ThaGataNegrra is a Newark, NJ, based artist who merges Hip-Hop with an eclectic geek style, both musically and aesthetically. Self-described as ‘Kawaii-Hop,’ she is known for multilingual verses laced with rhymes that reference everything from Harry Potter to Sailor Moon. With sophomore album P.R.O.W.L. released last October, BGN sat down with ThaGataNegrra to discuss Comic-Cons, Native Tongues, The Sims 4, the Beastie Boys and more.
BGN: While there are Rap/Hip-Hop artists that are known for their eccentric music, styles, and personalities I don’t know of any mainstream or underground performers that are openly into cosplay or nerd culture in general – let alone uses those influences for their stage persona. Can you tell us a bit about how your music journey began?
ThaGataNegrra: Well, you only really have to look to Nerdcore artists for that, I think. I have seen a band that performs in full-on 80’s Transformers gear.
I started when I was young. Music was pretty much the family business. My father is a songwriter. He used to be in a doo-wop group called The Supremes. This was before Diana Ross fronted The Supremes. He used to have a healthy comp thing going with George Clinton, who he grew up with and who was in a similar group, The Parliaments. They later just became Parliament. He actually had an opportunity to join up with Parliament-Funkadelic but turned it down. He was a frontman for a couple of bands. He wrote a lot of songs like “We All Are One” for Jimmy Cliff. So I think it was just in the blood. I always loved many kinds of music, just like him.
Hip-Hop came into my life through my cousin’s dance crew, and I loved it. I wanted to do the same thing, so I wrote. From the beginning, I wrote. I was shy as a kid and to be honest, I still am. But writing how I felt, using words, turning a phrase, and affecting someone somehow appealed to me. I felt free. So I just kept writing, trying to do shows.
The dressing-up thing I got from my dad without really thinking about it. My dad did that all the time as a frontman. He’d be a classic burglar or an aviator character he called Dark Gable the Black Baron. I mean full-on costuming. But my stage purrsona is just an amplified version of who I am.
BGN: Is there any symbolic meaning behind the name ‘ThaGataNegrra’?
ThaGataNegrra: Yes. The black cat in both domestic and melanistic jaguar or leopard forms. They are my totem animals, so my name represents that. It represents the different sides of me. The duality of sweet and fierce being part of that.
BGN: Who are your influences? Musical, lyrical, aesthetic or otherwise?
ThaGataNegrra: I have so many influences. Native Tongues, Run-DMC, Prince, Janet, golden era Hip-Hop, electro, anime, manga, video games, new wave, new romantic. I’m not even listing everything here because so many sounds and visuals have made their impact on me.
BGN: In true American fashion your songs are a melting pot of English, Japanese, Spanish, and Jamaican Patois. How important is language in defining your brand of ‘Kawaii-Hop’? When did you decide to incorporate other languages into your style? Are you multilingual?
ThaGataNegrra: I am learning Japanese, and going over my Spanish because it’s extremely rusty. I grew up learning and speaking some Spanish, but I lost fluency along the way. I learned a bit of French as well – probably going to take that up again.
Language is important because it enables me to continue to express myself in a variety of ways. I’ve always been that weird girl who spoke with words and phrases from several languages and dialects for absolutely no reason at all, so it was with me from the start as far as being an artist.
BGN: What are some of your favorite collaborations to date?
ThaGataNegrra: I have always loved working with my brother, PoppaRazi. On P.R.O.W.L., my second project, I was totally bent to get him to feature on one of the songs again. The collabs on this album have been exciting for me because I got to work with people I worked with in the past, including Mayday, a member of a group I had been in years ago, and also Wrek P., my very first rhyme partner.
I did a collaboration with a rapper called Deuce Wood the 5th. He recently released a project called #ComicCons. There is a Wonder Woman-inspired track called “Wonderous” that he originally wrote as a tribute to his wife. He decided to gather together what he considered to be the six best female rappers in Essex County, NJ, for the fangirl remix of the track, and I was chosen as one of them. That was a really fun project to work on.
I also appreciate Angel Vivaldi, who is an absolute shred god, saving my life on “Like I Do” from my first project. He dropped some guitar parts onto the track for me when we couldn’t get the original guy straight away, and it was beautiful. I also got to work with a producer by the name of Manny Perez for this second project, and his stuff is just amazing.
BGN: What is your dream collaboration?
ThaGataNegra: Rick Rubin. When it comes time to unleash some of the darker sides of me, Rick Rubin would be my ideal producer. As far as an artist? I cannot pick just one. Prince would have been interesting to work with. I would have loved to work with like, say, a Gorillaz-type project.
BGN: Do you have a favorite Comic-Con to perform at or to attend? What is the next Con you’ll be attending or performing at?
