To fans of Chicago’s Kid Sister, the lead-up to the release of her long-delayed debut album, Ultraviolet, seemed interminable, as the release date was pushed back again and again. But in the grand scheme of the music game, the rise of the South Side-raised singer/MC, also known as Melisa Young, has been extraordinarily speedy: Just two years after her first performances with local DJ duo Flosstradamus (whose Josh “J2K” Young is also her brother and hype man), Kid Sister scored a guest appearance from Kanye West on her breakout single “Pro Nails,” performed on the mainstages of festivals like Coachella and Lollapalooza, and earned a BET Awards nomination for Best Female Hip-Hop Artist—all without releasing an album. Kid Sister’s beats—heavily influenced by the ’90s Chicago house scene and overseen by producers like A-Trak and Spank Rock—and laid-back, round-the-way-girl rhymes have so far played well in her hometown, but it remains to be seen if she’ll be able to capitalize on all that buzz outside of Chicago now that Ultraviolet is finally out on shelves. In the midst of a national mini-tour ahead of the album’s release—which culminates at a homecoming show at House Of Blues on Nov. 25—Kid Sister spoke to The A.V. Club about remaking her album in Technicolor, ignoring the buzz, and the difficulties of proper nail maintenance on the road.
The A.V. Club: So what took so long with Ultraviolet?
Kid Sister: I rushed to put an album out when I signed with Downtown [Records] about a year ago. And I put this piece of crap together. [Laughs.] And I was like, this sucks, man! I was working so hard and just really, really rushed by these ridiculous deadlines. And you know what? To be honest, I haven’t been doing this that long. And to have somebody rush me, it’s like, really? I can barely do things on a comfortably paced timeline, much less a rushed, crazy timeline.
AVC: You said you haven’t been doing this that long. How long ago did you actually start rapping?
KS: I’d say like ’05. ’06? It was end of ’05, beginning of ’06.
AVC: Just at clubs and house parties and stuff?
KS: Yeah, my first show was at the Hideout, which was ridiculous. Remember Life During Wartime? That was my first show. And then it was like—I basically had two or three shows before, and they weren’t real shows, it was just me jumping up onstage, while Josh [Young, of Flosstradamus] and Curt [Cameruci, of Flosstradamus] were playing, or while Josh and Chess [Hubbard] and Chris [Baronner] were playing as Life During Wartime. And then on the third or fourth show, I forget which one, MTV came and was doing a story on me, and I’m like, “So weird!” When you’re just starting out? I was petrified. So scared.
AVC: You didn’t have any deal or anything at that point?
KS: No! And I didn’t have one for another year and a half after that.
AVC: So what do you even say to MTV? “I just like to get up on stage and—”
KS: I like to party! [Laughs.] Yeah, I know, that’s basically all it was. And the thing is, I’m not even that crazy of a “party girl.” I drink a little bit, don’t do any kind of drugs, don’t mess around with that, I just really like to dance. Like, I really love that aesthetic and the music that came out of that kind of golden era of house music and hip-hop. Just the ’90s. I’d say less early ’90s, more mid- to late-’90s, that was kind of my golden era, or my favorite period of house music and hip-hop. So I just really reflect that in my music.
AVC: That house vibe is more pronounced on some of the later songs than on tracks like “Switch Board” or “Pro Nails,” the ones that have been floating around for a while. Was it always your intent to go in such a strong house direction, or did it evolve as you went along?
KS: It was always there, we just kind of pushed it a little bit further and amplified it. That was always my aesthetic, electronic music mixed with hip-hop, that’s my whole thing. And then we just took that idea and ran with it. With the first album, it was like the beginning of The Wizard Of Oz. But then the second version of the album is when Dorothy goes into Oz and everything is in color. It’s just like, “Whoa!” So that’s where we wanted to push it. Technicolor.
AVC: You performed at Lollapalooza on the mainstage last year, before you even had a record out. Was that weird?
