Most of you know ThaGataNegrra as a scream queen upstart who's still working her
way up the blood-soaked ladder. You've seen the hot pictures. You know she's all
for promoting the size acceptance community, being a full-figured entertainer.
But many of you
don’t know the side of GATA that all this sprouts from.

 I decided to sit down and interview ThaGataNegrra: the Punk Rhyma . This is a
chick that has everything going for her. She not only acts, dances, and writes,
but she has excellent rhyme skills, and has been compared to Eminem, which makes
her laugh.

 “I have never been a freestyle rapper,” she said. “I was never much of a battle
chick either. I was more interested in showing skills than dissing folks, but it
was sort of the group's gimmick at the time. I’ve
always written everything from
the beginning. I don’t think I have the head for freestyling. I think some folks
have it and others don’t, but I’m fine with being on the side that doesn’t. I
wish I had that power,” she laughs. “You couldn’t stop me.”

 GATA didn’t start out a solo artist. She began many moons ago—using the name
bestowed upon her by a boyfriend: Damsel-- with a group that was first called
Para-Dis and then N.A.R.C. Squad, writing most of the lyrics and performing at
local talent shows. After that group broke up, she then joined a group called
Zero Gravity, where she says she made some of her best stuff, promoting the “be
yourself/anti-clone” mentality, and offering the street urchin/gypsy/pirate point
of view. “I think it was one of the best times of my life,” she says. “We went
thru several incarnations—that is, when I was
in the group—but it was the last
one that really resonated the best to me.

 “The thing I loved about it was that we said what we wanted and we understood
each other well. It was almost intuitive when the three of us worked. We bumped
heads, but that can happen. I really worked well with both of the other guys in
that group.”

 GATA actually was very close to one of its members, and she figures that was
why they wrote well together. “He just
got it,” she says. “And I learned a lot
from him.”

 The time came when GATA had to venture out on her own. It wasn’t easy for her,
but she made the attempt anyway. She often wrote of angry, frustrated feelings("I
wasted a lot of time and talent in a group that never happened on a large
scale"), venting them in a fashion that appalled those in her circle and people
she went to audition for. “People kept trying to make me into something I
wasn't,” she said. “They would complain that ‘girls aren’t supposed to talk
that
way’ when here’s a guy right there in the booth (of the studio) rhyming about
shooting motherfuckers. It
so wasn’t fair. They wanted to turn me into Lil Kim or
Foxy Brown, and I
so wasn’t going that route. It wasn’t me. I had one guy even
tell me I couldn’t rhyme at
all, that I should be a singer.  I actually let him
start training me before I went, ‘What the hell am I
doing?’ I totally rebelled
by writing a
whole album of ‘girls shouldn’t talk that way’ material.”

 This practice didn’t end with strangers, but ultimately came back to the home
front as well.“I did a lot of work on songs my father wrote, and with my brother,
PoppaRaZi, who’s also an emcee and awesome producer. Anyway, they were really
trying to make the attempt to make hip-hop clean, and I must admit I didn’t feel
comfortable talking cheeky in front of my papi too much anyway. But I lost so

much
of who I was in that time…too squeaky clean. I wasn’t that person. I have a
potty mouth; I have aggressive feelings. It’s a flaw, but it’s part of me. And a
lot of what I was trying to do was shot down because the market wasn’t ready or
something. The day I got called ‘Damsel Lite’ I
knew that was it.”

 So,in 1999, GATA added the surname “GatoNegro” (as a representation of her
totem animal, the black cat, and homage to her "Kitten" pet name) to her Damsel
moniker, in an attempt to shake off her shackles. It didn’t quite work, though:
“Damsel had already changed into someone I wasn’t anymore,” says GATA.  At this
time she was also involved in a dance experiment project with her father,
brother, and producer Bill Irving.  “The first two songs were really housey and
dancey in my delivery—first one was more spoken word than anything else. But
little by little, the Hip-Hop Monster was being let out of her shell, and the
more that happened, the less the project kept interest. So we only did 4 songs. I
put the last two up online as references so people can hear my delivery. But I
loved doing that project—it was fun.”

