Alien Mac Kitty has found her own lane as a rapper while honoring her father Cougnut, one of the first and most distinctive San Francisco rappers on wax. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)
Editor’s note: This story is part of That’s My Word, KQED’s year-long exploration of Bay Area hip-hop history, with new content dropping all throughout 2023.
In San Francisco rap circles, Cougnut is a name spoken with reverence.
Black C of RBL Posse called the late rapper “the top dog” in a Thizzler interview. On his Native Sonz podcast, artist manager D.E.O. said that “he regulated shit” and brought peace to the streets. “There might not be the hip-hop scene in San Francisco if not for Cougnut,” added rapper Dregs One.
But to Mariah Fields, a.k.a. Alien Mac Kitty (A.M.K), Cougnut was just Dad. As a young child in the ’90s, she had some indication that her charismatic, funny father, Ronald, was somebody. But she had no idea that he was a voice for the City’s underworld, and that his gravelly raps empowered those who survived incarceration and violence. She didn’t know that Cougnut and his group I.M.P. were among the first Frisco rappers on wax in the late ’80s, and that fans across the Bay Area considered them icons.
“He’s my dad, so I’m not knowing the hype around it — it would just annoy me,” Alien Mac Kitty says of her childhood. “But over time I could just tell by the way people gravitated towards him that he was an important person. … It was just hard when we had our time and then people would come up like, ‘Oh my God, Cougnut.’ Like, back off, get away from my dad, get away from me.”
Now grown up and a rising rapper herself, Alien Mac Kitty has a different appreciation of Cougnut’s artistry, and is on a mission to carry on his legacy while making her own mark.
Star power runs in the Fields family, and it’s hard to miss Alien Mac Kitty when we meet on a weekday afternoon for veggie burgers in the Haight. True to her name, her vibe is Hello Kitty meets Mac Dre: she wears psychedelic prints, silver cowboy boots and a fur coat, and waist-length, pink braids frame her neon-pink pout. Alien Mac Kitty’s music has a similarly adventurous, let-your-freak-flag-fly flavor — on a first listen, it’s a far cry from her dad’s stone-cold gangster lyrics and villainous delivery. But there are shared qualities between father and daughter, including a willingness to absolutely go for it — to commit to a captivating, edgy persona, and to explore taboos.
“I could only imagine if he were here, what type of mentor he would be and how he would guide me,” A.M.K says. “Gosh, he was way ahead of his time, and his style is just unmatched, and never could be duplicated.”
Healing grief through music
Surprisingly, even though I.M.P.’s iconic 1995 album Ill Mannered Playas came out during her childhood, Alien Mac Kitty didn’t listen to Cougnut’s music until she was an adult. As a kid growing up in the Fillmore, she wasn’t allowed to listen to it — her dad’s preferred subject matter of ruthless street life was not exactly PG. After Cougnut died in a car crash in 2001, when A.M.K was just 11 years old, grief made revisiting his discography unbearable. That feeling was compounded by the loss of Alien Mac Kitty’s mother, Gloria, a visual artist, in 2009.
“It actually took me about 17 years to visit his gravestone,” says A.M.K. “I ran from that for so long because I was afraid. But when I finally went and visited him, it brought me closure and I saw how peaceful things were.”
When A.M.K finally listened to Cougnut’s music in her 20s, she was able to see her dad in a new light. She admires his vivid storytelling on I.M.P’s 1989 “I’m Rollin’,” and gets amped to the aggression of 1995’s “Boots Laced Tight.” “Tell Me Something Good” — a 1994 Cougnut single from Master P’s West Coast Bad Boyz compilation — shows an unusually vulnerable side of the rapper, where he laments cycles of violence and mourns friends gone too soon.
“I have my mom’s diary writings and I have my dad’s music, so I want to try to figure him out,” she says. “I want to try to get to know him. So what’s in his mind? I listen to his music and I feel like we have a lot of similarities, and that’s all I have.”
For years, Alien Mac Kitty didn’t think of herself as a rapper. Her paintings were her first love — when we meet, she’s wearing a self-made button with a drawing of a cool alien girl with three eyes and pink hair. Rap is “something I’ve always wanted to do at the right time, but I just didn’t want to recreate my dad,” she says.
