"I Was Terrified to Bluntly Express My Sexuality": An Interview with Nitty Scott

"I still haven’t resolved the issue of my sexuality in my own family life."
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In 2010, Brooklyn rapper Nitty Scott turned heads with a freestyle over the now-iconic instrumental from Kanye West’s “Monster.” It was an impressive introduction, one that showcased a fresh-faced lyrical wizard whose flow was as flexible as a gymnast and always in motion. 

Since then, Scott’s career has traveled through a series of peaks (working with Kendrick Lamar) and valleys (an ongoing battle with depression) but never once has her desire to connect with fans through her music waned.

Last summer, Scott released the most important project of her career, Creature!, a challenging but enjoyable listen that vociferously oscillates between moments of unabashed self-love and desperate cries to be heard. Though arresting at the outset, its mission is clear. The production throughout the tracklist beautifully pays homage to the sounds of Scott’s Puerto Rican heritage and seamlessly blends in traditional hip-hop production to tremendous effect, morphing constantly from knocking subs and rattling hi-hats to sparse soundscapes whose silence lends the listener’s ear primarily to Nitty’s words. These moments especially highlight the record’s real power: her passion and honesty have never been more on display.

Creature! was the first time I wouldn't allow anybody to filter or influence my message, making the statement that I'm now able to advocate for myself in that way,” Scott says. “Creature! is an ode to my journey as a Black, Latina, queer, spiritual, nerdy girl with PTSD. There's a whole separate inspiration for the project's creative direction, but ultimately, it sprang from personal revolution, and defiance.”

Scott’s proud embrace of her sexuality is one of the most distinctive attributes found on the album. Though fellow artists like Brooklyn emcee Young M.A and newly-signed RCA boyband BROCKHAMPTON have experienced mainstream success despite appealing to similar audiences, Scott knows that hip-hop culture as a whole has a long way to go.

“In the beginning, I was honestly terrified to bluntly express my sexuality,” she says. “I still haven’t resolved the issue of my sexuality in my own family life, to this day. So to be a voice for this community, it has personal consequences that people don't even know about; my advocacy is embarrassing and misguided, even evil, according to several people I love.”

Scott, despite the challenging climate, remains steadfast in her convictions: “I didn't start to be blunt because I felt it was safe, either. I just got tired of the accepted hateful rhetoric surrounding the gay community and realized that none of these issues will ever be addressed if people like me are not visible and vocal about it all.”

Considering the significant amount of personal growth the Orlando-born artist has experienced since her “Monster” freestyle hit the internet, I asked Scott if she believes she’s any closer to finding herself today than she was eight years ago.

“I wouldn't say I've become a whole person by embracing all sides of myself because I was always whole,” Scott says, “but embracing Buddhism has given me a sense of radical compassion and humility, and because of that, my presentation isn't as aggressive, self-serving, or materialistic as most of what you hear coming out.”

Our full interview with Nitty, lightly edited for clarity and length, is below.

DJBooth: Creature! addresses many topics that aren’t readily discussed in hip-hop today, such as mental health. What was the direct inspiration for tackling this topic on the album?

Nitty Scott: Frustration and angst were definitely present. My music and image were tightly controlled for the first part of my career making me unable to fully explore different themes, styles, and looks. Over the years of trying to break free from that, I've been dismissed and insulted, having to fight and fire people for wanting my art to be my truth and not just an easily marketed truth. I've often found myself at the mercy of authoritative, sexist men with antiquated views who simply don't want to guide, invest in, or support me if they cannot control my output. I feel like some people choose not to understand or respect the importance of my perspective because they don't actually want to break barriers or challenge the status quo. Creature! was the first time I wouldn't allow anybody to filter or influence my message, making the statement that I'm now able to advocate for myself in that way.

You’ve been in the game for the better part of a decade. How have the constant cultural shifts influenced your musical approach, if they have at all?

I think I try to have a balanced relationship with the culture, as far as influencing my approach goes. On one hand, I do make shit that feels like the antithesis of everything that's currently being pedestaled. On the other hand, I also make records that could be considered right on the pulse of the climate. Shit, I got music that’s both. I'm always riding my own wave and looking for ways to move the needle, but I'm not opposed to doing something that's popular either. If it's dope, I ain't too pressed to be "different," like go ahead and hop on that Drake freestyle, girl! You can be innovative and not disconnect, you know?

As a queer musician, were you afraid to be so blunt about your sexuality, given hip-hop’s notoriously homophobic history?

