For years, Kash Doll’s career stalled due to a bad deal with a former label. Now the Detroit rapper is trying to prove that her time is now with her wide-ranging debut album Stacked.
Sitting in the Okayplayer office in Brooklyn, New York Kash Doll tells me the story of an image she stumbled across online.
There are two people shoveling dirt near each other. One person uncovers a small jewel in his hole. The other person abandons their spot, runs over to where the jewel was found, and begins to shovel in the hopes of finding his own treasure. This was a mistake.
“[He] had had a big ass stone right under where [he] was,” Kash Doll said, her voice steadily crescendoing into an all-out yell. “If [he] just would have stayed focused on shoveling [his] goddamn dirt, [he] would have had a way bigger stone!”
Kash Doll, born Arkeisha Knight, has thought a lot about getting what is meant for her. This year, several women in rap have reached historic popularity, and, she says, her fans have wondered “Why not Kash?” In February, Nicki Minaj became the first woman rapper to sell over 100 million RIAA units according to Chart Data. In July, Saweetie became the seventh woman rap act to appear on the Billboard Hot 100 in 2019. The chart had not seen as many women on it in a decade. Last month, Lizzo’s “Truth Hurts” became the longest-leading number one on the Hot 100 by a woman rapping unaccompanied.
Women are winning.
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That is not to say the Detroit rapper hasn’t already seen notable successes, from Drake personally inviting her to open for him in her hometown during his Summer Sixteen tour, to touring with Meek Mill last winter. She’s also overcome a not-so-uncommon setback. For two years, Kash was embroiled in a legal battle with her former label BMB Records and, in that time, was barred from releasing original music on streaming platforms. She signed her first deal in 2015, thinking it would make her work easier. Instead, she says, her career was held hostage. (BMB Records did not respond to requests for comment.)
Today, Kash Doll is too busy enjoying her freedom to compare her success to that of others. The reportedly 27-year old rapper — there have been many disputes about her age online — signed to Republic Records in 2018. And on Friday, October 18, she released Stacked her official debut album after four mixtapes and EPs. The difference between making music from the confines of her first contract and being bolstered by her current one is uncanny. “It’s like coming from hell to heaven,” Kash Doll said.
Stacked was slated for an October 4th release, but days before, Kash announced that the album would be delayed. “I’ve never had to turn in an album,” she said in a video she tweeted on September 28. “All these samples and clearances and all this stuff is new to me. So we had to push back because something happened last minute. I’m sorry.”
— #Stacked 10/18 (@kashdoll) September 28, 2019
In early September, Kash Doll previewed Stacked for a crowd at the Universal Music Group headquarters in Manhattan. She oscillated between traversing the modest stage in sharp stilettos and sitting on a tall silver stool. She told stories about the tracks — how Nipsey Hussle’s death inspired “100 of Us” or how her love of a good twerk song inspired “Buss It” — and performed bits of them with fervor, her eyes often closed and her sleek blonde bob slicing the air. The bouncy “Bust It” calls to The Ying Yang Twins’ “Say I Yi Yi;” the rowdy “Cheap Shit” channels Rico Nasty; the keyboard plucks of “Excuses” mimic those of Marvin Gaye and Tammy Terrell’s “You’re All I Need to Get By;” and “Coastal Rota” samples “The Nasty Song” by Lil Ru.
Beyond pre-released singles, “Kitten” featuring Lil Wayne and “Ready Set” with Big Sean, Kash enlists Teyana Taylor, Summer Walker, Trey Songz, and LouGotCash in building her brash, sensual, and somber world.
“I think this is when the lights come up,” she said after the last notes on the album play, and a group of people in the room line up to speak to her, including veteran music journalist Sway Calloway.
Events like these are meant to build anticipation and support around releases. Kash doesn’t take having a team of Republic executives, A&Rs, and publicists to help her develop and promote her music for granted. Beginning last summer, she traveled between Detroit, California, and New York recording tracks for Stacked on Republic’s dime. “[I] got a video budget, they got me out in New York talking to you,” she said, while at the Okayplayer office. “I get to just be an artist. I can just be creative.”
Kash was her team as she came up. She first entered the entertainment industry as an exotic dancer, loving the money, but resenting the work. Kash started rapping in 2013, with the encouragement of her ex-boyfriend, slain Detroit MC Dex Osama. After her remix of Tinashe’s “2 On” took off on Detroit radio the following year, she stepped away from the strip club and focused on music.
As Kash’s popularity grew, she arranged for photographers, videographers, engineers, producers, and co-writers independently and paid them out of pocket. She was booking her own shows across the Midwest and traveling to them alone. For her birthday in March 2015, Kash scored a concert at Detroit’s storied Saint Andrew’s Hall, selling it out by peddling tickets by hand across the city. “To this day I be like, ‘how the fuck did I do that?’,” she said.
A week later, she signed a deal with BMB Records, a small record label in Detroit. She felt hopeful before she got the paperwork, but uneasy after signing. Before she signed, Kash was pulling in around $3,000 a show, she explains, but rather than booking more and higher paid gigs for her, the label had her perform for free, enticing audiences for their other artists. They never paid for studio time or collaborators, she says.
Distancing herself from the label, Kash moved to Atlanta in September 2015. There, she linked with experienced music manager Debra Antney, and the two collaborated on her first mixtape, Keisha Vs. Kash Doll. According to Kash, When Antney spoke to the label, their collaboration was forbidden by the contract she signed. Antney reported back to Kash: “You’re fucked.”
“She’s like ‘They own you. You can’t do shit. Your career is over!’” Kash said, mimicking Antney with a whisper-yell. Still, Keisha Vs. Kash Doll was released on MyMixtapez.com in December 2015. After amassing a million downloads over a few days, it was taken down, at the behest of a cease-and-desist order from her label.
“That was the worst day of my fucking life,” Kash Doll said. “And then ever since then I was in court.”
For the next two years, Kash says she continued to pour her own money into music that was continuously taken down from streaming platforms from SoundCloud to YouTube to Facebook. When she dropped “For Everybody,” on YouTube with a “Belly”-inspired video, it was removed after going viral, she says. But it, along with a strong social media presence, had garnered her enough attention to book more shows, and earn her enough to pay for entertainment attorney Howard Hertz. Kash was free from the constraints of her deal by the end of 2017 when she appeared on Metro Boomin and Big Sean’s “So Good.”
Kash felt defeated after the ordeal with her former label. “I wasn’t myself. I’m just now coming back around, for real,” she said. Once she was released from her first contract, she took the time to reflect on what she managed to create for herself in captivity. She took in the music of her peers and the advice of her friends and the reverence of her idols like Rihanna. (When I first spoke with her in Brooklyn she was heading to Rihanna’s Savage x Fenty fashion show in New York City.) And she got to work on her own music, and herself.
“I got records stacked,” Kash, said. “I been working out; my body is stacked. My family is stacked. I got cribs stacked. My goals are stacked. Dreams stacked.”
Mankaprr Conteh is a writer and multimedia journalist exploring music, identity, and social issues. Her work can be found on Elle.com, Essence.com, and other outlets. She tweets @Mankaprr.