KS: Anytime I perform to a big crowd, it’s weird. Because no one could have called it. No one can call anything that happens to me. Like I said, it all falls into my lap. I played the main stage at Coachella! That was my first festival I ever played up on the mainstage. Crazy. And that was even before Kanye. So things like that have been happening to me that way the whole time. So on the one hand, it’s crazy and weird. But on the other hand, it’s kind of been par for the course just with my experience [affects swaggering tone] in this here music game! [Laughs.]
AVC: Okay then, let’s talk about the nails. What’s the current state of your nails?
KS: Well, they look pretty good. Had to do a little minor surgery on them yesterday. They’re zebra and rhinestone, and they are very, very cute. I’m a little worried—I’m going to be on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon on the 13th, and I’m a little worried they’re not going to make it that long. So I’m going to have to wear gloves or something. Like Seinfeld—you know, when George became a hand model? That’s how I’m going to feel for the next four days.
AVC: You don’t have nail salons in every port when you’re on the road?
KS: I do, but some of them are less good. The best ones are in Japan, but the best nail salons are in L.A., then New York, and then, unfortunately, Chicago. But then there’s little random cities here and there—there’s this kid in Indianapolis that does crazy nails. There’s little pockets you gotta find. But for the most part, yeah. Little tough.
AVC: Gotta take care of it yourself.
KS: You really do! I had to buy all these rhinestones in Japan. I was like, “Aw, hell no. I will not run out.” All these cute little charms and shit. Ice cream sandwiches, what not.
AVC: I saw a picture of that on your Twitter. They look heavy.
KS: They do, but they were surprisingly lightweight.
AVC: Speaking of nails, it seems like the two things people always bring up first about you are the nails and Kanye West. But that’s because of a song that was more than two years ago, “Pro Nails.” What would you prefer people to bring up first?
KS: The way I feel about this album and about me in general, I feel like this is the album that will put a face to the new movement going on in music right now. Everyone and their brother is trying to do, “Oh, I’ll put rapping with electronic music because that’s what’s cool now!” No one has done it tastefully and cohesively and put forth one body of work to say, “This is what this is.” And I’m here to do that. I think this is going to be a genre-defining piece of work, and I’ll be the first one to do that.
AVC: So you want to start a whole genre?
KS: Well no, I already did! I mean, it’s already done. I’ve been doing this since I came out. Now you see the Black Eyed Peas, they’re all like “Boom Boom Pow” and you hear all kinds of weird techno influences on hip-hop now. And that’s great. It is wonderful, I’m happy for it. I just think that what we do—me and my group of friends and my relatives and all the people close to me—what we do is not that different from what they do, we just do it in a more sophisticated, more innovative way.
AVC: How so?
KS: Listen to some of the stuff on the radio. Listen to that guy [Jason DeRulo] that samples Imogen Heap. “Ooh, what you say, oh, that you only meant well.” Listen to the way he flows, listen to the composition of that song, and compare it to our stuff. It’s just night and day. We just do it in a more innovative and a more sophisticated way.
AVC: Do you want to be on Top 40 radio?
KS: No, not at all. Not that I don’t want that, but—
AVC: You’re not composing with that in mind.
KS: No, that’s not the point of it for me. The thing that I hope happens, just for the good of popular culture in general. Music like me, like A-Trak, like whatever, all of our little network, our little family, I hope music like that becomes the mainstream rather than listening to these bastardized versions of it that we hear on the radio. Because you’ll hear a lot of these Top 40 producers, they’ll straight up bite some of the stuff that is going on “underground,” and they do it in such a way that it’s just tasteless. And you’re just like, “Oh gosh, I wish you had done it better.” Just like wish that they would have done it better and done it more tastefully. So I hope that the more innovative style of this music that we do comes to the forefront. Sometimes I just feel like the mainstream should have the best of the best. I mean, what do I always say? My parties are for everybody. They’re not just for an exclusive group of “hipsters” or whatever. I think that everybody is invited to my party. The same goes for my music. I don’t think my music should be this kind of exclusive commodity that only people who wear oversized shirts and chambray shirts can listen to. I think it should be for everyone.