V-Nasty tells me she wants to move to Atlanta. "It reminds me a lot of home," she explains. "I like Atlanta. I love Atlanta, actually." She pauses, then mutters, "It's a party place, too."
Vanessa Reece's home and current party place is Oakland, Calif., the gloomy working-class East Bay locale with outlying neighborhoods that are the stuff of concerned mothers' cautionary tales. "How would I explain Oakland?" she asks, like the question is an affront. "I mean, there's really nothing, no clubs or nothing like that. It's pretty crazy. I don't know how to explain it, really. It's all just liquor stores and houses out here."
At only 21, V-Nasty's life has been alarmingly full and laden with setbacks. Pregnant by 15 (and again four years later) and constantly in trouble with the law, her newfound rap career has seen unexpected highs — BAYTL, a collaborative mixtape with Reece's idol Gucci Mane, dropped last month — and many interruptive lows. ("Complications" with her current probation sentence recently caused her to cancel a string of tour dates, including an Atlanta show originally scheduled for this week.)
Like many rap newcomers, V-Nasty got her start on the Internet. A couple years ago she and comrades Kreayshawn and Lil Debbie began posting videos under the tag White Girl Mob, a loose affiliation of bad East Bay bitches whose impudent, patently unsophisticated rhymes caused immediate chaos within the rap-blog establishment. Fellow undergrounders claimed it was the death of hip-hop. Predictably, YouTube commenters went ape.
What really set people off, though, was V-Nasty's liberal — and now infamous — use of the verboten n-word. No white rapper had ever sprayed it about with such machine-gun disregard. "To tell the truth," she admits, "it did actually surprise me when [the controversy] first came out. Like, 'Oh, she's saying the n-word.' And then, like, I realized, it's not the same everywhere as it is at home." Semi-repentant but still a touch naïve, she now explains, "I'm just like, 'Fuck it, I'm not gonna say that word.' 'Cause I don't wanna disrespect anybody. I'm not racist at all. I don't wanna be labeled as a racist, a white girl sayin' the n-word, 'cause it doesn't make me [who I am]."
Despite allegations of millennial minstrelsy, in discussion V-Nasty seems genuine, a real person mislaid amid pitiless flame wars, a living monument to the perils of instantaneous modern success. "I think people are getting the wrong idea about me because of the color I am," she laments. "I'm from the hood. I'll see a lot of comments [saying], 'Oh, she needs to come to my hood.' Oakland, Calif., is one of the craziest hoods you could be from! [Just] 'cause I'm a white girl, I'm not from the hood, I ain't been through what you been through, I never lived in a house in [East Oakland's Dirty] Thirties"
As she herself points out in less graceful terms, it does seem fair to ask whether our current fascination with V-Nasty, an inner-city girl who grew up poor but not black, is symptomatic of certain institutionalized racial presumptions; this quietly insidious notion that a white woman should not behave as V-Nasty does. (For perspective, whether or not she should say the n-word is a far thornier issue.) Regardless, like it or not V-Nasty is important. Like all great lightning rods she exposes our cultural biases and expectations, our deepest seated fears. "You can't change anybody's mind," she says of her many detractors, "but hopefully people realize sooner or later."
More than a symbol, V-Nasty is a person with hopes and fears all her own. In preaching her hood status she divulges a need to move beyond it. Her main objective, she says, is a better life for her mom and two small children. "I'm happy I had my kids young. I love my kids, and it's hard to go on the road and not be able to see my kids, but it's for the better, to get my kids out of where I came from. I don't want my kids to go through what I went through, that's all."
The irony, of course, is that her troubled past is the currency with which she wagers on an uncertain future. "I talk about a lot of shit that I've seen and grew up around, and also been through," she continues. "I wouldn't have nothing to rap about, you know what I'm sayin', if I wasn't attached to the environment I grew up in."