Kari Wei

Who is Fluffy?

Who Is Fluffy?” It’s the question that’s been on everyone’s lips—as well as the title of her first EP—but no one can answer it better than Fluffy herself. The Weekly met Fluffy last spring during an interview with her close friend and associate, Psalm One/Hologram Kizzie. Though at the time Fluffy introduced herself as Kizzie’s manager, she has since become a breakout MC in her own right, releasing a number of tracks in her signature conversational style and touring throughout Europe. She is currently performing across the Midwest on the Chicago Takeover tour with Psalm One, The Hood Internet, and My Gold Mask. The Weekly met her in between tours to talk about her childhood on the South Side, her experiences in education and the corporate world, and the beginnings of her career as both a solo artist and a member of the female hip-hop collective Rapper Chicks.

What prompted you to go into the entertainment industry?

I used to dance when I was younger. I went to Whitney Young [High School], and they have a great dance program. I also did other things like ROTC and Future Business Leaders of America. I tried rapping, and someone in my crew was like, “Don’t rap anymore!” [laughs]. So then I was like, well, I don’t need to rap, everybody’s not a rapper. But I’ve always been a writer. Actually, my first degree was in journalism—from the University of North Florida.

As an artist, do you think that still influences you now—having studied journalism, and always having been a writer?

It does, because it makes me want to report on what’s happening. It makes me want to tell stories. Some of my musical mentors get on me about that. They’re like, you gotta make songs! Why are you reporting? But then I tell them, this is a part of me too. At one point in my life I drove a cab, and I did that because I wanted to talk to people! And then I found out that people don’t wanna talk to you [laughs]. But I just really wanted to have conversations about all these things that no one was talking about.

What happened after you graduated from Whitney Young and went to UNF?

I was a journalism major, I pledged AKA [Alpha Kappa Alpha] while I was down there…but my mom got diagnosed with breast cancer, so I got an A.A. and came home. I finished school here at U of I, studying business. I worked as a manager for the zoo, I worked for Bacardi for a little bit…and the entire time, I kept my hand on the community and my friends. We were throwing parties, kind of living through both worlds.

Meanwhile, I was editing music for Open Mike Eagle. So I came up with this business plan of incorporating the artist into the party scene. We got to do that a couple times, and I worked with a couple other artists—like Kid Static, which was super cool. Then I started working with Kizzie.

How did you meet Kizzie?

She and I went to high school together! We didn’t get to hang out very often, because the hip-hop crew that I really loved…back in those days you could only have one girl in the crew, so they picked her. And then she stole my boyfriend! She didn’t even know it. This was junior year, and there was this boy who had been pursuing me for a year, but I had kind of been curving him….Then we went out on a really cool date on Saturday, and then on Monday at sixth period, I saw him and I was like, we should totally go out! I had such a great time this weekend—and then he was like, I started dating Cristalle in fifth period. So, you know, I wasn’t like, “Ooh I hate her,” but I was definitely like, “Ooh, that girl, she’s doin’ it” [laughs].

That’s crazy! What prompted you to reunite with her after high school?

She was playing a show with Kid Static at the Hideout, and I went, and her show was just really good. I was really impressed, so I told her, “If you need any help, just let me know,” and she did. It was really her who pulled me into writing music again. It was inspiring to be around a woman who is very much part of the boys’ club, but is still…

…a woman.

Yeah! She’s really been able to blaze some trails, and if I didn’t take advantage of these situations, it would be insane. Like when it comes to Rhymeschool. I’ve been teaching kids how to rap for so long that it’s kind of crazy that I don’t rap myself [laughs].

I feel like writing is really good for everybody. It’s therapeutic. I feel like everybody should rap, even if they don’t do it in public, because you can. You could rap right now if you wanted to. And I know that I have a perspective that’s very different from other people. And if I don’t share that, then…the world won’t have it.

When did you decide that you were going to start writing music again? Was it a conscious decision?

It was the same dude again, Open Mike Eagle. At that point I was managing him, and I would be like, “Let’s do this with the performance, let’s do this with the video,” and he’d be like, “I can’t do that” and I’d say, “Yes you can!” And then we’d have the “you don’t understand ‘cause you don’t rap’” conversation. One day we were having an argument and he said, “You know what? You should just rap.”

And I was like, “You know what? I will. You got it.” Cut out the middleman. Why do I need to fight with this person? We have the same goals! So it’s like, yeah. I can do my own crazy ideas. And I can argue with myself if it comes down to it! But I don’t think I will. I think I’ll be like, “Great idea, let’s do it.”

So what’s next for you, as an artist?

I’m really enjoying this Rapper Chicks work. We’ve been called the Slaughterhouse of women [laughs]. And there’s nobody who’s really doing this. Number one, there’s not a lot of women. Number two, getting those people to band together—all these female MC’s—is a whole other thing, so just the fact that the five of us have been able to come together…

That’s so amazing! As a girl growing up listening to hip-hop, you struggle to find one female MC to look up to, let alone a group of them. Wow.

Exactly! So I’m pretty inspired, and I really like hanging out with these girls. We finally have a team, and everybody serves a purpose, you know? I don’t mind putting my own personal endeavors on the back burner while we figure it out, while we enjoy this camaraderie. I just can’t wait to bring more women to the table. It’s really interesting—if you look at the female archetype, there are very few of them that actually get any type of equitable treatment. It would be really great if we could work together.

I wanted to talk to you about the race relations that you rap about in tracks like “The Baby Song” and “It’s 1973.” I know you went to Whitney Young—did you grow up on the South Side? How does that perspective play into what you’re trying to say as an artist?

I grew up in Englewood, and it used to be a really dope neighborhood when my grandparents moved there. They were the first black people who moved in to their block, and that kind of started white flight. When my mom and my aunts and uncles were young, they had a really strong, wholesome black community, and I think it went on like that until my childhood. By the time I was a kid, I couldn’t play outside, really. I definitely got bused to school. I was lucky because I had a really strong household—my grandparents lived upstairs. My grandmother worked with me on reading and writing every day before I went to school, so I tested out of the ‘hood school, which had a horrible rate of graduation and success, no resources, all types of stuff.

Going to Whitney Young was interesting, because it allowed us to interact with people from different cultures in a really safe space. But in Jacksonville—I never could’ve guessed this, but I became so militant when I was down there. Just because silly stuff would happen, like a group of kids tried to have the African-American Student Union disbanded because it was “unconstitutional.” In my sociology class, whenever we would talk about race, it would always break down to some girl being like, “I just don’t understand why black people are so mad!” and it would be me and one other black person in the class going, “Are you gonna answer? Because I’m pretty sure I answered last time.”

I don’t know, I’ve always had the ability to move between worlds because of my education, and there aren’t a lot of people who are talking about this race thing. People like to say we’re in a post-racial time, which is…the dumbest thing ever. A lot of stupid race stuff happened to me, things where I had to think to myself, “Oh, this is because I’m black.”

When I was in Jacksonville, there were some jobs that I didn’t get that I knew were definitely because I was black. It’s the South. And in Chicago, there are housing things that happen…I would love if people could figure out how to get involved in the parts of Chicago that no one’s getting involved in, like Englewood. But everyone’s afraid.

What do you think makes your perspective so different?

Overcoming poverty [laughs]. That’s the realest answer I can give you. I feel like we were so poor growing up, and then working in the corporate world, making all that money, and knowing the cost of making that money. There is a toll that corporate America will take on you. You have to conform, you have to be mindful of the bottom line—any business is like that, but big corporations, it’s like…it’s very tough. And just figuring out that I don’t really need to have money.

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