It’s been a stellar year for Kitty Cash. Her debut mixtape, Love the Free, dropped out of the blue last December, with a tracklist of all-exclusive new material from forward-thinking rap and R&B artists like Kelela, Sampha, and Phony Ppl. She released a second installment via Elle at the end of July that definitely made our list of essential summer listening. Cash is a woman with taste: who else would put JunglePussy, Willow Smith, and Dream Koala on the same mix?
On Monday, Cash and her crew took over Red Bull Studios New York to launch the latest phase of the Love the Free project. As mixtape contributors Melo-X and Jesse Boykins III munched popcorn alongside local artists and musicians, Cash debuted eight visual interpretations of Love the Free tracks. Ranging from the domestic to the epic, the hyperreal to the surreal, the videos were a perfect complement to the mixtape’s vibe. We chatted with Cash before the screening (and her killer DJ set) about the inspiration behind Love the Free and her career so far.
When did you start DJing?
I started DJing a year and eight months ago. My best friend is a singer and rapper, Kilo Kish, and we were actually looking for a DJ for her to go on tour with. We were looking at all the downtown spots, couldn’t find anyone, and finally one day she was like “why don’t you become a DJ?” I was like “um, no”, because I did not know how to do that. And she was like “you could go on tour with me around the world.” I was like, “well then, J Scott, can you give me a quick tutorial?” From there I just ran with it.
So from there, how did the Love the Free mixtapes happen?
On the second tour it was Kish and The Internet and we were just joking around. I was like “dude, I cannot be a DJ and not make a mixtape. No one’s gonna take me seriously.” I felt like I wanted to share the music that I was into, progressive sounds in hip-hop and R&B, and that’s how it came along.
How did you get so many high-profile artists on the tapes?
Honestly, the tape takes like three to four months to put together because it’s all exclusive tracks. It’s a lot of hustling and bustling but it’s just who I like, literally. It’s like me on Soundcloud thinking this person’s dope and then it just so happens that they roll up. The first tape really helped me get songs for the second one because people got to see that it was a real product and that it was also consistent because it’s the same calibre or even better calibre artists but the sound stays the same. I just tell them my name and they kind of believe in what I’m doing.
Love the Free reminded me of Solange’s Saint Heron project. What made you release it in mixtape form rather than putting out a compilation?
I know that Solo sold her actual product and I wanted mine to be free because growing up, some of them were free and some of them you had to pay for. To me it felt like there’s so much content coming every day and I didn’t want people to miss out on such good music just because they had to pay for it. I wanted to take it back to nostalgic Brooklyn shit from when I was growing up.
What were you listening to back then?
I was such a round the way girl. Straight Roc-A-Fella, I was into Dipset, but of course it was Roca over Dipset for me, then like Beanie Sigel, Foxy Brown, Lil Kim. I was a real hip-hop head, nothing really indie at all.
On the second tape it gets fairly indie though.
Honestly a lot of the people that I have on tape two are people that couldn’t get on tape one just because of timings. That’s why there’s double the amount of people on this tape. I had already reached out to them and been following up with them from the first tape. I had Bipolar Sunshine’s song the day after the first tape dropped and so I had the song for like eight months.
And he’s blown up since then.
I know! That’s the same thing that happened with Vic and Kelela. Everybody’s crazy.
Earlier this year you released a mix celebrating International Women’s Day. What have your experiences been as a woman in the DJ world?
I’m really lucky because I had Kish to introduce me to everything. So the way that a lot of other girls came to the industry is really different from me. I think that as a female you have to be really careful because it’s really easy for someone to try to take advantage of the fact that you’re a girl and to think you’re not good enough. You need a certain amount of integrity and pride as a woman but also keep that femininity and sweetness of being a girl. The I Am Woman mix was very important to me because I’m obsessed with Maya Angelou and I felt like it tied everything together.
Making these mixes, you’ve described yourself as a curator. Do you plan to release your own music?
Yeah I do. I didn’t expect Love the Free to get the response that it did. I’m really learning along the way so now I really want to focus on production. I like to be in my room with a cup of tea and a glass of wine doing things. I feel like if I can produce I’ll be really happy because I can find my own space. Kish is super supportive. She’s waiting for me to start to produce. She’s like “so…are you there yet?” and I’m like “no”. Once I learn how to produce I’ll definitely have a project out. I love Vic, Kelela and inc. and Shy Girls and How To Dress Well. I hope eventually I can be good enough to work with them.
You’re premiering the video project tonight. How did that come about?
For the tapes I felt like the only thing missing was visuals. I wanted it with a twist, so I hit up local filmmakers to do their visual interpretation of eight songs. It’s really cool because everyone is so different. It was very important that they were local because it’s about helping everyone in my community. New York is a melting pot of different people and of creative energy, and I wanted “Love the Free” to be a platform for the culture and I wanted it to start here.
So what’s next for Kitty Cash?
Dude, I don’t know what’s next and that’s what I think is the best part of this whole shit. It’s like I’m on a rollercoaster ride right now and I’m at the part where I’m slowly going up. I’m still really nervous about everything and this is the first time I’ve really done something like this. I don’t know what’s next and I just hope everyone is down to be on this little journey and this ride with me.
Photos by Julian Schratter. Artwork by Jonni Cheatwood.