but there is an unspoken, really stupid attitude in hip-hop culture that dictates that there can be only one girl at the top at any given time–which is ridiculous. This isn’t Highlander. There’s room for everybody.
This kind of thinking doesn’t happen with the men. I also think it’s because a great many of the women who have not yet broken through have wised up and are not willing to compromise themselves just for the fame and glory. They don’t want to sell out.
What new music can we expect this year from you?
I am working on a project called “P.R.O.W.L.” at the moment. It’ll show other facets of me that I haven’t yet touched on in the previous effort. I’m going to mine some emotional, more personal gems, and showcase my lyrical ability a bit more. I’m looking at a late spring release.