Natassia Zolot was born in San Francisco in 1989. Her mother, Elka Zolot, a second-generation Russian immigrant, had Kreay when she was 18. Dad (whose name Natassia doesn’t know and Elka won't reveal), wasn’t around. Natassia and her mom lived all over San Fran until she was 10. Then they moved to a house in the sketchy “Murder Dubs” area of East Oakland, a 10-square-block stretch in the city’s San Antonio district. Elka, a guitarist, was traveling with her punk band, the Trashwomen, and eventually moved to Canada in 2005 to live with a boyfriend-turned-husband whom she met on Facebook. As a result, young Kreay left home at 15, living with friends for weeks at a time. “I did wrong by not being there when she really needed me while she was a teenager,” Elka says.
I was driving around in a pink Mustang at two in the morning, no license, with like two 15s in the trunk, serving knots. Then these girls I met, they brought me this new idea that was safer than selling drugs.
School wasn’t Kreay’s forte. She left MetWest, a small public high school designed to steer underprivileged students toward college, after less than a semester. She later got kicked out of Oakland High for truancy. She was expelled from Alameda High for threatening to throw a watermelon at a girl, and sent to a continuation school where she failed out. Island High was Kreayshawn’s last attempt at formal education. By that time, she was “over it” and dropped out for good. All of this by her sophomore year. She was 16.
She took jobs at IKEA and the GED work program Job Corps, and got her own apartment by the time she was 17. She says she also picked up some less-than-legal side hustles: selling coke and Craigslist pimping. “I quit IKEA and started trapping full-time,” she recalls. “I was driving around in a pink Mustang at two in the morning, no license, with like two 15s in the trunk, serving knots. Then these girls I met, they were on their hustle, too. They brought me this new idea, it was safer than selling drugs. I posted the links for them, took the anonymous pictures, and set up the dates and prices.” According to Kreay, that gig ended when older, more experienced Oakland pimps took over her clientele, so she returned to dealing full-time.
She maintains that her hustles, both legal and otherwise, were a means for her to pursue loftier ambitions, namely video directing and music. Directing was her first love, a passion that began when her mother bought her a video camera when she was 10. “People were like, ‘Are you crazy? That’s a couple hundred bucks,’” Elka recalls. “And I’m just like, ‘Whatever, let her play with it. Maybe she’ll discover something she likes.’”
By her late teens Kreay had begun to film and edit videos for local Oakland acts like DB Tha General, Nova Boy, and E-Molly. “I was doing music videos for free,” she says. “If you’re editing and filming all day, you don’t have time for a job. My mom was super worried. I was selling weed and stuff and my roommate was getting the hook-up with prescription pills. But our main focus was art.”
She gave up trapping after she landed her first paying gig in 2009. Local favorites the Go Gettas paid her $200 to shoot a video for their single “I Get It In.” Her work around town led to interest from other regional acts, including a kid from Berkeley named Lil B. “She was a dope artist,” B recalls. “I wanted to give her a chance so I let her shoot some videos for me. I put her in the game,” he adds, pointedly.
After she moved in with her maternal grandfather, Stanley Zolot, Kreayshawn’s home life stabilized. She focused on directing and began to experiment with another longtime hobby, rapping. “I have video of a 10-year-old freestyle I did about me eating free lunch in middle school,” she says. “Expressing myself was the main point. I wanted to get attention.”
In 2010, Kreayshawn finally put together a full body of work. She released her first mixtape, Kittys x Choppas, that September, and it went largely unnoticed in the rap community. With the encouragement of her manager, Stretch, whom she met through one of his clients, DB Tha General, she started to take her studio work more seriously. “I slowed down on the directing just so I could do music,” she says.
Last December, she asked her Twitter followers (then numbering 4,000) for beats, and Staten Island producer DJ Two Stacks responded with an instrumental sampling the “One big room, full of bad bitches” line from her mixtape’s standout, “Bumpin Bumpin.” “We were like, ‘Oh, shit. We have to use this,’” Kreay recalls. She did and the outcome was “Gucci Gucci.” Six months after that Twitter solicitation, she’d inked her deal with Columbia.