"If I've [made a hit] once, I can do it again," asserts Oakland rapper Kamaiyah. "Visually, creatively – anything that I do won't ever stop."
There's plenty of reason to believe her. The past year alone has seen her flip blog buzz into a spot among XXL's 2017 Freshman Class; a critically acclaimed mixtape, 2016's A Good Night in the Ghetto; and collaborations with YG. The most notable of them – the Drake-assisted "Why You Always Hatin?" – features the MC settled in the lap of luxury, asking "Please, please, tell me, why you always hatin'?"
After the release of her debut single, 2015's "How Does It Feel," critics applauded Kamaiyah's feel-good hits and pitch-perfect executions of the classic sounds of West Coast hip-hop: punchy snares, soft hi-hats and thundering 808s. In an industry shuffling between Atlanta- and New York–centric sounds, Kamaiyah makes her roots plain.
"I felt like, 'I don't want to come out and not sound like I'm not from Oakland,'" the 25-year-old says. " When I was creating my project, I knew that was one thing that should be distinguished. I don't want to sound like I'm from Atlanta, I don't want to sound like from New York, I don't want to sound like I'm not from nowhere else but the West Coast."
After all, it was Oakland that first fed her, taught her and rallied behind her in the way only a tight-knit scene can. But given the West Coast's prolific production of male rap legends, she still had to work to carve out a niche. "It's a more independent market there," Kamaiyah says. "The culture doesn't allow female hip-hop artists to have a voice because it's been so male-driven for so many years – it's really hard to build a dominant platform."
"I don't want to sound like I'm not from nowhere else but the West Coast."
It helps that her her bright, bubbly flows offer a refreshing contrast to the darker side of rap. More expressive are her visuals, which often evoke the feel of the Nineties: Her music videos, like the one for her latest single "Build You Up," seem like scenes from a teen classic you have yet to see. On songs like "Freaky Freaks," and "N*ggas," her lyrics recall the raunchy-fun antics of TLC or Salt-N-Pepa.
"I've never been uncomfortable with being an artist who writes about her life," she says. "I feel like it's the power of how you speak and what you do and how you carry yourself. I'm gonna allow you to know that aspect of [my life] and flip the power in a manner so that I'm respected. It's all about how you say it and what you say."
Though she's never afraid to borrow from the past, she's just as enthusiastic about her future: Her highly anticipated mixtape, Don't Ever Get It Twisted, is slated for release later this year. Whatever the move, there's always the same motive. "I want to be a West Coast icon," she says. "Like when you think of the West Coast, without a doubt, my name should be one you throw in. I think I'm deserving of that title."
This article originally appeared on www.rollingstone.com: Kamaiyah on Making Feel-Good Hip-Hop, Becoming a West Coast Icon