 It was a dream of feline Goddesses Bast and Sekhmet that would fully convert
GATA to the name ThaGataNegrra. “They said that I wasn’t really being who I was,
and to change it to ‘DamselGatoNegro’ wasn’t enough…I had to take it a step
further...embrace who I was fully.  So I chucked Damsel altogether after asking
forgiveness of my late ex, who gave it to me. I said, ‘I’ll
always be Damsel to
someone,
especially you.’ And then I took the plunge.

 “I started calling myself ThaGataNegrra—I had already been mentally and on
paper calling myself GATA as an alt to ‘GatoNegro’. I realized that I had held
onto that name (Damsel) for safety reasons and for the convenience of others. I
couldn’t live that way. Granted, people
still call me Damsel or Dei… it doesn’t
faze me...I just remind them, 'That bitch
dead!' As long as they don't do it when
I’m working,” she laughs.

  GATA still writes in the aggressive style, and delivers in the manner that
made her former partners shake their heads. “They always complained I fit too
many words into a sentence—or wonder how the hell I would fit them onto the
track. It’s just how I am.” She twists words around in patterns, which is what
earned her the Eminem comparison, along with her subject matter.

 Current projects include a feature on a track by NYC-based artist Demi, and an
EP that GATA says has been years in the making. “I hope to
really show people
what I can do,” she explains. “I don’t care if I have to stick them next to free
copies of the Village Voice—I
will get heard, dammit!”
So will she write in the frame of what she does as her “Gore Goddyss ” persona?
“I think so,” she offers. “I already wrote some stuff killing off some people
anyway.”

     Like who?

  “Uhhh…I think he might object if I put him on blast, but let's just say he’s
straightened up. I
still have someone in mind for another track. But that was
more of anger and disgust at them. I think I’d have to make it more random and
psychotic if I write about killing anyone again. Especially that ‘person in mind’
…make him think twice about playing
me again.”

Ouch!


GATA feels that hip-hop needs to be brought back to its roots if it is to be
redeemed. “It’s way too ostentatious now,” she says. “It really isn’t saying
anything—let me rephrase that. It isn’t really
feeling anything. These guys go
around bragging about girls they had, supposed shit they got, blah, blah,
blah…who
cares? It’s going back to the store at the end of the shoot. You don’t
even
look like you mean it. KRS-One said it best to me with the buying hoes
analogy. We keep buying, they’ll keep whoring, and none of us will get anywhere,
and hip-hop will continue to get a bad rap—no pun intended. Most of this shit now
is for consumers and not listeners, as my former partner Wrek P. Hennessy would
say. The
beats aren’t even creative anymore. And it’s okay to them. You lead the
thirsty group out to the desert and when there’s no water, they drink the sand.
Not because they’re thirsty, but because they don’t know any better. There
are
people though, who don’t fall for that and want better, or just dismiss it as a
genre completely.

 “I’m not a fan of much of today’s mainstream hip-hop--well, rap, I should say.
I admit it. But I
will defend it to the death cuz that’s what I do. My art form,
albeit in another vein.
I'm a part of that dysfunctional family. You don’t have
to like everyone in your family but you
should stick together if you can.”

  So is hip-hop dead?

 “No,” says GATA. “But it is on life support, in my humble opinion. It’s in a
coma. We have to have a renaissance. We have to wake it up again and make it
strong. Come from another angle, I guess. But keep it
real. Real to me is living
your life through your lyrics, telling us your story and your ticks and tocks—not
that illusion shit you
want us to see. Real to me is from the heart and soul,
something you feel—not just
say you feel. Even when the song is just playful…if
it's not true for you, then why should
we think it’s true?

 “It needs a balance. Life is not always positive—it has ups and downs. Hip-hop
is the same way. Its
artists are the same way. I’m the same way.”


taken in April 2007, by Aki Yamamoto



                                 
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