'I've had really weird questions, like, ‘Do you have a degree in linguistics?' Weird questions,” says Bethany Whitwer, better known locally as hip-hopper Addiquit.
Who's asking these kinds of questions?
“Well, Chan [Marshall, aka Cat Power] asked me about that. She's just really tripped out on my lyrics because they're so weird. But now they're getting really normal.”
Why is that?
“Just growing up. Becoming an adult. I wanted to avoid åbecoming an adult for so long, and I was able to. There were enablers in my family that would allow me—and myself—to not really be like an adult.”
“Enabling me with, like, allowing me to not take responsibility—give me money and allowing me to just have this weird lifestyle, get into trouble a lot and do whatever I wanted and not really ever have to pay for it. It finally, like, burned out after New York. I spent $10,000 when I went to New York, and I was there for, like, a month.”
I'm getting the sense that this might be therapeutic for Addiquit. We haven't had many conversations before this one, but the few that we've had have been splotchy and confusing, so this is pretty refreshing. For nearly three years, she's been touted as one of the next big things on the local music scene, playing a rowdy mix of electronic, hip-hop and club music with a unique lyrical style that can be straightforward and curt one minute, indecipherable and funny the next. She's been compared with everyone from M.I.A. and CocoRosie to MC Lyte and Lil Kim, and she found a fan in indie darling Cat Power. Top it off with model looks and a tomboy swagger (complete with tattoos all over her body), and it's easy to see why she's generated a buzz.
But her behavior and musical output has been sporadic at best. There were promises of an album that never came. And her live shows, while it was often easy to see that she had potential, have sometimes been messy, drunken displays.
But now, sitting on the couch of her boyfriend's apartment—Pall Jenkins of The Black Heart Procession and Three Mile Pilot—double-fisting a water and a beer, she seems clearheaded and vulnerable. The road leading up to this moment has been filled with drama and haze, but I get the sense that Addiquit wouldn't have wanted it any other way.
“Yeah, I feel misunderstood a lot,” she says. “More like I have to tame a lot. But that's what was so great about growing up in, or being in, my 20's. I actually did not change for anybody. And so even my relationships would maybe suffer a little bit. I'm really interested in learning more about me, and if I started accepting these invitations to change, then maybe I wouldn't have changed on my own.”
If no particular person made Addiquit change, it was almost certainly the music. For years, she's been working with New York-based producer and DJ Machinedrum, whom she first met in 2003 at an audio engineering school in Florida. Originally from Spring Valley, Addiquit left right out of high school and landed in just about every major city before finally coming back to San Diego in 2005. The miles and partying took their toll, but her relationship with Machinedrum remained productive, and she's released the results via her MySpace page.
She says that her new, self-titled album isn't exactly a proper debut but, rather, a limited pressing of new and old songs she wants to sell while she's on tour with The Black Heart Procession. On it, she raps and sings sexy club anthems (“Take U Home,” “Bermuda Love Triangle”) and gritty street soliloquies (“Dough,” “Killa”). The result is a brilliant pastiche of styles referencing everything from old-school hip-hop to riot grrrl punk.
“I don't even know if I have themes,” she says. “A lot of the songwriting is done in a non-intentional way. It's seriously just about being in the moment.”
She doesn't even really consider her music hip-hop.
“Maybe it's a form of hip-hop, but I don't know. Maybe there's a genre out there. Alternative pop?”
When asked about her new tour, she says she's “very excited,” but her response sounds pensive. She laughs in acknowledgment and tells me that her live show isn't all the way there yet.
“It's gonna be difficult. I would feel 100 percent more comfortable and confident if my DJ could come with me. He'd have my back. But we're just gonna have to put it in an iPod or a CD, and it's just gonna be me up there. And that's OK just as long as every song is correct.”
Even without Machinedrum, now or in the future, with Addiquit's audio-engineering skills and perhaps a little help from an outside DJ, it's easy to get the sense that not only will she be fine, but she'll have that musical breakthrough that most think she's capable of. That, and the fact that she finally seems ready to take whatever comes.
“I feel like my abilities are changing,” she says. “I feel there's a sense of progress with the album coming out, but the negativity and the manipulation that went into it, it wasn't easy. It was stressful and painful. But I feel that where the positivity lies is in the people who listen to it. People love what they hear. And I just want to say, ‘Wow, if you only knew what I went through to make this shit.'”
Addiquit plays with Gift of Gab, Deep Rooted and DJ Artistic on Thursday, Oct. 29, at the Belly Up. She also plays the Grrrl Fair Benefit Show with The (SIS)TEM and Cihuatl-Ce on Friday, Nov. 6, at Che Café.
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