Zerricka Burton has always seen herself getting a college degree and plans to stay in school—even if she becomes a successful rapper before graduation day. In between her studies as a biomedical engineering major at Purdue University, the South Side, Chicago native makes R-rated rap anthems as Nina Tech. After gaining regional and online recognition for strong singles like "Nina Knapsack" and "Run Around," the 18-year-old is premiering her debut EP, Lady Tech on The FADER.
For the majority of the four-song project, Nina enlists Norway's DJ KARAOKE, pairing the producer's minimalist instrumentals against her own rhythmic delivery. "I wanted to play with some different types of beats so I used this as a way to do that," Nina recently told The FADER over email. "I dropped the EP on October 10th because fuck Columbus Day - it's my moms birthday. She rawer than him."
The FADER recently spoke to Nina Tech over the phone about her approach to making music, how she incorporates sexuality into her songs, and the ups-and-downs of being a student-rapper.
I saw on Twitter that you recently started your first year of college. Do people at school know you rap?
Some of them do – like my roommate and my close friends. Sometimes, in certain classes, it just gets out that I’m a rapper, but not everyone knows. I’m not trying to hide it. I have posters from my shows and stuff in my room. In my dorm, they did profiles of different people, and I said in my profile that I’m a rapper. I’m just not wandering around like, “Hey! I rap!”
Has it been a big adjustment coming from Chicago to Indiana?
It’s been a really big adjustment because I’m so used to how big and busy Chicago is. Indiana is really small. It’s kinda boring compared to Chicago, honestly. It’s also weird sharing a small room with someone else. It makes it hard for me to make music because my roommate will be there sleeping or doing homework. It’s awkward to me to write music in front of her. I try to do it when I’m by myself and I can just vibe.
You released your first solo song “All I Know” earlier this year. Were you rapping before that?
Before that, me and my friend Killavesi were in a duo called SBC, and we made three or four songs together. But we have really different styles and like different kinds of beats. It was hard to put both of our identities into one song, so we decided to just be solo artists. That’s still one of my closest friends, and we still support each other. We just realized that we could be better as individual artists.
How has your approach to rapping changed since then?
On songs, I would try to make something that would work with what she did and make something that was easier to collaborate with. Now, it’s all my own sound. I have complete creative control and try to be 100% myself and do it exactly how I want it to be. Since we were trying to be a collective, we would have to compromise. But now, it’s all my own sound. I’m really enjoying that freedom.
What role do you think sexuality plays in your music?
I think it plays a pretty big role. I know I say some pretty vulgar things, but, honestly, I’m really comfortable with myself and my sexuality, so I don’t mind saying that stuff. I try to just keep 100 with my music. If I really be doing it then, shit, I’ma say it.
Do you identify a certain way?
There was a point in my life where I wanted to put a title on it, but I don’t really like to. I don’t like to categorize myself. I guess you could say I’m lesbian, but I’m open to whatever. I would prefer not to be called that. I’m not closed off to other things, I just prefer girls I guess. I’m sure when I talk about how I’m fucking bitches, people are like, “Yeah, she’s a lesbian rapper.” But I don’t have to answer to those people. I don’t really care what they think I am. And, I mean, I talk about boys in songs too sometimes.
It seems hard for people to separate the music that someone makes from their sexual identity. Like when Young M.A went on The Breakfast Club, it felt like they spent a lot of the interview talking about strap-ons.
Yeah, that was so awkward! I don’t think that defines me. Whether I would want to label myself or whatever, I just don’t think that that’s the most important part of me. There’s so much more to me besides what gender I like. That’s why I try not to put a title on it. I like people – I like whoever I like.
Right now you’re a part-time rapper, part-time student. Ideally, what would happen for you with the music?
Ideally, I would blow up and go crazy – be able to tour and stuff. But if that was to happen, I would still really want to stay in school. I know that sounds crazy, but I feel like it’s possible, like maybe online school or something. Of course I would have to leave college - the actual, physical college – but I would still want to stay in school. I really do value my education, and I’ve always wanted to go to college. That’s always been a part of the plan, even if my music shit takes off.