“If we shoot it on my phone you won’t be able to see the razor bumps on my legs,” explains Michete.
The skinny, transfeminine rapper lives in Seattle, but has taken her first trip to Philly this November weekend, staying with post-disco pop wunderkind Shamir, a good friend, and figuring out the logistics to shoot a guerrilla-style video for a new, collaborative track called “Tantrum.” The two met through Facebook a couple years ago, and Shamir was an early fan of the rapper’s confrontational-but-silly songs like “Rap Game Kimmy Gibbler” (“If I’m a queen then I guess that you’re a princess”) and the instant classic “Me and My Bitches” (“When I say ‘pussy,’ all my bitches say ‘cunt’”).
Michete’s sound up to this point has mostly combined the minimalistic get-go of trap and Miami bass with the demon-who-laughs-at-her-own-jokes fury of early Nicki Minaj — if she said things like “Call your girlfriend, tell her that it’s over / Got you switching team so they call me Red Rover.” But last year’s attention-getting sophomore release, Cool Tricks 2, flirted with more dance- and pop-oriented fare, like the Reverend Dollars-assisted, closeted-fuck send-up “Come Get It, Daddy” (“It’s not the end of the world just because I gave you the suck”) “D.L.O.D.” (“doing lots of drugs,” natch), which isn’t an accident. Having proven she could rap, the 24-year-old’s seeking something closer to pop stardom, or as she puts it: “I don’t wanna be out here calling myself an “MC” when my biggest influences are like, Peaches and Kesha. I’m a stupid bitch and I just wanna rap like a stupid bitch.”
Indeed, you’d be hard-pressed to find a rapper more influenced by “My Humps,” a song that Michete wants to make “the inverse of — in which I’m rapping coquettishly about the fact I have no humps or lumps to speak of.”
We’re in Shamir’s South Philly living room, where they’ve flipped open Audacity on their laptop to show me an early draft of “Tantrum.” It’s an archetypal Michete track, with the two trading off lines like “I look like a messy bitch, that’s because I am one” over a skeletal beat of aggressive handclaps. Except Shamir has laid down crunchy, “Rock the Bells”-style guitar that will be added to the tune, which is set to be the first single off of Michete’s upcoming third mixtape, Cool Tricks 3, this spring (Michete and Shamir premiered this song and video along with this piece; you can watch below). At the DIY basement venue Pho 42 tonight they’ll be performing the song twice during the rapper’s set for video purposes, which they joke will go down “like when Kanye and Jay Z performed ‘Paris’ 11 times in a row but with a song no one’s heard before.”
Part of these two’s chemistry is the fact they’re encyclopedic ratchet-pop nerds (with killer impressions it turns out: Shamir’s almost-creepy Joanna Newsom and Michete’s dead-on Le1f), so naturally conversation turns to debates like who’s harder, Kreayshawn or M.I.A. Allegedly, Kreayshawn made it to the final casting round for Oxygen’s infamous Bad Girls Club, but bailed after catching wind of an episode where one contestant threw bleach on another.
“Throwing bleach, that’s like chemical welfare,” says Shamir.
“Welfare?” They can’t stop laughing. There’s been weed, but Michete doesn’t smoke “even though I do lots of other drugs.” I just want to see a show where people throw bleach on each other.
“Let’s do that tonight. Onstage. It’ll be our trick,” they say.
In Michete world, “Tricks” are the currency, a term that arose while the rapper was high watching Missy Elliott stretching her neck like Reed Richards in the “Get Ur Freak On” video and thought, “Cool trick.” Thus, the mixtape series Cool Tricks was born. “Let’s get a fake bottle of Clorox.” The rapper pauses. “Wait, it’ll look racist if I’m throwing bleach on my black friend.”
Michete’s least favorite article about her is entitled “Why Michete Is the Worst Queer Rapper You Need to Listen To.” She eagerly looks forward to the day when it’s no longer the top result for her on Google. Personally, that kind of headline is just the sort of thing that got this Eminem diehard to check out her music in the first place. But the piece conflates Michete’s frequent reclamation of a certain slur in songs like “Closet Case Fags” (an early stunner that should resonate with other queer then-15-year-olds from towns like Spokane) with an ignorance of intersectional awareness, which Michete, a white person, is extra-careful to appear deeply respectful of these days. She’s even flirting with shedding the rapper label altogether: “I’m an underground pop star.” The Pitchfork piece also coined the admittedly funny term “qrap” for queer rap, but that isn’t a genre. “One [journalist] asked me about the state of queer music or whatever,” Michete recalls, “And I said I fucking hate Sam Smith.”
“Are all these also gel? Damn. This a deluxe-ass nail salon,” the rapper says at our pre-show manicure appointment (“We’re walk-ins. Squawk-ins.”). A small party of women are getting pedis with party hats and champagne; Shamir snaps a group photo for them after a recording of “Happy Birthday” suddenly fills the room. Michete’s trying to find a nail polish to match her green flannel for the “Tantrum” video. “Is the headline of this article going to be ‘Is America Ready for a Rapper With Gels?’”
It’s decided that I should color-coordinate with Michete’s green and Shamir’s red — like the Powerpuff Girls. Michete is “definitely the Buttercup,” I feel fairly Bubbles. “Go for the blue to complete the trilogy,” they say, though they’re not a fan of the 2016 reboot. “Bubbles said ‘yaaas!’ I don’t need my Powerpuff Girls to be on fleek.” Obviously the rap game Kimmy Gibbler’s a bigger fan of Fuller House: “You have to watch that. It’s a real sherm experience.”
Later at the venue, Michete accepts an offer of a chocolate-chip edible before performing (“I’m really good at drugs”) and rattles off loose-sounding plans for Cool Tricks 3. One track’s going to be called “Rihanna Kraft Singles” because it’s the best combination of words she’s ever heard in her life.
“I think I wanna make stupider music in the near future,” Michete says. “I’ll be happy enough with my production skills if I can ever make a song as good as ‘Boom Boom Pow,’ where I can spend the entire time talking about just how good the beat I made is.” That one could be called “Unf Unf Splooge.” The rapper’s more reverent and less glib when describing the Seattle scene she escaped Spokane’s overwhelming G-Eazy fandom for.
“There’s a bunch of artists popping up who are really embracing a more forward-thinking, less conventional approach to hip-hop. It’s super queer and super weird and sonically very experimental, these artists in my little pocket of the underground scene who I really think are gonna be a big deal. Like DoNormaal is really that bitch, I really think she’s gonna pop off. She and her boyfriend Raven Matthews, who’s also a rapper and also very good, they have this collective/movement called 69/50, and I’m part of that. I play shows with them all the time at this place called the Upstairs in Seattle. They’re super into giving a platform to unconventional artists who may not be able to get a platform otherwise.”
Michete’s observant of the fact she gets a more enthusiastic response when she plays shows with punk bands than other rappers, and the Pho 42 set is no different, rousing a hypnotized chunk of crowd with only a mic and iPod despite being an out-of-towner going on at midnight. “Me and My Bitches,” “Come Get It, Daddy” and “Recognize This Pussy” sound massive in the dark basement, especially to the women in front who danced with the ecstasy of someone who just found the only other person they’ve ever met that speaks the same language. Underground pop star or not, Michete’s made timeless hip-hop at a time when it’s needed most — out of “Could I be more gay? Yaaaaas.” It’s a good trick.