Kid Sister (Born Melisa Young, in Markham, Illinois) has only been in the music game for about three years, but has already made quite a splash in the scene. While she’s worked with Kanye West and Pharrell Williams, been featured in countless publications and appeared in a Converse ad, she still seems to maintain the silliness, charm and candidness that will no doubt aid her as she continues her rise to the top. Drawing from Hip Hop and House music, her debut album, Dream Date (Downtown Records) is slated for a November 4, 2008 release and features production from Spank Rock’s XXXChange, Trackademicks & Gant Man. The self proclaimed tomboy has (along with her brother’s DJ duo Flosstradamus) helped build upon the Chicago scene that artists like Common, Twista, Crucial Conflict and the aforementioned Kanye West have laid the foundation for. Melisa sat down with Clutch for a quick look at the evolution of Kid Sister.
Clutch: How long have you been emceeing?
Kid Sister: My first show was October 31—Halloween, 2005. I’d been writing a couple of songs and I was really, well you know! You’ve known me since I was poor! And before you knew me I was even poorer, if you can image that. So basically I was living in this one bedroom apartment, which was basically a glorified studio. Really overpriced and I thought the neighborhood was whatever.
So, I was in my one bedroom crappy apartment. I remember one time my dog boo boo’d all over the couch and I had to throw it away. All I had were these little foam cylinders to sit on. They were like $20 each and those are what I wrote some of my first songs on, these little cylinders. I had little time to myself cause I worked a lot. But the little time I had to myself, I would write these songs.
Clutch: It’s been a pretty quick rise.
Kid Sister:No kidding! It’s been really awesome!
Clutch: And since then you’ve worked with Kanye, you’ve toured the world, and had the video on MTV. You’ve been featured in a Converse ad and been nominated for a BET award.
Kid Sister: Yep! Worked with Kanye, worked with Pharrell, I’ve worked with David Banner, worked with Estelle. All these crazy big names, who would have thought, you know. It doesn’t even seem real to me, it’s crazy. I’m so flattered and so excited, it’s like I wake up every morning wanting to grab my pompoms, do a cartwheel you know what I mean? I’m just like, “Oh my god!” Sometimes it isn’t the ideal lifestyle, but most of the time I just have to have a really positive attitude because everything is so much better than before.
Clutch: Through the hard work and dedication, you’ve gotten that quick rise. A portion of that seems to come from the fact you don’t have the same label horror stories that a lot of artists have.
Kid Sister:Definitely not. Downtown Records has been amazing. They’re great because they have the money and backing of a major label and they give artist’s the freedom that an indie label normally would. So, it’s really the best of both worlds. And you know, I’m biracial so I keeps it the best of both worlds (Laughing)! But it’s true, everything about me is about keeping that balance, even down to the label I signed with. I really believe that it’s important to find that balance in every aspect of your life.
Clutch: And how did you like working with Fool’s Gold Records?
Kid Sister:Great! We’re still working with them. Fool’s Gold is an imprint on Downtown now so it’s not like anything has changed.
Clutch: How did the sudden changed of pace, from working multiple jobs in Chicago to doing shows all over the world, work for you?
Kid Sister: It’s crazy, but I feel like it hasn’t even hit me yet. Last night I went to this party that Josh and Curt (J2K, her brother, and Autobot, of DJ duo of Flosstradamus) had and I couldn’t believe the response I got. I went up, did one new song and people were just like “AAAH!” and I’m like “Whaaat!? What are you screaming for?” I mean really, thank you for clapping. It really feels good to have people behind you. At the same time it’s like sometimes I have to scratch my head cause it’s like, “How did this happen?” But it’s been great and I hope I can do this for a very long time.
Clutch: How was the transition from writing songs at home to working on a full album?
Kid Sister: Working? You mean finished with cause it’s done! I’m just so excited and Lord Jesus it took a long time. I feel like I had a baby or something, it’s definitely a labor of love, but it’s done. It feels crazy cause I never thought this would be my job. All I wanted when I graduated from college was a job in film. When I saw that wasn’t working out for me I was like “Man, all I want is a job with some health insurance!”
Clutch: I hear that. Health insurance is a hot commodity these days!