In the beginning, I was terrified to bluntly express my sexuality. I still haven’t resolved the issue of my sexuality in my own family life, to this day. So to be a voice for this community, it has personal consequences that people don't even know about—my advocacy is embarrassing and misguided, even evil, according to several people I love.

I knew I'd encounter plenty of homophobia within hip-hop, but I also knew that the experience is nowhere near what black gay men go through. Hip-hop is a little less violent to bisexual women because it's still seen as something that's there for men to consume and possibly take part in—it's sexy, inviting, whatever. I witnessed Nicki Minaj "embrace" bisexuality in her early lyrics and optics, which both dudes and the LGBT community were here for, only for her to later say in interviews that she doesn't actually "do" women. That fit right into the advice I was being fed, which was basically that you can drunk kiss girls, have threesomes and shit, but never appear truly unavailable to your straight male fanbase. You can play into the gay, but don't actually be gay. I felt that if I expressed my queerness, it may be misconstrued as that same shock value, male gaze tactic—which I didn't want. To me, being queer was just a very real identity that brought traumatizing consequences as a teen, and I couldn't just use it like that.

Did you ever formally come out of the closet, or did you just inject your reality into your music?

I wouldn't say I formally came out of the closet, I just started injecting and centering it more in my work. I also stopped "correcting" myself if I wrote a line that was gender-specific, like no more worrying about if men feel included when a particular song or line is simply not for them or about my relation to them.

How did/do your Afro-Latina roots impact your coming out/your daily life today? Do you find that by embracing all sides of yourself you’ve become more whole as a person?

I think my Afro-Latina roots impacted my coming out in the way that I knew embracing my sexuality was its own form of decolonization. As a daughter of the diaspora, I know that our ancient ways of life were replaced by white-washed religion that condemns our natural state of being. My ancestors were not reading from some text that prohibited and demonized my sexuality, so why should I subscribe to those rules? I wouldn't say I've become a whole person by embracing all sides of myself, because I was always whole, and if anything you do all this identifying to realize that your spirit transcends it all in the end.

What words of encouragement or advice would you share with fellow members of the LGBT community who aspire to be a recording artist like yourself?

I would encourage any LGBT artists coming up in the game to not be afraid to claim your space. Having a sense of entitlement in this instance is not only positive but critical. I think people like to think that someone, somewhere is fighting for your right to exist and will make it easier, but that's not necessarily true, so WE have to be the breakthroughs—the culture will not grow without your unapologetic presence.

What must we do first, as a society and in hip-hop, to help make our world a more inclusive space?

I think as a society, we still need to dismantle some powerful, oppressive systems and institutions overall. We need to redistribute power and wealth beyond the privileged elite and center the needs of marginalized groups. Unlearn, relearn. 

Hip-hop specifically needs to grow up a bit and exercise that same empathy we seek as black people. We have to see ourselves in other people who have been denied a seat at the table because doing otherwise would be hypocritical. Seek intersectionality in everything moving forward and we will prosper, honey.

Do artists whose songs contain homophobic lyrics deserve a chance at redemption?

Absolutely. Like, let he who was born woke cast the first stone; you don't just wake up one day and understand that something is problematic or harmful, you sort of learn and apply it to your understanding and behavior over time. 

We're all conditioned to think some very dangerous, flawed ideas planted by our parents, teachers, religions, whatever, so I'm not inherently unforgiving to someone for being wrong before. However, if you want redemption, you have to truly embrace a new perspective and contribute in a positive way. Don't say you're not homophobic because it's bad PR and you might lose your endorsement. Confront yourself and your community, be about it and stay accountable for what you put out into the world.

Do you think we’ll ever reach total inclusivity, or do you think steady change is all we can expect for now?

I'm not sure if we'll ever reach total inclusivity rather than having subcultures within the culture that are alternative to mainstream representation. You have to see hip-hop as this space where toxic masculinity and homophobia have been able to thrive for a long time, and almost like white people's relationship to equality, a lot of people feel threatened by allowing others to enjoy the same respect as them. It's almost like they're freaking out about losing a space where they can call us faggots, bitches, and hoes in peace. We're moving in on their territory, censoring their expression, and they must resist the "gay agenda" and "PC culture."

Still, I can dream of a DJ spinning bops at the intersectional hip-hop gala in the sky—there are gays and lesbians, immigrants and refugees, indigenous peoples, Crips, Bloods, felons, Muslims, trans women, trans men, people with disorders and disabilities, the young and the elderly—no exclusion or violence, just a common condition among us all.

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