Low-budget, check. Crappy-cool Windows visuals, check. Artist sporting a burgeoning skatewear brand’s clothing, check. Kari Faux’s video for “On the Internet” would get a ton of Tumblr notes.
Yet that’s an error message corkscrewing across the screen like the old Solitaire card game, and Faux’s lyrics strike all doubt. She’s not laughing with the Tumblr rappers and Instagram models and Twitter personalities; she’s laughing at them: “Hmmm, what’s your name? I don’t know because you’re lame/And I don’t give a fuck if you’re famous on the Internet.” The brilliance, of course, is that this chant is being led by a self-aware girl from Little Rock, Ark., who knows that without the Internet, the likelihood of her being discovered by anyone, never mind an IRL-famous rapper like Childish Gambino, is slim.
“I love Soulja Boy. He’s the reason why all of this is even possible,” she says. “He’s the pioneer of Internet rap. He can do that? Wow, I can do that too!”
It’s Super Bowl Sunday, and Faux is sitting at a park picnic table in Los Angeles, shooing away flies. She’s dressed in a stretchy gray skirt and cropped quilted leather jacket and surrounded by dregs of soy lattes and half-eaten vegan hot dogs.
“Hold on, I feel weird,” the 22-year-old rapper says in a Southern accent, taking off her Ray-Bans. She rolls her eyes at the idea of wearing sunglasses during an interview. “Larger cities I encounter more people who have this air about them—‘I know these people, so I’m this or that.’ Cool, you’re still a shitty person. I love being around regular people who don’t want anything from you and want to just eat fried food.”
I LOVE BEING AROUND REGULAR PEOPLE WHO DON’T WANT ANYTHING FROM YOU AND WANT TO JUST EAT FRIED FOOD.
If Kari Faux wanted to front like that, she could. After all, it’s not every day that Childish Gambino and his manager fly to Little Rock, Ark., to hang out with a couple kids whose breakout EP, last summer’s Laugh Now, Die Later, started out as a joke. With its lo-fi graphics and ’90s rap touches—Faux wears gold bamboo earrings and a Burberry bucket hat as she and her crew stunt on a roof—the video for “No Small Talk” had drawn an audience for Faux and her longtime friend/collaborator Malik “Black Party” Flint. When Gambino added a verse to the song in early October, the rest of the blogs flocked. Within the month, Faux and Flint had relocated to L.A. That sort of whirlwind ascent is precisely why people “go Hollywood,” or, more accurately, start acting “Internet famous.”
Not Faux. Instead, she’s just another cute girl kicking around Echo Park in high-top Chucks and braids. She comes by it honestly.
“I asked my mother, ‘If I get rich and you don’t have to work again, what do you want to do?’” she says. She pauses and breaks into a huge, toothy grin. “’She said, ‘Sell Tupperware.’”
Born in June 1992 to a single teenage mother, Kari Faux (real name Kari Johnson) was adopted by a couple that had a 10-year-old son and wanted more children, but were physically unable.
“I used to be angsty—‘I don’t belong here, I’m the black sheep,’” she says. “But I never had a reason to be like that. It was just hormones. My biological mom was a teen mom, and it was just a situation where her mom was like, you need to give her up. But honestly, I’m not even mad! I had a great life.”
Her father worked for the Skippy Peanut Butter factory in Little Rock, and her mother was a minister (and purveyor of Tupperware). They played mostly gospel or classical music in the house, and Faux’s childhood was typically Southern—quiet and slow and a little bit boring. She rode her bike and went to church (“It was not an option”) and played board games or basketball or piano. The family took vacations to Disney World and Las Vegas, and Faux worked at Chick-fil-A and Dollar General. If nobody was having a party, she and her friends would drive to the park, blast the radio and dance outside their cars. Like most Southern kids, she didn’t really know she was missing anything.
“I love the South,” she says. “It’s so slow, I love it. You don’t have to pretend to be anything.”
I love the South. It’s so slow, I love it. You don’t have to pretend to be anything.
When she was 16, she wrote her first rap to an instrumental of Jay Z’s “Song Cry.” “I had one dude who used to make music in his room. He didn’t stay too far from me, so we used to always go to his house. I saw him recording and was like, ‘I wish I could rap!’” she recalls. He told her to go home and write a 16-bar verse. She did, they recorded it, and she posted it on Facebook.
Even though all her friends loved the song, she didn’t pursue rap. Rather, she enrolled in the Art Institute of Atlanta for audio engineering. But she hated the program and only stayed for two quarters. “It sucked. The school is a scam, and I only had one real friend. That was just a bad time. I was so sad. I was smoking a lot of weed, trying to find myself,” she says. “It was not working, so I took my ass back home.”
Flint, whom she had dated in high school, was still making beats for his group, Weekend Warriors. When Faux moved back to Little Rock, she asked if she could DJ for them. The group fell apart, but she and Flint continued to work together. In October 2011, Faux ended up recording her first song in three years, “Fauxty Miles Per Hour.” It reignited her desire to rap—but still, she didn’t take it that seriously.
In 2012, she released four tapes that she won’t name and hopes stay lost on the Internet (using “Fauxty Miles Per Hour” as a clue, at least two were easy to find). Laugh Now, Die Later is her seventh tape, and even it began as a gag.
“My best friend Shanice used to always be like, ‘Bitch, I’m takin’ calls. No small talk,’” Faux says. “She’s hilarious. It was her birthday and I was like, I’m gonna make you a song. ‘No Small Talk’ was the song.”
The chirping of a flip phone over a syrupy, trunk-rattling bass line might not be special without Faux’s borrowed expression. Yet with the motto (a less contrived, funnier version of “Fancy”’s chorus), it’s ridiculously catchy. Small wonder that Noisey ended up premiering the video after she and Shanice, on their family trip to New York last summer, marched into Vice and asked the receptionist for a meeting.
“When I dropped Laugh Now, Die Later, a lot of people were like, ‘I love this, this is good,’” she says. “Then Donald came into the picture and more people were like, ‘I love this, this is good.’ I’m just glad it was getting attention before the cosign. [Childish Gambino’s manager] said we would’ve blown up even if they didn’t come into the picture.”
He’s right. While she claims she just doesn’t know how to be sexy, it’s refreshing to see new artists like Kari Faux and Dej Loaf rely on their artistic sensibilities, not their asses, to garner attention.
Still, though Faux plays the part of a boss ass bitch to perfection in her videos—just watch her latest, “Gahdamn,” for proof—in real life, she seems a bit perplexed.
“It’s weird to me that people like my stuff,” she says. “I’m so awkward. I’m just being goofy and you guys really like this!”
Rebecca Haithcoat is a writer living in L.A. Follow her at @rhaithcoat.