Kid Sister: Ok, now we’re getting into some personal sh•t. I have this hand condition. It’s like a nerve injury, so certain muscles in the hand don’t move. Eventually, they atrophy and waste away and you can’t use your hand. And it’s my right hand and I’m right handed! I’ve had this since like late 2003, early 2004 and doctor’s are like “You need surgery.” So all I wanted was some health insurance. I wanted some regular job at careerbuilder.com or some sh•t, but all I qualified for was these bogus jobs that I hated. I couldn’t get any jobs at any of those places with health insurance cause I didn’t have any office skills, like Excel. They say it’s easy but I don’t know it. (Laughs) It’s beyond me! Anyway so I couldn’t get a job and I had this f***** up hand and I’m like “Man, all I want to do is make enough money to live.” Then I was on public aid and I was working three jobs.
Clutch: So how did the transition from being on public aid to becoming a fulltime artist happen?
Kid Sister: My younger brother Josh was traveling and doing music. I remember his first show was somewhere on the east coast, he’s like, “Oh, its so fun!” I’m like “I wanna go!” I’m sitting here with a college degree just chillin’ in my one bedroom apartment not eating anything but tuna and my younger brother is out touring! So I was like “If he can do it, then I want to try it.” I have a background in music and theater, I’ve been doing it since I was six. It’s my passion. When I finally got back to what my passion really was and stopped trying to just get a job for insurance, that’s when things started working out for me. I never would have believed it if someone would have told me. I’d be like “You don’t know my hand pain!”
Clutch: How would you describe your album, Dream Date?
Kid Sister: Like nothing you’ve ever heard. I think I’m the first one in this genre to put out a comprehensive album and put a face to this upsurge in new hip hop, this new blending of the dance and hip hop stuff. I’m the first one to be like “OK, here’s a solid album. It’s unfuckwitable, and it feels really good.” I didn’t think I could do it at certain points but I did it, finally. For the first time, and you can quote me, I feel really proud of myself, really proud. I’m like man, yes! It’s something that I did! I just feel so proud of myself. I wrote all the songs by myself.
Clutch: You worked with Pharrell on it a bit, right?
Kid Sister: Pharrell sent me home with a beat and was like “I want you to write like this and I want you to do this cadence on this part and this cadence on that part.” It was so different than any way I’d worked in the past. I was like “You’re the boss, you’re the musical genius, so, OK.” I got it home and wrote it based upon the cadence that he told me to write and it did not sound like me. I ended up writing another version, the way I wanted to write it and it ended up sounding more like me. Watching him work was so impressive, but I think it says something about this new generation and how we go about making an album. It’s not obvious anymore how to go about making an album or A&R-ing a project. It’s more organic now than it has been in the past several years and people, I think, are slowly starting to adapt to that. The labels and the business people are starting to see that it’s kind of a new day. I really hope it works out for me. If it doesn’t work out I have a really great album that I’m proud of that I really feel pushes my own personal boundaries and those already set up within this industry.
Clutch: How so . . . as far as pushing those personal and industry boundaries?
Kid Sister: I’m just trying to show people that someone like me can make it. I’m not gimmicky, there’s no shock value. I was thinking earlier that I haven’t done an interview in awhile because I had to finish the album. Now I’m done with the album so I’ve been drinking again, I’ve been smoking again, all that sh*t! Now I’m doing interviews again, and I was thinking, “God, what have I not said in my past interviews that I really want to make sure that everyone knows about me?” I thought about it for a while and it’s this: I’m not the girl rapper that raps and is like “Isn’t it cute?” or the girl rapper that raps about her vagina for five minutes straight. I don’t want to be someone who’s known as a gimmick. I want to be the artist that makes it as herself. There are a lot of acts that are all shticks. It’s cheesy. I feel like that’s all good and there’s a place for everybody in this game, but I want to be the girl known as the one who was just being herself. Who was true to herself and true to her artwork and just not a lot of smoke and mirrors. What you see is what you get.
Clutch: Who would you say influenced you?
Kid Sister: I look at other people but it’s mainly my friends and my life. Like, I look at Queen Latifah and at how she runs her business and that influences me, not necessarily her art. I look at people’s entire career paths and be like “Ooh I want to be just like that.” Like Chloe Sevingy. She got famous as hell but she was never cheesy, there’s no bullsh*t. I want to be that artist.
As far as artistic influence it’s like my girls and Chicago House has definitely been a big influence on me. Paul Johnson is also an influence. He reached out to me cause he wanted to work with me and I’m like, “You’re Paul Johnson!” He’s an idol of mine! I can’t tell you how many times the new Paul Johnson mixtape would drop and we’d just listen to it on repeat for hours; drive around in the car just so we could drive and listen to the tape. They had such an influence on me so you will hear a big House influence in the album.
