Photo courtesy of Nitty Scott MC.
Nitty Scott On What Independence Means To Her
The ingenious Nitty Scott writes about her feelings on what it means to be independent.
It all started when I was 17-years-old, looking out of a rainy window in my bedroom. The black nimbus of depression I had successfully dodged all my life finally took over and formally introduced itself. I had known shit was dysfunctional from the moment I was old enough to grasp it. But all my life up until that point, I had navigated my heavy childhood trauma by being an overachiever and over-compensator — a "LOOK AT ME NOT BEING A STATISTICAL PRODUCT OF MY ENVIRONMENT!" — kind of kid. I even remember when an elementary school counselor once told me that my parent's ugly divorce "wasn't my fault" — I looked at her blankly and said, "I know!" Offended that I was actually expected to blame myself for the shitty world the adults around me had created. In my mind, I kept repeating to myself, "I am not troubled! I am not bound for failure!"
I was able to maintain this attitude for a long time, well into high school. Despite repeated sexual abuse, a revolving door of toxic step-dads and step-moms, nine different schools by 11th grade and parents with dogmatic, conflicting religious beliefs — I still managed to "not act out". I was a thriving creative writing major at an art school, working at Disney World as a character performer and truly striving to make everyone around me proud. But my gentle spirit was broken by a final injustice; the straw that broke my back and sent me spiraling into deep psychological distress.
I was gay—bisexual, really—but we won't unpack that and that was simply unacceptable in any of my multiple households.
I scrambled to hide my relationships and "unnatural" feelings as much as possible. I was even blackmailed on several occasions by people who threatened to tell my parents. I was always nervous of being outed, targeted by teachers and an angry ex-boyfriend who felt insulted by my orientation. I couldn't even talk about it without revealing myself in the process. My grades suffered, I crashed my car, lost my whimsical Disney job, started to experiment with drugs and wrote a lot of poetry and music. Sitting through arbitrary church sermons became unbearable, and I struggled to understand how God could create people to be something He fundamentally hated. That black nimbus clouded over me and continued to unravel as I shrunk into the terrified little girl I had hidden behind trophies and straight A's all those years. My parents eventually found out about my orientation and all but literally killed me. I was shamed, physically and emotionally punished, manipulated and humiliated by the people I loved most - for something that even I understood was way beyond my control. It was unbelievable that so many things no longer seemed to count for anything either; like my character, bright future, or good heart. I couldn't take the bigoted rejection and became suicidal.
Photo courtesy of Nitty Scott MC.
It was during that initial darkness that I made a powerful discovery: amidst all the rejection from the world, there was one place that I could make safe for me - a place inside of myself. Eventually, I did kill myself — the part of myself that was submitting to "truths" that made me feel less than human. This outright denial of my right to love and be loved made me so full of rage, so confused, and so desperate for an outlet. It was then that I began to fill stacks of notebooks with lyrics and musings that would ultimately save my life. I decided that I had my strength and my songs, and they were going to get me out of this place. On that rainy window day, staring outside through blurry eyes, I made the decision to leave to New York City — where I barely knew or had anyone — and I would be free. I withdrew myself from art school (which was more than heartbreaking), packed my bags and left home in the fall of '08.
That was the first time I freed myself. Free to explore my nature without fear. Free to make mistakes. Free to unlearn.
The rollercoaster of events I experienced after my initial freedom as an LGBT runaway is an entirely separate story. Nonetheless, after a wild couple of years in the inner-city that left me with full blown PTSD, I eventually found my way onto the local music scene and partnered with the first of a few different (always male) management situations. Little did I know, this would be the beginning of a new type of prison: a harsh introduction to a male-dominated, misogynistic industry, as well as the most problematic parts of hip-hop culture.
From day one in this business, I was told to be strictly conservative, as opposed to the balanced combo of tomboy and feminine/sexy that I naturally projected. I also considered myself to be an intellectual and a lyricist, and it was immediately imposed on me that those traits were not allowed to coexist. I quote: "You can't be this attractive and be taken seriously. We're going to have to keep you dressed down." So here I am, an already broken 19-year-old with a shaky sense of self, being told by figures I trust that these are the necessary steps to ensure that I'll be given a real shot. It's in these moments that one might say, "to thine own self be true," but who knows exactly who they are in their literal teens? I don't blame myself for not jumping up and smashing the patriarchy when I did not even fully understand patriarchy or my place in it yet. I not only took the bad advice, but deeply internalized the messages I was given on a daily basis. I became so afraid of being hyper-sexualized and stereotypical that I hid any expression of sexuality at all. I was also told to always appear single and heterosexual - both of which I was not. This brought on extreme anxiety about how I was going to publicly outgrow all of this, when so many compliments I received were about "keeping my clothes on" or "not needing to sell sex." After a while, it all became the most suppressive act. I learned the hard way that hip-hop hates femininity, and because of this you are either hypersexualized for the male gaze/consumption or desexualized for respectability.
