New Orleans native 3D Na'Tee is one of the most ferocious rappers currently recording. Her mixtape The Coronation, released in July, includes production from Lex Luger and a guest spot from Keri Hilson, as well as some of the most focused writing of her career so far. Below, Na'Tee discusses the diversity of her musical heroes, how hurricane Katrina changed her outlook and the challenge of making a name for yourself as a female rap artist in New Orleans.
How'd you link up with Timbaland? Timbaland is my favorite producer, and we worked together on The Coronation, my first mixtape with 100% original production. For "Switch" a song on my last mixtape, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, I took a whole bunch of old Timbaland beats, and put them together in Pro Tools. When I was naming the video, I put that it was a tribute to Timbaland. Timbaland's blogger showed Tim the video and Tim was like, "You've got to get out here.” He flew me out the same day. I didn't know what to expect. That was my first time working with someone of his stature. I put him on a pedestal, he's a genius when it comes to production and recording. When I walked in I thought he was gonna be a guy with a big ego, just beating on all kind of shit! But he's real cool. He treats me like I'm one of the family members, one of his peers, not just somebody he saw on the internet. He gives me my space, my own little recording room so I don't have to deal with everybody coming in and out of my sessions.
When did you start rapping? I recorded my first song when I was 10. My mama brought me to this recording studio. I always used to rap and freestyle around the house, so she brought me to surprise me. In elementary school, I would have people beating on the desk and I would just rhyme and talk about people's shoes, or talk about their mom, you know, play the dozens. Ever since I can remember I always wanted to rap.
Who were you looking up to at that time? When you were a teenager, New Orleans rap was really big, but you seem influenced by New York, too. I always sought out lyricists and hardcore artists. Biggie is my favorite artist of all time and Foxy Brown is my favorite female rapper. I know Broken Silence front to back, that's a classic to me. The song with her and Ronald Isley, “The Letter,” is one my favorites. The first album I purchased was the Fugees, The Score, on casette tape.I was a stan for Lauryn Hill! Back then it was diverse. People were listening to a lot of different artists from all over—not just Cash Money, or not just Ruff Ryders. I think that's what was great about music back then, in the '90s. There were more to choose from. Soulja Slim was a huge artist in New Orleans, he's still a huge artist in New Orleans, and he was a big influence, too.
What about Soulja Slim appealed to you? What was it like when he was still alive and his music was really hot? He was from right down the street from where I grew up. He used to visit the block behind my house. I lived on Delachaise, and Parkway was directly behind my block. That's where KLC grew up. A lot of artists used to come there; Master P used to drive down that block and hang out. When Slim was alive, everyone looked at him like, Aww, that's Soulja Slim! That was somebody that I could touch, somebody I could see grinding. He still had the mentality of being from that area, trying to grind and make it. He was on his way to get that recognition that he deserved prior to his death. That's why his passing hurt. That hurt my city.
Have you ever imagined yourself singing, like Lauryn Hill? Not really—I just liked the passion that she had. She put so much of herself in her music. She and I don't come from the same place, we don't have the same experiences. But I want to be as passionate as she was with her music, and as honest as she was with her music.
As you got started, did you find yourself identifying with women rappers specifically? Not really. I just wanted to bring my reality to it. A lot of people nowadays say to me, “You don't remind me of a female artist.” I think it's because I don't focus on my sexuality. I know dudes like to look at me, but I speak more about what's going on in my life. All the videos that I shoot, I edit them, I direct them. I try to bring some humor to it. A lot of female artists try to be the best female rapper of all time, but I want to be one of the greatest, period. When you ask a hip-hop head who their favorites are, it's always Nas, Jay, Pac, Big. They never say a female artist, and I want to change that. A lot of males who listen to my music tell me that they appreciate the fact that I'm al lyricist. But females can identify with my story, and I'm grateful for every listener that I have. I've been doing this for a long time. I use to go on random people's MySpace pages, just saying, Hey, I'm a rap artist, if you give me your address, I'll send you my mixtape for free. I spent thousands of dollars doing that, money from my pocket. That's how I gained a lot fans.
When did you start pursing rap seriously as a career? Had to be middle school. There was a group in New Orleans called the Sniper Squad, and I joined that group when I was 13. I was the only female in the group. We put out a mixtape together; I used to press up copies and pass them out at school. I recorded with Sniper Squad until Katrina hit in 2005. Before the storm, I was with the group and working on my first solo stuff. After the storm, all the Sniper Squad guys separated, moved to different places. Some of them weren't getting along any more, a few of them stopped rapping. I had moved to Lafayette for a couple weeks after the storm. The only thing I had with me was my laptop, my toothbrush and two or three outfits. I was the only one that was like, Look, I'm living in this small-ass town. I've got to find a studio! I've got to record! Recording is the only thing that keeps me sane. That's when I dropped my first tape, After the Storm. I know a lot of people lost their lives and lost their homes in Katrina. But in my situation, I think of some of the things I was doing prior to the storm, and I look at it as a blessing now. Before Katrina, I was selling drugs and getting in trouble. It kind of led past the storm too, but I began to take the music more seriously and began to look at the fact that I could have been one of the ones that didn't make it.
Do you feel like it's easier or harder now for women to make it in rap? It seems like more women have started to get more attention. I don't think it's easier. Finding success was real hard for me. I just stood outside of every club in New Orleans, different nights, I would stand outside and pass out my mixtapes for free. Because I'm female, people would look at my tape's cover and be like, “Is this bounce music? Oh, you're a rapper?” People would ask me am I a porn star, is it a porn DVD, all kinds of disrespectful things. But it's easier for women now to get that initial look, because someone wants to make another Nicki Minaj. That's the hard part, because there shouldn't be more than one Nicki Minaj. It's great that people are looking at me, but I need to do what I have to do to make them continue to be interested.
Do you have five favorite rappers from New Orleans? Mystikal. Mia X. Soulja Slim. Juvenile. Me. [Laughs].