Clutch: What about hip hop influences?
Kid Sister: My brother used to really be into backpack hip-hop and so did I just cause he was into it. Josh has always made me mixtapes and filled my iPod for me. You will hear songs that sound like straight up hip hop on the album. I’m a normal girl, we’re in the age where everyone has an iPod with play lists that play everything from The Beatles to Juelz Santana so that’s my thing, too. I like all kinds of music and that’s what you’re going to hear on the album. It’s like my own personal mixtape.
Clutch: Who are you listening to nowadays?
Kid Sister: Well, I found this old mixtape from back when mixtapes were colored, like “Yo lemme get that orange mixtape!” I found this orange mixtape by a DJ named Mark Almaria and he’s a Chicago House guy and the mixtape probably came out in 1999. I found it in one of my little file folders as I was looking for some tax documents and I just bought a car with a cassette player so I was like “Yeah!” I was so geeked! I’ve been listening to that for the last three days and before that I downloaded all this Hi-Five (singing) “I Can Tell by the Look in Your Eyes!”
Clutch: Hi-Five was great.
Kid Sister: Dude did you know that he (Hi-Five lead singer, Tony Thompson) died? Dude died from huffing Freon from an air conditioning unit. Ain’t that raw? He had the best voice ever. There’s like two dudes that really I don’t care how old or fat they got they were holding it down on the vocal tip. Slim from 112 and dude from Hi-Five. They had the greatest voices. I was so disappointed to hear that. I also listen to the radio and a lot of classical. That’s really what I grew up on. When I first started listening to the radio around 6 or 7 years old, I would listen to classical everyday. Now I’ve been listening to it a little bit more and I feel like when I’m stressed out it calms me down a little bit and it also exercises a muscle that I think helps me with arrangements or melodies and harmonies. It trains your ear to hear extra sh*t that you normally wouldn’t.
Clutch: So you’re not on tour, albums finished. What are you going to do now to unwind?
Kid Sister: I don’t know! Dude I’m so bored. I want to do a mixtape or something. I’m so bored (laughs). I’m just not comfortable if I’m not working. I have a couple of shows for CMJ (College Music Journal’s music conference in New York City) and then after that I’m going to go to Paris and hang out with Alain (boyfriend and Kanye’s tour DJ, DJ A Trak) and by that time the album will be ready to come out. I just kind of don’t want it to come out on the 4th cause it’s Election Day. I don’t want people to forget to vote or forget about Obama! Hello?
Clutch: You’re from the great state of Illinois, home of Barack Obama. How do you feel about what he’s doing?
Kid Sister: I am so proud of that man! And he’s biracial you know! It’s like put a face to our people. There are lots of multi-racial kids out there who don’t have anyone in the media that truly represent them. Obama is a great person to be able to look up to. I think he’s giving the people of Chicago, America and basically the world a lot of things to be hopeful for at a time when it feels like a lot of hope is lost. I mean I’m filling up my gas tank at $4.50 a gallon and that sh*t puts me in a bad mood, forget thinking about hope. The way Obama carries himself is like such a beacon of positivity. He’s uniting people. So let’s just get registered and get out there and vote.
Clutch: You’re getting ready for a night on the town, what’s in your clutch?
Kid Sister: Ooh! Deodorant (laughing) sometimes you’re funky! Wait, I’ll tell you what I took to the BET awards. I took a credit card, a lipstick, my hotel keycard, my phone and a flask (laughing). But sometimes I find the most random stuff in my purse, like hot sauce. You never know when you’re going to need it. One time I had a wrench in my purse!
Clutch: Wait you brought a flask to the BET awards?
Kid Sister: BET awards, no disrespect, I love you! But they shut down the bar for 20 minutes cause they didn’t want people waiting in line during the taping and that was so bogus. I whipped out my flask and there were some older ladies looking at me like “Now she has the right idea!” So it came in handy and yes there were many a flask admirer. We were there for four and a half hours! My ass was so numb. We were sitting in front of Trey Songz and his mom. At one point, I hadn’t really talked in awhile and my breath was marinating in my own mouth so it started to get a little funky. I didn’t bring any gum and Trey’s mom had some gum so I’m like “Can we have some gum?” I didn’t mean to offend her or her son with my horrible breath.
For more information on Kid Sister please visit www.myspace.com/kidsister.