Grief rippled throughout Alien Mac Kitty’s life, and after years of focusing on healing, she now finds herself in a “grounded, elevated space,” and is ready to express herself with intention. “I did a lot of inner work and spiritual work, and just facing myself in a lot of stuff. And then Alien Mac Kitty came. Now — eeow — I’m here from outer space.”
A little help from her O.G.s
Cougnut’s peers and other San Francisco hip-hop veterans have helped A.M.K find her footing. Rapper and activist Equipto, a Cougnut fan since his early teens, encouraged her to throw a tribute art show for her dad in 2019, her first major effort to promote and preserve his legacy.
“Growing up in the Mission District as a young kid, and hearing [Cougnut’s] music coming out of people’s cars everywhere, out of people’s radios everywhere, it was like an anthem,” Equipto recalls. “It was like, ‘Oh, we can make music, too. San Francisco could get recognized, too, along with the New Yorks and the LAs.’ It just brought this this whole empowerment to San Francisco kids.”
Supporting Alien Mac Kitty was a “no-brainer,” he says. “I seen her art and I seen her energy and I heard the music, and I knew that she was a star.”
Equipto also watched A.M.K grapple with differentiating herself from her father while finding ways to honor him, and encouraged her to keep going. “I think her finding that balance and be her own individual yet still carry on that legacy in such a strong [way] is incredible.”
T.C., a veteran producer and engineer who worked with Cougnut on iconic I.M.P. tracks like “Merciless” and “I Smell Jealousy,” welcomed A.M.K into his studio.
“Anytime I have a question, he’ll help me,” Alien Mac Kitty says. “[T.C.] took me under his wing, and I have so much love for him.”
For T.C., offering guidance came naturally: “With the relationship me and her dad had, it was only right, you know?”
T.C. first met Cougnut in the late ’80s, when Cougnut responded to a flyer advertising a new music studio in Lakeview, his neighborhood. T.C. was a producer and engineer there, and the two instantly clicked. Their friendship was one of friendly competition, of challenging each other to improve their craft.
“His voice alone was intimidating. He had a very strong voice,” T.C. says.
“He was a rapper’s rapper,” he adds. “Like, if he see other rappers coming around, he’d go up to they face — ‘Hey, check this out’ — and start rapping to ’em.”
T.C. sees the same boldness in Cougnut’s daughter. “She’s really passionate about her art, her freedom of speech. And I call her an artist because she does all genres.”
While T.C. also produced legendary San Francisco artists like RBL Posse and Andre Nickatina, he estimates that Cougnut was the first rapper out of the City to make an impact throughout the whole Bay Area.
“We ain’t playin’, man. I feel like the Bay Area right now is the place to be as far as this rap scene,” Cougnut said in a 1996 interview with the No Joke rap newsletter. “We’re not LA. We’re not New York, but I feel like the Bay Area is blowin’ up so much right now to where I think everything comin’ up out this Bay Area is hittin’.”
The future looks bright for A.M.K
A.M.K has been releasing singles since 2019, and her 2022 EP Out Her Space is her most complete body of work yet — full of uptempo, rambunctious tracks for going dumb on the dance floor, with catchy call-and-response hooks. Most recently, she was featured on the Frisco Daze rap compilation alongside 30 up-and-coming artists born and raised in San Francisco. Her fanbase is growing, and people are starting to repeat her slogan, “Fuck Charles,” which isn’t a diss to a specific person — she uses it to cast away the negative forces of the universe.
When Alien Mac Kitty performs live, her energy is infectious. On a recent Saturday afternoon, at Family Not a Group’s 415 Day party at San Francisco’s El Rio, she presided over an enraptured crowd: “Get those fucking dicks up, fuckos,” she yelled over the screech of an electric guitar, clarifying that by “dicks,” she means “energy.” Definitely a brash entrance, but the audience cheered approvingly in response.
She wore a Starter jacket emblazoned with Cougnut’s name, and custom-painted shirt with his portrait. She invokes him often during performances “to give me that strength to execute it and rock out,” she says.
“I’m doing this for you,” she tells her dad, wherever he may be in the next realm, “and us, and the legacy.”