Considering her astronomical rise over the past six months, it’s hard to imagine that Kamaiyah was actually working night shifts as a security guard this time last year.
But off the strength of her March mixtape, A Good Night in the Ghetto, the Oakland native landed a deal with Interscope Records and became close collaborators with some of hip-hop's brightest talents. Kamaiyah not only co-wrote YG's infectious player anthem “Why You Always Hatin’” -- which, with its Oakland slang and a guest spot by Drake, rose to No. 62 on the Billboard chart -- but she also steals the spotlight from her more famous co-stars in the video, rapping the hook in a silk robe as two men give her a foot rub.
Now, she’s become part of one of the most transgressive things to happen to hip-hop in 2016: YG’s "F--k Donald Trump" tour.
YG became an unexpected leader of Trump resistance in hip-hop after dropping his single “FDT” during the primaries. The Compton native doesn’t exactly fit the stereotypical “conscious rapper” mold, but he, Kamaiyah, and the other rappers on the tour -- RJ and Sad Boy -- are using their platform and street credibility to mobilize hip-hop fans to get politically active.
As for Kamaiyah, the 24-year-old is ascending to a unique position in the hip-hop industry, both as a female artist and one from Oakland. Unlike New York, Chicago, or Memphis, the Bay Area doesn’t have a strong legacy of established female rappers. Nineties pioneers, such as the Conscious Daughters (whom Kamaiyah considers role models) and Suga T of E-40’s group The Click, never rose to the same level of recognition as their male peers. And the Bay Area’s regional style of street rap, mob music, has revolved so much around pimp culture that it’s easy to see why women might feel discouraged from rapping in the first place.
Add to those challenges the stringent expectations the recording industry places on its female stars -- and the fact that major labels have historically overlooked Northern Californian rap talent -- and Kamaiyah’s success feels like a win for Oaklanders and women everywhere.
As Kamaiyah told me in an interview for the East Bay Express in March, she’s not interested in becoming a sexpot like Nicki Minaj, and could care less about presenting an image of unattainable wealth. And yet tickets sold out for the tour’s Oakland stop Friday night at the Fox Theater (tonight’s encore is also sold out), with audience members just as eager to root for their hometown hero as they were to see YG and publicly bash the president-elect.
A gleeful Kamaiyah looked triumphant on stage in her Rugrats-themed vintage bomber jacket, big T-shirt, and khakis. Members of Big Money Gang, her crew of childhood friends, endearingly cheered her on as she spat bars celebrating sexual freedom, friendship, and financial success over the funky bass lines of her debut release. And after performing “How Does It Feel,” the banger that vindicated broke twenty-somethings and gave her her rise, she even previewed some material from her yet-to-be-announced 2017 project.
Kamaiyah wasted little time on stage banter, but when she did speak, her messaging was clear: “I’m the first lady of the F--k Donald Trump tour,” she declared, inspiring cheers for female empowerment and left-wing camaraderie.
One of the most energized points of the night was when YG and Kamaiyah performed “Why You Always Hatin’” (no surprise Drizzy appearance, though) and “F--k It Up” together. The two artists made clear their undeniable creative synergy, as both are torchbearers of West Coast street rap tradition, writing lyrics that celebrate a good time while acknowledging the dark realities of where they come from. (It was refreshing, too, to see YG praise Kamaiyah as his equal when many blogs and radio stations neglected to credit her for her feature on “Why You Always Hatin’” upon its release.)
“I wanna get political. I didn’t think I had it in me,” YG said after running through “Bicken Back Being Bool,” “Toot It and Boot It,” and other party songs and street anthems. He brought out Sad Boy to perform “Blacks & Browns,” a pensive track about solidarity among black and Latino people that speaks out against inner-city violence and systemic racism; the stage lit up green, white, and red as a flag bearer waved the Mexican flag behind them.
The night concluded with YG bringing out a Trump piñata and inviting four volunteers from the audience -- one black, one white, one Latino, and one Asian -- up to the stage. The four young people channeled their political rage into destroying the effigy, leading YG into his final and perhaps most powerful song of the night: “FDT.”
But for many in the hometown crowd, the night was all about Kamaiyah -- defying expectations of what a female rapper should look and sound like, and becoming an ambassador of Oakland culture to the mainstream while doing it.