Another hard lesson was one in power dynamics and the way men constantly exert control over female artists. The ratio of women to men in hip-hop is very unbalanced, so it's highly likely that you're going to end up working with a man or group of men to solidify your career. This structure makes it way too easy to fall into a "pimp-hoe" dynamic where the female artist is essentially owned - her image, music and general life tied to a man who calls all the shots, then takes his percentage from her work. They don't care for your vision or strategy as a businesswoman, just the ability to exploit you. Being in these types of situations left me feeling dependent and voiceless all the time.
Photo courtesy of Nitty Scott MC.
There was also the issue of my racial identity, which I was encouraged to keep private because: "this is really a black culture". Even though Puerto Ricans and Dominicans are deeply embedded in hip-hop's origins, there is still stigma that prevents full acceptance in a predominantly black space and often erases those contributions. When I expressed hating being told to not "be too Latino," the response was that I shouldn't care, since I am black, after all. TUH! As an Afro-Boriqua woman, I do not identify with one or the other and grew tired of having that existence invalidated. Growing up, non-black Latinos made me feel not Latino enough, especially the cousins who made anti-black sentiments all the time. I've also been fetishized as "exotic looking" with "better hair" before, which is just another of saying that my blackness is not what makes me beautiful, the "other side" does. At the expense of my darker-skinned sisters, there is privilege in my light skin and perceived proximity to whiteness that is often overlooked when discussing the Afro-Latina experience. It became increasingly more important to me to share this experience and add to our visibility, despite being explicitly taught not to.
So at this point, I'm a rising artist with a healthy following and some excellent accolades under my belt, ultimately doing everything I said I would one day. I make music for a living, tour the world and work with my faves as a full-time creative, except I am miserable and fully aware of just how damaging this facade is to myself and the communities I belong to. I truly needed to heal and grow and correct my outlook, even apologize for the times I may have put flawed shit into the world. I started to center these issues in my work, experiment with my appearance and dare to lose the support of the rigid-minded. A lot of my new message did not sit well with the men seeking to control me at the time, as well as certain fans seeking to contain me in the box they preferred. It's hard for me to grasp how a culture born from oppressed people could still be so insensitive to the ways they might oppress others, but I digress. I continue to rebel and voice that while my packaging and position may be different, I am still challenging ideas while maintaining my original goal of empowerment. I tell my naysayers that what I'm doing is brave and radical for me, regardless of all the projections.
In reality, the sexist backlash only reinforced my points on the exact issues I was confronting, and revealed how harmful the "conscious" hip-hop community -- made up mostly of Hoteps and '90s purist types — can actually be. There is a lot of superiority, as well as old, strict views on women, masculinity, homosexuality, and sex overall. I realized that a lot of the scene was neither progressive nor "woke" and stopped caring to be accepted by them.
I chose to keep evolving with every lyric, tweet and Instagram post, literally exercising my liberty every chance I got, pissing off misogynists in the process. I took my brand into my own hands and became my own manager, publicist, booking agent, everything! My one-woman dream team with no label or other support. I also began to craft an album called "Creature!" that celebrates the journey to embracing every intersection that I embody. It's been a long road to fruition, but I'm very proud to say that I'll be sharing that project with the world in about three weeks. This was the second time I freed myself, and baby, I deserved it.
I share my story because I believe that the greater revolution begins with personal, inner revolution first. Nobody knows what it means to have freedom and agency over myself that I’ve never had before: wearing what I want, being a fan of what I want, praying to who I want, taking charge of my own living space and having healthy relationships with boundaries. People who easily have these personal freedoms may not know how deeply empowering it is for someone who doesn't have it. Our larger society seems to only celebrate the flashy and grand achievements, but for people like myself, simply being safe and in control of our lives can be our hugest accomplishment.
Today, on Independence Day, I mentally revisit that 17 year old girl looking out the window in sadness. I wish I could tell her that not only will she be liberated, but she will continue to liberate herself over and over again from anything that does not serve her. Freedom will be constant theme in her life, and she will inch closer to her truest self every single day because of it.
Nitty Scott is a supremely talented MC from Brooklyn, New York. Her Indigenous Digital release, CREATURE!, will be available for your ear's digestion on July 21, 2017. Follow her (and us!) on Twitter @NittyScottMC.