ThaGataNegrra: My favorite so far are Library Cons because the atmosphere is generally warm and friendly. Very appreciative. The next Con I will hopefully be at (the deets are still being worked out) is BlurrieCon which is coming up quite soon!
BGN: What are your favorite cosplays that you’ve either seen or been? What’s the longest time a cosplay has taken to finish?
ThaGataNegrra: My fave one I’ve done is my “NyanPika” purrsona—me dressed as Pikachu. I recently saw this really good cosplay of D.Va from Overwatch, but there are so many awesome cosplays out there. If I had more space I would devote time to making more elaborate props and bits for my own character. My cosplays and those of the dancers tend to be a mash of stuff we made, commissioned, or bought depending on who it is so the time varies.
BGN: Do you have a favorite anime? What is the last anime you watched?
ThaGataNegrra: I can’t really pick a fave! I have a few I enjoy watching. The last thing I was watching was Puella Magi Madoka Magica. I need to finish that.
BGN: Same question for films and T.V. shows.
ThaGataNegrra: The last film I watched was Pacific Rim, which I’ve seen quite a few times. The last TV show was WWE RAW since we’re big wrestling fans at Tha Cat Lair.
BGN: Do you have a favorite video game? What is the last game you played?
ThaGataNegrra: The Sims 4. That’s not really a video game, is it? Nevertheless, it’s my addiction. The last thing I played, though, is Pepper II. Yeah, that’s severely old-school.
BGN: What has been the reception to your music thus far?
ThaGataNegrra: In general, some people like it but others don’t know what to make of it. I get a lot of “Oh, I’m not really a fan of Hip-Hop, but I like what you do!” People who like dancing usually like it and “Senpai” in particular gets a great response at anime-centric or Japan-centric events. I had one person tell me that “Like I Do” was their breakup song, which alarmed me at first, but they said it helped them get over the breakup and feel stronger, and I had no words. I just was in complete shock that something I did helped someone.
BGN: What are the downsides of being an indie recording artist?
ThaGataNegrra: Exposure. Getting big exposure. Not having a big legal team and promotional budget.
BGN: Are there any particular struggles associated with being a female rapper?
TheGataNegrra: Always. There are still people out there, both male and female, who will not take you seriously. They expect you to fall into a certain box, and I fit in none of them. I don’t sell sex, at least not overtly. That sort of thing has to come organically for me.
I don’t do the “I’m-gonna-look-and-sound-like-the-boys” thing. I’m not some boss b*tch or purporting to be the baddest b*tch in the game with all the glam, pomp, and circumstance that comes with that. And I haven’t adopted the Earthy Motherland Neo-Soul persona either.
None of those things are who I am. It makes it hard to pin me down, so they dismiss me. There are male artists who still think female rappers suck. And there is ALWAYS this Highlander mentality when it comes to female rappers. One queen to rule us all. The men don’t have to deal with that, why do the women? I never got that.
BGN: Why do you think there aren’t more alternative people of color, particularly women, in the collective urban music genres?
ThaGataNegrra: My guess would be that the powers that be think we aren’t marketable. Or, maybe it’s also that some of us aren’t willing to change ourselves to fit someone’s ideal. I think more and more of us are standing up and saying, “I’m not gonna be your stereotypical artist.”
BGN: What do you hope to accomplish with your music?
ThaGataNegrra: In all honesty besides being able to make a living, live comfortably, and provide for my family, I really want to just keep creating and having fun. I am happiest and most challenged when I am creating, making new tracks and sharing them with people. I love being onstage and entertaining. My wants are pretty simple. I just want to be heard and to have those thousand true fans!
BGN: Are there any new music releases you’re digging or old favorites you’re spinning?
ThaGataNegra: This is gonna sound funny, but the newest release I enjoyed isn’t even from a real artist. It’s a comedian named Michael Dappah. He’s got this character, Big Shaq, who does a song called “Man’s Not Hot.” I blame my son. He showed me the meme, and for some reason, it has just taken over Tha Lair.
I tend to stay stuck on 80’s and 90’s alternative, and a whole playlist of Public Enemy, Run-DMC, Beastie Boys, Digital Underground, stuff like that.
BGN: Are you working on new material?
ThaGataNegrra: I am. I have a collaboration with an artist called The Real Mike Wilson in the works, and I’m working on some specialty tracks some might be interested in, but I can’t spill on those just yet.
BGN: Where can we find out more about your music?
BGN: Anything else you’d like to tell the web-verse?
ThaGataNegrra: One of the GNOtaku (GataNegrraotaku—the fans) has started a petition to try and get back my Twitter and my original Instagram since there was a phrase on them that infringed on a trademark filed after the creation of both profiles. I would very much appreciate it if you guys would sign the petition.
Written by Nadia Carmon